How Much Does SEO Cost?
Pricing and Costs of SEO Services Explained
The average cost of SEO can seem expensive at first glance for many companies. Below I share my experience with SEO pricing over the last 20 years and what has changed.
Let’s take a shortcut here and talk about SEO pricing first
- SEO campaigns at large companies cost between $15,000 – $40,000 per month
- Mid-sized companies should expect to pay between $2,500- $5,000 per month for an SEO Campaign led by experienced SEOs.
- Smaller companies might get along between $1,200 – $1,800 per month.
Let’s have a look what that means for different companies and their expectations.
SEO Campaigns Under $600
Of course, there are SEO agencies that also offer packages for under $600. In my experience, such SEO campaigns can’t be taken seriously at this point, since I believe that an SEO campaign for under $600 can’t provide the necessary work that’s needed.
When I look at what we as an SEO agency provide for SEO projects, I know that no SEO agency can afford to run a company for that kind of budget. SEO agencies offering such low prices usually offer packages that ultimately bring little or no SEO results, and thus no ROI for the company that needs SEO.
Mostly, the sub-par results are beautifully presented in colorful weekly or monthly reports, so the customer feels that something great is happening.
Budget SEO Services
In my career since 2001, I have not met an offshore company that was able to perform high-level SEO from the typical off-shore countries that come in mind such as Pakistan, Afghanistan or similar.
From my experience, some of these countries have sometimes very thorough software and web developers when it comes to IT such as India, Philippines and Russia. I have worked with the best in those countries. And even some offshore teams from African countries were able to provide some very well researched and highly qualitative SEO content — especially Nigeria and Kenia. They seem to have some very good universities in there, and if you work with the right people, you can expect high quality content.
But when it comes to SEO itself, unfortunately it is more complicated. Most of the typical offshore countries are not able to provide strategic or holistic SEO involving high-level objectives.
In my last endeavor, I had a very good interview with a very promising SEO from Pakistan. His resume was very convincing. He had studied in Australia, had been working for U.S. and Australian big brands as an SEO, and was residing in Pakistan. He even had send me an example of his work, and for a moment there I thought had I found the needle in the haystack. After giving him a simple task (keyword research), I realized that even a top SEO like him was not able to meet the demands.
One of the challenges I encountered working with him made me realize a couple things:
Often they have to use publicly available Keyword Research tools, instead of having access to tools such as Ahref or SEMRush, Stats or similar that you would need a subscription for. Needless to say that he could not effort a subscription for $299 a month which would substitute around half or more his yearly household income. He then came up with conclusions where it was clear that he did not comprehend the U.S. market.
Most of the time, these hard-working people are not able to put themselves into the target audience’s shoes. As SEO expert, we have to imagine “how would I search for this product if I were the target audience?”. Since some of those offshore SEOs are not acquainted with the typical U.S. consumer, it is hard for them to understand the mindset of the the client’s target audience.
I once had to explain to a Pakistani content writer about Organic Food for Pets. He did not know what Organic Food meant as he was not familiar with our issues with food: He has been cooking fresh ingredients form his local market his whole life, and food was a rare and precious commodity in any form to him and his family.
Nor could he understand the concept of having a dog at home, as dogs in Pakistan would be seen as annoyances that better kept away from homes – or if you could effort it, to protect your home by living outside their homes.
Speaking of serving a dog high-quality nutritious food to a dog that he rarely could provide his family with, made no sense to him.
This is is a good, and maybe even a sad example. It shows that SEO is a much more eco-cultural, and knowledge-based disciplines compared to IT services that are more mathematical.
SEO Campaigns for Large Companies
For one of the bigger SEO client I was a part of was running one of the largest web platforms in the web, was spending half a million dollars per year, and was managed by about 5 SEOs — a relatively small number of SEOs who managed a considerably large budget.
This makes sense, if you understand that an SEO specialist or SEO manager costs between $55K and $100K per year in the U.S. In this example, with 5 SEO experts employed, this comes up to over $420K a year in employee costs for the SEO agency alone, taking employer taxes, social security tax, medicare tax, benefits, and other costs into account. To make this worthwhile for the SEO agency, these 5 SEOs I mentioned before working for one client would have to work at least on 3 other equivalent projects.
It becomes pretty clear that even a project that brings in half a million dollar revenue per year for an SEO agency, would not even pay for 5 full SEO experts if they worked only on that project alone.
Looking at those numbers, one wonders how an SEO campaign can be justified at all .
But it’s worth it. Most of these campaigns bring back ROIs in very high numbers. Large-scale SEO campaigns dominate the market in their industry, many become market leaders through successful SEO campaigns. I’ve seen small-sized companies becoming the ultimate market leaders because they had hired an SEO company, while others wouldn’t understand the value of SEO or simply could not understand what SEO actually is and lose their market share to competitors who would conduct SEO.
Strategically well-designed SEO campaigns make for enormous conversions.
Let’s take the travel industry for example: When users search hotels, car rentals or flights for or in certain locations, and repeatedly come across the travel portal in the search engine result pages (SERP), ultimately that company will make hundreds of millions of dollars per year. So, the investment of less than a million for SEO is quite justified and is actually a pretty good deal considering they bring in almost hundred times as much back in ROI.
With such gigantic campaigns, SEO turns out to be much cheaper than SEM/PPC. Since no CPC (Cost Per Click) is generated, the number of traffic you create will cost you 3 things only:
- Costs for the SEO ageny
- Your SEO technology team that need to apply the recommended changes on the website
This makes SEO extremely popular amongst companies that understand how to play the SEO game.
SEO Campaigns for Medium-Sized Businesses
However, SEO does not just have to be used only for gigantic companies. Many medium-sized companies can benefit from similar effects.
Below is an example:
In my time as an SEO since 2001 until today 2023, I have been able to provide the best results in conservative industries, where most of the competitors of our clients didn’t know what SEO was. For us SEOs, such companies acting in a conservative market, where market players don’t understand how to utilize SEO, there is a guaranteed success. Due to the low level of competition, it is always possible to dominate the search engine market within a short period of time and to provide conversions and visits of up to more than 300% in the first 6 months.
The challenge with such campaigns is to convince the customer of the SEO strategy — especially before they sign the contract. As it’s a conservative market, the client often does not know or understand the intricacies of SEO.
Another challenge is to get approvals from the client during the campaign for innovative SEO campaigns and strategies. However, if the chemistry between the SEO agency and the customer is right, huge profits are expected for the client.
There are also conservative industries, such as construction, where only a single lead can prove to be profitable. For example, I’ve been involved in campaigns in construction management, where only one conversion can be in the millions in regards to ROI. In this case, one lead per year would already justify the whole SEO campaign that has been conducted for several years.
his is especially true for companies where few leads engage large projects in companies. However, these clients tend to be the most difficult, because they have to be constantly convinced about the SEO value. Also, it’s turns to be almost impossible to sell SEO services to those markets, as the lead tends to not understand what is being offered.
SEO Campaigns for Small Businesses
Somewhat more difficult are companies that address only a small audience and where their products are not scalable. Certainly, SEO campaigns are not worth it for a local hairdressing or tailoring shop. It would not be possible for an SEO to provide the ROI even with smaller PPC campaigns. For such companies, therefore, it is worthwhile to list them in the local industry listings. Google My Business and alternative hubs are more rewarding, especially for local and small service local providers.
However, law firms and medical practices are different. Especially the local visibility in search engines can be very rewarding if SEO is conducted. In this case, even a small medical office or law firm can benefit from an SEO campaigns between $1000-$3000 per month in order to get successful SEO results.
SEO Pricing Conclusion
The pricing of the SEO campaign is based on the expected ROI, the target audience, and the branch you are in. That’s one of the reasons why packaged SEO doesn’t make much sense in my experience.
Packaged SEO is when SEO agencies offer plans, such as “Starter”, “Silver” and “Gold”, and any other creative names they might come up with. While this might make sense for hosting products where no individual consulting is needed, SEO can only be successful when it is being tailored to your needs, goals and business. That’s why pricing in SEO can only be determined once you have talked to the SEO agency several times and where they have at least looked at your analytics and analyzed your market in detail.
Last but no least: If you’re serious about SEO and don’t want to risk signing a yearly contract — let the SEO agency perform a research first to see what options you have.
A serious and professional SEO agency will be able to provide a professional SEO research. This might cost you several thousand dollars, but it’s worth every penny.
It will not only reveal hidden values that you haven’t been using in your business but will show a roadmap and next steps in order to start a successful SEO campaign.
Everything actually starts with an SEO Research, and it’s the basis of your and the Agency’s decision-making process. In fact, even if you have engaged an SEO agency right away for a yearly contract, they will most likely start with an SEO research anyway. And if they don’t — run away!
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