How much should SEO cost your business?
The answers to this question are as plentiful as websites returned on any given search on Google. As a business owner , you should be looking at SEO as a long term investment into your business. So my answer is: “It costs you nothing.”
SEO – done correctly – should yield measurable return on investment, therefore, the costs of quality SEO are far less than the return you should see in positive sales and growth for your business. However, I understand that most business owners still want to know the bottom line when it comes to the cost of SEO and what they should be budgeting for this service.
How much SEO do you need?
The answer to this question is not the same for every business. If you’re a small auto repair shop in a town of 10,000 people, then by simple deduction you should not be paying as much for SEO as an auto repair shop in Portland Oregon (approx. 600,000 people). With SEO, competition is everything. The more websites you need to outrank, theoretically equals the more work must be done to get you positioned correctly. There are many more factors that must be considered, but you get the idea, more work generates more money.
What kind of SEO do you need?
This might seem like an easy answer, but you’d be surprised that most small business owners don’t have a clear idea of what they want when it comes to their SEO efforts. Many business owners just know that they need to be on the first page of Google. Having a clear understanding of the keywords that are important to your business, the cities you want to appear in, and what you expect will happen in terms of return on investment once these goals are achieved can help you set a reasonable amount of money you should be willing to spend on your SEO to reach these goals.
Understanding what kind of SEO you need also means understanding if your SEO needs are a onetime project, or something you will need to contract with a firm on monthly. Examples of one time SEO services could be changing your company URL, or consulting services with in-house web staff. Examples of on-going SEO services would be: maintaining keyword rankings on search engines, or creating a content strategy for long term visitor growth to your website.
Understanding what type of SEO service you are needing will better help you understand what you should be willing to pay. One time SEO services are typically charged by the hour or project, whereas on-going SEO services are typically charged as a retainer based service.
What type of SEO firm do you need?
There are many different types and sizes of SEO firms out there. Firm sizes range from one man shops, to firms with many hundreds of employees. These firms can have widely differing services, as well as differing levels of interaction with their customers. Understanding what you expect out of your SEO company, as well as how personalized you want the service to be, will determine what type of firm you will want to work with.
When it comes to SEO agencies, bigger is not always better. Larger SEO companies typically offer one size fits all packages that allow for little or no personalization and on-going support. If you expect a SEO agency to work with you on a long-term plan tailored for you, chances are you’ll end up working with a smaller firm.
So what does SEO cost for a regular small business?
Before I answer this, it should be understood that answering this question is like answering the question “How much does it cost to go out and eat?” Most people would follow that question up with another question like, “What do you want to eat and what type of environment are you looking for?” Understanding that SEO services are no different, I’m going to assume that you’re looking for a reputable full service SEO agency and your businesses is medially competitive in nature.
Monthly retainer SEO services
$200 – $500 per month – If your small business has a limited geography and only needs a little work, SEO services in this price range may work. I say may work because in this price range there are many unethical SEO services. If you choose an SEO company in this price range, make sure they’re really an SEO expert before doing business with them.
$800 – $1800 per month – If you’re a normal small business, in a small to medium sized population market that’s not overly saturated with competition you should expect that professional SEO services would fall in this range. It should be expected that if your business is known for extreme competition such as carpet cleaning, plumbers, roofers, and attorneys, the work that an SEO agency will have to complete will be much more, and thus this price should be expected to fluctuate.
$2000 – $8000 per month – If your business relies on SEO services from multiple states, or the entire country, you should expect that your SEO services would range in this area. Again, the competitiveness of your industry will ultimately determine where on this scale you would fall. Niche businesses can expect to compete regionally on the lower end of this scale, whereas moderately competitive businesses should expect they would be towards the top end. As with any SEO services, the bigger the area you want to cover, the more you should expect to spend.
$10,000 + – Most small businesses won’t fall in this range, and I’m going to assume if you are looking at spending this kind of dough on SEO services, you’re versed in what you should be looking for. Typically businesses that fall in this range will be competitive in nature and will need a wide array of SEO services on a regional, national, or even worldwide level.
Hourly SEO services
Buying SEO services on an hourly fee basis can be a tricky endeavor, especially for a small business owner. Again understanding what it is you want to achieve, and being honest with yourself on what your projected return, should be can help in determining what level of hourly SEO service you really need.
$30 – $75 per hour – SEO services at this level are typically one man shops or very small agencies with little experience. Many overseas SEO’s also fall into this category. Again, just as above in the monthly retainers, beware at this level. Many (not all) SEO companies at this level may not have the experience level you need. Also, many companies at this level are just reselling overseas SEO services. Make sure you’re dealing with an SEO expert if you choose someone at this level.
$100 – $300 per hour – This is the range most SEO agencies operate at when charging hourly for their services. Experience level, and the details that go into the SEO, as well as firm size will put you at the lower – or upper – end of this scale.
More than $300 per hour – Agencies that operate at this level typically reserve themselves for larger clients and larger scale SEO projects. Just as above in the monthly retainer section, if you’re at this level, I probably don’t need to explain what you’re buying, because you’re already seeking it out from firms that service your type of business.
Per project SEO pricing
Per project SEO pricing can be pretty tough to scale in an article like this. Because of the wide variety of SEO projects, and taking into account the widely differing average number of pages per website for small businesses, listing out specific pricing for each SEO service would be a tough task for anyone. I recommend asking the SEO company how many hours they anticipate the project will take, then take their price to figure out an hourly rate which should fit them into one of the categories above.
So what level of SEO should you choose?
Understanding what you expect from your SEO company is the first step to deciding who you should be working with. A little self education in SEO can go a long ways in making sure that you choose a reputable company.
Knowing what will be important to you as a business owner will ultimately determine your price point and who you should be working with.
Some questions to consider as a business owner:
- Is the company local and will they be available to meet with me regularly?
- What is the company’s reputation? What do their references say about them?
- Have they really demonstrated to me that they’re experts in their field?
- What tools do they provide that will help me determine my return on investment in their services?
- Do I believe that my business will be a priority with them?
As I have said before, SEO is not an exact science and neither is finding a good SEO company. One thing I am sure of is choosing an SEO company based upon price, makes just about as much sense as choosing a restaurant based upon price alone.
I started this article saying that SEO costs nothing. I really do believe that, and we have clients that believe that also. When you take into account the huge return a well executed SEO strategy will have on your business, SEO is nothing more than an investment in educated and experienced human capitol in helping you reach your goals.
Credits on pricing: MOZ poll on SEO pricing 2011, and ATYM Market Research for the infographic. Rates adjusted based upon City Ranked Media client input for the Portland Oregon & Vancouver Washington area 2013 – 2014.
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