It’s hard to drive traffic through Google effectively. Search marketing is a discipline with lots of nuances. Though its basics are easy to grasp, there’s a lot more to it than keyword research and content creation, and some aspects of on-page and off-page SEO are best left to an SEO expert. But if you’re going to seek out an agency, freelancer, or consultant to do your SEO work, how much of your marketing budget should you expect to spend?

SEO Pricing: How much does SEO cost?

Though the cost of SEO varies widely, and so do SEO pricing models, there’s been research to show there are common trends across agencies, freelancers, and SEO consultants.

SEO Pricing Study 1: Ahrefs

In 2018, Ahrefs surveyed 357 digital marketing respondents who offered SEO services to find out pricing models, hourly rate, per-project fees, monthly retainer rate, and more. In a blog post, Josh Hardwick offers some takeaways:

  1. Most SEO companies (74.71%) charge a monthly retainer for their services, and most times it does not exceed $5k per month (94.23% are below). Almost 40% (39.66%) of all SEOs surveyed only offer retainer-based pricing.
  2. The majority of SEO companies (59.2%) only offer one pricing model. Just 40.8% say they offer multiple pricing models. Of the majority, 66.99% charge a monthly retainer.
  3. The most to least common retainer costs are as follows: 24.23% of monthly retainers are $2,001/month or more; 23.08% of monthly retainers are between $501-$1,000 a month, and 19.23% of retainers are between $251 and $500.
  4. The most common hourly cost of SEO companies is $100-$150 per hour (35.29% in the United States). Next, come rates between $75 and $100 an hour (19.53% of all hourly rates). Only 11.72% of hourly rates exceed $150/hour, and only 6.25% exceed $200/hour.
  5. For SEO agencies that offer rates per project, $501-$1,000 is the most common (25.17%).
  6. Across pricing models, agencies charge almost double what SEO freelancers and consultants do.
  7. On average, SEO specialists with 2+ years experience charge 39.4% more per hour, 102.41% more for monthly retainers, and a 275% more for single projects than those with less than 2 years experience.

Ahrefs SEO hourly rates by time in business chart.

SEO Pricing Study 2: Credo

Credo surveyed 137 SEO professionals around the world, though most of their data is on US and UK SEO companies. Here are the takeaways from their survey.

  1. Per hour, most agencies (83%) charge under $200. About 31% charge $101-$150, 29% charge under $100, and 8.68% charge under $50.
  2. For firms accepting one-off projects, SEO prices were as follows: the most common (26.86%) was $1,000-$1,999; the second most common (22.73%) was under $1,000; the third most common (18.6%) was $2,000-$2,999. 16.53% of SEO companies charge $5,000+.
  3. Among SEO firms using a monthly retainer model, common price range is as follows: 27.27% charge between $1,000 and $1,999; 25.62% charge under $1,000; 17.63% charge between $2,000 and $2,999. 9.5% charge $5,000+.

Graph showing SEO firm monthly retainers.

The study includes helpful graphics and more data separated by country and by service, too, like link building. For a deeper dive, the full article is linked above.

SEO Pricing Study 3: Moz

This third study comes from Moz. It’s older, from 2011, but among studies on SEO pricing, it has the most data available. For this, Moz surveyed 600 agencies on the SEO cost and pricing model. Here are the takeaways:

  1. Hourly SEO cost varies across countries, but the most common is $76-$200/hour.

Graph showing SEO pricing by hourly rate.2. The most common pricing model was per project, and the most common price range (43%) was pretty large: $1,000-$7,500.3\

3. 70% of SEO businesses offered per project pricing, 60% offered monthly retainer pricing, and 55% offered hourly pricing.

For those interested, the original blog post offers some more insight on non-pricing related topics like client lists and services offered.

Why SEO cost is so hard to nail down

The problem with nailing down a cost of search engine optimization services is that it depends on a lot of factors. For SEO pricing, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. It’s all about deliverables.

A small business owner will have different needs than an enterprise CMO. An e-commerce company will have different goals than a real estate firm.

Then, if you need SEO in addition to social media management and content marketing strategy development, the cost will be higher. Cost may also be higher if your customer lifetime value is higher.

Though all these things and more — like industry, location, and agency experience — factor into the cost of SEO packages, your quote should be based on your SEO maturity (your current SEO standing), SEO goals (what you’re aiming to accomplish), and urgency (the time in which you want to accomplish it). In a blog post for Search Engine Land, Marcus Miller offers an example:

  • A local business site currently ranks in the 12th position for its main target keyword (and variations thereof).
  • Competitors on the first page have more links and higher authority metrics.
  • Competitors have invested more in local SEO.

With this information, some metrics can be determined:

  • An approximate amount of links
  • An idea of how much work is needed on the local SEO front
  • A rough timeline to achieve this

The first step for potential SEO clients is usually an audit. An SEO audit is an evaluation of your site’s search engine optimization performance. Based on this audit, an agency should know how to proceed to improve your site and offer SEO plans that include the services you need.

Should you decide to work together, the agency will execute the SEO strategy presented in your initial consultation.

Of course, SEO is always fluctuating. So even once your SEO campaign is complete, there may be upkeep needed to maintain the result. This may also factor into the cost. But these details should be ironed out before the agency and client begin their relationship.

SEO pricing is like pricing in other industries

While the above research on SEO price points is a good guideline, it’s important to remember that there’s a lot of variation. Ultimately, SEO service providers are like any other. Usually you get what you pay for. Says Miller:

This week, a local PPC client of ours called us up and detailed a sales call they had received from a local SEO firm. This firm was trying to sell them SEO and detailed the process that they would use to build backlinks. The gist of this process was to find relevant websites that had expired, buy those sites, and then place content on them that links to the target site.

This is basically a private blog network, and being part of one can end with a penalty from Google. Beware of any low-cost providers making big promises. If the cost of an SEO project seems too good to be true, it probably is.

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