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SEO Pricing: How Much Does SEO Cost in 2021?

So what’s the REAL difference between an agency promising position 1 results for the price of a coffee every day, and the one that focuses on strategy and ROI? (Hint: it’s more than you think).

Google processes approximately 70,000 searches every single second — and of these 70,000 searches, more than 75.1% of ALL clicks go to the top 3 results on the first page.

In other words, top 3 positions = more clicks, more traffic, more customers, more revenue.

But with such a limited number of search results on page 1, it should come as no surprise that the competition is fierce. That’s why most brands turn to a qualified team of specialists to help them rank higher in organic search — only to get overwhelmed by all the options out there.

Here’s the deal: who you work with matters A LOT. 

Some agencies will help you get to the top and the payoff will be worth it in terms of ROI. Others might deliver ho-hum results at best or, worse yet, send your business plummeting in search.

So what’s the REAL difference between an agency promising position 1 results for the price of a coffee every day, and the one that focuses on strategy and ROI? (Hint: it’s more than you think).

That’s what we’re going to cover here. We break down:

Ready to discover how much you should expect to spend on SEO? Keep reading.

 

How is SEO pricing determined?

There are a ton of SEO agencies and freelancers promising to get you to the top of Google's first page. They all have different budgets and package models, using different techniques, and with different tools. 

So what should you be spending, and what can you expect to get at each price point?

Spoiler alert: there’s no hard and fast rule for this one. 

See, the amount you pay for SEO services depends on a lot of factors, including the size of your business, where you’re currently at with your SEO, and the extent of the services you require.

Let’s say you’re a small business that has done zero search engine marketing work in the past. You should expect to pay more per month than a business of a similar size that’s invested in technical SEO and has a good number of existing backlinks and high-quality content.

That’s why SEO pricing can vary so wildly, depending on your industry, your business size, the level of competition, and so on. Here are three core factors that come into play when determining SEO costs:

  • Your current situation: Where is your business sitting in terms of SEO? Where are you ranking? How competitive is your industry and the keywords you’re targeting? 

  • Your goals: What are you looking to achieve with your SEO? Are you trying to improve your local visibility, or do you have a national presence? Where do you want to rank in position 1?

  • Your timeline: How quickly do you want to reach your goals? Bear in mind that high-quality SEO is about playing the long game, so chances are it will take much longer to improve your organic visibility than you may think.

  • Your required level of expertise: Naturally, the SEO pricing for an expert with 10+ years of experience isn’t going to be the same as someone who’s only got a few years under their belt. The level of expertise and experience that are required to achieve your desired goal will affect the people who work on your campaigns and, in turn, the cost of your SEO.

  • Your location: Where are you located and how much competition is out there in your industry? This will affect the volume of SEO work that needs to be done in order to improve your rankings. For example, if you’re a small business playing in a hyper-competitive industry (like a deli in NYC) you’ll most likely be quoted more for SEO pricing than a small business in an industry with little to no competition in the area.

  • SEO package inclusions: Do you need content marketing? Keyword research? Are you looking for an end-to-end solution or do you just need help with strategy? Do you require ongoing SEO services or is it for a one-off project like a website migration? All of these considerations will affect your SEO pricing.

  • Campaign aggressiveness: How quickly do you need to get results? If you want to be more aggressive with your SEO campaign and rank faster, your agency will need to do more work in a shorter period of time to get you there — which means a higher cost.

 

How much is SEO per month?

If you look in the market, you’ll see all types of different SEO pricing and SEO package options. However, the different types of SEO services and price points can generally be broken down into these four categories based on your company size, the scope of your project, the level of expertise required, and how much work you need:

Cheap SEO services

These are either the cheapest of the cheap search engine optimization providers. You’ll find them offering page 1 positions for SEO pricing of a few hundred dollars per month, while promising you the world in terms of rankings and search visibility.

It may sound good on paper, but these savings have to come from somewhere. Cheap-as-chips SEO companies typically outsource your work overseas, or employ freelancers that haven’t been vetted for expertise or experience. Their teams are focused on the volume of SEO services they produce rather than quality of SEO services.

For example, a cheap agency might promise 100 backlinks a month or 30 SEO articles. However, what they really mean is that you’ll get:

  • Low-quality backlinks from spammy websites, which will hurt your domain authority rather than help it. That’s because building real high-quality links from authoritative websites takes careful time, planning and consideration.

  • Poorly written copy that’s rife with inaccuracies, keyword stuffing and typos. On top of affecting your brand’s rankings, this type of content can hurt your industry reputation and damage your credibility with potential customers. In fact, 76% of customers say inconsistent content erodes their trust in a brand.

 

More importantly, while these providers might not cost a lot on paper every month, the TRUE cost of working with a cheap SEO agency is huge.

At best, you’ll most likely get an agency that doesn’t get you very far and pours your digital marketing budget down the drain. Even if the SEO pricing is just a few hundred dollars a month, you’ll be getting close to zero ROI and losing out on valuable customers.

At worst, you’ll get an agency that gets you penalized by Google and sent to Page 1000000 in search results because they employ risky black-hat techniques. This can undo all of the hard work you’ve put into SEO services before that point, and make it tricky (or near impossible) to climb back to the top of search results. Fixing a manual penalty requires extensive expertise from a qualified team of SEO experts and can take months or even years — which means you’ll be paying far more than the few hundred dollars you budgeted on.

Entry-level SEO services

Make no mistake: “cheap” SEO and entry-level SEO packages aren’t the same thing.

If you’re a local business operating on a lean marketing budget, you might only be able to afford a certain amount of SEO marketing services in a month. Here’s the thing: it IS possible to find low-cost SEO providers. You just need to remember that the cost-cutting has to come from somewhere.

This typically means one of three things:

  • You’ll get minimal SEO work per month (i.e. local SEO management and reporting only)

  • The agency has a trained offshore SEO service team and passes on those savings to you

  • The agency is assigning one account manager for a lot of clients, which means you won’t be communicating with your account manager as often 

Mid-range SEO services

Most small businesses and medium-sized business owners will typically opt for the mid-range SEO pricing option.

These middle-market SEO packages generally include a healthy mix of on-page optimization, off-page SEO (link building), local SEO services, ongoing technical optimizations, content development, and reporting. Your team generally includes an account manager and a team of specialists, or you’ll be working with a high-end SEO freelancer/consultant.

High-end SEO services

Generally speaking, you can expect higher pricing SEO services if:

  • you’re playing in a hyper-competitive industry

  • you’re an eCommerce business (as all of your competition is online)

  • you want to achieve more in a shorter timeframe WITHOUT compromising on quality

High-end SEO companies will typically include monthly on-site SEO, extensive off-page SEO, local SEO pricing, content marketing, and custom reporting in their SEO cost. With high-end SEO, you might also get services such as PR link building (like guest posting), infographic development, and more.

Enterprise SEO services

Enterprise-level organizations have very different search engine optimization needs to regular business owners because of sheer scale. 

You might have a website with thousands of products, or have multiple sites for different brands. Because of this, you need a custom SEO strategy that's extremely focused, as you’ll most likely be playing in a highly competitive industry and need to roll out your SEO strategy across complex infrastructure.

Enterprise SEO packages come with a hefty SEO cost per month, but for good reason. In most cases you’ll have a specific team dedicated to your account on a monthly basis, and custom page-specific or custom brand-specific SEO strategies based on your company structure.

 

The true cost of cheap SEO

We mentioned that cheap and dirty SEO companies will cost business owners much, MUCH more in the long term.

This is because good SEO services simply don't come cheap.

The best way to think about your SEO services pricing is in terms of the project management triangle:

three kinds of seo

Cheap and fast marketing agencies generally use black hat tactics to get you to rank on top quickly, such as:

  • Keyword stuffing instead of creating genuine content

  • Poor-quality content or duplicate content

  • Cloaking (i.e. showing one piece of content to visitors and another to search engines)

  • Paid or manipulative links

  • Link schemes, typically in the form of a private link network

  • Blog comment spam

Keep in mind: Google is WELL aware of these techniques and has rolled out several algorithm updates to tackle these exact problems. If and when your website is caught doing this, you’ll lose all of the visibility you worked hard for. 

While it is possible to recover from a penalty, the cost of doing so is huge compared to the amount you would have spent investing in a quality SEO agency from the get-go — both in terms of lost rankings and lost revenue. 

Bottom line: expect SEO to take time, and work only with agencies that are white hat. If it sounds too good to be true, it DEFINITELY is.

Can I do my own SEO in-house?

You can absolutely do your own SEO. But while this option seems cheaper, the costs can quickly add up OR you might not get the results you’re looking for.

First things first: you’ll need to have a team of experts within your company. SEO is a highly technical field, and doing quality work requires a team of SEO specialists, copywriters, web developers and analysts. The HR budget of bringing in these team members alone and training those that want to learn are mind-boggling, especially compared to an agency that has these resources on hand.

The second thing to consider is tools. If you want to identify the right keywords, track where you’re ranking, develop SEO-optimized content marketing and more, you’ll probably need one (or all) of these tools:

  • SEO analytics for your own website and competitor websites

  • Data on your backlink profile and the backlink profile of your competitors

  • A keyword research tool

  • SEO audit tool

  • Brand and reputation monitoring

 

The costs of these can quickly add up. For example, if you’re an eCommerce company and want to use SEMRush, you’ll be looking at SEO prices of roughly $450 per month:

seo packages

SEO agencies, on the other hand, carry the fees for the data and technology behind their work.

Bottom line is: if you’re a larger outfit and can afford to invest more heavily in SEO, it is possible to do your SEO in-house. However, most SMBs, eCommerce companies and even enterprise-level companies will benefit from the expertise and experience of an SEO agency.

 

Why are there different SEO pricing models?

When it comes to an SEO pricing model, most SEO consultants follow one of these four SEO pricing packages: project-based, performance-based, monthly retainer, or hourly consulting.

The type of pricing you choose generally depends on how much budget you have, how much work you need to do, and how flexible you want to be with your SEO work.

Project-based or fixed-rate contracts

These contracts are a great way to test the waters for SEO services, or if you need a team of specialists to work on a custom SEO campaign. They have a clear beginning and end point, and a set number of deliverables that you’ll be paying for. 

These are typically where you’ll start if you’re working with an SEO agency. This is because there’s typically an upfront cost associated at the beginning of any engagement, which covers a one-time on-site SEO audit & technical SEO analysis. 

SEO project-based contracts are also handy if you need help on a technical project, such as a site migration, custom work done, or need to recover from a Google penalty.

Monthly retainers

Monthly SEO services are one of the most common ongoing SEO pricing models. With a monthly retainer, you pay the agency or consultant a fixed amount per month, and they’ll handle all of your SEO needs on a regular basis.

Monthly SEO ensures that you’re consistently investing in your search engine optimization over time. This is crucial because it can take anywhere from 6 months to a year to implement a proper SEO game plan.

Performance-based pricing

If you’re after results, the pay-for-performance pricing model might be the way to go. This approach is more aggressive than a project-based or per-month retainer because it’s hyper-targeted and focused on getting results.

With performance-based pricing, you’ll generally pay only when your SEO company delivers the outcome you are looking for (i.e. ranking for a target keyword). The performance model works if you have a specific list of keywords you know perform well, and want to go all-in on those ones.

Per hour consulting

Hourly consulting is great if you’re on a budget, as you only need to pay per hour worked rather than per month. However, the hourly rates option only really works if you have an in-house team that can execute a lot of the recommendations delivered by your SEO consultant (such as content marketing), or have a solid understanding of SEO but need some custom work done.

 

How can you tell if the cost of SEO services are worth it?

You’ve done the hard yards and shortlisted a bunch of SEO agencies and freelancers. So how do you separate the high-quality SEO services from the ones that will hurt your rankings, revenue and reputation?

These four considerations will help reveal whether your agency is able to talk the talk AND walk the walk.

Look for an agency with proven results

One of the easiest ways to figure out if the SEO pricing is worth it to check if your agency has a proven track record in getting results. Ask for case studies for other SEO campaigns in a similar industry or for a company that’s similar in size. Make sure to go beyond the vanity metrics here, such as the number of rankings on page one of search engines like Google. Look for tangible outcomes that affect a business’ bottom line, like an increase in overall ROI or conversions and sales from organic search.

Another tip? Don’t just look at the stuff that the agency gives you. Do your own digging as well: check out their reviews, see how long they’ve been in business, and conduct a quick Google search around their SEO services. This will give you an objective viewpoint on how they stack up against other SEO professionals out there.

Talk to SEO experts

A SEO company business development executive or account manager will almost always tell you exactly what you want to hear. What you really want to do is to get a peek under the hood and talk to the people who will be working on your SEO strategy day in and day out.

Ask which SEO professionals will be working on your account and request to meet them in person. Any high-quality agency should be happy to put their talent front and center, while less-than-savory companies may try to hide the fact that their SEO experts are based offshore (or that they’re not really ‘experts’).

Learn to spot a cookie-cutter strategy

Your business is unique. That’s why you want an agency that will painstakingly craft a tailored strategy that’s specific to your goals and your industry. 

Review the SEO strategy and campaign that the agency presents to you. Have they really listened to your business challenges and taken the time to understand your industry? Did they conduct keyword research for search terms that are specific to your business? Have they dug into your numbers in Google Analytics and reviewed where you’re currently at in terms of your ranking in search engines and local SEO? Do they offer specific SEO services and are they clear in terms of next steps, outcomes, and reporting metrics?

If you’ve answered no to any of these questions, it may be a warning sign that the agency hasn’t put enough thought and effort into creating a strategy that will help you reach your goals.

Keep your eye out for black-hat techniques

Black-hat techniques have no place in any high-quality SEO services. Luckily, these are easy to spot in an SEO strategy once you know what you’re looking for.

When the SEO company presents its plan to you, ask them to go deeper into the techniques behind the approach. Be wary of tactics that sound like any of the following:

  • Content automation or duplicate content

  • Keyword stuffing, either in blog posts or landing pages

  • Link manipulation, guest posting networks or link schemes. These could include commenting on blog posts with a link back to your website or exchanging links with another website

  • Sneaky redirects, doorway pages, or hidden text with links on your page (i.e. white text on a white background)

  • Negative SEO tactics that involve reporting a competitor or trying to damage their reputation in search engine results pages

 

Last but not least, be EXTREMELY wary of someone who claims to be able to deliver incredible results in the blink of an eye for half the price of other competitors. This is the biggest telltale sign that an agency is using black-hat tactics — and the biggest sign to walk away.

Why the question of ‘How much does SEO cost?’ is not the right one to ask…

When it comes to SEO services, cost isn't the thing to focus on. Most businesses think of SEO as an expense, rather than an investment.

Here’s the thing: true long-term SEO success doesn’t come cheap. But it’s worth it. What matters isn’t the budget — it’s the return on investment you’re getting as a result.

If your CPA is $30 on paid search, $15 on paid social and $5 via organic search, it’s simple: organic search is the most profitable digital marketing avenue to scale up on. Investing no budget in SEO, or investing budget in the wrong actions, will cost you in missed growth, revenue and competitive edge. 

That’s where having the right SEO team and the right strategy is CRITICAL.

The right team should be focused on getting real results for your bottom line, not just delivering vanity metrics on a report at the end of the month. 

Remember those 70,000 searches per second? 

High-quality SEO services help you get a piece of that pie. They put you in front of your target audience for relevant searches and drive qualified users to your website who are more likely to convert. And, most importantly, they do it all in a sustainable way, using white hat methods that Google loves (and your users do too).

Want to generate incredible ROI from your organic search? Trust the Online Marketing Gurus to get you there. Claim your FREE SEO audit today, and find out how you can skyrocket your rankings and revenue.

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