How Much Does SEO Cost?
Pricing and Costs of SEO Services Explained
by Dr. William Sen
The initial investment in SEO can seem expensive at first glance for many companies. Below is my experience of the last 20 years.
Let’s take a shortcut here and talk about pricing first: SEO campaigns at large companies cost between $15,000 and $40,000 per month. Mid-sized companies should expect between $1,000- $5,000 for an SEO Campaign. Smaller companies might get along with $600 to $800 per month. Let’s have a look what that means for different companies and their expectations.
SEO Campaigns for under $600
Of course, there are SEO agencies that also offer packages for under $400. In my experience SEO campaigns under $600 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 even for SEO projects, I know that no SEO agency can afford to run a company for that kind of budget. SEO Agencies offering such small prices usually offer packages that ultimately bring little or no SEO effects and thus no ROI for the company that needs SEO. Mostly, the missing results are beautifully presented in colorful weekly or monthly reports, so the customer feels that something is happening.
Also, I’ve never met an offshore company that was able to perform high-level SEO in countries like India, Pakistan, Philippines, Kenya, Nigeria, Russia, China or similar. From my experience, these countries have sometimes very thorough software and web developers when it comes to IT, and even some offshore teams from African countries are able to provide some very well researched and highly qualitative SEO content. But when it comes to SEO itself, unfortunately the SEO they perform just scratches the surface, and is not able to provide strategic or holistic SEO involving high-level objectives.
Let me put it that way: If you in a very rare occasion where you are able to find a sophisticated SEO from these countries with that kind of knowledge, that person wouldn’t offer it to you for $400 — not if he/she lived in a country where the average annual yearly income of a person is $500 or less. It’s a fact that a person that would accept this kind of a budget would be able to understand the finesse of your business, create conversion elements for your audience, conduct competitor research, create a content strategy plan that matches the mindset of your target audience, and provide valuable data analytic results that will lead to a SEO strategy including website elements. This person would also not be able to interpret all these findings to provide recommendations you usually would get from an SEO with an economics master or PhD who has studied and worked in the U.S., Canada, Australia or in economically powerful European states with a high competitive environment such as Germany and U.K. Just think for a minute: Let’s say, if someone from Pakistan was able to do all that, this person wouldn’t provide SEO for $400, but would work as a manager for the largest companies in his/her country.
What you will get instead are quick and dirty SEO audits based on On Page Optimization only, shady backlinks, and website optimization that was considered good SEO 15 years ago.
SEO Campaigns for Large Companies
My biggest 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 must understand that an SEO specialist or SEO manager costs between $60K 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.
Looking at those numbers, one wonders how an SEO campaign can be justified at all for the client. 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 camaigns make for enormous conversions. Let’s take the travel industry for example: When users search hotels, car rental 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 absolutely 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: bandwidth, costs for the SEO ageny, and your SEO technology team that will apply the changes on your 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 used only for gigantic companies. Many medium-sized companies can benefit from similar effects.
Below is an example:
In my time as an SEO, I have been able to provide the best results in conservative industries, where most of the competitors of our client 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, are a guaranteed success. Due to the low level of competition, it is always possible to dominate the search engine market within a short 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, also 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. This 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 to those markets, as the lead tends to not understand what is being offered. Too bad.
SEO Campaigns for Small Businesses
Somewhat more difficult are companies that address only a small audience and the products are not scalable. Certainly, SEO campaigns does not pay 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. Yelp and alternative portals 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. 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 option 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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