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SEO Costs and Pricing Guide: What You Can Expect to Pay
In Chapter 2 of the SEO Buyer’s Guide, we discussed the difference between SEO agencies and SEO consultants - now let’s look at how much SEO costs.
Unlike pay-per-click advertising (PPC), SEO is an investment in your business that will continue to grow over time.
Pricing for SEO varies greatly and it will generally depend on the type of service you require. In my experience working in the SEO industry, I’ve noticed that there are four main types of pricing models:
- A monthly package (ongoing monthly project deliverables)
- Project based pricing (an agreed fixed price for a set of project deliverables)
- Cost per hour consultation (usually involving an SEO consultant or strategist)
- A monthly retainer (where you pay a fixed amount each month for use of resources)
Let’s take a closer look at some of these pricing models before I explain how much SEO actually costs, and the pricing differences between SEO agencies and consultants. I will also show you how to get the most out of your SEO campaign with an increased return on investment (ROI).
Types of SEO Pricing Explained
The main purpose of having different types of pricing is to ensure all businesses can be catered to. There’s no “one size fits all”. Both large and small businesses will have varying degrees of requirements, goals and budgets.
1. SEO Package Pricing
SEO Packages are the most common; especially for the small business market.
An SEO package is usually a predefined set of project deliverables to be completed on a monthly basis. Before the recurring monthly tasks begin, there is some onsite work that needs to be done. This can include any of the following:
- Page optimisation
- Sitemap creation
- Rich snippets (such as authorship)
- Broken link checking
Here is an example of some recurring tasks that often appear in SEO Packages:
SEO Package 1
SEO Package 2
SEO Package 3
|3 Blog Posts||5 Blog Posts||8 Blog Posts|
|1 Interview with Business||2 Interviews with Business||3 Interviews with Business|
|1 Review of Business||2 Reviews of Business||3 Reviews of Business|
|2 Placements of Content for Links||5 Placements of Content for Links||10 Placements of Content for Links|
|50 Social Bookmarks||100 Social Bookmarks||150 Social Bookmarks|
|1 Press Release||3 Press Releases|
|Promotional Video Created||3 Promotional Videos Created|
|3 Video Placements for Links||6 Video Placements for Links|
You will notice that the package includes both content for your own website, as well as content intended for other websites. Creating content to be distributed on other websites is the most cost effective way to generate links that point back to your own website. This is a big factor for keyword rankings.
It’s important to point out here that packages are pretty inflexible. The links generated from these kinds of packages certainly have some value, but are not the same as spending time doing link outreach. This involves finding websites that have a natural synergy with yours, and will link to your website or content. This kind of work is really only done with the other types of SEO pricing, which is explained below.
Packages can be tailored to suit the requirements of your business, and the price depends on specific tasks. For example, if you need regular sales copywriting, in addition to social media promotion, web development and SEO for 5 competitive keywords – you could be looking at paying well over $1000 per month.
SEO Package Summary:
- SEO packages are designed for small businesses
- SEO packages use pre-defined deliverables
- SEO package deliverables are recurring tasks
- SEO packages are the most inflexible pricing model
SEO Package Typical Cost: Approximately $600 – $3,000 per month
2. SEO Project Based Pricing
An SEO project is a campaign designed around specific goals and the cost will depend on the project’s deliverables. Project based pricing is often used in place of packages because they don’t require ongoing commitments and allow the client to decide if they want to continue with a second project, based on the results of the first.
Here’s an example of what an SEO project based on deliverables might look like:
|Keyword research report||Web analyst||1 day|
|SEO audit of website||Technical SEO||2 days|
|Technical onsite fixes||Technical SEO||3 days|
|10 blog posts||Copywriter||10 days|
|1 infographic||Graphic designer & copywriter||5 days|
|10 editorial backlinks||SEO manager||5 - 10 days|
The deliverables described above are similar to those in an SEO package, but the difference is that they are centred around mutually agreed goals including:
- Keyword X on first page of Google
- 2000 new visits per month
- Backlinks from media sites
- 15 web form enquiries
When project goals are more aligned with project deliverables, the agency or consultant is made more accountable for the project.
For example, gaining 10 links from social bookmarking websites is pretty easy, and doesn’t provide too much value.
However, since the goals include “2000 new visits” and “15 web form enquiries”, the agency or consultant needs to provide links that have a lot of value (such as links from news and media websites) and which are likely to deliver traffic that is actually interested in the products or services offered.
SEO Project Summary
- SEO projects revolve around mutually agreed deliverables
- SEO projects are accountable to predicted goals
SEO Project Pricing Typical Cost: Approximately $1,000 – $5,000 per project
3. Cost Per Hour SEO Consulting
An SEO consultant is the most flexible offering. This is because it is mostly about collaboratively devising an SEO strategy, rather than being about the delivery of outcomes. The cost per hour method is especially useful for those who need training within a specific area of SEO, or who only have a small project to complete.
Additionally, SEO consultants who work for themselves will usually just charge by the hour, instead of per day as some agencies do.
The main purpose of the SEO consultant is to devise a strategy to target areas that require improvement. For example, your business might need a boost in ranking for local keywords, or you might need an online marketing plan created.
Some people are skeptical about “strategy” consultants, believing that only very little value can be delivered.
Here is an example of how an SEO consultant can provide valuable strategic advice.
SEO Consultant Strategy Example – The Software Company
Imagine a software company who is launching a new software product and plans to make their money from licence fees, custom development and consulting in the industry that the software serves.
The SEO consultant will begin to plan ways to optimise the software company’s website for keywords that will produce clients who are interested in consulting, as well as in the software itself.
While the consultant does some keyword research, they discover that keywords around consulting are very competitive. One of the big problems here is that it is difficult to get anyone to link to a webpage that targets “Industry X Consulting” because it is commercial in nature, and doesn’t contain interesting content.
The SEO consultant suggests that instead of trying to compete with other consultants in the industry, the software company should partner with them and sell their software licences through them (a distribution channel).
The software company decides to try the strategy, and the SEO consultant designs a plan around building a directory of consultants in the industry targeting the keyword “Industry X Consultants”.
Collaboratively, the two build a directory of consultants and offer listings in the directory for free. It gets some momentum and industry blogs and communities begin to promote the directory. The directory starts ranking #1 for the target keyword phrase and it starts generating lots of traffic.
The software company now has a big list of consulting partners that it is helping to send new clients to. In return, the consultants recommend the software.
This is an example of a consultant being flexible with strategy – which is impossible with a standardised SEO package.
SEO Consultant Summary
- SEO consultants are mostly focused on strategy
- SEO consultants can work in your office
- SEO consultants can train staff
SEO Consultant Typical Rates: Approximately $150-$400 per hour
4. Monthly Retainer SEO Pricing
Retainers are designed to be flexible and are based on the use of resources as they are needed.
For example, a retainer can simply specify the number of days per month (i.e., 10) and the resources used each month might change depending on the goals.
Resources used in a retainer arrangement may involve the following:
- SEO manager to track the effectiveness of your campaign (4 days per month)
- Copywriter to create blog content (10 days per month)
- Technical SEO expert to audit website pages (1 day per month)
In the following months, the technical SEO expert may not be required – but instead – a social media expert is needed to help with reputation management.
This makes the monthly retainer simple and flexible.
You have the option of being able to add and remove resources as you go, to help you achieve the goals of your business.
Monthly Retainer Summary
- Retainers are priced and based on the number of days you book resources
- Retainers are flexible and allow different resources to be allocated as needed
SEO Monthly Retainer Typical Costs: Approximately $2,000 – $20,000 per month
How Much Does SEO Actually Cost?
We might as well ask how long a piece of string is. The amount that you should expect to pay for SEO services depends upon the amount of money you wish to make as a return from your investment (ROI). If you’re only paying $250 per month, it’s probably unrealistic to expect a big return anytime soon.
But what also comes into the cost equation is the type of services you need. Let’s have a glance at the types of services that consultants and agencies have to offer.
Cost of an SEO Consultant
As discussed in the previous chapter; What is the Difference Between an SEO company and an SEO consultant? it was noted that individual SEO consultants usually charge by the hour. These costs will often depend on the skill level of the consultant. But as a guide, you should expect most SEO consultants to be able to provide the following services:
- Keyword research (your SEO consultant will search for keywords which are relevant to your industry, in addition to finding out how often they’re searched for within your geo-targeted area).
- Website/SEO audits (this is where your consultant will check for any inconsistencies – such as incorrect code, canonical pages or damaging backlinks – all of which can negatively affect rankings).
- Conversion rate optimisation (involves creating an experience for the people who visit your page, in a deliberate attempt to convert them into customers)
- Digital/SEO strategy creation (the backbone of your SEO campaign, the SEO strategy enables you to see the bigger picture; combined with goals and how you plan to achieve them with the resources at hand).
Most of the time, pricing for SEO consultants is cheaper than agencies. This is because they work for themselves. They will rarely need to pay others a share of the money they make and do not have to worry about other expenses (such as overheads like office space).
There are three main price ranges for SEO consultants (according to research by AYTM Market Research):
- $75 to $100 per hour
- $150 to 200 per hour
- $500 to $750 per hour
Cost of an SEO Agency
Perhaps the biggest advantage of hiring an agency is that they have a larger amount of people working with them, who each specialise in a specific area. But what this means is that they need to charge accordingly. The main areas of an SEO agency include:
- Web design and development (adjusting the elements of your website, making it more user friendly, as well as creating new pages in order to target a particular keyword or a new product/service).
- Reporting and analytics (tracking and measuring the success of your campaign, in an effort to find out what works and what doesn’t).
- Media buying and planning (discovering websites with the potential to send plenty of qualified leads to your website, usually from others).
- Copywriting (creating web copy and content that reflects the voice and tone of your brand in order to make it appeal to your target market).
- Search marketing (advertising on search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo!)
- Social media management (creating and managing your social media network profiles on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter).
This is why SEO agencies charge more than consultants. As you can see, each area of SEO is covered; and this gives you a flexible range of options to choose from. The more hours required, the more it will cost. Below are some industry average wages for each of these sub-sections for SEO agencies (thanks to PayScale.com):
- Web design and development ($50,000 and $52,900 respectively)
- Reporting and web analytics ($60,000)
- Media buying and planning (65,000)
- Copywriter ($42,500)
- Search marketing ($49,700)
- Social media management (51,000)
In the end, it all depends on what you wish to accomplish with your online marketing endeavours. If you run a plumbing service in Melbourne and want to rank number one for a key-term such as ”Melbourne plumber” or “plumbing service Melbourne”, then it could take anywhere between 6 to 12 months, and might cost in-excess of $500 per month.
But let’s talk about what your SEO investment is really all about… Profit!
Getting a Return on Investment (ROI) from SEO
Let’s face it – the main purpose of purchasing SEO services through an agency or from a consultant is to gain profit from the money you invest. For example, if you’re paying $700 a month for an SEO package, you should expect to eventually generate at least as much as that amount back in profit, every month.
But it doesn’t always work like this. ROI is basically about spending X amount of money, and getting X back - be it 2, 3 or even 4 times the amount of the initial investment.
Calculating ROI is more important than broadly monitoring conversions and sales, because it measures the cost of investment and the return generated. It’s vital to differentiate the returns that are a direct result of an outsourced SEO campaign, compared to that of other promotional activities.
The return can be in the form of email leads, website sign-ups, social media likes/followers and of course; the money.
An Example of Calculating ROI for SEO
Calculating ROI involves collecting data prior to beginning an SEO project or consultation. If this information is not available, you cannot calculate the ROI. The following are great metrics to have available for comparison before and after the SEO project.
- The current conversion rate of visitors to leads or sales from the website (prior to the new project).
- The number of visits the website (or webpage) generates.
- The number of unique keyword queries that deliver traffic to the website.
- The value of each visit and conversion (for example, each conversion might make on average $76 per sale – or for every 5 visitors – 1 might sign up to your newsletter).
Say for example you wanted to increase the amount of people who sign up to the newsletter on your website by 50%.
There’s currently 200 people signing up to the newsletter per month, and 20 of these people are purchasing the product you are selling through this newsletter – which has a value of $46.
This gives you a current return of $920 per month (and remember, you want to at least double this amount).
A typical SEO campaign would identify some keywords that are being used by your target audience. A copywriter would create some content (perhaps a blog post) and the SEO team would help to promote the content through social media, while building links to the content, to increase the rankings for the target keywords.
This results in new traffic to the blog post. The blog post includes an attractive call to action that encourages the visitors to sign up to the newsletter.
If the new content is successful, it should generate around 500 new visits each month.
If 20% of those visitors sign up to the newsletter, then the 100 new sign up mark has been achieved (a 50% increase).
Now the website is generating a total of 300 newsletter sign ups, which leads to increased sales.
- Increase newsletter subscriptions from 200 to 300 per month
- 10% of subscribers pay $46 for a product/service per month
- Additional sales value is $46 x 10 new customers per month ($460)
Assume the cost of the project is $1,000. It will take 2 – 3 months to break even and eventually get a return on the investment.
After 6 months, the ROI is calculated as follows:
ROI = (Gain from Investment – Cost of Investment) / Cost of Investment
Gain from Investment: $2,760
Cost of Investment: $1,000
($2,760 – $1,000) / 1000 = 1.76
Since the content will continue to generate traffic and newsletter subscribers each month, the ROI will increase each month if the traffic continues to stay steady.
Compared to Pay Per Click advertising (such as Google AdWords), SEO is about investing in your online marketing for the long haul, and will produce a much higher ROI in the long term.
Do you have any questions about the different pricing models? Which ones have you had experience with? Any favourites? Let me know in the comments below.
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Free SEO Audit Report
Finally, there’s a way you can get professional SEO advice without having to pay first. The ServiceCrowd SEO Audit Report is a free service that analyses your website and recommends a few simple changes to make to ensure your website is well optimised.