We’re sure you already know that SEO (search engine optimization, if we’re being formal) has become a vital part of digital marketing. But small businesses often end up neglecting it—and only half of them factor it into their budget at all.
How come? Well, it’s probably because SEO pricing can be complicated. There’s no standardized cost, so agencies can basically charge whatever they want. This means it’s up to you to find out who’s offering real value for money.
With around 5.6 billion searches on Google every single day, and most people stopping at the first results page, it’s well worth investing in an SEO campaign to boost your website’s ranking and grow your business.
This article will give you the lowdown on typical SEO prices, what you should expect to get for your money, and what you should look for when choosing an agency. (Hint: Pick SaaS SEO experts like accelerate agency!)
In case you want to skip ahead, here’s what we’ll be covering in this post:
There are tons of SEO agencies and digital marketing firms, all offering a variety of services. They aim to boost your website’s organic traffic by optimizing its ranking in the search engine results pages (SERPs) through keyword research, content creation, and link building.
Before deciding on a service, double-check what’s included in each SEO pricing model, as each agency or SEO consultant will be slightly different.
Let’s take a look at the three major SEO pricing structures:
You might see an hourly rate charged for SEO work. Favored by freelancers or independent contractors offering SEO services to smaller clients, this option is less likely to be used by agencies or online marketing companies.
Fees are based on how many hours are spent working on each project. Ask the company to see a breakdown of what they’ve done in that time to make sure they’ve billed you correctly.
On average, the cost for hourly SEO work is $100 to $250 per hour.
Larger SEO and marketing agencies commonly charge a per-month fee. You’ll sign up to pay a fixed price for retaining the services of an agency, which will carry out ongoing SEO work on your site.
Monthly SEO packages often include a specific set of services, such as Keyword research, competitor research, SEO content writing, technical audits, content marketing audits, link building, digital PR, ongoing SEO and technical consultation as well reporting and insights. However, some agencies allow you to build a custom plan with an agreed monthly price.
Costs for a monthly retainer are on average more than $10,000 per month. (Just FYI, at accelerate, our monthly prices range from $8,000 per month to our enterprise-level pricing of $200,000 a month and up).
An SEO agency may charge a one-off fee for a particular SEO project. You’d start by discussing your SEO needs and goals before agreeing on the project scope and the total cost. This option allows for more customization.
The average cost for project-based SEO services ranges from $1,000 to $1 million and up. Smaller companies using local SEO could spend roughly $1,000 a month per project. Larger, enterprise-level companies can expect to pay millions of dollars a month.
SEO represents a big task, as there are so many different elements to consider. If you think it’s just about throwing some keywords around, think again! Although there’s no need for small businesses to blow the budget on SEO, you do need to spend time and money to make sure all aspects of the strategy are covered.
The first part of your SEO strategy is to think about who you want to target. The content you provide must be relevant and useful to your audience and easy for new visitors to discover via search engines.
Getting to know your audience is crucial, so the background research phase should include gathering feedback to find out what your users want from your site. You’ll also need to carry out industry research, to spot current trends and get ahead of the game.
While some of this research can be done in-house, small businesses will find it very labour-intensive—but SEO professionals can help with this, alongside the other elements of SEO.
SEO also requires a lot of time-consuming keyword research. It’s critical that your site includes the right keywords—if not, it won’t pop up in Google searches, and you’ll miss out on valuable traffic.
Keyword research involves thinking about how potential customers might search for your business. It’s also important to identify direct competitors and check out which keywords are driving traffic to their sites.
Google’s Keyword Planner lets you do this for free, but for more comprehensive research, you’d need a paid tool like Ahrefs. Paying for tools can quickly mount up, so you’re better off hiring a SaaS SEO agency to take care of everything in one package.
The next stage is to use that research to optimize the structure of your website. As well as being SEO-friendly, it’s got to offer visitors a great user experience with no missing links or slow-loading images.
If you’re confident in coding, you could manage this yourself, but most business owners find they need SEO professionals. They’ll know all the tricks, such as minimizing the number of clicks from the home page, using internal links, and keeping URLs short.
Your website also needs plenty of high-quality content to satisfy those Google algorithms. New, unique, and updated content generates higher rankings.
You may have some great writers in your team, but it’s a full-time job to keep on top of content production and optimization—as well as coming up with new ideas, you’ve got to refresh existing content to ensure it contains the latest popular keywords and up-to-date statistics.
Link-building is when you get other websites to link back to your site, driving referral traffic and telling Google that your site is worthy of citation (so you’ll earn a higher ranking). You can do this via great content, influencer reviews, and partner links.
We have put together these useful guides on beginners guide to link building, link building for SaaS companies, 7 unusual strategies for link building which can be used for all sectors and industries.
Keeping up with Google analytics best practices is also necessary to stay on top of your site’s performance and the competition—another aspect of SEO that takes time and effort, plus some technical know-how. You’re best off leaving this to the professionals who can help you build valuable backlinks without violating Google guidelines.
We have written this useful guide on Google analytics for SEO.
The cost of SEO depends on many variables. Before fixing a price, an SEO agency will look at your existing brand awareness and visibility in organic searches, business goals, and target audience.
Pricing also depends on the expertise of the SEO provider—as with so many things in life, you get what you pay for. The average cost for US agencies is $100 to $250 per hour or $2,500 to $30,000 per month, but this varies greatly.
Here’s an overview of the main price points:
|Type||Cost||Who uses it?||Pros||Cons|
|DIY SEO||Free||Solopreneurs||Doesn’t cost a dime. You’ll pick up new technical skills along the way||It takes a lot of time and effort to master SEO|
|Cheap SEO||$500 to $3,000 per month||Small businesses||Affordable service helps you get started with content marketing and basic SEO recommendations||Agencies offering cheap deals may lack experience and take risky shortcuts (see below)|
|Mid-range SEO||$3,000 to $15,000 per month||Established businesses||A reputable service with more features, such as content and website audits||It’s still important to make sure the agency delivers value for money|
|High-end SEO||$15,000-$30,000 per month||Websites with high traffic volumes||High-end agencies can resolve tech issues and help you with niche marketing||Limited pool of agencies with the right expertise|
|Enterprise SEO||$30,000-1 Million + per month||Enterprises with large amounts of content and high traffic||Agencies can handle large volumes of content, ensure the site is technically optimized, and handle all SEO needs.||You need a dedicated contact or two within your own team, otherwise DIY SEO communication can be a challenge.|
If you’re a solopreneur, you may decide to handle SEO yourself. And this might work—but only if you’re prepared to expend a great deal of time and effort.
Elements like keyword research and content creation can be self-taught to a certain extent since there are plenty of resources online. But you may struggle with the more technical aspects of analytics, link building, and site architecture optimization.
Basically, DIY SEO is only an option for the most cash-strapped businesses. If you have even a little money in your marketing budget, spend it on professional SEO.
It can be tempting for small companies to pick the cheapest deal, but let the buyer beware. Often, “cheap SEO” is literally too good to be true. SEO is time-consuming and labor-intensive, so if an agency offers crazy-low prices, they may be cutting corners. Typical prices for “cheap SEO” range from $200 to $500 a month.
An agency charging so little won’t put in the time to create high-quality content. Creating blog content that performs requires time and relationships with authority building external sites. “Cheap SEO” agencies can’t invest the time or resources into blog content that drives growth.
Not only does this waste your money, but it could also cause damage to your website. Corner-cutting techniques, known as “black hat SEO,” aim to boost site rankings in sneaky ways such as hidden text, unnatural links, and keyword stuffing.
Google’s algorithms are wise to this kind of practice—and they can hand out penalties like reducing your rankings or dropping your listing altogether. This leads to lost organic traffic, which can impact your revenue.
Not the result you hoped for when you were looking to improve your SEO. Here’s a look at some “black hat” and “white hat” SEO tactics:
So, we know that cheap SEO isn’t worth the risk. Mid-range prices are safer, although you should always do your due diligence and check out the agency’s credentials. For mid-range SEO you can expect to pay between $4,000 to $8,000 a month or per project.
Typically, mid-level SEO focuses on fixing a website’s existing problems, such as optimizing site architecture and adapting content. It’s suitable for modest websites in fields with lower levels of competition.
At the upper end of this market, SEO companies will provide a content marketing strategy. They’ll produce new content regularly and update existing content. They may also offer a digital PR service, building backlinks through outreach and social amplification.
Content from a mid-range SEO will satisfy some business needs, but it won’t produce long-lasting, engaging content. If your budget allows, there are better options that will factor in the bigger picture of your company’s story.
If you have a large budget and ambitious goals, it’s worth investing in high-end SEO from one of the top agencies. These SEO specialists have the infrastructure and expertise to offer a comprehensive service at every stage of the process.
This type of SEO is generally employed by large ecommerce websites in highly competitive industries. A high-end agency may be tasked with fixing technical SEO problems, optimizing your analytical tools, or resolving the impact of Google penalties.
Premium content from high-end SEO agencies will be highly specific to your audience’s customer journey. You can expect informational content and educational resources that reduce churn and increase conversions.
You’ll typically sign up to a long-term plan customized to meet your specific SEO goals. High-end SEO providers are usually established and trustworthy, but do check that they can deliver everything they promise.
Enterprise SEO is an entirely different beast. Whether it’s the size of the site or the size of the business, enterprise SEO calls for more accountability. You’re looking at more traffic, more conversions, and more input from stakeholders. This high level of SEO work means you can expect to spend $30k-1 million and up a month.
Managing enterprise SEO calls for a change in tactics, not just scaling up small business SEO practices. The processes, mentality, and frame of reference for enterprise SEO require expertise and vision. You need to choose a company that creates a full-funnel strategy delivering long lasting results.
That full-funnel strategy needs to include unique content, high authority digital PR, paid search, link building, and in-depth site optimization—all on an enterprise-level. You can drive a lot of organic traffic to your site, but only if you work with a company that knows what it’s doing.
That’s where we come in. At accelerate agency we speak the language of enterprise SEO—and we have the results to prove it. We helped RingCentral boost their organic traffic by 1324%.
How? First, we identify your company’s unique challenges and opportunities. We compare that against in-depth competitor intelligence to see where you can get ahead.
Next, we build a strategic roadmap tailored to your online presence. We look at the whole picture to create an integrated solution across every touchpoint. Every inch of your website is optimized with customized content and a high-authority, high-value backlink network.
If you’re tempted to put your money towards paid search instead of SEO, know this: The more you spend on paid search, the more expensive it gets. And the results don’t always pay. Low-end SEO agencies will subsidize their efforts by investing in paid search traffic, otherwise known as search engine marketing, or SEM.
Good SEO doesn’t come cheap. Nor should it—you’re paying the professionals for their expertise as well as their time. Let’s take a look at some reasons why SEO costs what it does, and why it’s worth the dent in your budget.
As we’ve mentioned, the more you pay, the better service you’ll receive. SEO agencies with years of experience can charge higher fees because they achieve results. It’s also helpful to choose a provider with experience in your specific industry.
At accelerate agency we have the results that prove our experience. In our hands, Brightpearl increased their non-brand organic traffic by 950% in one year. We achieved that success with a combined effort of SEO, on-site content, website migration, and high-profile content partnerships.
Don’t put your SEO in the hands of an unscrupulous company that might ruin your rankings and earn you Google penalties. It’s definitely worth hiring experts who know what they’re doing.
Location is important. If your provider is located in a big city, they’ll likely charge higher prices than a local business out in the sticks—but that’s due to overheads, not because fancy locations equal better service.
Check out exactly what each company offers, rather than being blinded by the bright lights. But beware of hiring cheap SEO agencies based abroad.
Hourly rates for SEO can seem attractive, but they’ll soon mount up. Smaller businesses may be put off by a fixed monthly fee or an upfront per-project price. But, remember that you can agree on what’s included and plan your expenditure, whereas hourly rates are harder to forecast.
If you’re operating at enterprise level, you need the best enterprise SEO strategy to match—and you can expect your chosen agency to charge top dollar for it. They’ll take your size and revenue into consideration when setting a price alongside your business goals.
Prices can also vary depending on your industry. Some are more suited to online marketing than others, and if you’re part of a crowded, competitive market, more intensive SEO work is required to make you stand out.
When you employ an SEO agency, they’ll look at everything you’ve done (or not done) before. If you never paid much attention to SEO, the agency will have to start from scratch with your strategy—ditto for content production and optimization.
The more help you need (fixing technical issues, solving problems with Google penalties), the more you’ll have to pay. It also depends on what you’re trying to achieve with your SEO plan—if you have high ambitions, expect to pay extra to meet them.
Before you hire an SEO agency, you’ll want some idea of the return on investment or ROI of SEO you’re likely to see. But SEO ROI can be tricky to measure because it’s about earning visibility, not purchasing it via pay-per-click (PPC) ads.
The first metric you need is the cost of investment. Then you need to track and measure the value of your conversions. Google Analytics provides conversion rates on all your website traffic and estimates how much revenue is generated from each search channel.
The formula for calculating ROI is: (Revenue – Cost of investment) / Cost of investment
So, if your revenue for a given period was $70,000, and you spent $50,000 on SEO in that time, your ROI would be 40%.
You can also calculate lifetime value (the average spend a customer makes over time) and work out the estimated monthly profit by subtracting the average monthly cost of SEO from the estimated monthly revenue figure.
Remember that SEO doesn’t immediately deliver increased traffic or revenue—it will take time for your site to rise through the SERPs—so be prepared for a short period of investment with little return.
What’s right for one business isn’t necessarily right for another. Make sure your SEO agency can provide what you’re looking for—whether that’s national or local SEO, content creation, advanced analytics, or all of the above.
As we’ve established, you shouldn’t skimp on SEO services. Approach mid-level or high-end agencies with a proven track record, and ask them to give examples of their successes. It’s also helpful to see what former clients have to say—check out reviews and make sure they haven’t been using any dubious techniques.
It’s worth trying to set up a conversation with the SEO team, rather than just their sales rep. That way, you can speak to the actual marketers who would manage your SEO account and ensure they understand your objectives.
If you have the time and budget, you could test out a few agencies by purchasing standalone SEO audit services and comparing the findings. If not, just do as much research as possible on the agency you choose.
We can see why you’d ask. Changes to Google’s algorithms and SERPs mean there’s now even more to consider if you want to become #1 in the rankings—is it worth your energy?
OK, so Google now uses extra factors to determine ranking positions, with updates like BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, in case you care) using natural language processing to understand search context better. And with new elements like featured snippets on the SERPs, your site could get lost in the melee.
But if you employ SEO experts, their job is to keep an eye on these changes—and maximize your site’s potential in the brave new world. Google is also smarter at distinguishing high-quality content from spam, so a fully optimized site will perform well.
Organic searches are responsible for 53% of all site traffic, and the rise in voice search and AI brings more opportunities. Plus, everyone has a smartphone, so people can search for your business anytime.
That’s why SEO is still one of the most powerful strategies for driving long-term results.
If you want your site to be #1, you need a super strategy—and you need to be prepared to pay good money for it. Don’t be tempted by cheap deals, and watch out for “black hat” techniques that could damage your visibility.
While some SEO elements can be carried out on a DIY basis, it’s not a sensible long-term plan. To make SEO work for you, it’s best to let the experts take the helm. Give accelerate agency a call to find out why our SEO and content marketing services are worth every cent.
Nick Brown is the founder & CEO of accelerate agency, a SaaS SEO agency. Nick has launched several successful online businesses, writes for Forbes, published a book and has grown accelerate from a UK agency to a company that now operates across US, APAC and EMEA and employs 160 people. He was also once charged at by a mountain gorilla