How Much Does SEO Cost? Understanding SEO Pricing and ServicesRead Time: 16 minutes

If you’re in the digital marketing game, you’ve asked how much does SEO cost a time or two. Demystifying this popular yet puzzling digital marketing technique is no small feat. SEO costs depend on a large range of factors, and some of them can be hard to predict.

Determining a reasonable SEO cost per month takes an in-depth understanding of your business needs, practical SEO knowledge, and an eye for quality. Think you can pinpoint the cost of the average SEO package? Learn how your business should invest in search engine optimization in 2024.

How much do SEO services cost?

How much do SEO services cost?

The short answer is it depends. SEO services could be as simple as keyword research or a technical website audit project. Or a full-service, ongoing SEO campaign where you’re investing to provide long-term results. What you spend on SEO is directly correlated to your business needs and the work involved.

With SEO, the important thing is choosing a reputable, results-driven company with a proven track record. But there are other factors you should consider when projecting SEO expenses. For example, variables like industry and keyword competition will have an impact. The more competitive the landscape, typically, the more you’ll need to invest to rank for high-intent terms. Other considerations are whether any prior SEO work has been performed or if you’re starting from scratch, and whether you have internal resources like content writers or developers that can be utilized. All of these variables can impact your SEO budget.

Average Cost of SEO

Determining the average cost of SEO is not as simple as it may seem. Many businesses use this digital marketing strategy—from the most prominent Fortune 500 to the smallest mom-and-pop. Of course, the needs of these companies are divergent in their size, but there are trends when it comes to SEO investment.

About a third of all businesses pay between $1,000 and $5,000 per month for SEO services. Smaller companies with simple SEO strategies are on the lower end of that range, while companies with more complex search engine optimization challenges are above the $5,000 mark.

But size isn’t the only factor impacting SEO costs. Much of a business’s SEO investment is determined by the structure of its strategy. For example, some companies choose to pay for services on an hourly basis, while others favor a monthly retainer or even project-based pricing.

Hourly SEO Pricing

It may surprise you, but you can secure SEO services by the hour. Although not the best strategy for larger companies needing a team of specialists to execute multi-pronged plans, hourly SEO work is ideal for some small businesses.

The average price of hourly SEO work ranges between $100 and $250 per hour. The cost of these services should directly correlate to the SEO professional’s expertise and successes. Companies from overseas are much cheaper, but you usually get what you pay for; cheap SEO is never worth it!

Monthly or SEO Retainer Pricing

Monthly or SEO retainer pricing

Larger companies, or those with more significant SEO needs, often use a monthly or retainer-based structure to procure SEO services. Most of these retainers range from as little as $3,000 to as much as $20,000+ per month.

These plans work well because they include several essential SEO services without worrying about using too many hours of labor. They typically include:

  • Creating a custom SEO plan with monthly deliverables
  • Strategy sessions and monthly meetings
  • Customized reporting
  • Initial analytics setup and configuration
  • Technical website optimization & auditing
  • Keyword research
  • Competitor analysis 
  • Internal and external link building
  • Content creation, editing, and optimization
  • And more!

Given SEO is a long game, the monthly retainer model is an excellent start for many businesses, although some will have more robust needs requiring more SEO services such as conversion rate optimization and A/B testing. Most SEO professionals offer several monthly SEO plans to accommodate a wide range of companies needs.

Project-Based Pricing

Companies with specific SEO requirements may benefit from project-based SEO pricing. Paying per project works well for organizations with in-house SEO teams who need a little outside assistance to execute a complex or labor-intensive SEO tactic.

Many agencies offer various SEO services on an a la carte basis, but the pricing for project-based SEO work varies. Generally speaking, costs reflect experience and expertise.

To start, every business pursuing SEO needs to complete an audit. Audits uncover SEO shortcomings and opportunities and provide the basis for the overall SEO strategy. Think of audits as a checkup for your digital assets. When done correctly, large SEO projects like audits typically cost between $5,000 and $10,000.

Content creation is another essential SEO component many companies execute on a per-project basis. Few organizations have talented writers on staff, and if they only need written content to complete their SEO plan, they’re easy to hire for short-term projects. The range of good content can be anywhere from $0.20 to $0.60 per word just for the writing. Also, though ChatGPT can be an effective tool and assist in the content process, experts highly recommend against using it to develop content solely. AI tools can be great for ideation and helping to create some content in full; however, for SEO writing, that human touch, editing, and optimization are needed to create effective content that will truly resonate with your audience and improve your rankings.

Link building is a critical part of any results-driven SEO strategy. In fact, external links are a known ranking factor, and some SEO experts believe they’re among the most vital.  Backlink creation is usually budgeted on a per-link basis. The price range is as wide and vast as anything in SEO. Links can range from $100 per link to $1000+ per link.  With that said, be EXTREMELY careful when it comes to choosing your link provider.  If you utilize the wrong service, it can take years to build back your authority in the eyes of search engines.  Cheap links are typically not good links.

Cheap SEO is Seldom Good SEO!

You get what you pay for. This tried-and-true business principle applies to just about anything, including SEO. If you’re considering an SEO company whose pricing is way out of line with the previous projections, something’s off, and it’s probably their quality.

The same goes for freelance SEO specialists. If the price seems too good to be true, it most likely is. Bear in mind that the average SEO specialist makes about $60,000 a year, with seasoned talent often making much more, and their rates should be consistent with a comparable income level.

“Guaranteed” SEO Results

One of the most obvious red flags of cheap SEO is guaranteeing results. While SEO professionals can predict how their optimization techniques will impact page rank, no one can promise a specific placement on the search engine results page (SERP). Remember that competitors are also working parallel paths to improve their own SEO, and algorithms change frequently, so it’s virtually impossible to predict and guarantee specific results accurately — and anybody who says they can is simply lying. 

SEO work will always help your rank, but no one can say how much and how soon. Promising specifics is a huge warning sign. So, stay away from companies claiming to put you at the top of the SERP within the next three months; it won’t happen!

Extremely Low SEO Pricing

If a company quotes you a ridiculously low price, something’s probably missing. There are a few things every SEO strategy worth its salt should address:

  • Improve site accessibility and usability; technical SEO 
  • Link building
  • Content creation
  • Conversion rate optimization
  • Customer review oversight

When done correctly, these big-ticket items work together to improve your page rank and get your links in front of more qualified leads. But these SEO tools cost money, and there’s no way cheap SEO companies with meager rates will take the thorough, detailed approach to your SEO that is needed to provide a return on your investment.

Interestingly, there’s a direct correlation between the amount a company spends on SEO and its overall satisfaction with the services. Research has shown that the more a business invests in its SEO strategy, the more pleased they are with the results.

Hidden Fees and Charges

With any contract, you should read the fine print before signing. It’s not unusual to find unfair and unmentioned charges lurking in the final pages of your agreement. This often happens with search engine optimization packages from cheap SEO companies.

You may notice added fees for answering emails after hours or on weekends, surcharges for every earned backlink or click, or even generic charges like “technology fees” and other bogus line items designed to pad their bottom line. 

Don’t work with cheap SEO companies that do this. Instead, seek SEO help from fair-priced agencies and highly-experienced individuals who are up-front about their charges. Any less, and you risk getting far less than you pay for.

What Factors Influence SEO Pricing?

When considering SEO pricing, many people wonder what exactly influences the cost. As you’ve already learned, search engine optimization costs vary, and there’s no hard-and-fast rule for determining the price of SEO packages.

SEO pricing models should impact your budget for SEO services, but there’s more to pricing than packages alone. Here are the leading factors determining SEO cost:

  • Company expertise: The better the company, the more expensive its SEO services will be. Working with established SEO professionals with a proven track record will certainly cost more than a newer, smaller shop with fewer clients and less experience. But remember, more often than not, you get what you pay for!
  • Organic search results: When people look for your products and services, are you already among the top search results? Or do you have to click through a few pages to find your business? If the latter is true, there’s much more SEO work to be done, and it will cost you. The current state of your organic search aptitude directly impacts the cost of SEO services.
  • Keyword competition: How many other companies and organizations are vying for the same keywords? If there are quite a few, you’ll need more sophisticated SEO strategies to earn a top spot on the SERP. And yes, it will be expensive.
  • Goals: What do you need from SEO? Are you starting from scratch or simply seeking a way to collect more qualified leads? The size and scope of your goals will impact the budget necessary for SEO.
  • Website health: Have you already optimized your site for SEO? Was it designed for mobile first? The more advanced SEO features already contained within your site, the less costly SEO services will be. If, however, you have never deployed SEO strategies on your site and it’s several years old, you’ll have to invest more upfront to get the website in good working order.
  • Timeline: SEO isn’t known for quick results, but there are things SEO professionals can do to speed up the process. The more urgently you need SEO services and organic traffic, the more work that will need to be done in a quicker timeline, and the higher your SEO package will cost.

Making the Most of Your SEO Budget

You don’t have unlimited money to spend on SEO, but you don’t want to invest in cheap SEO, either. You have an optimization budget you need to work with to keep costs down while realizing your SEO goals. This is no small feat, but you can reach these objectives with the proper guidance and planning.

Prioritizing SEO Tasks Based on Business Goals

One of the most important things you can ask yourself is what you want your SEO to do. This should be different for every company, and there’s no wrong answer. SEO goals depend on your existing market share, competition, and the current needs of your business.

So, what do you need to get from search engine optimization? Do you want to be the top-ranked site for a specific keyword or phrase? Do you need to knock your competitors out of the top three search results? Are you trying to get more users to your website? Do you need to boost conversions? Are you trying to gain more local market share?

Whatever your goals are, there’s an SEO strategy tactic to help you achieve them. When you understand your business objectives, SEO professionals can create custom SEO plans to address your most pressing needs.

How Far Are You Ahead (or Behind) the Competition?

So much of SEO depends on how your competitors perform on the SERP. Your job becomes pretty simple if you have lazy competition that doesn’t invest in SEO. But motivated business adversaries can easily engage in SEO battles that can be challenging to win.

The challenge lies in learning what your competition is doing. You aren’t in those marketing meetings or know if they work with an SEO company, but there are ways to find out. Start with keyword research. Make a list of all the keywords and keyword phrases you want to target in your SEO campaign. Then, start searching!

When you do your keyword research, take note of the top five links. Those are your biggest SEO competitors. With this information, you can dig deeper into their websites and other digital assets. You’ll soon see who’s investing in SEO and who you need to replace on the SERP.

If you learn you don’t have much SEO competition, which is rare, you still have work to do. A lack of SERP competition isn’t an excuse to abandon your SEO plans. In fact, this presents an even better opportunity to establish your position long before a competitor does.

Understanding the Value of SEO And ROI

The cost to do business in 2024 is higher than ever before. Skyrocketing prices have caused many marketers to revisit their SEO budgets and question, whether is it really worth it.

The short answer to that question is yes, but this response is worth explaining. Nearly 93% of global web traffic comes from Google. So when people use the search engine to find your business, what’s on the SERP?

If your website happens to be the first organic result, it’ll be clicked half the time. Users click the second link 37% of the time and the third link 29% of the time.

And that’s what SEO is all about, earning a top spot on the SERP to boost your chances of being clicked and earning a lead or sale. But how often do these clicks result in conversions? Quite often. SEO leads have a 14.6% close rate, compared to outbound leads at 1.7%. And click-through rates on organic search results are typically much higher than paid search results.

Finding a Balance Between In-House and Outsourced SEO

One of a company’s most important questions about SEO is whether they should use in-house professionals or contract with an outside company. It’s a valid concern and one with many variables to consider.

Having an in-house professional works well if you want to collaborate in person. But they’ll require a salary, healthcare, and benefits, which you may not be able to fit into the marketing budget. Their expertise is also slightly limited. They are only one person, and SEO strategies are best executed by a team of professionals, each specializing in a specific aspect of SEO. A technical SEO expert likely does not have the same caliber of skills to optimize content as an SEO content specialist, and earning backlinks is so time-intensive and typically requires a network of contacts to execute at any volume.    

Which is why outsourcing SEO is so immensely popular. SEO companies work with clients to create results-driven SEO plans to meet their needs and stay within budget. These plans usually include monthly strategy and update calls to ensure everyone remains on the same page. With an SEO company, businesses benefit from a diverse team of SEO specialists who have their finger on the pulse of critical algorithm alterations or changes to competitor ranks and have the varied skills needed to deliver the highest-quality SEO work.

Long-Term SEO Maintenance and Investment

You must understand two things about SEO: earning rank doesn’t happen overnight, and earning rank isn’t a once-and-done job. SEO is a marathon, not a sprint. And if you don’t stay in shape to run your next marathon, you won’t be able to finish.

SEO strategies typically take six to 18 months to realize their full potential. This time is necessary for Google to index your pages, for authoritative websites to give you backlinks, and for users to respond to the changes you’ve made to your website. There’s also something to be said for the overall age of your site, as older sites have an advantage and, if SEO optimized, can typically have a higher rank than new sites.

Once you execute your plan, it’s not time to stand by and watch your rank creep up the SERP. Maintaining high-quality SEO is just as critical! Staying informed about Google ranking factors, tracking your competition’s links and continuing to earn new ones for your own site, and keeping your website and content fresh is vital to maintaining your position on the SERP.

Is It Worth Paying for SEO?

SEO is typically always a worthwhile investment; it’s just a matter of how much of an investment you want to make. Most companies report total search engine optimization ROI between 250% and 1,000%.

SEO results cannot and should never be guaranteed. Still, as long as you’re working with a reputable SEO agency or experienced professional and investing a reasonable budget, the return on your search engine optimization investment should continue to pay off over time.

What should your SEO budget be? Like so many aspects of your SEO strategy, it depends on many factors. But by and large, most companies spend between 8% and 13% of their total revenue on SEO initiatives.

That may seem like a lot, but SEO budgets are divided into several smaller parts to optimize every aspect of your company’s digital footprint. For example, most companies will allocate funds to individual SEO projects like website optimization, review monitoring and maintenance, keyword and competitor research, and content marketing.

Each part comes together to comprise a total SEO spend that’s always worth it. For example, content marketing, an essential component of a great SEO plan, costs about 62% less than traditional marketing and drives three times more leads!

And this isn’t unique. SEO tactics are known for being cheaper than old-school marketing strategies and much more effective! SEO is a proven digital marketing strategy every business must use to gain a competitive edge in 2024 and beyond.

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