SEO in 2020: How much should you pay?

by | Oct 12, 2020 | Digital Marketing, SEO

Most business owners don’t know how much SEO services should cost. That is because there is not one definitive answer—there are many factors that play into the cost of SEO, including:

  • Experience – How many years has your SEO service provider been in the business, and how many clients have they worked with? Has their strategy produced effective results for customers of your business size and industry?
  • Skill Sets – Do you need someone to optimize your current site or create SEO-boosting content? Keyword research or an SEO audit?
  • Expectations – How quickly do you want to see results and how much of an improvement do you expect as a result of your SEO services?

Since there is not an industry standard price, it can be difficult to determine whether you are paying a fair rate for your SEO.  Although the amount that you want to pay for SEO services is ultimately up to you, we will set you on the right path so you can get the most ROI from your SEO investment.

How much should I pay for SEO?

If your business has looked into SEO before, you have probably noticed that there are varying extremes when it comes to SEO pricing. Many businesses and marketing departments may have been disappointed by past experiences, where they paid $100 or even $1000 a month and felt like they got nothing in return, or were uncertain of what services were even included in their SEO service package.

It is important to consider that SEO is a very skilled and labor intensive practice. Many of the things that happen on an SEO campaign are not tangible and happen behind the scenes.  This can make trusting your agency and setting clear and fair expectations difficult for the customer.

The three typical SEO pricing tiers

Bargain SEO – Priced from $99 – $299/month

You have probably stumbled upon ads that offer “ranking on page 1 for $99″ or “SEO for $299.” These ads set an unreal expectation for SEO pricing. The SEO platforms at this price point are typically automated and not actually performing any valuable SEO activity.

Pre-packaged budget SEO applies a “one size fits all” tactic to all their clients, regardless of their size, location or industry. For example, it takes more effort and a far different strategy to increase SEO visibility for a lawyer in Atlanta, Georgia as compared to a plumber in Bozeman, Montana. Both the cost and SEO plan should differ for each type of client.

Pros – Cost and cost alone. If these bargain SEO services actually work, it is more likely due to pure luck rather than an effective SEO strategy.

Cons – These services are actually more likely to hurt your site than improve it. Bargain basement SEO services typically perform black hat tactics to get your website to rank, and if found out, can cause harsh penalties from Google that will decrease your visibility on major search engines.

The Average SEO – Priced from $600-$1,500/month

The typical SEO agency will charge between $600-$1,500 for search engine optimization. Most agencies will adjust their service pricing based on client expectations, whether they are aiming for a local or national reach, or other campaign goals. The wide variety of needs and diversity of clients results in a large price range.

Pros – Your typical SEO agency will provide a custom approach to SEO and systematic approach to pricing based on campaign strategy. These campaigns are generally much more effective than budget standardized SEO strategies.

Cons – A $600-$1,500 plan can impact your marketing budget, especially if your SEO campaign doesn’t yield an ROI immediately.

The Top Tier – Priced from $1,500-$15,000/month

Top tier SEO is offered by large national SEO agencies, industry experts, and niche providers that specialize in running campaigns for large national or international enterprises.

Pros – In many ways, you get what you pay for. These agencies will put in the effort to highly specialize their approach to your SEO strategy.

Cons – Top tier SEO is very expensive and out of reach for many small or mid-sized businesses.

How do I set the price expectation?

Before you can determine your ideal SEO package pricing, you need to take some time to establish what you want from your SEO. What are your goals? Do you have tangible metrics that you want to use to measure the effectiveness of your SEO strategy?

In addition to considering your wants, you also need to determine what you need from your search engine optimization. For example, are you a local business that only needs to reach a small population, or are you looking to expand regionally or nationally? Figuring out what your business needs from it’s SEO services for the overall success of the business is crucial to figuring out what you should pay for your services.

Finally, you need to consider what you are capable of paying with your current budget. It is important to be upfront with potential service providers about what you are willing to pay before they start working on your SEO. For example, if you only have $400 budgeted, you may walk into an uncomfortable situation when you approach a top tier agency that prices your needs at $2,400 a month.

How agencies determine SEO pricing

Typically, SEO agencies charge an hourly rate for their services. These rates can run from $75 to $250 per hour at a blended rate. A blended rate is a combination of costs for varying SEO services. For example, if you choose to purchase content writing alongside technical website changes, the rate per hour will be blended so you aren’t paying two separate fees. After the rate is established, agencies will outline their strategy around a rubric or time structure and bill hourly at a predetermined number of hours or total budget each month.

The key to understanding your SEO pricing is understanding exactly which services you are getting for the fee you are paying from your SEO agency. Asking the following crucial questions can help you evaluate agencies to find the right fit for your business:

How is my money spent each month?
Get a strong understanding of what services will be provided each month with your SEO service package. If you aren’t sure what a certain service entails, make sure to ask questions so you have a better understanding of what to expect from your SEO.
How does your agency budget my money?
Does the agency have a rubric or method of assigning values to certain tasks and activities?
How does this agency operate?
What is their monthly system for performing SEO tasks and tactics? Which specific services will they provide and how will they benefit your business?
What is the SEO strategy?
Can the agency provide you with a strategy? How will they meet your ongoing goals and how will they measure their success?

Ultimately, your goals, needs and expectations should drive the price of your SEO package. Taking the time to gain an understanding of how SEO will help you meet your business goals will help you determine the level of SEO your business needs. By setting expectations up front, you can select an agency that suits your needs and budget to maximize your ROI with SEO services.

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