Let’s get the confusion out of the way and answer the question first.
How Much Does SEO Cost?
The Correct Answer: It Depends!
When someone tells you fixed price points, like $100 or $500 per month, RUN! In most cases, you are talking to someone that either uses horrible search engine optimisation practices or some fixed strategies that might or might not work.
Now, let’s dig deeper and see the truth about this controversial topic.
SEO prices vary a lot from one agency to another. And this is just one factor that influences costs.
Let’s talk about what influences how much you pay for monthly SEO and other essential things you need to know.
If you are interested in listening to this post rather than read it, we uploaded the audio as a presentation on YouTube. Just click Play on the video below.
If you want to read the information, please continue reading below.
Before discussing actual SEO prices, we need to highlight one important thing. A Search Engine Journal survey showed us that 46% of small businesses do not spend anything on SEO.
17% of businesses that have an SEO budget want to spend under $100 per month. Basically, 71% of all small business owners surveyed budget under $99 per month for search engine optimisation.
I am telling you this because if you expect to pay $100 per month for SEO, you are in big trouble. Your results will be sub-par (if you get any results whatsoever).
With all this in mind, determining your SEO budget is not easy. Many things should be mentioned about this particular topic, and we will do so in a future post.
What you have to remember right now is that your goal should be to pay as much as you need to get results. Budgets can grow in time.
There is no other possible answer. Let’s think about an example to highlight the importance of SEO for a business and see how the cost of SEO is usually justified.
Only simple numbers. Let’s say your profit per order is $50. Also, let’s say you get 2,000 visitors every single day. Your conversion rate is 1%. Your monthly profit is $30,000 based on simple math:
2,000 visitors X 30 days X 0.01 conversion rate X $50 = $30,000
If the website is ranked on page 5 and then moves to page 1, your traffic goes up. Let’s play this safe and say the daily traffic grows by 50%, up to 3,000 visitors.
3,000 visitors X 30 days X 0.01 conversion rate X $50 = $45,000
Monthly revenues grow by $15,000 per month. How much is that worth?
Would you pay $15,000 now to get $15,000 more every single month? Of course you would. After just one month, you would start to make more money.
Obviously, SEO is not that fast, and there are many variables to consider when talking about how organic traffic grows. However, this should highlight the fact that SEO is 1000% worth the money and the cost of SEO should be high. When done RIGHT, of course!
As I said before, a huge part of small businesses expects to pay under $100 for SEO. This means the work done for you will be BAD.
All you need to do is look for “internet marketing groups” online. There are countless such groups on Facebook alone. Just look at the posts and you will see hundreds of people that pose as SEO professionals. They look for clients, and unfortunately, many small businesses respond.
I am afraid for the small businesses that will work with this person.
When you hire someone that does not really know SEO, you pay a lot less than when you hire an SEO agency. This is attractive. It is normal because we all want to save money. However, with search engine optimisation, saving money can quickly lead to cheap service. In reality, you receive sub-par SEO services.
Cheap SEO is different than affordable SEO. When you find an SEO agency or you hire an SEO specialist that offers affordable SEO work, you might get good work done on your site. When you buy cheap SEO, there will be problems.
As a straightforward example, one of the widespread practices used by these “SEO professionals” who sell cheap SEO is a link scheme. I am talking about private blog networks (commonly known as PBNs). This tactic employs the use of expired domains to increase rankings artificially. Even if you get some results, they will disappear. Also, you might end up with a Google Penalty, which is incredibly hard to remove.
Remember this vital thing:
The person responsible for the SEO work done on your site is YOU!
You cannot tell Google that you got scammed and someone used black hat SEO tactics. Or that the cheap SEO tactics used by the freelancer you found on Facebook led to traffic drops. Google does not care, and you do not get a second chance!
All tactics used by the people responsible for optimisation work need to comply with the official Google Webmaster Guidelines.
There are three common SEO pricing models used these days. These are:
Average SEO Monthly Plan to expect: $750 to $2,000 per month
Most agencies offer annual or monthly contracts. We do this too. At Digital Muscle, our strategies are created months in advance. Also, we send weekly reports, and everything we do is transparent. Basically, every single thing we do is sent in those reports. This is vital for us and all professionals.
Speaking about prices, most business owners expect fixed deals. They want to choose between monthly packages listed at specific amounts. When you visit the pricing sections of the best SEO agencies, you see that there are never exact prices listed.
The reason why exact prices are not listed is that SEO monthly prices are determined based on a conversation with clients. Two-way communication is critical because the SEO specialist needs to understand what the client wants, and deals should be determined based on an audit.
Numerous monthly packages you see include a specific type, and some services, like backlinks gained, optimised pages, and articles written. We call these “turnkey” packages. They are sold by SEO agencies that are not professional. They only care about quantity, not quality.
If you want to pay a monthly fee for SEO, we recommend the following:
Average SEO Rate to expect: $80 to $250 per hour
When you want to pay the hourly rate, we recommend first to hire an SEO agency to perform a professional SEO audit. This will highlight problems and potential solutions.
Then, after you get the SEO audit, you can hire an SEO consultant or even an SEO agency at a fixed rate per hour. You can hire based on specific tasks presented in the audit, with the most important tasks done first.
A critical special note!
When your website is new or has limited exposure, your SEO efforts should be supplemented with paid advertising. This means that you dedicate a part of your budget to SEO, let’s say 75%, and the rest on paid ads like Google AdWords or Facebook Ads.
You can discuss this with the SEO specialist, which is why we always recommend complete honesty. The approach that involves paid ads can bring you some quick cash while you increase visibility in search engines.
Average SEO One-Time Plan rate to expect: $5,000 to $30,000 per project
These are self-explanatory. You pay a fixed amount, and you get specific work done. Such packages can vary a lot from one agency to another. They can also be offered as a bespoke deal, which means the client says how much can be paid and the agency presents a package.
Project-based optimisation services are very popular, and most SEO agencies offer such deals. However, even if the pricing model is widespread, the price range is vast. This is because the actual cost will depend on various factors.
A thorough conversation with the SEO manager is mandatory to determine the necessary one-time payment.
The most significant advantage of this SEO pricing model is that you do not have to worry about costs racking up. Also, the contract you sign will clearly highlight what you get, together with a delivery date.
The prominent disadvantage of this pricing model is that dishonest search engine optimisation agencies can easily take advantage of your lack of knowledge and promise you the first page of Google without any guarantees. Overcharging is quite common, especially if you want to change project scope. This would incur large extra fees.
Since SEO cost in Australia, USA, UK, and similar countries is higher, expect to see overpriced packages in such locations.
Because of the fact that SEO is very complicated and your needs are different than another site’s, there are some exact situations in which you are better off choosing one of the SEO pricing models.
This is the most popular option for most businesses, which is why we always see SEO agencies offering monthly SEO plans. The significant advantage is that you can negotiate what you receive, and you can set exact goals.
The fact that you pay a flat rate every single month allows you to easily handle business finances, and you can create a strong relationship with the SEO contractor.
The problem is that the monthly plan is not a possibility for many small businesses because the monthly retainer is more than the available budget for digital marketing. Basically, if you run a small business with just a few hundred dollars to spare per month on SEO, the monthly expense might be too much. In this case, it is better to consider hourly consultation or one-time plans.
To put it as simple as possible, the one-time SEO plan is most likely your best choice when you do not need to work with an SEO provider on a full-time basis.
As an example, when you have excellent copywriters on staff and an in-house marketing department, the SEO monthly plan might not make sense. You might simply need someone to perform an SEO audit or handle some technical SEO problems.
The big advantage of this option is that you just pay once and you do not have to worry about ongoing costs. Remember that SEO takes time so you might have a great deal when you use this set-it and forget it pricing.
The hourly SEO consultant is the best option when you have to control costs and keep them as low as possible. Although you will still most likely need an audit that can highlight all the work that needs to be done, you can hire the SEO professional only when your budget allows it and you can focus on specific tasks.
The disadvantage of this payment option is that costs can quickly pile up. For instance, if you hire a consultant to perform thorough competitor analysis and you expect to pay just one hour, this never happens.
Whenever you use an hourly payment scheme, it is vital that you communicate with the contractor and that limits are in place. In addition, make sure you know exactly what the agency or the contractor does, what SEO services are offered, and never work without a strict schedule involving plenty of reports on the work done.
SEO is NOT expensive. It is completely normal to pay a few hundreds of dollars for work per month and keep doing it in the long term. But the average business owner does not understand why this is true.
We are bombarded every single day on social media and even through Google Ads with ridiculously low prices. This only makes matters worse.
Such a problem can easily be solved by talking with an experienced specialist. You will be told about the real value of SEO and the potential long-term benefits.
“Search engine optimisation is expensive because it encompasses numerous channels, a specific skill set that was gained over the years, and A LOT OF WORK. SEO services CANNOT be cheap.”
Let’s try to quickly explain some of the main factors that affect the cost of SEO to better understand how services have to be priced by digital marketing companies:
Do you think it is normal to pay more for the services of an experienced doctor, or should you pay the same as with a doctor straight out of residency?
We all know the answer to this question.
So, isn’t it normal to pay more for optimisation work when it is handled by someone with years of experience than someone that just read some tutorials online?
The experience of the person doing the actual work with the SEO services you buy will directly influence the price.
As a personal example, let’s say that you would hire me to do optimisation work with a freelancer contract, all with an hourly rate. My freelance digital marketing and SEO services are actually affordable.
In this case, for routine tasks (nothing too advanced or extra digital marketing requirement), I would expect around $40 to $60 per hour. But I have been working in the SEO industry for 15 years. I’ve seen some people that wanted to charge only $5 per hour. I would never recommend something like this because the quality of the work is undoubtedly low. But, a good SEO specialist living in another country might charge half of my rate and be comfortable.
How much you pay for SEO in Australia is different than how much you pay for the exact same services in the US. With this example, the difference is not huge. But, as an example, SEO services bought from an agency in India would cost a lot less.
The geographic location of the SEO agency determines in-house costs. This is directly linked to living costs and the structure of the business.
For instance, when an SEO agency in Melbourne hires staff from a country with lower living costs as opposed to Australians, in-house costs can be saved. This would impact the costs for clients and is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as the people hired are excellent.
Also, the physical location of the agency’s place of registration counts since this implies paying a specific amount of taxes. In fact, SEO cost in a country like Australia is higher than, let's say Thailand, in large part due to taxes.
This is something few business owners understand about prices paid for good SEO.
It is entirely normal for specific SEO costs to be different. For instance, a guest post that involves writing 2,000 words would cost the agency more than one that consists of writing 500 words.
Agencies often change their rates during the negotiation phase. This is done based on what service they offer and the long term plan.
Do you need just an audit or minor keyword research? Will you then hire the agency to do the work highlighted in the audit? Do you need backlinks from renowned industry magazines? Is your site in its infancy stage and you need extra web design work to be done before local SEO strategies can be used?
These are all questions that can drastically change prices for quality SEO.
Also, the type of SEO work done will impact SEO cost. Let's say you run a local business in Sydney. SEO cost in Australia is higher, and it will cost more to get the exposure you need to climb in local rankings.
I want to highlight another factor that is rarely appropriately understood about prices. I am talking about doing quality SEO work for a large client versus a small client.
Let’s say you are lucky enough to land McDonald’s as a client for your SEO agency. The cost is much higher, and McDonald's will surely pay thousands each month. However, this is a corporate client that will most likely demand access to a project manager that only works on a single account. It is also common to have to schedule frequent calls for status reports. And you will get many emails.
With the smaller business, you do not have to dedicate as many in-house resources. This means costs would be lower. In fact, one SEO project manager can handle several smaller projects. If his/her work is all about one client, in-house costs are higher.
Because many business owners do not know much about SEO and the cost of SEO, they are completely shocked to see how much SEO tools cost. And experienced agencies use MANY. All of these add up to the cost you need to deal with.
Let’s just think about some basic examples:
Also, because agencies are completely legit, you can expect even more costs for licenses like Microsoft Excel and similar software. Add all these to staff costs, and you end up with much more than people expect.
A small business owner with a $400 SEO budget has lower monthly costs than a good SEO agency typically. So, a question like “how much does quality SEO cost” needs to take into account the agency's running costs.
Basically, the larger the SEO agency, the higher the overhead costs, so the higher the SEO price.
The last thing I have to talk about is how to avoid those agencies and freelancers/contractors that take advantage of your lack of knowledge and overcharge you. Even worse, some of them will use black hat SEO strategies that WILL HURT your website. All business owners want to avoid putting money into something that has a negative return on investment.
You will come across a considerable SEO price range when you look for someone to hire so always be aware of the following clear red flags that guarantee problems and a negative return on investment:
“I will rank your site number 1 in Google in 2 months - Guaranteed!”
You will see such a guarantee. In fact, you will see it much more often than it should pop up, sometimes with ridiculous SEO retainers attached.
Here’s one of the most important things you have to remember about optimisation:
Nobody knows how long it takes for a keyword to rank or if you will ever get a top 3 position for most keywords out there.
Choose the SEO provider that explains everything and tells you how your goal will be reached. Remember that a complex campaign can even take a year until you see some significant returns.
Sure, an experienced SEO professional can get a rough idea of how long it will take for a keyword to rank. This is because of years of experience and hundreds of projects handled, plus an in-depth understanding of the competition a keyword has and how much work is needed. Even so, we are talking about a range, not a strict deadline.
Stay away from agencies that tell you to buy many links, email lists, or even social media followers to reach the first page of Google. Techniques of this kind will accelerate SEO, but in the long run, they always damage a website’s reputation.
All major search engines continuously look for signs of suspicious link building and black hat SEO.
Your provider needs to be experienced and only use white hat SEO strategies. Also, it is a very good idea to work with agencies that also offer Google Penalty Recovery services. Such an SEO agency helps you to deal with competitors that might use a negative SEO campaign or an overall SEO strategy to hurt your rankings (yes, this happens a lot).
Suppose you have problems because someone else used shady practices to hurt your site. In that case, your SEO contractor will be able to counter and quickly remove all the bad links created by the dishonest competition.
SEO companies take great pride in the quality of their work. When asked, they are happy to show you case studies and portfolios. This is because we know how important references are.
Whenever you talk with an agency, and you feel that there is something wrong, just ask for references and an example SEO campaign done in the past. Also, when you see that prices are higher than the average we highlighted above, be especially careful. You might be looking at someone dishonest. Just make sure that you take into account the geographic location of the agency. SEO cost in Australia is naturally higher than the cost in Eastern European countries.
The proposal you receive should be detailed and has to be created around your business goals.
Do not assume that an SEO strategy that worked for a business will work for yours. It does not even matter if your biggest competitor did something. Copying an SEO campaign is one of the worst things that you can do in search engine optimisation.
As an example, content marketing might have produced incredible results for a startup in the tech industry. This does not mean that a similar strategy as the one used by the startup will work for the local retailer.
In conclusion, the critical question is not how much SEO costs. A far more important question to ask is:
“How much can I get for the budget I have?”
We are naturally mainly motivated by numbers. It is incredibly tempting to choose the very cheap SEO provider for global and local SEO, but remember that there is an enormous difference between affordable and cheap bad SEO.
We pride ourselves on offering affordable SEO service for startups and small businesses. Even if SEO cost in Australia is higher than in most other countries. Digital Muscle tries to prove that SEO service can be affordable, but this does not mean it will be as cheap as some expect.
We know that many businesses will not be able to afford our SEO services. And we want to help you avoid the bad SEO company and stay away from the dishonest SEO packages. Even if you have a small budget for SEO service, contact us and we will help you to improve first page results in search engines. SEO takes time and you should be in for the long run.
To sum up, what you need to do is to figure out your budget. See how much you can invest in SEO and find the solution that perfectly fits within that budget.