If you’ve ever tried to ask an SEO (search engine optimization) specialist how much it’ll cost to improve your search engine rankings, you probably got the frustrating, but honest answer: “it depends.” And the pricing they give can be all over the board, from $25 per hour to $10,000+ per month. No one can budget for an SEO project based on that kind of range. But drilling down to a reliable number isn’t difficult. Here’s how to determine how much an SEO specialist may cost for your next project.
Types of SEO services
Before hiring someone, it helps to know how you’d like to work with them. Here are some of the most common options:
Pay by the hour
THE GOOD: It’s easy to figure out costs when you hire someone for a set number of hours.
THE CAVEAT: SEO projects are a little like remodeling a house: you never really know how long something will take until after the work begins. If you have a specific goal (which you should), paying by the hour may not be enough to get the work done adequately before the budget runs out. A highly skilled SEO specialist can reach up to $300 an hour, so it can get costly.
Flat project rate
THE GOOD: You know exactly how much you’ll pay to get the work done.
THE CAVEAT: As mentioned above, you can’t always tell how long something will take, so there’s a chance that the quoted rate may need to increase as the project progresses. Or to account for such a possibility, the specialist may add a few hours to the quote upfront, whether they use the hours or not.
THE GOOD: With this option, you don’t pay if the specialist doesn’t perform. That puts all the risk on the person or agency.
THE CAVEAT: Since the specialist shoulders all the risk, there aren’t too many reputable individuals or agencies that offer this option. This model may not be available for competitive keywords since they’re more difficult to rank. And your monthly costs are unpredictable as rankings change daily.
Factors that may affect an SEO specialist’s cost
Specialists require a wide range of skills to deal with all the moving parts that impact website rankings. In addition to understanding what can be done on web pages and sites to improve rankings, they must also factor in how content marketing, pay-per-click marketing, social media, video, and other factors both on and off a website can affect site rankings. It’s a lot to keep track of, and usually, the more experienced a person, the higher the cost.
If you’re working with a marketing agency that offers SEO services, look at their results before signing on as SEO may not be their specialty. If SEO is bundled into a marketing package, you may be paying for a service that doesn’t provide the ROI you need.
You can also work with SEO agencies. Since SEO is all they do, they may have specialists on staff who can handle unique or very technical SEO challenges. But agencies often have more overhead than an individual specialist. The larger the firm, the larger their staff and potentially, the bigger your bill.
Average costs for SEO projects
Before figuring out costs to improve your rankings, be sure to have an SEO strategy with defined goals and measurable metrics already in place. If you don’t have a strategy, you can also contract an SEO specialist to help you create one.
Be realistic with your goals so you can budget adequately. How much are you willing to pay for a new customer? A qualified lead? More brand awareness?
It’s difficult to pin down rates as SEO specialists often quote by project and projects vary in scope and goals. According to one study, prices for SEO specialists generally fall into the ranges below. Note that higher rates don’t guarantee experience, just as lower prices don’t always reflect a person’s skill.
- Hourly rates: $76 and $150 an hour
- Monthly retainers: $1,000-$4,000 per month
Risky SEO practices to watch out for
If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Be wary of specialists or agencies who:
Are vague about their strategy. The person should give details on how they plan to achieve your goals within a given timetable. Note that if something worked for another company or industry, it might not work for yours. Be skeptical of cookie-cutter solutions.
Quote significantly lower prices. You can work with SEO talent located anywhere in the world, so prices will vary accordingly. However, if you get a low-ball quote, ask for additional details.
Quote high prices. On the other hand, if someone quotes a high price without having a proven track record to back it up, then be wary and ask for additional details.
Use suspicious link building strategies. A red flag should go up if someone suggests buying a huge quantity of backlinks, email lists, or followers. These short-term hacks (a.k.a. black hat SEO techniques) can give your SEO a quick boost, but at the expense of damaging your website reputation. And your site can get penalized or blacklisted by search engines.
Make aggressive promises like guaranteed or fast results. Good SEO is a marathon, not a race. It can take months before you see results.
Knowing what to look for in pricing is just part of the process.
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