8 things you need to know about SEO pricing
“How much should my business invest in SEO?”
As a responsible business owner, of course you want to understand the answer to this question.
But the answer always comes down to who you ask.
Some say $99 per month, others don’t get online for less than $2000.
So why is there such disparity in pricing?
Especially when you Google “SEO pricing” and it conjures up visuals like this:
It’s no surprise that SEO pricing makes you feel confused and overwhelmed.
I mean, exactly how are you supposed to make sense of this when everything seems the same just with a different price tag?
It’s time to unravel this mystery one step at a time.
Here’s the first thing you need to know about how much SEO costs:
1. Most business owners don’t understand SEO
When we don’t fully understand stuff, our brains default to making decisions based on what we can rationalise and understand.
In the case of SEO it’s price.
It’s near impossible to make a balanced, informed decision when you don’t understand the value you’re getting in exchange for your money.
So it’s natural to think low cost = low risk.
Being aware of this process is pivotal if you want to understand how much SEO costs.
If you don’t, SEO will end up costing you more than you bargained for.
The thing is, most business owners may not understand how SEO works, but they do know they need it.
So to mitigate any risk of not “doing” SEO at all, they throw a small amount of money at it.
But the reality is, cheap SEO is low cost – HIGH RISK.
Remember, this isn’t like going with the cheapest provider of office supplies.
Hiring an SEO company is you putting your businesses most valuable digital asset in the hands of someone else.
Cheap SEO is like a gremlin – at first it may appear to be cute, cuddly and non-threatening.
But over time, it’ll have you running for the hills in disbelief at how much time, money and energy you’ve actually wasted on it.
(TBF: look at that side eye – bit of a giveaway, right?)
2. Cheap SEO impacts your brand reputation (and not in a good way)
These $99 – $299 per month SEO services tend to be companies that outsource to people getting paid $5 per hour.
Their workers are completely detached from your business objectives, let alone your vision and mission.
For a socially responsible businesses like yours, the services providers you decide to align with should be just as important as the products and services you provide.
I mean, who wants to buy a $200 recycled, eco-friendly t-shirt from a brand that doesn’t even consider its own supply chain?
Ask yourself how much of your $299 per month actually ends up in the pockets of that overseas worker?
Spoiler alert: not much at all.
So how can you expect any ROI in your business as a result?
3. SEO agency costs: what you need to know
In my experience, SEO agencies aren’t much better for small businesses.
Their focus is on corporations like banks and media companies who pay $20,000+ per month for SEO.
So they’re not too concerned with small or even medium sized businesses.
Once I had a client who was paying an SEO agency $525 per month for a report they couldn’t understand.
Upon further inspection, it became clear that the agency were congratulating them every month for achieving page one rankings for – wait for it…….
KEYWORDS WITH NO SEARCH VOLUME!!
There’s two things wrong here:
- You can’t expect any ROI when you target keywords with no search volume
- SEO isn’t about ranking for keywords – it’s about making your website more profitable by giving your ideal customers a great experience
(Note: Of course your website needs to be on page one of Google to do so, but that’s not the finish line – in a lot of respects that’s just the start point.)
Anyway back to this “agency approved” website.
Their on-page SEO resembled me going without tea in the morning – a mess!
There were missing title tags and non-existent meta descriptions galore.
Plus no visible evidence that this agency been doing anything other than running off a meaningless, automated report every month.
This is what some SEO agencies offer in exchange for $525 per month.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking just because they’re an agency that you’ll get results.
Spoiler alert 2: you won’t.
Let’s break down what $525 per month spent with an SEO agency looks like:
Take 10% off the top (they keep that), then divide the rest across an hourly rate.
The average SEO hourly rate according to a study by Moz is between $79 – $200.
For arguments sake, say this agency charges $138 per hr.
So for $525 per month, you’re getting a whopping 3.4 hrs of their time!
That’s less than one hour per week.
A lot of small businesses in particular are quick to say they don’t see an ROI from their SEO investments.
But honestly, what kind of impact do you expect to see for this kind of investment?
The thing to note about SEO costs is there is no plug and play when it comes to price.
This is why you should always be skeptical of anyone who advertises a flat retainer fee across the board for all their clients.
Ethical SEO (i.e. SEO done right by someone who cares about your business) is time-intensive and it should be assessed on a case by case basis.
After all, your business goals will differ from the next persons.
4. Cheap SEO is like fast fashion – expensive and destructive
Instances like the one I just mentioned are far too common when businesses invest in SEO.
Whilst $525 per month may not seem like a lot of money to risk – it is a lot to lose over a three year period which is what happened to them.
That’s $18,000 for 36 meaningless, unread reports.
Oh, and a tonne of useless backlinks that get your website penalised by Google – excellent!
What a waste of businesses resources.
Ones no small business can afford to lose.
If this is your approach, you’re better off giving your money to an animal sanctuary.
At least there it will go towards a great cause rather than in a black hole.
When it comes SEO costs, you need to think of the long-term impact of your decision.
For example, say you need to hire a remove van.
You get a quote for $900.
Then someone else rings up and says “I’ll do it for $350!”
You go for the cheaper option but then when the van arrives….
Half your belongings are smashed up and….
You forgot to check whether he had insurance to cover your belongings.
Turns out he didn’t and now you’re stuck quite literally picking up the pieces.
You now have a TV and fridge freezer that don’t work.
That “cheap” removalist has just cost you $2000.
It’s the same premise with SEO.
Cheap SEO options aren’t cheap at all, they’re expensive and only end up costing your business:
- A huge reduction in website revenue
- A big decrease in website rankings
- Massive Google penalties
Not to mention all the time and energy that goes with having to start the process all over again.
At the end of the day, your website is the digital home for your business.
It’s there representing your brand 24/7.
So you want to make sure it’s taken care of by someone who’s ethical and responsible in their approach.
Someone who reflects your values and ethics.
Otherwise, it will remain in a dark corner of the internet, or worse yet, it’ll be blacklisted from Google for good.
5. Cheap SEO providers are busy doing nothing
Once I fell into the “feature trap” and bought a cheap vacuum cleaner because the copy gave me 21 reasons why I should.
Admittedly, I didn’t understand what most of those reasons were – but I bought it anyway.
Just 6 weeks later it died.
I then replaced it with the “expensive” vacuum I originally intended to buy before I was distracted by the cheaper option.
There’s a reason Dyson charge what they do – their stuff works and it lasts.
When you cut corners, something always gives: cheap = low quality.
Cheap SEO providers lure people in on this same premise.
They offer meaningless features like:
- Generic blog writing
- Directory submissions
- Links from PBNs (private blog networks – a favourite amongst agencies)
- Guaranteed rankings
- Social bookmarks
None of which have any bearing on you meeting your business objectives and goals.
Ask yourself, is it really worth it?
6. SEO is an investment not a cost
Like anything in life you want to work, you need a great mindset.
SEO is only ever “expensive” or a cost if you’re focused on what you’re losing rather than what’s being gained.
Too many people are focused on their bounce rate, search visibility % and ranking without understanding what this means in the context of them growing their business.
SEO is not about rankings – it’s a digital marketing strategy designed to make your website more profitable by providing your customers with value.
These are the key SEO metrics you should give your attention:
- Your conversion rates
- Your % of organic search traffic
- Your top entry pages
- Your site revenue per month
And of course whether things are moving up.
The goal of SEO isn’t to flatter you with vanity metrics like so many cheap SEO’s do.
The goal is to empower you to grow your website into the sustainable digital asset you know deep down it ought to be.
But this will only happen with the right level of on-going investment, which brings me to my next point.
7. SEO is a time-based investment
As mentioned earlier, SEO is time-intensive which is why you need to be mindful of what you’re getting in return for your dollars.
If you’re paying someone $100 a month what do you really think you’re getting in return (apart from a fancy report about nothing?)
To understand how much SEO costs, you also need to be realistic about time frames.
Cheap SEO’s don’t care about the success of your brand.
Otherwise, they wouldn’t manipulate you into thinking you could see a guaranteed ROI overnight.
Truth bomb! Effective digital marketing doesn’t work like that.
For any SEO strategy to work for, first you need to realise this is not an overnight thing.
Instead, you can expect to see an ROI anywhere between 9 – 12 months.
Sometimes it can take longer, depending on the starting point.
By keeping this in mind, your expectations will be well aligned with your SEO consultants.
After all, transparency is key to building trust in any successful partnership.
And this is a partnership.
Sure your SEO Consultant will work independently from you, but you both need to see your website as a priority for SEO to work.
8. Being ambitious means keeping perspective
As I just mentioned, SEO takes time so you can’t expect results overnight.
Plus, the results you want to achieve need to be realistic.
Let me give you an example of what unrealistic looks like:
I had a conversation with someone about SEO that went something like this:
“We’d love to double our sales in the next 6 months. I have $1000, can you help?”
That equates to just $2000 per annum.
For a digital marketing strategy – that is an insult.
To be clear, the average SEO Consultant on a salary gets paid $70k per year.
So why would an independent SEO consultant work for $166 per MONTH?
Again, this comes back to SEO being a time-based investment.
To provide some context, some SEO projects can take 10 hours to complete – especially on-page SEO work like copywriting.
So, to expect someone to “help” you get huge results for just $1000 is, like I said an insult (and greedy!)
I’ve also had people offer me baked goods in exchange for SEO consultancy.
Although I am very partial to a banana muffin, naturally, I declined.
Just as you can’t expect a Summer-ready beach body if all you’re willing to do is walk around the block twice a week.
You also can’t expect quick SEO results for a few hundred dollars a month.
And you definitely can’t expect professionals to want to work with you if this is your expectation of how you wish to engage with them.
When it comes to SEO costs, keep perspective of how your SEO investment relates to your goals and consider what the per annum investment is too.
I always take my clients through a strategic objective consultation to find the sweet spot of what’s realistic in the context of their investment.
That way everyone’s on the same page and nobody (me) gets paid in banana muffins.
Now, let’s take a look at how I price my SEO Consultancy services:
Obviously I’ve blocked out the keywords to protect my client’s privacy, but this gives you a real-life view at how I calculate my fees.
Here’s my methodology:
- We agree on your top ten keywords
- I identify the CPC (cost per click) and search volume per month using a free plug-in called Keywords Everywhere
- Cost per click (CPC) + average monthly searches = traffic value
- 10% of the traffic value = your sub-total
- The % difficulty rating is then calculated using SemRush and added on to your sub-total
- This total is the divided by my hourly rate ($165 per hour)
- This now gives you your monthly fee and the hours that equates to
In this instance, the investment is $1674 per month in exchange for 10 hours SEO work.
This is based on a month by month contract.
(Note: 6 -12 months contracts carry a lower hourly rate depending on the project size.)
10 hours is the minimum amount of time I will run an SEO campaign for month to month.
Anything less than this isn’t going to get you the results you need to create a profitable website.
In some cases I’ll recommend more hours to make sure your SEO strategy and businesses objectives are aligned.
Any additional one-on-one SEO consultancy work relating to web design is billed on top of this or deducted from the hours worked.
One of the main things that sets me apart from other SEO Consultants is I’m also SEO Copywriter.
So if required, your SEO Consultancy time can go towards website copy like your brand story – this is a fundamental piece of the on-page SEO puzzle.
Moving beyond price and into the future
All in all, when it comes to the cost of SEO, you need to consider where you’re investing your money and why.
Keep in mind at all times that SEO is an investment not a cost and what you’re willing to put in is what you will get out.
Don’t fall foul to cheap SEO as it will only damage your business in the long run.
SEO takes time and you need to make sure your consultant is aligned with your values.
They should be passionate about how you want to shape the future.
After all, that’s what we’re all here for right?
Now over to you – have you fallen victim to cheap SEO?
Pop your war stories in the comments.
If not, let me know your main takeaway from this blog?
Pop a comment and lets have a chat!