Let’s face it – you don’t want to be that business owner who knows that every single person they’ve ever met uses the internet to find what they’re looking for yet you aren’t findable on the internet yourself.
So you decide it’s time to get found. But, how much does SEO cost?
Why does everyone you ask give you a different answer?
Let me guess… You’re here because you’ve spoken with a few SEO agencies or maybe some freelancers and requested quotes.
You were provided with prices ranging from a few hundred dollars per month to maybe tens of thousands per month.
Why is there such a huge difference?
How do you know which price is right?
Well, a lot of factors go into SEO pricing; so it can be pretty difficult to compare what services you get.
Especially now, in 2019. The SEO demand is increasing at a higher rate than just about any other service on the market.
For example, take a look at the graph below:
You read that right – the demand for SEO professionals is nearly doubling year over year.
With high demand, comes high cost.
But, why is the demand for SEO rising?
Let’s first dive into many of the tasks which SEO entail first, so you can understand why it’s no longer something you can hire for the low rates it was sold at just a few years ago.
Complexity for Simplicity
SEO is becoming more complex as Google’s algorithm evolves daily. It’s not the same game it used to be even just three years ago.
Although, when I say complex – I really just mean that it’s complex for the team implementing SEO, who, in turn, will be rewarded by Google’s algorithm for great user experience, quick answers to questions and the list goes on. But it’s all for one reason: To simplify access to the searchers’ requests.
Before we dive in, there are four main things to remember here:
- Don’t go cheap (A recent study revealed that clients of SEO agencies who spend over $500+/month are 53.3% more likely to consider themselves as “extremely happy” )
- Get ready to put in work (yes, this will require time on your end as well),
- Know what YOUR KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) will be,
- Ensure your business is ready to take on more work,
- and be patient. (Learn from Jack Ma, the entrepreneurial billionaire: “The very important thing you should have is patience.”)
How Much Does SEO Cost?
Nobody wants to waste money. Especially when it comes to business.
That’s why the “costs” of sub-$2,000/month SEO services tempt many companies to choose less expensive options.
If the cheapest firm’s services aren’t as effective, no harm, no foul, right?
Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
Proper SEO can serve as a torch held high in the black of the Internet’s night sky.
Handing it to an inexperienced torchbearer can set your site’s ranking ablaze…or worse, fizzle ’em out into nothing.
Your presence may burn brightly for a little while… but once Google shows up to put out the flames, only smoldering ruins remain.
Smoldering ruins as in pages 2+ of Google.
Remember – YOU are responsible for hiring the right agency for your SEO.
Whether you’re the business owner, a C-suite executive, procurement officer, trusted advisor – whatever role you play, taking the wrong approach could be critically dangerous to the company, it’s employees, their families and yourself.
When vetting an SEO agency, you should discuss the specific tactics used.
Just a few of the most important questions would be:
- Who will be writing the content?
- How do you acquire links?
- What do you take care of in terms of on-site optimization?
- Do you monitor analytics and find new ways to optimize for conversions?
If your SEO company can’t (or won’t) give you the details, don’t work with them.
Cheap SEO & Scams To Avoid
Must we even address this?
Well, seems like I still run into websites almost daily that haven’t learned, so, here we go…
There are people out there who will learn a little about Google keywords then start advertising themselves as SEO experts. In reality, they’re only keyword stuffers.
Google looks for useful content that uses keywords in context. Relevancy is key here. Stuffers tell local businesses to include text for every location they want to rank for. Another tactic is repeating the same words or phrases unnaturally.
“At Acme Discount Mattresses, we sell the best discount mattresses. Our discount mattresses offer the best value in discount mattresses. We have the best prices on discount mattresses. Call Acme Discount Mattresses and order your discount mattress today!”
Ok maybe that example may be a little overkill, but it’s possible that a paragraph like this could improve your ranking. But only temporarily. In the long run, this kind of paragraph will draw penalties from Google.
Content strategies need to be focused on topics. Yes, the keywords should be there in the text, but the focus is to answer questions and provide the best information out there.
Some SEO “professionals” resort to link schemes to manipulate a site’s ranking. Building spammy links or Private Blog Network (PBN) links in order to attempt improving organic rankings can result in a penalty. Providing excessive link exchanges also results in penalties. Google takes this so seriously that they even have a page set up to report this abuse.
The problem for an SEO client is that this tactic could improve their rankings temporarily and everyone gets excited. Just to find out that it won’t last. Once Google discovers the link exchange network, it all comes crashing down. Google penalizes page after page wrapped up in the scheme.
Guaranteed Rankings or Results
Guarantees are good, right? Not always. Especially not when it comes to organic search rankings. Why? Well, no single company other than Google can actually control rankings. Many SEO firms promise improvements to your website rankings. That’s normal. If you do what’s right, you’ll earn higher rankings. But a guarantee that you’ll make the first page of results? Or spot #1? Think twice before hiring that firm. See what Google themselves have to say about this:
To achieve that goal, some resort to questionable tactics. They meet their goals. You pay. And they disappear.
Shortly after that, your pages take a nosedive down to the page depths of organic search results – the complete opposite way you want them headed. That means Google has figured out that your site isn’t offering the value it promises. Google can see as users leave your website in a hurry – usually because they can’t stand waiting for the page to load or the content was written by someone who isn’t really a writer.
Quick Rankings & Results
There is no such thing. If it happens, you may achieve very temporary rankings, then Google will penalize you for good. That’s a mess nobody wants to clean up. We’ve turned down opportunities over penalized sites. So, have fun finding an agency to work with after that.
Yes, there is such a thing as Google Partners, we are one. BUT that has NOTHING TO DO WITH SEO.
Google Partners are agencies who have a certificate for passing the Google Ads test and who manage a number of Google Ad campaigns successfully. This is strictly related to digital advertising and has no relationship to organic rankings. If someone attempts to use their Google Partner status when talking about SEO – they are misleading you. Run.
The amount of time and tedious work that goes into search engine optimization is insane. No legitimate agency would ever provide that kind of work for free. Usually, they just want access to your website to use it for their own spammy reasons. Run.
Email SEO Scams
We’ve all received those unsolicited emails from an “SEO Guru” on the other side of the world, and sometimes even here in the US (so they say).
Even we get those emails and we’re an SEO agency. Our clients get those emails too – no matter how great their site is performing in organic search.
These scam emails usually say that you have issues or problems with your rankings, your website, or that you aren’t on page one of Google and they can help you fix that. Usually at a very attractive, low rate.
Unfortunately, many business owners fall for these scams. You’ve now been warned. Just mark it as spam.
See more information about how Google is actually now taking legal action against many of those companies here: https://searchengineland.com/google-steps-up-efforts-to-fight-scams-and-fraud-directed-at-smbs-299021
Phone SEO Scams
Everyone doesn’t just get annoyed by the spam emails though, we’ve all received those phone scams too, unfortunately.
(commence overseas accent) “Hi, this is bob from Google. I am calling to help your website get found.”
Ok first of all, Google will never outright call you. There’s a process which you must go through in order to even request a call from Google.
Second of all, Google doesn’t provide personal help if getting your business found or ranked or anything of the sort.
They have tools in your Google My Business account that provide tips and encourages you to do different things to help you get found, but they do not have people dedicated to calling and helping you.
Read this guide that helps you better understand these phone call scams: https://www.onimodglobal.com/beware-of-seo-robocall-scams/
Ownership of Content
Did you know that since SEO is a service, content produced and placed on your website is actually owned by the agency doing the work? Well, not unless they specify otherwise in the contract. For example; in every single one of our contracts – we state:
“Everything we create for you is 100% owned by you. Meaning we will never remove any work done to your website. This is an investment in your business, and we respect your decision to choose us as your partner in growth. We do not take a single penny you spend with us lightly, and are very serious about producing results.”
Make sure that when choosing an agency to work with, you ask that very important question of who owns the work.
SEO Pricing Break-Down
|Average Hourly SEO Consulting Rates (US)||$100-$500/hr|
|Average Managed Local SEO Campaigns Rates||$1,500-$5,000/month|
|Average Managed Regional SEO Campaign Rates||$3,000-$10,000/month|
|Average Managed National SEO Campaign Rates||$8,000-$100,000/month|
|SEO Strategy & Competitor/Market Research||$10,000|
As you can see from the table above – SEO pricing varies as there are so many different variables into what goes into different camapaigns and who you’re working with. A significant concern with a majority of businesses on SEO is finding a firm with the right size team that doesn’t overcharge.
Some small firms do great work. But don’t expect them to be cheap.
A simple Google search for a company’s reviews will help you better understand if they’re a good agency or not.
The most reliable source of information about an agency is clutch.co.
All the reviews you read about an agency on Clutch.co are real. Their team actually takes the time to personally get on a call with an agency’s clients and conduct a roughly 15-30 minute interview. They then write up the interview and add the questions and answers to the respective SEO agency’s profile. There’s no other platform on the internet that dedicates this kind of effort to ensure real, honest reviews about marketing agencies. Read more about their methodology here: https://clutch.co/methodology.
What About Freelancers?
If you’re in talks with an individual and they’re offering low-price SEO – that means they are very highly likely to be outsourcing much of their work.
That often leads to quality control issues when an individual is responsible for all of the work SEO entails. Or they don’t spend much time on your site and don’t do much more than you could after an online course.
A smaller firm (not hundreds of employees) is usually a great way to go.
It’s not going to be “cheap”. But, you get what you pay for.
You want a well-rounded team working on your SEO. Scrap that. You NEED a well-rounded team.
Many firms have in-house copy editors, content managers, graphic designers, and conversion optimization specialists. They have web developers, analytics experts, and account managers. The list goes on.
These firms know that being able to keep up consistent high-quality work requires a solid team.
They know that having enough people to take care of the different aspects of your digital marketing strategy ensures your SEO will be prioritized and given the proper attention it needs and deserves.
SEO is Time & Work-Intensive
Because SEO requires a lot of meticulous, detail-oriented labor, many cheap SEO firms do a LOT of outsourcing.
It’s not always bad to use contractors for specific tasks, but only if the work they do is of high quality.
Often, people writing the cheapest content will be freelancers whose first language is not English. This can result in poor grammar, spelling, or confusion due to cultural differences.
Let’s be clear: This is NOT the kind of content you want on your site.
That being said, working with an SEO firm that is not located in your country is a flat-out terrible idea, dare we say, suicidal to your online presence.
Because over the past few years, Google has given the quality of the content on your website higher priority than ever before.
And content is only becoming more and more relevant in rankings.
If you hire someone who doesn’t speak your language fluently and isn’t well educated in your language, the content will never be what it could be if you hired a content marketing agency in the US.
Not to say that everyone in the US is a great writer, but you’ve got a much better shot at getting better content written for you if you hire a US SEO or content marketing firm vs. an “SEO” company in, say, Mexico, Thailand, India or Pakistan.
Setting Proper Expectations
An SEO firm that knows what they’re doing will set the proper expectations with you up-front. Because they all know that when SEO is done correctly, it takes time.
All right. Your servers are humming along. You’ve optimized your content, its unique, fresh and consistent. You’re stacked up against your competition.
Now what? How long is this SEO thing going to take? Well, that depends.
Don’t lose heart! We’ll get there and you are off to a great start. There are a lot of factors to consider.
Okay. Cheap SEO could lead to a nightmare of a situation. You get it now.
So how can you do this the right way?
Google takes over 200 factors into account when analyzing and ranking your site.
An experienced SEO firm is familiar with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
The best digital firms focus on the factors that have the most impact. And when the competition is tough, that’s when they’ll also work on the smallest factors. Because it may be that .001% change that will differentiate you from the competitor enough to bump ’em out of their top rankings and place you there instead.
Overall, you want a firm that considers and prioritizes long-term success for your company. Now is the time to explore the factors that will contribute to the long term success of your business online!
Optimizing Your Site For Search Performance
Some initial optimization needs to take place before reformatting the content that shapes your online presence. Your site must be set up to let search engines access it. Overlooking this step will make all the work useless.
SEO firms will often help you optimize page speed. And they ensure that your site renders well on smartphones, tablets, and desktop PCs so that you are accessible to everyone’s needs.
Content is key. Your content should be:
- Original content (not copy-pasted),
- Specific to your business,
- Offer value,
- Be actionable and have call-to-actions (CTA’s),
- Have an attention-grabbing headline,
- Answer questions in-line to what the user searched,
- Be engaging and thought-provoking,
- Be visually appealing – use photos/icons/mini-graphics/infographics/video,
- Represent the goals that you strive for in order to rank high,
- Be regularly updated,
- And to-the-point, or, in other words, not stuffed with filler content just to hit certain word counts.
A good SEO firm will help you analyze your site from the get-go and make sure that what’s posted is unique, and engaging while targeting the right audience and satisfying user intent.
It’s not only important to rank for popular keywords. Your content needs to provide value, and of course, a little edge to engage those users searching for key searches related to your products and/or services.
Did you know that there are these machines called Google bots that crawl all over your page?
Yup. They are constantly exploring when users search, visit your page and if they leave because the site isn’t what they wanted.
If users continue to leave your page without engaging (clicking-through to other pages, clicking to call, email, download something, etc.), those Google critters decide that someone else is providing better user experiences. That someone else just so happens to be your organic search competition. Ouch.
When users don’t engage with your content, you are less likely to rank for the very key terms that represent your services.
The good news is that this doesn’t have to be the case when you invest in properly implemented SEO strategies.
Google wants to see vibrant, valuable content which isn’t out-dated.
Your page needs to answer a user’s query and excite them to get started with your business.
You can have a 4,000-word post that a user scans and bounces from because it didn’t apply to what they searched or they get lost in too many words, improperly structured content with headings, lack of visuals, etc.
The key is bringing them to their answers in a timely, easy-going manner.
It’s possible to have a shorter blog post that’s perfect for a keyword. Almost everyone clicks the search result and reads content, so make it engaging, as that’s what matters most.
Additional metrics will do their job and prove to Google that users found what they needed in those words.
Content Posting Intervals
Posting various types of media and content consistently helps SEO tremendously. It can also speed up your efforts. When you add new content, Google’s spiders crawl your page more often. Although, your agency should also be regularly checking your Google Search Console to ensure it’s actually getting crawled.
Posting new content also encourages users to return to your site. Google views returning visitors as having positive experiences. They like what they see on your website, and Google gives your page a better ranking.
Good news! Google doesn’t care how fast you publish your content as long as it’s valuable and engaging. So churn out those quality posts as quickly as possible! (GR??)
An SEO firm will help you optimize your backlinks. But, what exactly are backlinks?
Backlinks are the futuristic branches to your business’s tree, they reach out online to and from all the reputable sources, showing that you have solid roots in your specific industry.
Google tends to view sites with more trust and authority when they link to and from reputable sources online.
So, the more backlinks the better (as long as they are quality, relevant links.)
This is where some businesses get desperate, and who likes desperate? We’ll tell you who – not the ones holding the actual power to grow your business – Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.
It can be hard to get a website to link to your site. Especially when you play by Google’s rules and do it the right way.
More links help, but that’s not all you need. You can have a vast amount of links from low-quality and low-ranking sites. Google may look at this in a negative light. You need quality links from relevant websites.
Google also wants to see links over time. If you get a sudden rush for links, Google’s little bots know you are trying to play games, may think your site is attempting to manipulate the system.
It is good to be natural in any relationship, let people find your site organically and choose to link based on the unique and engaging knowledge you create when you invest in a great SEO firm.
You want to rank for the right reasons, naturally with unique content and a good representation of the amazing business that you have built!
SEO firms do the research on each page of your website to make sure you’re linking to those reputable sources and actively engage in the online community to earn links to your valuable content.
Credible sources represent your knowledge basis and integrity as a business, with roots grown deep into your field.
These backlinks should also hold value to visitors. If they click on a link from another site to yours, or from your site to another, the content they land upon should always be useful. It should expand their own knowledge.
With many branches and roots grown deep to and throughout your website, Google sees that your site provides more value as users visit your site from others and engage with the links on your website as well.
Sizing Up Your Competition
A good SEO firm will do a lot of research into who your top search competitors are online.
They’ll use tools such as SEMrush and AHREFS to measure the top 3, 10, 20, and sometimes even up to 100 competitors. They’ll measure, analyze and compare things such as:
- Does your website compare as an authority figure in your field when it comes to systems, crawlability, and optimization?
- Do you have backlinks from reputable sources? And is the content behind those sources great content?
- Is your own content unique?
What you need is a fresh voice of reason that truly speaks to your audience and their pain points. Your website’s knowledge base should also be easily digestible and relates directly to the users’ needs.
Often this research can’t be done by cracking the surface view of your competition’s site.
That’s why the best SEO firms dig deep and peer behind the technological curtain of your competition’s code.
They use tools and systems that have special bots (also known as crawlers), to inspect what’s going on behind the scenes and turn your website into a lean, mean ranking machine.
Once you execute your SEO strategy, you’ll sprint past the other site listings and seep your roots deep into the knowledge basis and beyond! You’ll eclipse billions of webpages in a short time. But once you start getting closer to the top, “IT’S TRICKY”- Ayee thanks Run-DMC your melody holds #TRUE.
You’ve improved your site, give yourself a pat on the back, but recognize that other sites in your niche have been around a lot longer, they hopped on the technological train years ago. They might even have great content too, along with a solid basis of visitors, and followers online. It’s going to take time to prove your value.
If you’re hoping to get to the number one spot, it’s going to take some time, and when you invest in SEO time is on your side. Those constant social media updates, blog posts, fast loading pages, and pristine design are watering your tree.
Measuring Impact & Reporting
How do you know if your SEO strategy is working? Your marketing agency should measure its long-term impact. A one-time makeover is great, but ask any woman and she’ll tell you that a makeover can easily fade and be wiped away overnight.
Getting A new website is not the answer, you need upkeep people beauty takes time and maintenance. You have to feed your website with a healthy amount of content and constant care to keep it running clean! It is 2019 and online presence means everything.
Keyword rankings don’t only measure SEO success. Organic sessions, conversions, and revenue must also improve. SEO should result in an impact to your business that goes full circle and spreads your branch of knowledge to users all over the internet.
You should have a regularly updated news or blog section on your site so that people know you are always in sight and on top of the next big bang within your industry. This means maintaining social media accounts as well.
You have to keep using SEO in these areas to drive traffic to your site. A good SEO firm will track all these metrics for you so that you know whether or not your goals are being met, and if they are not, try to find out why.
How Long Until I See Results?
Any idea at all? Well, you might start seeing improvements in ranking in a few weeks. But competitive topics and search terms could take months, and highly competitive industries, sometimes a year or longer. Think about it – if you’re starting on your SEO now, you’re also competing against competition who has likely been working on their site for years.
You need to be ready to put in several months to a year into this new found Google relationship, I mean come on no one likes easy.
So, give it time and a little love before seeing results from your SEO strategy.
Even then, you probably won’t be on top, but you are headed in the right direction. Tim Soulo found that only 5.7% of new pages make Google’s top 10 within a year.
This is why so many SEO firms prefer and recommend monthly retainers. SEO is a long-term investment. There are times when you need an aggressive campaign. But if you have a site you want to rank high for a long time to come, those tactics won’t keep you on top.
Check out our SEO timeline guide.
Thoughts On The Costs of SEO
You still want to know the answer to your burning question:
“What can I expect to spend? There must be an average SEO cost or at least some kind of estimate?!”
Keep in mind that all SEO service companies price themselves differently.
If you want to hire a leading SEO company for a local campaign, expect to pay an SEO cost per month of $2,000 or more.
A regional campaign will usually start at a minimum of $2,500 to $5,000 per month.
Once you start targeting search results on a larger level, there’s really no ceiling to how much you can spend.
You can’t do all pieces of a fully robust SEO campaign on your own, neither can one or two employees, and $500/month means you’re being scammed.
A robust SEO campaign requires a team of specialists and tools for them to work.
Let’s go over who’s needed, and the average salary of each team member so that pricing for organic search marketing makes sense.
Overhead of an SEO Team
SEO Strategist – according to Glass Door, the average salary in the US is $58,860/year
Primary responsibility: Initial campaign research, strategy building, implementation of SEO both on and off-site, and more.
Content Marketer – according to Glass Door, the average salary in the US is $81,078/year
Primary responsibility: Creating and Promoting of media content, blog posts, building relationships with other authority sites, writing guest post blogs, developing content marketing strategies and more.
Graphic/Web Designer – according to Glass Door, the average salary in the US is $48,561/year
Primary responsibility: Creating graphics, videos, infographics, designing and redesigning web pages, and much more.
Web Developer – according to Glass Door, the average salary in the US is $75,487/year
Primary responsibility: Ensuring the website is in healthy shape as new content and pages are being added, continual improvements of site speed, mobile optimization, collaborating with the SEO strategist to build and implement SEO resources which require code such as schema.org, building out new functions while working with the conversion optimization specialist to improve sales.
Conversion Optimization Specialist – according to Paysa, the average salary in the US is $78,450/year
Primary responsibility: Setting up Analytics, Monitoring, A/B testing, optimizing all pieces of the campaign and more.
Digital Marketing Manager – according to Salary.com, the average salary in the US is $99,534/year
Primary responsibility: A knowledgeable resource who ensures the collaboration of team members and is able to ensure each team member is properly implementing strategies. This person should an overall knowledge of each team members specialty and tie everything together, constantly building out strategies with each individual member.
My guess is, you want a full digital strategy though.
This means you’ll have to add a digital advertising specialist, a social media marketing specialist, and probably a few other team members.
But since we’re focused strictly on the costs of SEO right now, let’s look at the cost of an SEO team if you were to hire the right team in-house:
An SEO team comprising of 6 core members would cost you roughly $441,970/year.
Woah, buddy, that’s a lot of dough $$$$.
Marketing Software Expenses
A team is only as good as their tools.
For example; a skilled electrician wouldn’t be able to do any work without a set of tools to even get started. An SEO team requires tools of their own.
Over the last few years, Google has been limiting the data shown from Google Analytics – unless you’re paying for Google Ads. This means that in order to fully analyze, track and optimize organic marketing campaigns – marketers must now rely on third party data tools.
There are a plethora of different tools on the market, but for now, I’m going to just mention the ones we use here at Direction Inc.:
Marketing Tool #2 – AHREFS:
Category: Organic Search Marketing Insights, Competitor Data, Campaign Optimization & Reporting
Cost: Roughly $4,000/year depending on which plan you choose
Marketing Tool #3 – SPYFU:
Category: Organic Search Marketing Insights, Advertising, Competitor Data, Campaign Optimization Insights
Cost: Roughly $3,000/year depending on which plan you choose
Marketing Tool #4 – MOZ:
Category: Organic Search Marketing Insights, Competitor Data, Campaign Optimization & Reporting
Cost: Roughly $2,000/year depending on which plan you choose
Marketing Tool #5: Adobe Suite (including Adobe Stock)
Category: Graphic Design, Stock Photography
Cost: Roughly $1,500/year
Marketing Tool #6: Canva
Category: Graphic Design, Stock Photography
Cost: Roughly $120/year
Marketing Tool #7: Grammarly
Category: Content Creation
Cost: Free, Premium Costs Roughly $100/year
Marketing Tool #8: Majestic
Cost: Roughly $1,000/year
Marketing Tool #9: Slack
Category: Team Collaboration / Project Management
Cost: Roughly $8/month/user
Marketing Tool #10: BaseCamp
Category: Team Collaboration / Project Management
Anyways, that’s just the start. With just those tools and that team, you’re looking at about $450k/year.
That’s not even including other tools such as call tracking, or purchasing pieces of an SEO campaign which are required such as directory submissions in local listing directories, video creation tools, computers, computer equipment, outsourcing different pieces of the campaign to contractors and the list goes on.
Considering building an in-house digital marketing team?
A fully staffed, well-rounded SEO company is looking at a minimum of $500k/year in overhead.
For some companies, it makes perfect sense. For most other companies, it’s not even a consideration. Hence, the existence of digital agencies. Hallelujah!
Now, when speaking with different companies hopefully you have a better understanding of why they price the way they do.
Now go forth and grow your business online!
Make SEO Work for You
You want a website that ranks near the top of Google’s billions of pages.
And it’s possible to get there!
But it’s going to take a considerable investment of funds, hard work, and time to water your website with a tree of knowledge and roots that seep deep into the internet basis of your niche!
Now that you know the factors of SEO cost, find a team of SEO experts to get you to the top.
We work on SEO every day for clients in Washington DC and across the USA.
Contact us for a consultation and start improving your site’s ranking today!
President, Direction Inc.