SEO is one of the best opportunities to get repeatable and scaleable growth.
Maybe you're getting high-value customers as your comparative advertisement landing pages rank for bottom-of-the-funnel keywords. Or maybe you get customers through paid traffic and want to decrease your cost to acquire a customer through organic traffic.
But how much will SEO cost your startup?
Or, maybe you are on the other side of the table as a contractor. You’ve wowed a prospect with some impressive case studies. You’ve fleshed out an entire SEO content strategy tailored to their business goals. They’re happy with the opportunity to work with you. But only after they drop the big, haunting question:
“By the way, how much will your SEO services cost?”
Ahhh... pricing. With so many factors affecting SEO pricing, the topic is as murky as a sewer stream. So naturally, it depends on what service the contractor provides. In this article, we will share what it depends on.
Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media shares his thoughts on why there is so much confusion in the pricing process:
“[Companies often] don't want to understand what SEO is. They just want to rank. They want traffic. They want to delegate, abdicate, and hire someone else to do the whole thing… It's some kind of dark art. It's complicated. ‘Please just help me. Here's a check.’
"So how does the service provider come up with the numbers, justify it to the client, and close the deal? Especially when the client is so uninterested in the mechanics of the work?
"Welcome to the crazy world of SEO pricing.”
To give clarity into what SEO services cost, we surveyed 242 agencies, freelancers, consultants, and contractors who provide these services.
Although we didn’t reach statistical significance, this doesn’t mean you can’t find valuable insights from the survey data. Additionally, I will compare our results to Credo’s 2015 survey, and Moz’s 2012 survey to help give more context.
For the statistical nerds: We include Moz’s data because it is closer to significance, although it is older data. Given Credo’s source, it may also not be statistically significant, but it’s more recent data to compare and contrast.
Here’s what we’ll be covering today:
Here's the highlights of our SEO pricing survey:
Do you struggle knowing how to price your services? You know, walking that fine line between the client’s budget and their expectations.
Unclear pricing models, doing work off-scope, and lengthy contracts can be the death knell of any contractor. Before we dive into the SEO pricing results, I want to make this point clear: your customer cares about growing their business. Typically by helping them get a positive ROI, whether from content marketing or SEO. That’s it.
They may come to you because they got hit by Panda or Penguin. Or maybe their site got wrecked because, “Our developer knows SEO.”
But nine times out of ten, there is an underlying business objective with a financial pain, or desire in mind. Because if it wasn’t a money issue, they’d ignore that fire to put out the larger flame in front of them.
As a result, we believe you should not offer cost-plus pricing. It’s a small concern to the client how much it costs you to provide your service. Whether you are in India, Pakistan, or Canada, if you can clearly communicate enough value to the client, they will use your service.
Your pricing can be as high as you like, as long as you can:
Pricing your product is still not easy.
Maybe because you are sensitive and introverted. Although there are elements of SEO you can outsource to anyone, it’s not easy teaching a client that great SEO isn’t a commodity.
As Dan Shure of Evolving SEO explains, would you rather pay more for a plumber to fix a leaky pipe today, or would you pay a bit less for him to do it three days from now?
In the below video he discusses 9 SEO costs and selling points to help:
Just because you can justify a positive ROI to a potential client, doesn’t mean you will seal the deal. You need to find out a customer's willingness to pay.
Marie Haynes explains that the market demand should shape your pricing too.
“When I first started this work, I produced a report for $89 to help site owners determine whether they were hit by Penguin or Panda. It was super popular, so I put the price up to $149. If demand was more than I could handle, I'd raise the price again. Now we have versions that vary from $1,200 to $7,500.
"Many people in SEO undervalue their services. If you are good at SEO, you should be able to command at least $150 per hour, if not more.
"I also offer urgency options when my workload is too full. I say, "This report is generally $3,000, but we are not able to start for two months. If you would like us to start sooner, we have a few options." I would give them a choice of doing it quicker for an extra $1,000, to moving to the top of our list and charging 3-4x the original quote. If you find people are paying the high urgency fees, then you know you should raise your prices.”
But how do your SEO services stack up?
Let’s dig into the data.
Hourly rates vary across a wide range. Given everything that affects SEO pricing, this isn’t a surprise.
62% of respondents price their services between $76 and $150, with 75.6% charging less than $150 per hour.
As Marie suggests, it appears SEOs may be undervaluing their services. A majority fall under the $150/hour price point she designated for those who consider themselves “good at SEO.”
This begs a question: What can you do to increase your prices? Here are a few options to consider:
Alternatively, you should consider how to automate your workflow to decrease time spent, increasing your effective pay. One way you can do this is by creating an email outreach program that you can easily scale.
Even more than hourly rates, monthly retainers come in many sizes.
In our survey, 24.6% of respondents charge between $1,000-2,000. About a third (30.6%) charge $1,000/month. But almost a quarter (23%) charge more than $4,000 per month.
What separates the average from the upper echelon of premium contractors and agencies?
According to the survey, agencies with retainers of $5,000 or more offer 11 different SEO services. 50% also have 26 or more employees.
You will want to be careful to not equate correlation and causation. If you hire 26 employees tomorrow, you won’t be able to magically triple your prices (because again, clients don’t care about your costs).
However, this suggests that higher priced clients may be looking for full-service solutions. Rather than only offering link building services, these agencies offer blog content, social media, and link building services.
Editor's note: From my experience, the more value you show how your services bring in revenue, the higher price you can command. For example, B2B blog articles range from $100-$2,000. Those on the higher end not only write and edit the article, they do keyword research, on-page optimization, content promotion, and link building. - Jason Quey
Telling clients you will charge a higher price point is easy. But landing clients at that price isn't so easy. Here's how can you help clients understand the value behind the costs.
For anyone that isn’t well versed in SEO, it may be difficult to understand why services can cost so much.
Which means it is important to communicate to a potential client the long-term benefit and the full value they receive.
Not only do you have to consider the size of a website and the services offered, but also indirect factors that John Doherty explains:
"SEO is expensive because it involves a lot of channels, effort applied over time, and a skillset honed over years of experience to really see results.
"A good audit can make clients thousands of dollars (or more) per month, every month for as long as your business exists. This means that if you are paying for value, then it should cost good money.
"When you look at what a client might pay per month in ad spend (many spend 5-figures a month without batting an eye), SEO is comparatively cheap."
This brings us to SEO payment models.
57% of agencies and consultants offer a monthly retainer.
Aside from the monthly retainers, 21.5% of SEO service agencies use project/fixed-based pricing and 11.2% offer hourly rates.
Additionally, 3.3% primarily use a mix of several different payment models to properly tackle varying jobs that they accept. (Note: the “Other” section includes a list of hybrid pricing models).
If there’s any clear indication that seo pricing varies, this pie chart shows it. 81% of respondents change their rates based on the service they offer.
Given there were 14 primary services in our survey, this leaves room for a lot of potential price changes.
With more overhead costs, pricing will be higher. But is a higher pricing reflective of the value a service provider offers?
As Bruce Clay suggests, the additional costs an agency incurs may allow it to provide services of greater value.
“In consideration of rates there are several ‘hidden’ factors. A larger client may demand a separate project manager, frequent calls with status reports, and 3+ emails a day demanding, 'I need this by EOD.' This is often reflected in their rates.
Remember, the cheaper you want it, the cheaper you get it. You often get what you pay for.”
As with any survey, there’s bias involved whether intentional or accidental. Here is some information on the respondents for our survey.
Of those we surveyed, 31.4% consider their business an SEO agency/consultancy, 17.4% inbound/organic agency/consultancy, and 10.7% are specialty/boutique agencies.
Furthermore, 6% are traditional marketing agencies and 11% are web design or development firms.
The three most popular services offered include on-page SEO (82%), keyword research (81.2%), and content creation (76.8%). It’s fascinating to consider how many offer content services, while only 2% identify themselves as part of a content agency.
Even though content creation is offered by so many SEO experts, only 34.4% offer infographics and visual design services. As it requires a different skill set, this type of work may be outsourced more often. Perhaps it’s a dying trend. Or maybe it’s an untapped opportunity.
It’s also interesting that many offer link building compared to link removal service (67.6% vs. 38.8%). Although I agree with the importance of disavowing and removing links, from my experience, there is a greater demand for link building. This could explain the higher supply.
Take, for example, the number of monthly searches for the keywords “link building services” and “link removal service”.
This isn’t an exact science for demand. And perhaps there is a greater opportunity to remove links, and you simply have to educate the market about it’s value.
Here's a little more information on the survey respondents:
Too much according to some, not enough according to others. SEO pricing often isn’t straightforward. There are many factors that make it difficult.
For hourly rates, the typical price is around $76-150 an hour. For a monthly retainer, most of our respondents are between $1,000-2,000/month. About a third (30.6%) charge less than $1,000/month. But nearly a quarter (23%) surveyed charge $4,000/month or more.
Based on the survey results and expert opinions, it seems SEO contractors tend to undervalue their services.
They may under price themselves because:
Perhaps when it comes to pricing, you think if it isn’t broken, even if loosely held together with duct tape, then don’t fix it. But when it comes to pricing, charging lower rates may prevent you from offering your best work.
Don't sell yourself short if it means offering inferior service. We're counting on you to be remarkable.
We did a survey like this for Orbit Media and were able to generate 430 links in six month. Get a behind-the-scenes look at the process here.