| Aug 19 2019
Today we’ll be speaking with Dan Sharp, co-founder and director of Scream...
| Jun 13 2018
Search Engine Optimisation | 13 Minute Read
“How much should I pay for SEO?”
We’re asked this question all the time by business owners who are realising how important it is to appear on Google and want an SEO pricing guide. After all, organic search accounts for 51% of the traffic a business receives.
And with the total investment in SEO expected to reach $80 billion by 2020, linking up with an SEO agency can add serious firepower to your existing marketing approach.
So, how much should you pay for SEO in 2019?
Well that’s not easy to say.
You’re shaking your head right now. You hate those answers. And so do we. You want an SEO pricing guide and there’s nothing worse than a digital agency using tech speak and double-talk to skate around giving a concrete answer. It feels like a way to trick you into spending more than you should.
Ultimately, there ARE a number of factors that determine the best price to pay for SEO services.
On top of that, every SEO campaign is different.
All of these come together to make the question “How much should I pay for SEO?” a very tough one to answer.
But we’re going to answer it for you. You’re going to get dollar amounts, even if it goes against the vague answers you’ll get from other digital agencies who don’t have your best interests at heart.
But before we get into an SEO pricing guide let’s set some boundaries first so we know what type of budget you’ll be working with.
A recent study estimated that a successful SEO campaign could require anywhere between 12 and 104 hours of work, per month. That’s a massive range.
And with the average SEO professional charging between $75-$200 per hour, it would be irresponsible to quote a single figure with such a wide range of potential figures at play.
Put simply – no one size fits all SEO campaigns. So there is no single cost to quote.
But you’re not here for that, you want more information and you want a dollar amount.
So we’ll go above and beyond to find one for you.
As a business owner, it’s safe to say you’re busy. So here’s the short and sweet answer.
“It’s natural for a business owner to ask “How much should I pay for SEO?”. Running a business means managing a limited marketing budget. But that’s the wrong question to be asking. The right question is “How much am I willing to invest in SEO?” because that’s what SEO is at its core. An expense is a cost to acquire an equally valuable asset. That’s not what SEO is.
SEO is a long-term marketing strategy that adds rocket fuel to your online presence and visibility. Statistically, the websites on the first page of Google receive 91.5% of clicks. And organic traffic has a 14.6% conversion rate compared to the 1.7% of traditional outbound marketing. The figures go on and on. In short, SEO puts you in the shop window, and that’s worth big business.
As is the case for most things in life, you get what you pay for. The price you pay for SEO should be an amount relative to your revenue and mirror your expected goals. Always remember, you don’t pay for results. That’s possible with AdWords but not SEO. You pay for time. The more time spent on your campaign, the more successful you will be. If you want to rank locally as a GMB listing, this will take less time than ranking nationally for highly competitive keywords.
But with so many SEO agencies promising you the world, how do decide which one is right for you?
As a general rule, anything below $750 per month should be viewed with caution. Where SEO is concerned you aren’t shopping for the lowest price. You are shopping for the best service. If it’s an ‘unbelievable deal’ it’s probably too good to be true.
SEO is an investment. Good SEO makes you highly visible and connects your business with the demand of customers who are actively looking for the products and services you offer. That’s incredibly valuable and should be worth paying for as a result.
To make sure you maximise your ROI, you need to choose an SEO agency who can show proven results and can clearly and simply state how they’ll get you from A to B.
The average cost of an SEO professional is $75-$200 per hour, though this can be much higher. To achieve SEO results that will provide the visibility and engagement required to see a return on your investment works out to be around $1000 a month and up. Paying less simply won’t reach your SEO targets and may end up putting your business back years instead.
There are typically 3 types of SEO Pricing.
Hourly SEO Rates – The average hourly SEO rate is between $75-$200 per hour.
Monthly SEO Retainers – The average SEO retainer is between $1500-$3000 per month.
Pay For Performance SEO – Pay for performance SEO relies on dynamic pricing that depends on your ranking success.
These may be broken down again according to your SEO goals.
Types of SEO Campaign Pricing:
The cost of SEO services vary depending on what’s included. Most SEO projects in 2019 cost between $1000-$2,000/month based on the scope of the project. A one-off project will range between $5,000-$10,000+ and hourly rates for SEO consultants costs between $80-$200/hour.
With prices varying, it is tempting to choose the cheapest SEO and hope to squeeze value out of your investment.
However, there are many risks associated with cheap SEO. These services may end up hurting your business, in terms of your reputation, as well as financially if you incur penalties from Google and have to start from scratch.
Just as there are drawbacks to ‘Pay For Performance’ SEO which allows agencies to inflate vanity metrics, leaving you paying for keywords that were simple to capture but deliver no revenue.
When shopping for the right SEO price for your business, keep this simple formula in mind:
At the end of the day, the price of SEO comes down to the return on your investment. If a lead cost you $30 through paid search, $20 through social ads and $5 through organic search, then it’s worth paying more to tap into the organic search market. For most businesses, SEO offers the highest ROI with benefits that outstrip alternative marketing approaches.
You can decide what that’s worth to you.
And whatever figure you land on, that’s what you should pay for SEO.”
“How much should I be paying for SEO?”
We’re asked this question by business owners with such regularity it’s become somewhat of an unofficial motto.
Unfortunately, with the complex nature of SEO in 2019, it’s up there with “How long is a piece of string?”, “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” and “Why are softballs actually quite hard?” in terms of questions that don’t have obvious answers.
It’s this grey area of SEO that causes confusion for a lot of business owners.
Unfortunately, this confusion pushes them to steer clear of SEO entirely, and we don’t blame them. If something doesn’t make sense but you’re being told constantly how important it is, it’s only natural to push back.
As digital marketing experts we’re used to hearing questions along the lines of:
“What is a good SEO pricing guide?”
“Why can’t I outsource my SEO overseas?”
“Is it true you can use freelance services to get SEO on the cheap?”
“Why does your team look like the world’s biggest boy band?”
These are all valid questions (especially the last one).
However, they tend to come from a place of misinformation. To a small business owner, there is no obvious difference between excellent SEO and terrible SEO.
In the traditional sense, a business owner will pay for the ongoing services of a digital marketing agency or specialist SEO agency. Once money has changed hands there is very little the business owner has to rely on outside of reports from their agency. We’re sure there are digital marketing agencies who would prefer we didn’t reveal this about the industry, but there are some agencies who may boost their reports by choosing vanity metrics that reflect improvements that look good on paper without delivering actual business benefits to their clients. When this happens, a business owner has no real way of distinguishing between actually worthwhile SEO and ultimately worthless SEO.
With the last decade creating a giant online space for businesses to exploit, there has been an equal opportunity for SEO agencies to exploit those businesses in the same space.
As a response to this it’s become common for business owners to focus on what they know and can control – the price they’re willing to pay.
The outlay a business is willing to spend becomes their sole consideration. After all, if they’ve been burnt before, or know someone who has, then spending the smallest amount possible makes sense on a surface level. What’s the point of a large investment if the risk of ruin is so high?
That’s the key word here though.
Like most marketing decisions, the potential return on investment should be the main consideration, not the price. If this consideration is shifted towards price, the money spent becomes an ‘expense’ and is no longer viewed as an ‘investment’.
For a business owner, that’s a monumental mistake.
Let’s go back to the example of a business owner spending money on their marketing strategy.
By spending the smallest amount possible a business experiments at the lowest end of a price spectrum. What seems to be a calculated toe in the water doesn’t return results, as you would expect with such a small outlay. Ending up out of pocket causes stress and frustration. The final result is the belief that the marketing strategy doesn’t work and there is a lasting hesitance when faced with that same marketing strategy in the future.
This example shows the difference between the mindset of ‘expense’ vs ‘investment’.
While cost should always be considered – you wouldn’t want to spend $20,000 on advertising if it crippled your budget and put you out of business, the more important factor to take into account is how much you need to pay to implement a strategy that is a). Most suited to your business and b). Most likely to maximise your chance of a return.
Bringing SEO back into the equation, the price you pay for SEO services should always be seen as a long-term investment, and not a business expense.
As a business owner, what would you do if we offered you the chance to market your business at a fixed price? You’d most likely consider the offer, weigh up the pros and cons, and check the expense against your available marketing budget.
What if we told you that for every $1 you invested, you’d receive $5 in return? Now the value of that marketing service goes through the roof. And it’s no longer a question of burning money as an expense, but investing money to see it come back again (and then some).
When SEO is viewed in this way, the question becomes less about the cost and more about how much you are willing to invest to see a return.
Remember, 93% of online experiences start with a search engine. Google is step one for an overwhelming majority of purchasing cycles. More than that, SEO is a direct response animal connecting the spending desires of customers to your business through keywords. And when it comes to driving traffic, there’s no comparison, with search engines driving more traffic than social media by 300%! Finally, SEO is actually cheaper in the long-run. While the initial outlay may be higher, the SEO work on your website over time turns your brand into an asset. Every new link, additional piece of content and increased domain authority cements your visibility. In that respect, you eventually get traffic and leads for free.
Let’s rephrase your initial question then. From “How much should I be paying for SEO?” to “How much is SEO worth to me?”.
When something is valuable to you, you’re naturally willing to pay more for that product or service.
But while the value of SEO can be immense, it isn’t locked in. With so many variables at play – Google’s changing ranking algorithms, the ability of your digital marketing agency, the SEO work carried out by your competitors – your return on investment is not guaranteed.
However, while the exact return is in limbo, the likelihood of return is able to be influenced by the skillset of the SEO services you choose to use.
Invest on the low end of the price spectrum and you’ll be employing a low level skill set and few man hours. When that investment rises, you’ll be using the advanced SEO skill set of experienced agencies and paying for more time on your campaign, which means your results are likely to improve considerably with your return on investment improving with it.
To determine this, let’s start with some figures.
In 2017, 46.8% of the world’s population accessed the internet. Of those people, there were 3.5 billion searches carried out on Google. Each. Day. That’s 1.2 trillion searches worldwide each year. So there’s no doubt that there is a search engine audience available.
But is it right for you?
With 91.5% of total search engine traffic going to websites on the first page of Google and over 40% of website traffic arriving through organic channels, it’s clear that SEO is a viable option no matter what industry you’re in.
But we didn’t need to tell you that. Chances are you used a search engine to find this result today. And you’re also wearing a red shirt and a blue tie!
We might have gotten the colour of your threads wrong, but with 93% of online experiences starting with a search engine, there’s no doubting you and your customers use search engines daily to find information and buy products.
With such overwhelming majorities, SEO can allow you to tap into the vast audiences of online consumers. But knowing there’s an audience isn’t enough to have you open up your cheque book. There are still some important factors that go into determining how much you should pay for SEO in Australia.
It’s important to take into consideration how much of your traffic is driven by Google, how many of those website visitors go on to become paying customers, and how much your average customer spends. Once you’ve done this you’ll be able to gauge what SEO is worth to you in a dollar amount.
Take Fiona, one of our SEO clients, as an example.
As a Sydney marriage celebrant, she faced competition from another 10,045 registered marriage celebrants in NSW.
As a result of our SEO efforts she was able to dominate her market, push past her competition, and make back her initial SEO investment, and then some!
Here’s a quick breakdown of what’s happened after we worked our SEO magic…
That’s the number of views her website received in just 90 days.
Of those visitors, 23 were from backlinks, 39 through social media, 171 searched directly for her name and a massive 1019 came as a result of organic traffic who had searched for a ‘marriage celebrant in Sydney’.
That works out to be an 81.2% organic click-through-rate. These organic leads accounted for the majority of her website traffic and represented a new stream of customers who otherwise never would have heard about her.
Of those new visitors, she converted 71 new customers. Which sounds pretty good, but it gets even better.
Of those customers, 41 were the result of organic traffic. That’s more than half of the total conversions made through her website in a 3 month period.
The prices these types of clients have paid have long since been discarded as their key consideration. As the above lifetime value shows, the intangible value of an SEO service takes priority.
For business owners who haven’t yet implemented a Search Engine Optimisation approach, this can be a challenge. SEO is an intangible service designed to increase your online visibility and drive targeted traffic to your website. Both of these are fantastic boosts to a business, but they can’t be directly measured against the price of the service. As a result, the lowest price is typically all a business owner can picture.
It’s a scary thought, but the client example above shows the rewards are worth the perceived risks.
There are risks involved with SEO, that much cannot be argued. But before you take that as an admission of defeat and run off to print out pamphlets and place an ad in the local paper whose circulation is smaller than Bing’s search engine market share, let’s break down what some of the risks of paying for cheap SEO are.
#1. Don’t risk working with SEO services who guarantee a ranking.
There’s a famous expression that says the only certainties in life are death and taxes. We’d consider adding ‘bad airport WiFi’ and ‘getting stuck in traffic every time you have somewhere to be’, but otherwise the message still stands. There aren’t many guarantees in life and SEO is certainly not one of them.
If an SEO company is guaranteeing you results they have a). Cracked Google’s famously iron clad ranking algorithm and are now in possession of the most powerful digital secret in existence or b). They are lying to you.
In regards to guaranteed SEO rankings, Google has the following to say:
“Beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings, allege a “special relationship” with Google, or advertise a “priority submit” to Google. There is no priority submit for Google.”
If you’re being promised bargain basement prices with the promise of sky-high rankings, this should raise the reddest of flags.
Let’s say you wanted to purchase a new car. If you were offered an allegedly brand new model, for $300, as long as you signed up that very moment, would you accept the offer?
Of course you wouldn’t. That car would run into trouble just as soon as it ran into a tree.
So when shopping around for the best SEO services, view any outrageously cheap offer with caution. With SEO having the ability to help your website rank on the first page of Google, and attract a targeted stream of traffic with money to spend, the value is extremely high. Make sure the cost reflects this value in some way. Remember, if an SEO price sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
#2. Don’t risk working with someone who has little skill and runs around like a headless chook
SEO is highly complex and technical. As such it takes the combined skills of individuals who work together to move the needle and start your ascent to the top of Google’s first page rankings. Detailed keyword research, competitor analysis and full website audits; carried out by website developers and coders as well as SEO copywriters, all work together towards your goal.
It’s not going to be a popular statement in the industry, but there are agencies who don’t have your best interest at heart. As a business owner, there’s a good chance you, or someone you know, has been burnt before by unscrupulous characters. If that’s led you to be once burnt and twice shy it is completely understandable.
The best way to overcome any reticence is to openly communicate with your chosen SEO agency. Ignorance is not bliss. If you’re going to pay for the services of an SEO professional, it’s your right to question their techniques during the set-up process.
Make sure you ask your agency what steps they will take to improve your online visibility and how they plan on providing the best ROI possible.
Over the course of your initial contact you should aim for a clear understanding of the process and the goals you, and your agency, have for your online presence.
As Sydney’s leading Digital Marketing Agency, not only do we enjoy receiving questions and queries about our SEO methods, but we actively encourage it! (No one else in our lives wants to talk about it).
To those uninitiated, SEO can come across as black magic. And with Google’s well documented cone of silence where it’s ranking algorithms are concerned, SEO is open to some interpretation.
It’s this room for interpretation that is exploited by shady agencies who put dollars ahead of sense, and giving rise to the battle between hard-working SEO professionals and false prophets.
However, in an attempt to stop the rise of shoddy SEO agencies, Google has gone on record with recommendations and suggestions for small businesses and what they should look out for.
Take it away Google:
“In most cases, the SEO will need four months to a year to help your business first implement improvements and then see the potential benefit. Our strongest advice when working with an SEO is to request if they corroborate their recommendation with a documented statement from Google. either in a Help Center article video or Google a response in a forum that supports both the SEO description of the issue that needs to be improved to help with ranking, and to the approach they prescribed to accomplishing these tasks. Requesting these two bits of information will help prevent hiring a poor SEO who might otherwise convince you to do useless things”.
You can listen to the full Google statement in the video below.
The takeaway here? Don’t risk paying someone who isn’t able to clearly and succinctly explain how they’ll optimise your website and for what purposes.
If you’re looking to talk with a professional and get to the bottom of strong SEO, you’re more than welcome to speak to a member of our SEO growth team to see how the conversation should go.
#3. Don’t risk paying peanuts. You will end up with monkeys.
As we touched on already, paying the lowest amount possible and expecting the highest value doesn’t work.
But more than having sub-par services, minimising your spend can actually hurt your business!
To put a dollar figure on ‘cheap’, anything under $500 a month is generally asking for trouble. That’s not saying there’s a direct link between paying less and getting poor quality. On the contrary, you might catch an agency looking to expand their client base with extremely juicy introduction offers.
The issue here is what that $500 represents. It’s not necessarily a correlation with quality, but it is directly linked to time.
Your $500 SEO cost has to be used to turn a profit. With the average SEO professional charging between $75-$200 per hour for their digital services, according to a recent survey, let’s take the conservative estimate and assume your agency runs at $75 for every hour of work.
That’s just under 7 hours of work on your website.
Only that’s still not accurate.
Remember, every agency has to run at a profit. For most agencies that includes adding a 10-30% profit margin on top of their actual costs.
And that’s taking an average to the calculations. If your digital agency has higher profit margins then you could see even less time spent on your campaign before the money runs out and work grinds to a halt.
You’re probably asking ‘can anything be done in that timeframe?’ and the answer is – not much!
For a digital agency to accept a price point that low means one of several things is likely to happen to your SEO campaign.
None of these will be good results. Whether you’re back at square one with a $500 sized hole in your pocket, or considerably worse off than you were before with Google having punished your website and obliterating your online presence, the overall feeling will be the same – when you pay peanuts for SEO, you get the results you would expect.
At the end of the day, cheap SEO ends up being extremely expensive SEO!
It’s not a nice thought, but consider your own business. The work that you’ve put in over the years could be undone by choosing the cheapest SEO services and hoping for a result. Undoing the penalties that Google has been known to hand down isn’t just time-consuming but expensive too.
The combined cost of leaving a blacklisted domain behind to start a fresh one, a complete rebranding to reflect the new business image you’ve been forced to create, and the flow-on effect this has across your signage, stationery, shop-front, social media profiles and so on, is enough to make you cringe.
And while bad SEO can set your business back years. No SEO ultimately leads you down the same path.
Remember, 93% of online experiences start with a search engine and 91.5% of traffic goes to the websites on the first page of Google. By not tapping into that reservoir or hungry consumers you’re treading water while the competition in your industry uses SEO to pull ahead.
The goal is to strike a balance between bad SEO that cripples you and no SEO that slowly pulls you under.
Between those two goal posts, well that’s where we are conveniently.
When you pay an SEO agency to “do SEO” for you, you’re not paying to appear on Google. If you do want instant visibility and a way to connect with customers the very second they have a purchasing impulse, then Google AdWords is ideal.
The price of SEO reflects the time that will spent working on your campaign. It’s for this reason there is no cut and dry single price. Unlike a tangible product or service that can be priced based on the total cost of its parts, SEO is an intangible.
There’s no magic bullet to shoot you to the top of Google’s organic search results page. No matter what industry you’re in, you’ll face competition. Because of that competition, SEO takes times.
And time is money.
Remember, the amount you pay isn’t necessarily reflective of the quality (though in many cases it will be) but it will have a direct correlation on time.
It wouldn’t make sense for a local business who wanted to dominate their local area to pay the same amount as a national company looking to strong-arm their industry.
The most common roadblock we’ve encountered is that businesses don’t match their SEO goals with their allotted budget.
It’s a simple formula.
The fact there are so many reasons and ways to use SEO once again highlights how difficult it is to place a dollar amount on SEO services. The goals you set for your SEO campaign and the desired ROI you’re targeting will impact the amount you pay.
If you see SEO through the lens of expense, and find yourself stressing about a campaign that isn’t returning your investment immediately, you’ll likely struggle to see what you’re paying for and may find yourself pulling the plug. Which gives your competition a clear path for take-off.
On the other hand, if you look at the bigger picture and see SEO as the long-term strategy it is, and one that depends on you doing your homework to pick the best SEO agency for you, you’re more likely to stick with it.
Not that you should follow what others are doing in life, but 82% of marketers in a recent survey reported the effectiveness of SEO as being on the rise. While $72 billion was be spent on SEO services throughout 2018, with an expected spend of $80 billion by 2020. If you’re ready to join the growing ranks of marketers and businesses seeing the value of connecting to the instant purchasing desires of online consumers, the price of your SEO should reflect the return on investment you wish to achieve. The more you put in, the more you stand to take back out.
The price you pay for SEO determines the time spent working across the range of SEO factors that go into a website ranking on the first page of Google.
The following list gives a good indication, though it is by no means exhaustive, as to what you’re paying for – keep in mind, some of these will be ongoing, others will occur only at the start of your SEO campaign:
There is nothing worse than searching for the answer to a financially based question and finding only tech speak and vague answers about how much you ‘could’ or ‘should’ spend.
You’re here because you want an SEO pricing guide.
So let’s get right into the figures.
To start with, many small business owners think $500 per month is a large enough amount to invest in SEO and see realistic and profitable returns. That’s just not the case. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction and if you barely lean on SEO services, you’ll barely see any return come back.
That’s not a great result.
Having said that, we can totally appreciate the difficulty for a small business to set aside marketing funds. This leads back to the concept of ‘expense’ vs ‘investment’.
Let’s say you had a monthly budget of $500. The total per year works out to be $6000.
Taking into account the averages of marketing, this is an extremely small budget to be working with.
While every business is different, and yours may be completely separate from these averages, the average business invests around 5% of their revenue back into digital marketing. For a business looking to grow, this figure rises to around 8%.
Without relying too heavily on cliches, you only get out what you put in.
If you want your business to grow, you need to provide it with the investment it needs to do so.
Consider the results below. Collected from 184 digital marketing agencies around the world, they show the average monthly SEO spend of businesses.
While there’s never going to be a definitive price for SEO in Australia, this graph shows where businesses like yours are investing a portion of their revenue for maximum ROI.
This can help to narrow down your potential spend if you want to keep up or pull ahead.
It’s pretty obvious at this point that you don’t get to choose how much you pay for SEO. Instead, you invest the amount you’re comfortable with that’s relative to your revenue and will allow you to reach your SEO goals, whatever they may be.
To make the most of your SEO services, you’ll need a quality SEO agency with proven experience. Make sure they have a range of reviews from other businesses who have already benefited from their SEO services.
Like this testimonial from one of our clients,
“I am very happy with my website and the SEO is really hitting it’s mark right when I needed it. I’ve been averaging between 1 and 3 enquiries a day and made a booking everyday in January = income of $18000 compared to last year when my rankings dropped and I had hardly any!!!”
As we mentioned, the average rate of pay falls between $75-$200 per hour. With most SEO agencies using retainers or contracts, this means anything less than $750 per month should be viewed with extreme caution.
Anything above that and you’ll be working towards your SEO goals, with higher monthly fees helping you to achieve your goals faster and with a greater range of technical capabilities.
You’ve got all the knowledge you need now to make an informed decision and choose an SEO agency for yourself. To make things easy, let’s quickly recap what we’ve learnt about your SEO pricing guide:
Ultimately, the price of SEO comes down to the return on investment. If a lead costs you $30 through paid search, $20 through social ads and $5 through organic search, then it’s worth paying more to tap into the organic search market. For most businesses, SEO offers the highest ROI with benefits that outstrip alternative marketing approaches.
Research has shown that alternative marketing approaches in the form of outbound leads – think direct mail, cold calling and traditional advertising, have a conversion rate of 1.7%.
In contrast, search engine leads have a conversion rate of 14.6%.
These figures are the final nail in the coffin of traditional advertising. It’s no longer a matter of deciding if you should invest in SEO, but how much you should invest.
Choose a reputable and experienced SEO agency and the decision to pay for SEO will lead to a high ROI and incredible amounts of revenue.
As a business owner, you can decide how much those are worth to you.
And whatever figure that is, that’s how much you should pay for SEO.