WebFx, a leader in the tech-enabled digital marketing solutions space, interviewed 500 US-based professionals about the cost of SEO.
Here are the findings:
- More than half (64.04%) of professionals charge $51-$100 per hour for SEO.
- More than two-thirds (69.68%) of professionals charge $501-$5000 monthly for SEO.
- More than half (62.5%) of professionals charge $501-$5000 per project for SEO.
However, don’t make a decision yet. Read further for a thorough breakdown of the pricing, the whys, and if there are more affordable alternatives.
SEO Pricing Breakdown
To paint the complete picture, I’ll breakdown the SEO pricing model into 3 categories:
- One-time or recurrent needs
- Service provider
- Business size
What’s The Scope Of Your Project?
Ideally, one-time needs should be relatively more affordable than recurrent needs. However, it can be tricky.
Say you need only a quick audit; hourly rates [$51-$200] will suffice. What if the one-time need is a project?
In that case, you’ll pay $501-$5000. Well, that’s the range for recurrent needs. And mind you, the latter can be cheaper. How?
If you hire an SEO for recurrent/monthly services, you’ll likely get discounts [up to 15%].
Let’s do some quick math…
15% * $501-$5000 = $426-$4250
You’ll get a $75-$750 discount. The best part: recurrent services have better results because SEO is not a one-time fix.
Who Is Your Service Provider?
Whether in-house or as subcontractors, SEO providers are generally agencies or freelancers. The former has a much larger scope than the latter.
In other words, hiring the SEO services of an agency costs more than freelancers. How much?
Ahrefs did a similar study to WebFx: they surveyed 400+ SEO professionals. The findings influence the answers in this section.
Compared to freelancers, agencies’ costs:
- $75+ more per hour
- $1001+ more per month
- $1001+ more per project
What Is The Size Of Your Business?
The needs of local businesses, for example, aren’t the same as a corporation with a global audience. The former will likely only need a site with a few pages. And maybe an eCom site or a GMB too.
On the other hand, corporations need a site with several pages — interpreted in customers’ languages. Then, the business will require a robust content strategy.
But how much can you expect?
Ahrefs’ study also revealed similar figures. SEOs charge lower for businesses serving local markets. How low?
SEOs serving global markets charge $3473.74 monthly, while the locals only charge $1557.08 monthly. That’s a $1916.66 difference.
What if you only need help just a part of SEO? Is there a per-part pricing?
Yes. Check this out:
What Does Each Part Of SEO Cost In 2023?
Note: I based the services here on the standard deliverables of monthly/recurrent SEO packages.
Here is a quick overview of the services included in SEO packages:
- SEO audit
- Keyword research
- Competitor analysis
- Technical SEO
- Content creation and optimization
- On-page SEO
- Off-page SEO and link building
- Strategy optimization and performance evaluation
Now, about cost: how much is an SEO audit?
Unfortunately, there is no standard. It can range from free to $1K+.
WebFx, for example, quotes a comprehensive SEO audit for 70 pages [+ additional services] for $8600. That works out to about $123 per page.
On the other hand, I do the same audit for free here at SERPReach. I only sell the solution, not the report.
SEO audits will reveal gaps to plug into to improve your site’s traffic. One of those gaps is what your audience wants. Hence keyword research.
Regarding cost, keyword research requires SEO tools. But there are so many of them.
However, I’ll recommend tools like Ahrefs, Ubersuggest, and Semrush. And for those, the price can range from $250-$500 monthly — you can always get additional credit for extra queries.
But what if you don’t know how to use the tool or don’t have the time?
You can hire freelance keyword researchers for $10-$50 for in-depth reports or topical maps.
You can adapt the strategies and improve on them to outrank the competition. And about cost, competitor analyses are included in comprehensive SEO audits.
Further reading: How To Do SEO Competitor Analysis
Technical SEO involves fixing the backend of your site rather than the content. It includes issues such as page speed, mobile friendliness, and UX.
About cost, know this:
The prices of technical fixes anywhere are usually high-end. On platforms like Toptal, prepare for an outlay of $75/hr. That’s even for the least experienced developers.
On the other hand, per-project hires are often affordable — depending on the project.
For example, say you only need to fix your website speed. In that case, a $15-$39 budget might suffice.
Content Creation & Optimization
Content is cheaper and easier to scale in 2023, thanks to AI tools like ChatGPT and Surfer.
But while the tools are cheaper, they are not FREE. How so?
Let’s start with ChatGPT.
You’ll need to hire an editor to modify the article’s tone, regardless of the version used.
What about prompts?
You’ll hire prompt engineers. Even then, you will pay $8-$30 per prompt.
And FYI, ChatGPT Plus costs $20 monthly.
Now, let’s talk about Surfer.
Like ChatGPT, Surfer has an AI writing tool. But that’s not its selling point.
Surfer’s USP is its content editor — it scrapes search result pages and brings a list of keywords to include in your article.
In short, Surfer helps to optimize your articles. About cost, Surfer’s subscription is $89-$299 monthly.
So, how much for the writer/editor?
Writers bill by word count and hourly.
- For project rates, expect a range of 5c-$1 per word
- For hourly rates, expect a median range of $15-$40/hr
On-page SEO optimizations are less technical, and a VA can help. Even better, you can hire a tech-savvy VA and train them.
For that, budget at least $15/hour. However, you might want to limit the job to short tasks like meta description and title tag optimization.
What if you don’t know about on-page SEO practices?
In that case, you might need an on-page SEO expert. You can save money by hiring on a per-task basis.
For example, say you need help only with internal link building; you can hire a freelancer. This way, you’ll need $49 [and not $75/hr] for the job.
Off-page SEO And Link Building
While off-page SEO is much more than link building, it mainly concerns earning backlinks. And undoubtedly, it is the most costly and hectic part of SEO.
How much does this part cost?
- A guest post backlink costs $77.80
- A niche edit backlink costs $361.44
Strategy Optimization & Performance Evaluation
This part is an ongoing report on the success of the SEO campaign. What was your ranking before the campaign? Where is it now?
Do you need a new strategy? Or should you continue with the previous one?
Those are some of the questions that the evaluation will answer.
So, how much does the performance evaluation cost?
It is free. It usually comes with whatever package you buy.
Either as parts, per task, hourly, or monthly, SEO can be somewhat expensive. Right?
Do you ever wonder why?
I did too. The section below will explain the “why.”
Why Is SEO Expensive?
Ideally, SEO is free. It is organic, after all. Only Pay-Per-Click marketing requires payment.
Why, then, is SEO expensive.
Short answer: there are over 200M active sites [Forbes]. They are vying to rank first for their money keywords. To beat such competition, you need to be extra skillful. SEOs are, and they charge for their skillfulness and results.
Other factors contribute to the pricing of SEO. Here are the top 3:
Not to point fingers, but frankly, you’re one of the top reasons SEO is expensive. If you care less about your site, you won’t learn basic SEO.
As a result, your site will lack the basic fixes. SEOs will charge you more.
Also, if you don’t know much about SEO, you might be scammed into buying unsafe backlinks. Unfortunately, those will harm your site.
In other words, an SEO will need additional time to fix such errors. In other words, you’ll spend more.
In contrast, say you were experienced. You will know how to build your site the right way. You will avoid black hats.
This way, you will only outsource the part that requires expertise and save money.
Expertise Of Hires
Ideally, all SEOs are not at the same level. Some have been at the game since the beginning of it.
For example, I started SEO in 2009. I know what a newbie who starts in 2022 doesn’t know. And Ideally, I’ll charge more.
Spoiler alert: SEOs who have been in business for over 2 years charge $2K+ per project.
Years of experience aside, expertise also means the other skills of the SEOs. Can they code?
If yes, such professionals will charge 7% higher than others [Backlinko].
Lastly, the types of services offered by the provider also matter. Solutions like GMB management, audits, and content writing are relatively cheaper.
On the other hand, link building, web design & development, and digital PR are generally expensive.
Your Business Scope
I mentioned this part earlier. But here we go again — to show you your business scope matters:
You don’t need a full-fledged website if your business only operates in a locale. Maybe an eCom site and a GMB will suffice.
In other words, your SEO will be relatively affordable. Why?
From experience, competition in Local SEO is low.
On the other hand, if you sell products across continents, you will compete with several BIG players. Hence, you need more input, resources, and experts to win.
In essence, you’ll spend more on SEO.
Can You Limit SEO Expenses?
Yes — but only by a small percentage. And mind you, the way out is not link farms or black hats. You’ll only increase what is already expensive.
What, then, is the way out?
Prioritize 3 core areas of SEO.
- User experience
Cut off excesses. Give users what they want, how & when they want it.
Also, make your site crawlable and indexable. Always check if your pages are indexed. Otherwise, you don’t qualify to even be worried about SEO.
More importantly, follow search engine rules. Read algorithm updates as soon as they are released.
Lastly, ensure responsive web design.
While there are arguments about AI-generated, I’d recommend you focus on what matters:
- Is your content helpful?
Whether AI-generated or human-written, does your content satisfy users’ intents? Does it offer value?
Backlinks are arguably the most crucial part of SEO. And I’m not saying that because I love building links.
Beyond SEO, backlinks are the results of relationship building.
In other words, a backlink earned = a new friend gained = a prospect won = a recommendation won.
In summary, you can’t do any wrong with backlinks.
However, you MUST only build natural and safe links. Otherwise, you can taint your SEO efforts.
SEO Is Worth the Investment
When done right, SEO is worth all the bucks spent. And you’d better believe that; I’ve been in this industry since 2009.
In that time, I’ve seen clients who have earned x20, x200, and x10 ROI on the amount spent on SEO. So, I know what I’m saying.
The secret is to follow templates that work.
Another thing to note: results are not always instant. It can take up to 3 months. But once the results start dripping in, they don’t stop. No algorithm update will stop your growth because you did the RIGHT thing.
Further reading: An ROI Business Case: How To Calculate Your Link Building ROI