How Much Should I Pay for SEO Services, and Why?

Reading Time:7 mins February 13, 2014

Search engine optimization costs that much?! How can that be right? Am I being ripped off? And how do I even know what a fair price looks like?

Sticker shock can be a major turnoff when folks first shop around for SEO services. And it’s this same shock that draws the unfortunate and uneducated to invest their precious marketing budget on black hat SEO, outdated practices and otherwise ineffective initiatives for a fraction of the price.

But if you’re diving into site optimization in an attempt to boost your business, you should either do it right or not at all. Am I right? You should be nodding your head up and down before you bother moving on…

I’m here to serve up some education and answer the hard questions about SEO pricing. That is, the who, the what, and the why behind these valuable marketing services you’ve seen so much buzz about. Now bear with me.

What Am I Paying For?

Search engine optimization isn’t free, and it isn’t easy either. It doesn’t happen with the click of a button, and it’s important to understand the resources that go into it before you make a decision or shell out payment.

Here are the building blocks of SEO services that contribute to cost:

  • People: Search engine optimization is implemented by trained professionals – not a computer. These professionals and the skills they possess don’t work for free.
  • Technology: From the computers, phones, programs, web services, plugins, and even the operational utilities (think electricity, internet, etc.), technology plays a pivotal role in SEO services.
  • Time: It’s a time-consuming endeavor that involves communication between the optimizer and client, research, code implementation and more (covered below).

When you shop for SEO services, this is a breakdown of the absolute essentials you should expect to receive:

  • Website/business consultation: Speaking with a search engine optimizer is the first step. You’ll do so to set goals, outline your expectations, discuss deliverables, ask them the questions you need to know, and more.
  • Keyword research: Once they know more about your business and what your goals are, an optimizer needs to conduct thorough research on keywords to target.
  • Competitive research: A significant part of keyword research and gauging ranking potential lies in researching the level of competition for each keyword to target – some will be easier to rank under than others, based on how many other sites are competing for the same phrase.
  • Website research: Your optimization specialist should look into your site’s history, backlink profile, domain age and more to determine whether you have preexisting penalties with the search engines (and if fixes need to be made).
  • Auditing content: Existing on-site content plays into optimization success, so an optimizer is also responsible for analyzing what’s already there to determine its strengths and weaknesses.
  • Metadata alteration: This is the knitty-gritty coding part of SEO, involving title, description, authorship and social tag alterations (among others) to include the keywords you’re targeting.

And these are the types of servicing models you’ll be offered most frequently:

  • Monthly: This is a servicing plan that’s generally the best for sites aiming for consistent results under competitive keywords (or improve poor ones). The monthly model generally revolves around quarterly, six or twelve months at a time, with payments spaced out or up front.
  • Hourly: Just as it sounds, this type of plan covers services that are implemented on an hourly basis. It tends to be a wise choice for websites that require minimal but steady maintenance, occasional consulting or smaller changes.
  • Project rates: Paying by the project is smart for someone implementing very specific SEO to do something like repair bad backlinks or remedy preexisting Google penalties. Projects are usually quoted out with customized pricing based on the needs of the client.

Now that your expectations are up to speed, forward onto hard numbers!

What’s Realistic, and Why?

Below are several business types and the typical price ranges for SEO services. These ranges are organized by business size to outline the most common site characteristics, and I’ll be sticking to monthly pricing since it’s the most common payment model.

I’ve pulled these numbers from multiple, trustworthy industry sources (including a fantastic industry survey from moz, an enlightening article from Forbes and more) to get results that are as accurate as possible. Note that these ranges are approximations, as every SEO agency is different and the businesses they’re serving have varying needs.

  • SEO for small businesses (between $250 and $750 monthly): This pricing covers fundamental SEO implementation and maintenance for businesses with small websites (generally 1-10 pages). The final price coincides with the size of the site, the age of the domain, the keywords being opted for and the scale of the work involved.
  • SEO for medium sized businesses (between $750 and $2,000 monthly): Businesses in this demographic are looking for the basics and more. They may need their images and videos optimized, a focus on local search, backlink cleanup or just a more demanding volume of content on their site.
  • Enterprise SEO for large businesses (between $2,000 and $10,000+ monthly): This level of pricing is what’s necessary for large-scale operations, such as national corporations or big time ecommerce sites. The offerings are comprehensive and include opt maintenance for large sites, research and implementation on vastly competitive keywords, loads of consultation, and often other types of marketing (such as content and social) to supplement.

These prices should serve as a guide to what realistic numbers look like. But how do you steer clear of the bad stuff in such a vast and saturated marketplace?

What’s Too Good to Be True?

Pay attention to the red flags, because they’ll make the difference between a wise investment and a ruined one.

Here are a few indicators that should alert you to questionable SEO service:

  • Page one ranking guarantees: No SEO company can provide a ranking guarantee, because no SEO company works directly with Google for organic rankings. It’s advisable to run away from this flawed assurance.
  • Promises for fast results: Every site is different, and there are a lengthy number of factors that play into how a site ranks on Google. Optimizers and the sites they work on are ultimately at Google’s mercy, and must answer to the speed of their crawling spiders and ranking algorithms. And while some sites will see results in a matter of weeks, SEO implementation can take many months before results are seen.
  • Ridiculously low prices: If you find services that are significantly lower than the industry standards discussed above, you should second-guess their credibility for your own good. Low pricing means a lower bottom line, often resulting from corner-cutting practices. Take these possibilities into account when you cross paths with “budget SEO” services.
  • Claims that SEO is a cure-all: SEO is not going to solve all your marketing problems, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either ignorant or deceitful. Optimization is a necessary cog in the digital marketing machine, but it must be supplemented with other marketing efforts to reach its full potential (and give you the greatest return on investment).

Why Should I Bother Paying These Prices?

When all is said and done, you get what you pay for. A qualified and reliable SEO agency will charge competitive pricing within the bounds of what was discussed above, where a less-experienced or fraudulent one will attempt to undercut competition by charging less. In this industry, you’ll pay fair prices for a dominant search engine presence, thorough execution and a return on your investment. Conversely, shooting for unrealistic prices that are lower than the industry standards will leave your website’s success up to chance.

You need to ask yourself how much you value consistent and effective optimization for your site, and whether you’re ready to make the investment in SEO that produces reliable results.

Topics In This Post:

Is Your Business Being Found? Discover our fresh approach to modern SEO!

About The Author:

Pat is a blogger, videographer, and full-time beer nerd. He’s formerly an inbound marketing specialist at Mainstreethost, where he wrote and filmed on subjects surrounding marketing.