How much should an SEO agency charge?

When planning your company’s SEO and marketing budgets, what factors do you need to consider to determine if you’re getting good value for money? No one wants to be overcharged for services; however, just like when buying silk ties, you often get what you pay for– and that applies to SEO too. So, how much should an SEO agency charge?

Of course, the short answer is really that it depends on many factors. Are you a small company with up to twenty employees? Are you a large conglomerate? What services do you expect? What kind of budget do you have? What are your overall SEO goals?

First, we’ll take you through the pricing options. Next, we’ll take a look at the types of services SEO pricing entails. And, finally, we’ll point out some SEO red flags.

  1. By-the-hour services and project-based pricing
  2. Monthly retainers
  3. Contract pricing
  4. DIY SEO
  5. The services
  6. The overall SEO health check
  7. SEO agency red flags
  8. What pricing options should I choose?

1. By-the-hour services and project-based pricing

This pricing model is for custom projects specified by you (the client) to the SEO agency. One-offs work really well if you have a specific project in mind. For example, you want to improve your local SEO rankings because when someone searches on their phone for an ‘Italian restaurant near me’ when they are in New York, you want to show up in the first three search listings.

Each project cost will vary, of course, and you’ll have to establish how much the agent will charge for services, but project-based pricing ranges anywhere from $1,000-$20,000, depending on the size and scope. Typical SEO agencies charge $100-300 per hour, again, depending on the services.

It’s probably cheaper to establish a total cost for a project versus an hourly rate, but you’ll want to consult with your SEO agency beforehand and they will give you a definitive price.

2. Monthly retainers

Monthly retainers are some of the most popular options. For this pricing option, clients pay a set amount each month in exchange for agreed-upon services. Retainers often provide the largest return on investment and your agency will often provide regular analytics reports, up-to-date technical SEO fixes, link building, keyword research, content marketing, optimization, and so forth, depending on what has been agreed and the level of pricing.

Most SEO agencies typically charge anywhere from $750-5,000 per month for these services. The amount you pay will depend on your company size and the extent and complexity of services. As with anything, a cheaper price tag often means fewer services and lower value, but that’s not always the case.

3. Contract pricing

You may think that a ‘monthly retainer’ and ‘contract pricing’ are kind of the same thing, but sometimes SEO agencies sell a contract package, say, three months of service to give you an idea of what they have to offer and what can be achieved in that time frame in order to entice you to sign up for a monthly retainer. Generally, in these short-term projects you’ll get an SEO website audit that will determine your website’s strengths and weaknesses and then you’ll get a plan of what can be achieved in the timeframe for a set price.

Pricing for these contracts varies but usually, it ranges from $0.15 cents to $0.50 cents per word for SEO copywriting, site audits for around $500-7,500, link profile audits for around $500-7,500, and social media set up for $500-3,000.

4. DIY SEO

Let’s get real. Can you do SEO for your own company? The easy answer is yes, somewhat. Hiring an SEO agency gives you much more bang for your buck and can sometimes work out cheaper than hiring a full-time in house employee. If the average SEO specialist’s salary is $53,000-62,000 per year. Can one single person provide every single service for your website? They may be able to but even if you’re paying a monthly retainer of $4,000 per month, you’re only paying out $48,000 per year for services, which is automatically cheaper than one employee. And you don’t have to pay sick leave, holidays, health insurance, or benefits. You can rest assured that experts are taking care of your website. Even higher retainer values can work out cheaper if you consider all of the factors involved in retaining an employee. And if you don’t have a  full-time in-house person and their time is divided between SEO and other services, then you’ll most definitely get more value for money hiring an agency–even for one-off projects as and when you need.

5. The services

Writing about what an SEO agency does for each of these price points would take one blog post per piece, but a quick overview of what might be needed goes something like as follows.

In general – the very top-level first-step stuff

On-page SEO

  • Technical and user flow issues – nobody likes broken links (Google included), and often, websites contain a myriad of issues that are likely affecting ranking
  • Domains – top-level domains (i.e. google.com) and sub-domains
  • Sections – organizational hubs for categories and sections
  • Categories – organizational reference points for pages and media
  • Pages – web documents in your website’s language – xHTML, PHP, ASP, and so forth – and static or dynamic (or combo)
  • Media – images, videos, documents (like PDFs), sound files, and so forth
  • Unique URLs for each page (aka permalinks)
  • Structured data for rich results – this includes Google’s recent Q&A schema, a speakable schema for voice, review snippets, and more to help you tell Google what content your page contains and how your result can stand out in Google

All of these elements work together in SEO, so you don’t really want to go to your agency and say, ‘I want to fix my site’ and that’s it. They’re all intertwined.

Off-page SEO

  • Brand – ensuring that all messaging and associated SEO copy follows best-in-class principles which put a customer first–towards delivering a positive experience. This includes linked and unlinked brand mentions (brand monitoring is key here)
  • Link building and backlink auditing – ensuring that all backlinks are of quality, quantity, diversity, and relevancy (for example, natural editorial links typically carry further weight than self-created links in business directories)
  • Social media – ensuring you’re posting frequently from good sources with diversity, authority and influence

Of course, when a company begins with an SEO audit, they’re checking for all on-page and off-page SEO factors. Off-page SEO reportedly carries more than 50% of the ranking factor weight. Again, you can’t really isolate one factor and, depending on how bad your site is (or good), sometimes it’s better (and cheaper) just to rebuild your website from scratch than pay the price for fixing it all.

6. The overall SEO health check

A good SEO agency will also take a  look at the overall health of your site. Again, they’ll look at your site’s content. They’ll check for links. How often do you post? Is it relevant to your audience? Do you have interactive tools as well as blog posts and articles? They’ll look at your URL structure for its consistency. Are your titles short enough to show up in Google’s SERP? They’ll check your site architecture and navigation and your internal PageRank flow and for consistency of links. How’s your overall site performance? Does it run quickly? Is it optimized for mobile? Is it fun to use?

Think you might need help? Check out Key Medium’s services here, or help yourself to a free SEO audit.

7. SEO agency red flags

Here are some quick tips for what to avoid. You want to avoid SEO agencies with unscrupulous practices who are just out to make a quick buck while promising everything at a low cost for astronomical results.

100% guarantees

Nothing is every 100% guaranteed to work. SEO changes daily. Ranking changes daily. No agency can absolutely guarantee the results. Most agencies have tried and tested practices that work for their clients almost all the time.

You’ll see results tomorrow

If an agency tries to tell you you’ll get instant results, then be wary. There are things that agencies can do that violate best practice and go against webmaster guidelines. Yes, you’ll see results until Google penalizes you. And once Google’s lost faith in your website, those lost rankings will take months to recover.

You’ll be the number one spot on Google

If you’re promised the coveted one-spot, run. Yes, agencies will try and get you in the top ten, first-page spot and they may even get you to number one, but no one can promise that.

Hey, we’ll do it for $200

Or fifty-bucks or anything less than seven hundred and fifty dollars. With SEO, you shouldn’t be looking around as if you’re in a dollar store. You’re not looking for the lowest price but the best value for money for the services you receive.

And sometimes the overall best value for money is a few thousand dollars. Think about it, do you want the hand-cut wool suit that is tailored to perfection to fit your body and hand stitched by a craftsman that will last you for fifteen years or do you want the ill-fitting off the rack $50 suit? Sure, you’re only paying $50 now, but you want to look your best in the long run: buy the wool. Again, you get what you pay for. Shop around. Speak to some agencies and see what they offer for their prices. (Take the list above with you and see how many items they mention.)

Link building on the dark side

Beware of any companies that have shady link-building practices. Gaining backlinks is one of the most important elements in off-site SEO, but a link gained unethically, is a link that will come back to bite you. When discussing link-building with your potential SEO agency, ask them what ideas they have for where you can gain links for a business in your industry. They should have some answers as to how they’ll do your outreach.

8. What pricing options should I choose?

Like everything in this piece, I’m going to say that it really depends on what you’re looking for. Whether you choose hourly, project-based, monthly retainers, contract pricing, or hiring someone in-house, it’ll depend on your budget, your needs, your current SEO health, and so many factors. But the first step is auditing your site’s SEO. Then, you’ll want to ask around at some agencies. Most companies do begin with one-offs and fixed-term contract pricing before committing to the long-term, though.

Ready for your free SEO audit?

Check out our free SEO audit now. Determine just how much you need to do to get your on-page and off-page SEO on track. Then, get in touch with us (and a few other companies if you wish) to discuss options.

This was originally posted on Running SEO.

Read more: How to best hire an SEO agency


Elaine, an SEO Specialist and Content Writer

Elaine Frieman is a UK-based professional editor, educational writer, and former marketing agency content writer where she wrote articles for disparate clients using SEO best practice. She enjoys reading, writing, walking in the countryside, traveling, spending time with other people’s cats, and going for afternoon tea.