SEO is an essential investment for every business aiming for success. But how much does SEO cost? It’s hard to know how much is too much to spend on SEO, and if you don’t do careful research, you might risk wasting resources on low impact SEO efforts.
It’s all too easy to invest in the wrong places and end up empty-handed. With this in mind, you need to make sure that you know everything about SEO strategy before you go investing a big chunk of your marketing budget in it.
How Does SEO Work?
Let’s start with the basics. SEO stands for search engine optimization. Ultimately, it determines where your website shows up on search engine results pages, and what search terms it shows up for.
But now that we’ve got that simple definition down, it’s a little more complex than you might think. SEO is impacted by many different elements of your website, and there are actually three different types of SEO that you need to focus on in order to create a well rounded strategy.
On-page SEO has to do with the content of your website. It helps search engines figure out what your website is about, and how useful it will be to people searching for this topic.
To optimize for this kind of SEO, you should conduct keyword research and create lots of quality content that is optimized for these keywords.
Technical SEO has to do with the overall construction and function of your website. It focuses on user-friendly experiences and overall quality of the entire site. This will determine how well the search engines are able to crawl and index your website.
Things like site speed, backend data, web security, mobile site optimization, and indexes are all factors that you should consider for technical search engine optimization.
Off-site SEO has to do with your site’s reputation throughout the web. Scoring backlinks to your site from trusted, high quality pages builds your page’s reputation and reliability, which search engines pick up on.
Building this reputation throughout the web establishes your site as a valuable resource, which search engines favor.
SEO Is Just One Part of a Holistic Approach
If you’ve already managed to build a strong SEO strategy and your website is tracking well for your goals, that’s great! But you’re not done. SEO is constantly evolving, as search engines like Google are always being adjusted and improved.
You need to consider long-term initiatives within your SEO strategy, and how you’re going to adapt over time with the changing tides of SEO.
If SEO isn’t costing you money, it’s probably costing you a lot of time. One way or the other, you’re burning resources. When it comes down to it, you might need some help with your efforts to make the biggest impact.
As you’re shopping around for SEO help, you should always look at the bigger picture. How does SEO fit into your overall strategy? Your SEO efforts should always be in tune with your aligned marketing and sales strategies, as smarketing acts as a motor for revenue streams.
If your marketing strategy isn’t perfectly in sync, the whole thing can quickly become ineffective.
With this in mind, considering a full fledged agency that provides well rounded comprehensive marketing services could greatly benefit your business. But regardless of your needs, SEO should always be a top priority within your strategy.
The Benefits of Investing in SEO
We get it, the price tag on SEO agency contracts is a bit of a shock. Good SEO costs thousands of dollars. But when you move past the initial sticker shock, consider the benefits of investing in SEO for your company – and the cost of not investing in it.
It Yields Awesome Prospects.
When people take to Google, there’s always an underlying intent for their search. This intent breaks keyword searches into four different categories. With the immense amount of traffic that Google SERPs generate, these four different categories of search are conducted by potential customers that are at different stages within the buyer's journey.
To get a better grasp on the kinds of searches people conduct (and thus, the kinds of prospects that search result rankings can bring you), here are the four different categories of search intent:
With informational searches, users are looking for answers and solutions. These searches often begin with phrases like “how to” and “why.” People conducting this kind of search are often in the awareness stage of the buyer's journey.
Navigational searches are used to locate a specific website or resource. Users are likely looking for product features, reviews, etc. With this search, users are beginning to transition out of the awareness stage of the buyer's journey and into the consideration stage.
Transactional searches are conducted by users that have progressed through much of the buyer’s journey and are ready to make a purchase. They are looking to take action on a solution to their problem. In the transactional phase, searchers are beginning to transition from the consideration stage of the buyer's journey into the final step – the decision stage.
Commercial searches take place when the user is finally ready to make a purchase, and include keywords like “pricing,” “sale,” “buy,” and “deals.” At this point, users have reached the decision stage of the buyer's journey, and are ready to be converted into a paying customer.
It’s Way More Cost Effective Than Ads.
When it comes down to it, investing in SEO is way more cost effective than investing in ads. While PPC does work, you can easily be outbid by a bigger company with a heftier budget.
With SEO, however, your ranking is based entirely on the quality of your content and knowledge of targeting specific keywords from which you can gain traction. Investing in SEO is a more efficient, cost effective long-term initiative than investing in PPC ads.
It Drives You to the Top of SERPs.
Good SEO will drive you to the top of search engine result pages (SERPS). Why is this so important, you ask? Advance Web Ranking’s March 2018 research found that the first position on Google search results on desktops earned a 30 percent click-through rate (CTR).
As your page drops in placement on the page, so does your chance for earning clicks.
It Attracts a Ton of Traffic.
According to Internet Live Stats, Google receives over 75,000 searches per second on any given day. That’s 270 million searches every single hour. That’s an absolutely immense amount of traffic.
Good SEO allows you to tap into that traffic and funnel it towards your website. And the more traffic you receive, the more business you receive.
Warning Signs of Bad SEO Companies
Looking for SEO help can feel overwhelming, and while it’s understandable to shop around for the best deal, you should be informed about what to avoid to prevent substantial SEO damage for your business.
There are few key red flags that you should look out for when shopping for an SEO agency.
“Guaranteed” SEO Results
Don’t ever believe a company that says they can guarantee SEO rankings or results for your business. Guaranteed SEO results simply aren’t possible, and these companies are often scams that use practices that can actually seriously damage your SEO.
If you come across an agency that promises you the #1 spot on SERPs – run.
A Portfolio Full of Thin Content
When you’re inquiring with an SEO agency, always ask for examples of their work. You should avoid working with agencies that deliver thin, low quality content, as it will hold no value for your or your company – and it definitely won’t improve your SEO.
Agencies should always be transparent about their business. Look for companies that tell you about the highs and lows of SEO, discussing what will and won’t work.
Companies that only shows you what goes right are trying to veil their failures and create a false sense of unchallenged success. The best SEO companies share what they’ve learned over time with you.
Outdated Case Studies and Testimonials
If the company doesn’t have any recent success stories or client testimonials, then kick them to the curb. Remember, SEO is constantly evolving, so a success story from a decade ago is completely irrelevant to today.
Agencies should be up to date on the latest trends and tactics within the world of SEO, and their customer testimonials should reflect this.
Understanding SEO Pricing Plans
SEO pricing can vary greatly depending on different package structures and needs. In order to understand an agency’s SEO pricing, you’ll need to understand the four types of pricing packages.
A project based plan is relatively simple, and they’re often the most popular amongst agencies. Project based plans involve a one time cost to complete a specific task you want to achieve. The cost of project based plans can vary widely, based on the needs and scope of your particular task.
According to Moz, a single SEO project usually costs anywhere from $1,000 to $7,500. However, some projects cost upward of $30,000.
Monthly retainers are used when you’re looking to establish a long-term relationship with an agency for continual SEO development. If you’re looking to completely outsource your SEO efforts, then a monthly retainer is a good option.
According to an SEO pricing survey, 24.6 percent of agencies said they charge between $1,000 and $2,000/month. About a third (30.6 percent) of agencies charge less than $1,000/month, but nearly a quarter (23 percent) of agencies surveyed charge $4,000/month or more.
Hourly pricing plans are pretty self explanatory – you determine a set price to pay for each hour worked. While the smaller initial price tag on this plan is more enticing than the bigger number on alternative options, hourly pricing plans tend to be the least popular, and there’s a reason.
Achieving SEO results is time consuming, and that hourly rate can quickly wrack up some serious numbers.
According to the same SEO pricing survey referenced above, 62 percent of SEO professionals price their services between $76 and $150 an hour, and 75.6 percent charge less than $150 per hour.
If you find anyone advertising SEO services for a remarkably cheap price, steer clear of them. While some contractors may be underpricing themselves, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. These people are likely underskilled or are using black hat SEO practices that can end up damaging your company in the long run.
Performance pricing plans follow the simple rule that if you don’t receive the results you want, you don’t pay for the services rendered.
This pricing plan is also amongst the least popular, but for very different reasons. It’s low risk for businesses looking to boost their SEO, but high risk for agencies who offer this option. If results aren’t achieved for the client, agencies have wasted a lot of time and resources on a project that brought in a big fat zero for their revenue.
With that said, this pricing plan is fairly new to the market, and you’ll have a hard time finding agencies who offer it.
Outsource SEO or Keep It In-House?
You have two options – outsource your SEO, or do it yourself with an in-house team. Both options can build your SEO and lead to greater success for your company. So how do you know which to choose?
The right choice is the one that’s going to be right for your business. When you’re trying to figure out which option is best for you, consider your company size, your budget, your needs, and your goals.
Outsourcing and in-house teams require different levels of commitment and budgetary resources, so consider both options carefully before making a final decision and investing your time and money into it.
Cost of Outsourced SEO
As discussed in the previous section, you now understand SEO pricing packages and the general cost of working with an SEO agency.
There are pros and cons to outsourcing your SEO. Overall, the whole process becomes easier for you. You meet with an agency, tell them what you want, and they work to achieve the results you’re looking for.
Outsourcing your SEO can be a huge time saver, as you’re handing off the work to a team that is specialized, educated, and practiced at producing quick results. If you find a reliable agency, you can rest easy knowing that your SEO is taken care of and you don’t have to give it a second thought.
However, while you’ll save a hell of a lot of time, you may risk a misalignment between your SEO strategy and your marketing and sales goals, and that could negatively impact the success of your business.
Cost of In-House SEO
Before you go gung-ho with your “I can do this myself, for free!” ideas, take two minutes to really consider the investment you’ll need to put in to develop successful in-house SEO.
SEO is not a one man operation when it comes to an entire company. In order for a company to generate and maintain impactful and successful SEO, it needs a team to run the whole operation. If you’re a large corporation with a big enough budget, then an in-house team might be a good option for you. But you should consider the amount of resources required to build a team.
You’ll need to hire on a lot of heads to build a well-rounded group that can handle what you’re looking to achieve. You’ll likely need to hire a web designer, copywriter, content manager, SEO specialist, and even a public relations manager.
Consider the annual salaries for each of these positions:
- Web Designer: $80,000 – $115,000
- Copywriter: $70,000 – $109,000
- Content Manager: $66,000 – $90,000
- SEO Specialist: $73,000 – $100,000
- PR Manager: $80,000 – $100,000
If you’re a smaller company, then these salaries will be much lesser. However, the financial resources required to bring on a well rounded team are still substantial.
Additionally, if you have particularly lofty marketing goals, you’ll likely need to hire on a few extra specialists as well. And as if salaries aren’t enough, consider that you’ll also need office materials for all of these employees – desks, computers, training, and employee benefits.
While in-house marketing can be beneficial if you plan on encouraging employee growth, you still have to consider the time required for dealing with turnover and retention issues. Additionally, younger hires will need time to adjust and get up to speed with your company and within their position.
Calculate, Consider, Choose
Now that you know how much SEO costs for both in-house teams and external vendors, you can start assessing which option is the best for your company.
Run an audit on the SEO needs of your company and the budget you have available to invest. Consider the size of your overall establishment, and whether or not you have the time and finances to hire on a specialized in-house team, or whether investing in outsourcing is the best option for you.
Remember, if you’re going to outsource, watch out for SEO agency red flags. If you’re going to hire an in-house team, don’t settle for subpar talent. Your SEO should always be a top priority.