Search engine optimization (SEO) is an important part of every digital marketing strategy. According to a research, 93% of all online experiences start with a search engine.
If your website doesn’t rank well in search engines, you’ll lose traffic and potential customers.
Because 70% of all search engine clicks go to organic search results.
This means even if your AdWords ad is on the top place and doing very well, you’ll still miss 70% of clicks.
This is why SEO should be a must part of your digital marketing strategy no matter what.
Like everything else on this planet, SEO costs money. It’s not free.
There are several factors that influence the cost of SEO. The article below will talk about all such factors and variables and will show you a realistic picture of how much SEO cost per month.
In-house SEO Vs SEO agencies
The first step in developing an SEO strategy is to figure out who will do it. The cost of SEO vary significantly based on who is doing it.
Choosing the right channel for SEO isn’t just related to quality but to the cost of the campaign too. Both have their own pros and cons in terms of cost.
Let’s dig a bit deep.
In-house SEO cost
First, in-house SEO refers to digital marketing activities, with respect to organic search that are conducted inside the organization. You either hire someone permanently or you choose a dedicated team for handle the various SEO operations.
In-house SEO is cheap as compared to hiring an agency.
This is because the cost of communication and coordination is almost negligibly small. Additionally, you don’t need to invest in a dedicated tool like Slack for communication.
In-house SEO gives you control on cost. It is a very flexible approach.
The average SEO salary is $76K according to Indeed.
This is too much but the thing is you don’t always have to pay this much. You can hire someone who is relatively inexperienced at $50K.
Again, you can save on communication and collaboration.
SEO agency cost
SEO agencies are expensive for two main reasons.
They have intensive experience.
They know how to deliver results.
You get better and reliable SEO services and thus you’ve to pay more.
The average hourly rate (which is the industry trend) varies from country to country but you’ve to pay somewhere between $76 and $200 per hour for SEO agency.
Depending on the host country of the SEO firm, you might have to pay less. For instance, the average hourly rate for Indian agencies is quite low as compared to US agencies.
When choosing between in-house SEO and SEO agency, consider following points:
In terms of speed, in-house SEO will do better than an agency in case of an hourly job because most of the SEO agencies are used to spending more time on SEO tasks. In the case of SEO projects, agencies are very speedy because they have the resources, connections, and tools to get the job done fast.
Outsourcing to an agency will help you focus on strategic business operations. If your brand is new, you’ve to spend time and resources on strategic tasks. That’d be a great time to hire an SEO agency so as to channelize your internal workforce.
Perhaps the best reason why you should consider in-house SEO is that it keeps SEO integrated with digital marketing strategy, marketing, management, IT, product, and other departments. This integration is hard to maintain while working with an agency.
Factors that affect SEO price
There are several factors that impact the price of SEO. In the section below, you’ll find all such (or I should say most of) factors and variables.
1). On-page SEO
Do you need on-page SEO services or your website is already doing well in terms of on page SEO?
On page SEO is an important part of your SEO strategy. It includes:
Tag optimization such as title, alt, meta, etc.
Permalinks and permalinks structure
Keyword optimization and density
Content optimization using heading tags, multimedia, etc.
Internal linking structure
Social sharing buttons
Site speed optimization
Adding on page SEO to the plan will increase its cost. On page optimization needs 5 to 10 hours so if you’re paying $100 per hour for SEO, do the math.
Normally when you start SEO, on page is not needed every month. It has to be optimized once so it will add cost to the first month only.
2). Keyword research
Do you have the keyword research tools?
Do you want the SEO agency to do keyword research for your website and blog?
According to WordStream, these are the best keyword research tools.
WordStream Keyword tool
Google Keyword Planner
While most of these keyword research tools are free, the time used to find the right long tail and short tail keywords are enormous. Besides, having access to these tools doesn’t ensure appropriate keyword research.
So there are two types of costs associated with keyword research:
The cost of getting the keyword tool (if it is paid).
Time spent on keyword research.
Keyword research needs 10 to 20 hours on average. Adding keyword research to SEO plan is an expensive deal.
But since it is a one-time task, therefore, it only adds to the first month.
The success of your SEO campaign depends on the keywords you’re targeting. This is the reason why keyword research is so important.
Why pay such a high price for keyword research to a professional SEO when you can hire someone on Fiverr for $5?
Not a bad idea.
Neville Medhora purchased a keyword research gig on Fiverr. For $5, he received five different files that were essentially pulled from Google Keyword Planner tool.
This is not too useful in the sense that you just get an Excel sheet with hundreds of keywords. This might be only useful for you if you need reports for hundreds of keywords. Otherwise, it is not as useful.
Additionally, this list of keywords won’t integrate with your SEO and marketing strategy.
So before you think of buying a keyword research gig on Fiverr, think twice.
3). Competitor analysis
This is one of the much-needed SEO tools.
You cannot develop and implement a solid SEO strategy without spying on your competitors. It is an in-depth process that involves a whole lot of things.
It requires sophisticated competitor spying tools, backlink analysis tools, and others. This is definitely a costly game.
Open Site Explorer
If you’re planning for in-house SEO, you’ve to buy quite a few tools and must train someone to use them. This gets costly.
On the other hand, an SEO agency will need 5 to 10 hours for competitor analysis and will analyze 3 to 5 top competitors.
Jake Goldblum recommends doing competitive analysis in-house for following reasons.
Use SEOMoz for $90 a month and you can track and monitor 3 competitors.
Use SEO Quake which is a free Firefox extension that helps you find information about your competitors such as Alexa rank, inbound links, etc.
Other tools he recommends are Compete, Web CEO, and Market Samurai.
When you do it in-house, you can track and analyze your competitors on an ongoing basis and can use this analysis for other purposes too such as product development.
This will cost some money but it is worth it.
4). Technical SEO
Technical SEO is related to crawling and indexing of your website and content.
It includes a whole lot of things such as:
Yes, it is really technical.
An expert SEO can do it in under 5 hours so it is not that expensive to fix your website’s technical SEO. Most of the technical SEO is one time so you’ll not have to invest every month unless you’re running a massive website or a large ecommerce store where you add new products every month.
5). Website design
Website design is related to the SEO. The SEO consultant might not be able to re-design your website but he can tell you what changes are needed.
An SEO-friendly website design has to be responsive with a clear layout and easy navigation.
In rare cases, you’ll need a complete re-design. If that is the case, you’ve to choose whether you need a drag and drop builder, a template, or a custom website design.
The costs are:
Templates and themes cost $50 to $500
Drag$ drop website builders cost $100 to $400
Custom design costs $2K to $10K
This is the cost of website design and once you’ve the website, SEO agency will then need another 2 to 5 hours to optimize it.
However, in most of the cases, you don’t need a full redesign. A few minor tweaks will do.
6). Link building cost
This is the crux and the heart of any SEO campaign.
This is where the money goes.
First off, we are talking about acquiring links naturally.
Second, we are not talking about automation, using black hat techniques, or spamming.
There are several link building techniques that an SEO agency can use.
Broken link strategy
Resource pages links
Content distribution and syndication
The price depends on several factors.
The quality of the backlinks
The quantity of the backlinks
How links are acquired
According to a survey by Moz, the average link building budget per month is less than $1K for most of the businesses. The respondents were both agencies and businesses.
Some 29$ agencies reported that they spend less than $1000 per month on link building.
While 34% in-house SEOs reported that they spend less than $1000 per month on link building.
You should note here that the cost is closely associated with the link quality. A high-quality backlink from CNN might cost you around $1K.
So link building has a lot to do with quality, and not necessarily the quantity.
7). Brand mention
Brand mention is a crucial part of SEO strategy. The SEO consultant is responsible for finding mentions of the brand on social networks, blog posts, forums, and all over the internet and must deal with them effectively.
So how much it costs?
The mention costs $99 per month and is one of the leading tools for dealing with brand mentions. You can do it in-house easily. Since it is closely associated with your brand, therefore, it shouldn’t be outsourced unless necessary.
In case you outsource brand mentions, the SEO agency will spend 2 to 4 hours a week on research.
8). Bad link removal
Are there any bad links pointing to your website?
Even if there aren’t any, you should still do a bad link clean up every month to get rid of any bad links.
The process isn’t as simple. Finding and identifying backlinks is simply not a numbers game.
If your SEO agency can do it, great. If not, you’ve to hire an expert.
In any case, it is expensive.
Because most of the webmasters now ask for a fee to remove a link from their website. You might have to pay as much as $500 for a single link.
The cost can eventually move up the ladder if you’ve several bad links pointing to your website.
9). Website size
The most crucial variable that determines the cost of SEO is the size of the website.
If your website has over 1000 pages, spending $1K a month on SEO won’t do anything.
Whereas, a small website with 5 pages will do fine with $500 a month.
Statistics show that 65% of the businesses that spend money on SEO have anywhere from 1 to 50 employees.
However, there is no relationship between the number of employees and the size of the website. It might be that your business has well over 100 employees but your website has only 20 pages.
It is more related to the size of the website and indexed pages, and how many of them you want to rank for.
SEO cannot be done without content. Whether it be SEO copywriting or monthly blog posts, it adds to the SEO cost.
On average, 20 to 40 hours are spent a month on content. This is a major area where most of the money is spent.
According to a study, as much as 30% of the budget is allocated to content or content marketing. This means as much as 30% of your SEO budget should be allocated to content.
The Content Factory has a very detailed article on different types of costs related to content writing. In a nutshell, you can get an article written in less than $50 or you can get it for $1000 depending on its quality.
How to pay for SEO
The monthly cost of SEO can be paid in three different forms.
Once a month
Let’s see how these three approaches compare to each other.
1. Hourly payment model
The hourly payment model is the most-used and widely accepted for SEO. It keeps everything quantifiable and trackable.
According to the survey conducted by Moz, the hourly cost for SEO varies from country to country. Generally, it stands between $76 and $200 per hour.
The hourly cost is highest in Australia, followed by the US.
If you choose to pay a flat hourly rate, you’ll end up paying anywhere between $76 and $200 per hour. You can then choose the number of hours per week/month. This will yield your monthly cost for SEO.
For instance, if you’re paying $100 per hour and the SEO agency works for 20 hours a month, you’ll pay $2K a month.
Here are a few benefits of hourly payment model:
The biggest benefit with an hourly model is that the time is trackable. You know how your time is utilized. It keeps things transparent and accountable.
You pay for the exact number of hours worked. This makes budget allocation extremely easy.
It helps with allocating time. You can choose to spend more time on link building than on brand mention.
Now here are a few drawbacks of paying an hourly fee for SEO:
You’ll end up paying a lot of money every month. Just do the math if you’re billed $75 per hour. The cost gets too high.
You won’t be able to see results quickly. For instance, 30 hours a month on SEO will do nothing. While on the other hand, you cannot afford to add more hours due to high hourly rate.
The person working on an hourly rate is least interested in your company’s goals. His job is to make the best use of hours.
2. Monthly SEO payment model
Monthly SEO plans are equally famous as hourly payment plans. In fact, monthly SEO plans are more widely used. You simply have to pay a fixed monthly fee every month. Monthly SEO plans are generally known as the monthly retainer.
The cost per month for a retainer plan is linked to the type of services you opt for. The Moz survey yielded quite distributed results. Over 14% respondents charge$251 to $500 a month while 11% charge $2501 to $5K a month.
Josh Steimle has divided monthly retainers into five categories:
$250 to $500 per month is best for small businesses with limited budget.
$700 to $1500 per month is perfect for businesses that target a specific geographic location such as a dentist targeting a specific town or city.
$2K to $6K per month is a kind of budget that is suitable for businesses that are targeting a national marketing or a less competitive international market.
$10K+ a month is for a campaign that is not niche-specific and is targeting a country or is an international campaign.
HubSpot conducted a survey from SEO agencies for the monthly retainer cost. Over 28% reported that the monthly retainer cost is between $2500 and $5000.
To give you an overview of what is included in a $2500 per month retainer plan, here are a few details.
Content research of around 2 hours resulting in 5 to 10 posts.
Content creation that costs anywhere between $300 and $500 per 1000 words.
Three hours per month for link prospecting.
Ten hours per month for link outreach.
Why use monthly retainer
There are several reasons for using a monthly retainer SEO plan.
No hourly limit. In reality, you get unlimited hours.
You pay for the services not for hours. For instance, if the agency has agreed to write 5 blog posts every month. There is no excuse. They will deliver 5 posts. Similarly, if they have agreed to send 30 links a month, you’ll get them irrespective of how many hours the agency use to acquire them.
The retainer is tied to results. You’ll see results quickly as compared to an hourly plan.
You know what you’re getting for your money. This improves the relationship between the client and the agency.
You can choose services to be included in the monthly retainer.
Here are a few potential drawbacks of monthly SEO payment plan.
The cost is high especially during the months of low sales. Even if you aren’t getting any sales, you’ll still have to pay the monthly fee.
You’ve to use it monthly to see consistent results. Should you stop it for a few months and then restart the plan, it won’t be as effective.
3. Project-based SEO
It is used for projects such as on page optimization, mobile optimization, etc. Project-based SEO is not, as such, used alone. It is used in conjunction with a monthly retainer or hourly plan.
According to Moz survey, the common price per project is between $1K and $7.5K. It is the most common pricing model offered by 70% of the agencies.
Some 43% of agencies in the survey had these four price ranges:
The two most common types of project-based SEO pricing include basic SEO audit and detailed SEO audit. The basic SEO audit is priced between $600 and $2K while detailed is priced between $3K and $20K.
Project-based SEO pricing has all the following benefits.
You get the best done from a lump sum amount. No recurring billing. No hourly rates.
It is straightforward and the most transparent pricing model.
You choose where to spend money. In most cases, there is no need to spend money on all the aspects of SEO. For instance, if you need a few links from a few authority websites, you can agree to pay a fixed price per link.
You see results quite quickly normally by the end of the project.
There is only one issue with this type of pricing model and that is related to the flexibility. Once the project has been initiated, you cannot tweak it in the middle.
What type of SEO pricing model is right for your business?
Mark Jackson says:
“The real value of SEO efforts are, generally, not realized in the first month(s) of the effort.”
It should be considered a long-term investment.
A solid SEO campaign takes anywhere from 6 months to a year before it starts delivering results.
This is the reason why SEO retainer is supposed to be a better option in most of the cases. When you sign a contract with an agency for a year (assume), the agency will plan, execute, and run your campaign and you’ll be in a position to see results after 6 months.
Working with a single agency for an extended duration always works better than working with multiple SEO consultants.
Project-based and hourly models don’t allow the marketer to have full control of your SEO campaign and therefore, they must be used with extreme caution.
So what you get in return after spend so much on SEO?
Of course, you’ll see improvement in search engine ranking, increase in organic traffic, and brand awareness.
Here is the survey conducted in 2016.
The spending on SEO is increasing every year which shows that it pays off big time. Of course, it has no comparison with email marketing and social media.
Calculating ROI of your SEO is not a big deal. You use Google Analytics to measure ROI.
This is the guide that will help you measure ROI using Google Analytics and Search Console.
Before you set things up, decide with the key metrics you’ll measure. If you’re paying SEO agency to acquire backlinks for your website for a specific keyword, you should measure ROI for that keyword only.
What is the purpose of the SEO campaign?
Are you interested in improving rankings for a few keywords, are you working to double organic traffic, are you spending money to improve brand awareness, or is it a general SEO plan?
The return should be measured on the basis of the objective(s) of the SEO campaign.
It is critical.
If you hired an SEO agency to move your website for 10 keywords from page 2 to top three positions. Only track position for these 10 keywords.
Before you go ahead and spend money on SEO, there are a few pro tips that will help you avoid dealing with agencies that might harm your website.
Better consider these tips as warnings.
Less than $500 a month for SEO
If an agency, an SEO consultant, or a freelancer is offering SEO services for $500 a month or even lower, that’s a red signal.
SEO is rooted deep inside your business model. When your website gets penalized, you don’t just lose rankings, you lose your business.
Any SEO plan that promises to deliver results at a price that’s unbelievably low, stay miles away. It will do more harm than good.
If you don’t want to see your website traffic dip like this, stick to high quality SEO services.
Anything that’s high-quality isn’t cheap. Be prepared to spend a lot on SEO.
Simon Heseltine says if an agency gives you a guarantee, you shouldn’t hire it.
There aren’t any guarantees in SEO and the results are never instant.
Just in case if you think someone can rank your website in Google in a few months, Ahrefs has the answer and unfortunately, it is not what you’re expecting.
Only 5.7% of lucky pages rank in top 10 search results in a year for at least one keyword. Rest of the pages don’t make it to the top page even after a complete year.
The majority of these 5.7% pages reach top 10 in 61-121 days.
And you think your SEO agency can do it for you in a couple months?
There is nothing as instant results when it comes to search. You have to invest in search engine optimization consistently. This is one reason why a monthly retainer is considered best.
Don’t ask for a guarantee. Don’t ask for instant ranking.
Don’t expect results quickly even if you’re spending $10K per month on SEO. It needs time.
So how much you’re willing to spend on SEO per month? Will you choose a monthly retainer, hourly, or a project-based pricing model?
Optimizing for search users successfully is more than a numbers game. It is not just getting to the first page by spending as little as possible.
SEO is a strategic approach to growing your business gradually by investing a certain portion of your marketing on the right channels.
Keeping investing in SEO. You’ll move up the ladder gradually. This is what SEO is all about.