how much does SEO cost?

As a business owner or marketing manager, you may already know about the positive impact search engine optimization can have on your results. With the right rankings, you can generate consistent leads and grow your bottom line in no time – but at what cost?

What is the standard cost for SEO services, and how much is too much? Like most marketing strategies, it’s easy enough to do yourself. However, doing SEO and doing SEO well are two very different things.

You’ll likely find yourself asking – should I pay for SEO? You should. Here are the different pricing models and what they will cost.

How Much Is SEO?

My career in the digital marketing world started at a somewhat unheard of software company in Ohio. They had tried an SEO agency before, but the poor ROI had really turned them off. The marketing lead had to make a hard decision about in-house marketing vs. outsourcing their SEO needs.

The ultimate decision was to hire an employee to fill their SEO needs. That’s where I came in. Because they hired me straight out of college, they got a bargain (in my eyes). But when I work the numbers today, it would cost about $4k per month for equivalent outsourced SEO services.

According to July 2017 data from Search Engine Land, 40% of clients with monthly SEO contracts are paying less than $1k for services. That means that paying an employee to do your business’s search engine optimization is comparable to hiring one of the more expensive agencies.

So, how much do SEO services cost when you don’t plan on hiring an employee? Consider the following dimensions.


According to the same 2017 data from above, about ¾ of all search engine optimization professionals charge some sort of monthly retainer. The most popular retainer is between $500 and $1000 dollars. Keep in mind, these figures are for global averages. The most popular monthly retainer in the U.S. only is between $2500 and $5000.

Thus my first full-time employer wasn’t facing as much of a disparity as I had originally thought. Instead of paying the most popular monthly retainer fee, they chose to pay and train an employee instead.

Hourly Pricing

So what does SEO cost if you plan on paying hourly? For SEO professionals charging an hourly rate, the most popular price range was between $100 and $150 dollars.

Let’s make a few assumptions based on what we know about the most popular retainer and hourly rates.

  • If you’re paying an hourly rate of $100, you should be getting anywhere between 25 and 50 hours of SEO work per month.
  • If you’re paying an hourly rate of $150, you should be getting between 17 and 33 hours of SEO work per month.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most retainers aren’t actually delivering that amount of work per month. If you’re an owner or marketing manager at a small business, you’ll probably get more bang for your buck by charging and hourly rate.

The downside of this difference between hourly and monthly retainer work is that SEOs aren’t free to optimally shuffle resources when they work hourly.

For example, imagine there is a seasonal relevant blog topic that your hourly SEO marketer wants to publish on your site. If they aren’t the best subject matter expert to write on the topic, they’d prefer sub-contracting out that task. However, they won’t be free to do so if they can’t charge that time to you without lying. So they’re faced with the decision of lying about their hours, eating the cost of the contracted blog, or writing it themselves at subpar quality.

Agency vs. Freelancer

why should I pay for SEO?

I could give you a long-winded answer, but here’s the bottom line: agencies are more expensive than freelancers or consultants.

  • The average cost of SEO from an agency is $134.66/hour.
  • The average cost of SEO services from a consultant is $122.33/hour.
  • The average price of SEO for freelancers is $68/hour.

Now, do the above figures mean that agencies are ripping you off? No, not necessarily. Agencies are usually only staffed by highly competent marketing professionals, whereas freelancers may just be a self-taught SEO scammer that is good at sales.

Like I mentioned in the previous section, the beauty of an agency is that resources can be shifted by their team internally to produce the best output for your company.

Local vs. Global

If you’re one to hire locally, you’re in luck. The average cost of SEO for local providers is $96.44/hour, while the average price of SEO for global providers is $118.80/hour.

Again, the difference here doesn’t mean that you’re getting ripped off if you’re not hiring someone from your locality. This just means that someone offering services internationally could have a better mastery of the trade, and command a higher price.

For example, a local provider in a smaller city like Charleston may find customer acquisition easier because it’s easier to outrank the other local SEO competition. However, Charleston small businesses don’t have the budget that someone in NYC, Chicago, or Houston have.

Local offerings are less expensive than the same offerings in bustling metropolis because they must accommodate clients making local revenues.

Why Is it Hard to Estimate the Cost of SEO Services?

what does SEO cost?

This probably isn’t the first time you’ve researched how much to spend on SEO. Why is it so hard to get a straight answer?

The reality is, the articles you find about SEO pricing were all created by search engine optimization pros. Helping you discover how much to pay for SEO is a way for them to get in front of someone who is obviously getting ready to spend money on the exact services that they offer.

That being said, very few of these marketers want to limit themselves to a single figure. They offer very side ranges so that when it comes time to sell you, they haven’t commoditized their livelihood. And rightly so!

What Determines Cost?

Your situation shapes the cost of SEO for your company. A page one ranking for a $10,000 product shouldn’t cost the same as a page one ranking for a $10 product. The more a page one ranking is worth to your bottom line, the more you should be willing to invest in a freelancer or agency with the right expertise.

Different objectives will also affect SEO pricing. If you want to be in position one for relevant industry search terms, it will require a larger investment than someone just wanting page one exposure.

In addition, some small businesses engage with SEO companies expecting only “more traffic.” If relevant traffic is your goal, then you may be able to spend less and pursue long-tail topics that are still related to your core business but not as commercially oriented.

Lastly, the timeframe in which you’d like to meet your goals will affect the cost of SEO for your business. If you have aggressive goals that need to be met in less than 12 months, your search engine optimization team will have to front-load their efforts. Pouring time and resources into a time intensive campaign isn’t cheap, and your team’s pricing will reflect that.

At the end of the day, you can use all of these SEO pricing facts to help you learn how to choose the best SEO company. Remember, just because it might be cheaper to hire a local freelancer, doesn’t mean you’ll get better results than the more expensive global agency.

If you have any further questions or comments, please leave them below or contact me on LinkedIn!

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