Anyone who owns a business has read those emails offering low-cost SEO services. They look too good to be true. With only a tiny budget, you will rank number one in Google search results in no time. I’ve written this article to show you exactly what goes into SEO and answer, how much does SEO cost? The answer is not as simple as you may think.
Before discussing cost, it’s essential to understand some details about what SEO is. We need to understand its importance to business and how it works.
We also need to understand the type of expert that can help you get better search engine rankings. And we also need to understand the work that goes into SEO. It’s not quite as simple as it first seems.
What exactly is SEO?
Let’s first discuss SEO and why a small business should increase its web presence. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. SEO is the process and technique used to rank a website higher in Google.
The goal is to create more visibility and a higher click-through rate (CTR) for a website. The ultimate aim of a business is to drive more leads, prospects, and sales.
Other reasons for driving traffic to a website also exist. For example, enhancing brand awareness or distributing content marketing.
You see successful SEO in action several times every day. When you type a question into Google, it tells you the answer. You click on the first or second result.
If Google understands your intent, you get exactly the answer you are looking for. The page at the top of the organic search results is successful SEO in action.
SEO also has a deeper meaning to different people. For the blogger, it means adding a few choice keywords to their article. For big business, it might mean substantial marketing budgets to rank at the top of Google.
For the SEO agency, it means building systems to help clients rank as high as possible.
Why is SEO important?
A small business cannot afford to ignore the implications of SEO. SEO is the top priority for 61% of marketers, according to HubSpot’s Ultimate Guide to SEO in 2022.
HubSpot also states that 91% of internet searches happen on a Google property. They also note that 60% – 67% of people research a brand online before buying. Shoppers prefer going through most of the buying process on their own—both B2C and B2B buyers.
The Search Engine Journal listed 15 reasons why your business absolutely needs SEO. Reasons include organic traffic being the primary source of website traffic. Building trust and credibility and understanding the customer were also important. Also included was the impact of appearing in local SEO results, the impact on the buying cycle, and more.
SEO is a distribution channel for content marketing. It can bring inbound leads, prospects, and sales to a company.
How do you make SEO work?
To understand the cost of SEO, you first have to understand a little about how to make it work for your business.
Pay Per Click (paid search, or PPC) advertising yields immediate results for a business. You create a paid advertising campaign and watch clicks to your website. Because you pay for each click, competitive keywords can get expensive.
If you can get a good Return On Investment (ROI) for your ads, then it may be a strategy worth following. However, PPC isn’t as scalable as we might think – it takes a growing budget to increase the number of keywords you want to compete for.
SEO does not show immediate results. It is a long-term marketing strategy. A good SEO campaign takes time to produce rankings on Google. Usually, this is three months, six months, or even a year.
The time taken to see results is a combination of many factors, including the strength of your website, the competitiveness of the keyword you are targeting, the quality of your content compared to the competition, and many more.
However, organic traffic earned is often the most consistent. Many businesses agree that SEO is one of the best marketing channels available. It ultimately results in a lower cost, higher ROI and higher conversion rate than many other channels.
Measuring your ROI is key when implementing SEO. An article by SEM Rush shows some ideas of how to measure the ROI of SEO.
What types of work does SEO involve?
Search engine optimization isn’t as simple as adding a few words or HTML markup to a page. Understanding the work that SEO companies do is essential in understanding the cost.
Below is a list of common tasks that have to be completed as part of any SEO effort.
A good SEO effort starts with building a website if your business doesn’t have one. It could be as easy as building a simple WordPress site in-house.
You could hire a freelancer to build one for you. Or work with your SEO company to create a website that will perform well straight out of the gate.
It’s important that your website has a clean and logical structure. It should be easy to navigate, easy to read and have lots of paragraphs and images to help a reader digest the content easily.
When creating a website, you should also remember that Google will crawl and index and rank the pages. A simpler website is better for users and web crawlers.
Websites are a significant asset for a company but are often not treated as so. They go out of date easily. Pages or images get deleted or go missing. Structure becomes less efficient. Content becomes bloated or broken.
Make sure your website and plugins are up to date. Make certain search engines can crawl your pages and that they are error-free.
Many business owners forget the importance of good website maintenance. Ignoring problems can cost more money to fix if left alone.
Keyword research is the process of mining data to find opportunities to rank. It should be a large part of your initial effort and part of your SEO plan over time.
It’s essential to keep a keyword database up to date and refer to it often in the campaign. A keyword database contains all essential and useful data about search phrases you want to rank for, such as:
Search volumes. How many searches are there in a month?
Search terms. What are searches actually looking for?
Keyword difficulties and competitiveness. How hard is it to rank for a keyword?
Improvements you can make now! Are there any keywords you rank for that could be in a better position?
Competitor gap analysis. What are your competitors doing right or wrong.
Keyword research is the foundation of SEO. Without it an SEO campaign won’t provide valuable results.
The SEO audit
An SEO audit reviews a website’s technical and content aspects from an SEO point of view.
The audit will find opportunities to improve SEO for a website. It will highlight the low-hanging fruit and quick win tactics that can improve search position quickly.
The audit will discover foundational work to perform on a website before creating new content. Filling the gaps on these opportunities can give SEO a big boost.
It looks at page speeds and core web vitals. The audit highlights duplicate content and keyword cannibalisation, looks at broken links, content that is not performing well, and more.
You may have seen free audits as a front-end offer by an SEO company. But remember, you don’t get a lot for free! A valuable and in-depth SEO audit needs the expertise of an SEO specialist.
It takes many hours to complete, and it is unlikely you will get work of this volume and complexity for free. The results are often insightful and will show opportunities you never thought existed for your website and SEO.
Technical SEO tasks
Technical SEO is fixing a website’s technical problems that an audit highlights, to help with SEO performance.
Finding and fixing 404 errors. Missing images, broken links and broken pages.
Improving page loading speed. Slow websites don’t perform well in Google.
Optimizing images. Is your website slowing because it is loading large images instead of optimally sized images?
Removing redirect chains. Redirects bounce crawlers and users around a website and cause speed problems.
Improving website structure, user experience and more. Making the website easy to navigate for search engines and users.
Fixing technical problems is a foundational task carried out before optimizing existing content or creating new content.
SEO content marketing
SEO content marketing is the process of writing great content that will rank in search engines. Content is extremely importance to your online marketing. You have to be able to cut through the noise of an every expanding Internet.
Every day, Google crawls and indexes millions of web pages. Google decides which pages are the most appropriate to meet searcher intent. Google aims to give the searcher the best possible answers to their searches. Creating high quality content is key to getting in front of your audience.
Incredible content that satisfies search intent influences Google to reference your articles. But it’s not enough to sit at a keyboard and tap a blog article. The article has to be relevant. It has to contain keywords that match what the searcher is looking for.
It has to be of equal or higher quality to competitor pages and be unambiguous in how it answers a searcher. Existing content that was highlighted during an audit has to be improved and new content has to be created.
An article by Brian Dean on Backlinko explains exactly what backlinks are:
Google and other major search engines consider backlinks votes for a specific page as well as a website as a whole. Pages with a high number of good quality backlinks tend to have high organic search engine rankings.
Search engines know if the content is valuable based on quality signals and these votes. If a piece of content is excellent, then web administrators, bloggers and other editorial content creators will link to it.
Link building is an integral part of the SEO process and is the work of asking and negotiating for links. Link building is a resource-intensive and expensive process. It should be a top priority for anyone wishing to rank their website higher on Google.
But be aware that higher quality and more authoritative links are harder to get. They are also the best opportunities to chase. Low-quality links from authoritative websites won’t help SEO.
Local SEO or national SEO
Search engine optimization comes in two primary flavors: local SEO and national SEO.
The effort to rank web pages in local or national search results has the same foundation. They differ in the keywords used, use of Google My Business (GMB), and other nuances.
If you depend on local customers or you are a local business then you should direct your SEO efforts toward your town or region. For example, if you are an HVAC company in Ottawa, Ontario, you might target the surrounding area.
If you are an e-commerce store that targets North America, your SEO efforts would be more general across the nation.
Analytics and reporting
Analytics and reporting are a considerable part of any SEO campaign. SEO agencies record web page changes over time to ensure that an SEO campaign is effective.
Key performance indicators (KPIs) differ depending on goals. Tools like Google analytics help keep track of the numbers. For example, KPIs could include the number and value of sales on an e-commerce website. Or the number of sales phone calls that result from a click of a button on a web page.
Knowing how an optimized web page performs over time is critical. It helps decide if a web page needs changes. Reporting also allows you to see the ROI on your SEO investment.
An SEO expert must excel in organization and project management. An SEO campaign can go badly wrong if the project is not managed well.
SEO experts have to manage people, other companies and complete work in the correct order and to a level expected by a paying client. Effective management is the key to success in any worthwhile work, not least SEO services.
A breakdown of the SEO pricing model
SEO costs include budgeting for resources, content creation, link building, and other expenses. Achieving results is done through much work. The list below shows the types of expenses to account for:
Staff. Hiring and retention of full-time or outsourced staff.
Management. Project and resource management.
Execution. Implementation of tasks in a search campaign.
Tools. Software tools (SEO, project management, reporting, etc.) and equipment.
The difficulty of the campaign. Is the client trying to rank for more competitive keywords? Aggressive campaigns cost more because they require more work to achieve results.
Content marketing. Content production. Content that works is hard to create. Specialized content requires subject matter experts who tend to cost more.
Link building. Building links to content takes relationship building and negotiation. For example, it would be cheaper to get a link from a lower-ranking local blog than Forbes.
Aggressiveness of an SEO campaign. Quicker SEO results can be the result of more money. The more aggressive a company wants to be with SEO, the more the SEO pricing will be.
Other expenses. Rent and office expenses.
SEO pricing is based on a combination of factors and we will explore pricing models below.
What type of SEO company should you engage?
In general, there are five types of experts that a company can engage as SEO specialists. We’ll break down each one.
The freelancer. A self-employed independent contractor.
The SEO consultant. An expert who leverages other resource to help on a campaign.
The SEO agency. A larger company who generally employs staff but focuses on SEO as its core business.
The Digital marketing agency. A larger agency that works on many aspects of online marketing.
Full-time staff. Dedicated resource that works on their employer’s SEO.
A freelancer is a single self-employed person. They are not committed to a particular employer for the long term. You can find SEO specialists working as freelancers on websites such as Upwork or Fiver.
They often help with SEO marketing, content creation, keyword research, and link building. When hiring a freelancer, you would be responsible for project management. You would oversee and guide the work the freelancer produces.
In general, freelancers do the work themselves rather than hire resources to help. They often work on a small handful of projects at the same time.
The SEO consultant
This is an expert who runs a digital marketing agency of one. Consultants oversee the project management to ensure you don’t have to. Consultants manage their resources to complete the work. They may bring in team members for content creation, link acquisition, etc.
Freelancers tend to be task-specific, but consultants work at a higher level. Consultants use systems and well-defined procedures to manage and deliver effective SEO.
Consultants generally scale their business and may work with more than one company.
The SEO agency
An SEO agency is a larger organization with many staff to fulfil SEO services. An agency is often grown from scaling a one-person consultancy business.
These agencies generally don’t deviate from SEO, although some also work with Pay Per Click (PPC). Like consultants, they go deep in their offering rather than broad.
Agency prices are generally higher than a single consultant because of overheads. But they may also have a larger capacity for enterprise-level projects. Agencies often have full-time employees and dedicated account managers for each project.
The Digital Marketing agency
Digital marketing agencies offer a wide range of services—these range from web design and content creation to PPC advertising, SEO, and more.
Digital marketing agencies don’t go as deep into one discipline as dedicated agencies. They may not have as deep an understanding of SEO as dedicated consultants or agencies.
Digital marketing agencies often outsource SEO work offshore or to white-label companies. SEO agencies or consultants would do work on behalf of the digital marketing agency. They would charge a wholesale price while the agency charges the customer a higher fee.
Higher costs can ensue, and you might wish you hired a dedicated consultant or agency.
Hiring a dedicated SEO expert might be the best idea for an organization with a marketing team.
There are advantages to hiring a consultant or working with SEO agencies. You will likely get more resources with specific skills working on your campaign. Your campaign is likely to be well managed end-to-end. And you may have better results for SEO tasks.
There may be a limit to what full-time employees can do. Hiring full-time most likely means a small team who may be less effective and also more costly.
What to look for in an SEO provider
What should you look for in an SEO provider? Aside from finding someone to get you to number one on the search engine results pages?
Most business owners do not know how search engine marketing works. Finding an SEO company that can work with you and educates you as the project goes ahead is essential.
Getting SEO results takes time. There are many factors to consider. Even a mature website could take weeks or months for a new page to get ranked in Google or other search engines.
The truth is that no one knows what ranking factors Google use to rank pages. The SEO industry creates methods of success based on experience and knowledge sharing.
With this in mind, you might be cautious about working with a company that guarantees results. Unfortunately, no one can guarantee success in this game.
While most business owners may look for the cheapest deal, you should be careful of this tactic. The same can be said of using black hat SEO techniques. Website penalties can often be the result of cheating. SEO is a non-trivial task and ranking a website takes work as well as time.
Low-cost SEO professionals often struggle to provide high-quality services. The result is the back-end cost of fixing problems or re-running a project. It is common in many industries and not least in the SEO industry.
Identifying a company that will help you understand your SEO needs is essential. They should help you understand the investment required to get results. And they should help find the best SEO package for your money and goals.
You also want to work with an SEO provider that will be a good fit and partner for your company culture. You’ll work hand in hand with an SEO provider, so the partnership aspect is crucial.
It may not be a good fit if an SEO company wants to work on your site in a silo with little or no collaboration. SEO rarely works without good communication between all parties.
To find the perfect partner, you should also consider the SEO pricing models that a potential service provider offers.
Common modals are:
Monthly SEO pricing.
Project-based SEO services pricing.
SEO hourly rates.
It is better to stay away from hourly pricing if possible. Understanding the work that is being carried out can be challenging until you receive an invoice. Costs can escalate with hourly rates.
Monthly-based pricing is most common and most understandable. An SEO company will provide you with a breakdown of the work that would occur over several months. Monthly budgets can be set and are easier to control than hourly rates.
Project-based pricing is standard for projects such as audits or building a website. These are one-off projects that yield quick returns.
Some SEO providers also charge per project for an entire campaign. The upfront billing is higher than monthly SEO services, but the costs should be equal over time. So how much does SEO cost?
When choosing whom to work with, the most critical consideration is finding a company you consider a good fit and a partner. A well-performing SEO effort is when the client and SEO company work together hand in glove to accomplish the best SEO results.
Without that, your campaign may fail. You need to work with a company that understands your domain authority has to increase, and that your existing brand awareness has to grow.
For many small businesses, the cost of outsourcing to an SEO company is more efficient than hiring full-time staff. After the analysis above, let’s dig into the original question: Just how much does SEO cost? What should your SEO spend be?
The answer: it depends.
By now you should understand the many factors that go into SEO. I know ‘it depends’ not what you want to hear., but SEO is a complex service to put a figure to.
Industry-wide SEO services pricing
Search articles related to the cost of SEO packages on Google. You will find industry-wide pricing mentioned in those articles. Most have similar ranges for monthly retainers:
Lower tier SEO services cost $500 – $3,000 per month.
Mid-tier SEO services cost $3,000 – $15,000 per month.
High-tier SEO services cost up to $15,000 per month.
As with everything in life, you get what you pay for. This is particularly true of SEO services, and you should be wary of cheap SEO services. As you read in the article above, many complex tasks go into providing SEO services. That’s why many pieces you will find in Google only give approximate ranges.
You can only find the exact cost for your project after an SEO provider examines your needs. They will spend time to create appropriate SEO packages for you to choose from. Unfortunately, every project is different. There is no cookie-cutter model for SEO.
NewRoute Digital Pricing
NewRoute Digital is a new consulting company in Ottawa. We are small yet nimble and have much experience in the industry. We provide local SEO services as well as national.
It is difficult to show you precisely what your specific SEO services would cost. But our prices are in line with industry-wide pricing.
We don’t offer very cheap or low-budget SEO because it is impossible for our clients to do a good job. We also don’t charge hourly rates because billing this way always results in higher costs.
Our SEO audits are a fixed project price that varies depending on the website. A twenty-page HVAC website would cost less than a five thousand-page e-commerce website audit.
Pricing for monthly retainers also varies depending on budgets. The more aggressive you want to be in SEO, the higher the cost. We have to budget for more time and resources. You should also take into account the competitiveness of keywords.
There isn’t a one-price fit-all offering. But we are very transparent when exploring the options with our clients. If you aren’t going to get a significant ROI for engaging in an SEO strategy, then we will tell you.
We aim to provide the right SEO solutions for your company. An SEO strategy that will yield measurable results for years to come.