How Much Does SEO Cost?
A Guide to Costs & Pricing of SEO Services
by Dr. William Sen
SEO attracts a significant amount of costs, which is similar to the initial investment for any business. For may the initial SEO costs may look costly. Let me give you a vivid picture of my experience since I have started my first SEO in 2001.
Before we start, let us take a detour to talk about the pricing of SEO services. Most SEO campaigns embarked upon by large companies where the pricing is ranging from $15,000 and $40,000 monthly. For most mid-scale companies, the monthly costs for SEO lies in the range of $1,000 to $5. Small-scale enterprises may spend about $600 to $800 per month.
SEO Campaigns Lower $600 in the United States
There are several SEO agencies whose packages costs about $400. From experience, I do not think anyone should consider the SEO efforts from such packages as the real deal. Any SEO campaign run under $600 will fall short of expected results.
When I look at what my least SEO projects have cost even in the past, I clearly know that no SEO agency can stay in business with such ridiculous amounts for services. When SEO agencies offer such low prices that pales significantly when compared to other businesses, I know that such packages return extremely low SEO returns. In fact, they might return nothing at all. For many of these packages, the results for the campaign are usually presented in brilliantly designed reports that covers up the inactivity of the SEO campaign.
Outsourcing Cheap SEO
I have also found that many SEOs operating within international borders always had trouble when they embark on SEO campaigns in countries such as India, Pakistan, The Philippines, Kenya, Nigeria, Russia, China and other countries that are struggling with economic and technologic leadership in the world’s economy.
The SEO knowledge in these countries is mostly performed at low-end levels. Many of these countries have solid software and website development practices. The IT infrastructure is also taking significant shape that enables some of them to provide state-of-the-art web development, if you are lucky enough to find the right agency or contractor. The challenge is with the core practice of SEO, which is at rudimentary levels where they are unable to meet the high-level demands for businesses operating in ecumenically advanced countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany, United Kingdom, and similar.
If you happen to come across an expert SEO from any of these countries such as India, Pakistan, and similar with adequate knowledge, I can assure you that they would not provide their SEO service for $400. Here is why:
SEO requires the understanding of practical details about a business’ needs: conversion strategies, competitor research, and content rollouts that are tailored to the target audience. A person that would accept this kind of a budget would not be able to has the critical mass of knowledge to gain access into your business insights, or able to interpret statistics and data available from research. He/she would not be able to transform these insights into a thorough SEO strategy that would convert and promise returns. The recommendations would not come even close to what you would get from an SEO professional who has a masters or PhD in economics or related fields, with research and work undergone in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Germany, UK and other high-competitive and advanced economies.
Even if someone in any of these third-world countries would provide all of these for your business’ SEO, he/she would not charge $400. Rather than charge this low amount, they would probably pick up a role in a large company in their own country, because they would be considered high performers. Even though low-developed countries such as India have an average yearly income of only $500, these high-performers are getting paid pretty well — maybe even much more than the average American or European SEO professional, since they are extremely difficult to find.
Those cheap SEOs flying around advertising are mostly filled with impracticable SEO audits that are most likely drawn from On Page Optimization, illegitimate backlinks, and website optimization that would have been a good practice two decades ago.
SEO Campaigns from the Perspective of Large Companies
The biggest SEO client I have ever worked with operated is one of the largest travel portals in the world providing flights, hotels, carrentals, and vacation packages and has a revenue of US$ 10 billion.
The financial requirement was in the range of five hundred thousand dollars annually. I was a part of a team of five high-end SEO professionals who managed the entire SEO project for the company.
It was a brilliant arrangement considering the fact that an average SEO specialist or manager would get a salary between $75K and $120K annually in the U.S. For this business, working with five different SEO experts would bring the costs to about $500K as the annual cost for employees within the SEO agency alone, asides employer taxes, social security tax, Medicare tax, health and other benefits, and other required costs. Considering other costs such as software, external tools and computers, the overall costs of 5 SEOs comes close up to a million dollars.
What can be deduced here is that a big project that rakes in about a million dollars for a SEO agency may not be enough to meet the bill for the five full time SEO experts, suppose they all worked on the project alone. The agency has other costs to take care of on top such as for sales managers, project managers, content writers, office costs, and more. Including the costs the project with the 5 SEOs are causing, the company is spending around US$1.5 million.
Now, if the SEO agency is barely breaking even at US$1.5 million, what do you think how much they would charge the travel company? The answer is, agencies tend to charge clients with a margin of at least 50% in order to call themselves profitable, or to be able justify themselves to their investors. That means, they have to charge at least US$ 3 million.
Thus, 5 fulltime SEO working for your campaign will cost a large enterprise company between US$ 3 and 5 million.
These numbers form enough justification for the SEO campaign on the client’s side, since they provide extremely high ROIs.
The characteristic dominance of large-scale SEO campaigns within their target markets and industry sets them apart as market leaders. They usually owe around 1-5% their success to SEO campaigns, which rounds up to US$ 50 and US$ 200 million in revenue for a company that has a revenue of $10 billion as mentioned above.
Assuming of course, the SEOs are indeed high-level as they’re supposed to be. And we haven’t even mentioned the website development and its costs — since SEOs are only recommending technical changes but don’t engage in programming activities.
Success of SEO in Enterprise Businesses
Many companies have transformed to market leaders by leveraging SEO campaigns.
I have also seen many small companies struggle to take their spot in their markets because they do not consider SEO as viable for them. This is despite their continued loss of their place and their market share to their competitors who are taking full advantage of SEO.
A brilliantly structured SEO campaign yields good results for businesses. The travel industry as mentioned above operates with several hotel, car rental, and flight searches in different locations. Any travel business running a SEO campaign will receive several visitors from the Search Engine Results Pages (SERP) and a travel company will be set to make hundreds of millions in dollars annually after servicing that many bookings through their website thanks to SEO.
The investment for the SEO, which is only about US$3-5 million, is totally justified.
When these companies spend massively like this on their SEO, it is usually cheaper on the long run than an SEM/Ads campaign. The fact that there would be no Cost Per Click (CPC) obligations, you will need to pay for bandwidth for the SEO agency, and for the development costs that will be applied.
Medium-Scale Businesses and SEO Campaigns
SEO is not exclusively reserved for big companies. Several medium-scale companies can use SEO to their advantage in many ways.
During my very active SEO practice, my best results were achieved in conventional industries. Because the competitor terrain was largely alien to the knowledge and use of SEO.
These conventional industries were a sure hit for most of us as SEOs because it was a free space that guaranteed us success as SEO experts. The competition for SEO was very low, therefore one SEO campaign could achieve dominance on search engines and maintain its dominance within a short time period with consistent conversions, reaching a growth of more than 300% within months.
The bottleneck we encountered on these campaigns were usually tied to convincing customers of the efficacy of the SEO strategy beforehand, so that they could put pen to paper on the contract. This is because potential clients from industries with no SEO-power also do not understand the value SEO due to the nature of their markets.
It is often tedious to get the client in most cases to get approval for outlined SEO strategies that are being identified during the SEO campaign. In one case, the client was obsessed by the idea, that thousands of his his images — which were looking absolutely good by the way — needed to be cropped, redesigned, and re-photoshopped. This would delay our elaborate SEO strategy we had planned and outlined, which included creating state-of-the-art landing pages for his products that were missing. After performing this useless work for almost a year, and no SEO results as predicted, the client then decided to redesign sections of the website his wife did not find “artistic enough”. No matter how insistently we tried to convince the client not to invest more into miniscule design aspects of his website, but to aim for his target audience with elaborate SEO concepts, he would still not understand what SEO actually was. This campaign by the way was a campaign where one conversion could return millions in ROI for the client. Our work on that campaign could have been very well served by a single lead all year long — but instead, we redesigned images.
The building and construction industry is also a conventional industry where not many understand SEO, and therefore, even one savvy SEO professional could seriously confound the whole U.S. construction market from one day to another.
However, these clients tend to be the most difficult, because they have to be constantly convinced about the SEO value. You cannot even sell SEO to these kinds of markets without getting fully involved in explaining them constantly what SEO holds for their businesses.
Small Businesses and SEO Campaigns
Running SEO for a company whose audience and products are only a handful is the most challenging, especially when the products have low scalability. SEO campaigns are usually not advisable for small grocery businesses, local hairdressers, tailors, and other businesses.
What is best for such companies and businesses is to include them on the local industry listings such as Yelp, and other promoting local and small service local providers.
The local visibility for law firms and medical practice firms have a different characteristic. Their local visibility on search engines holds better promise for an SEO campaign. A law firm or medical related business can get good ROI for SEO campaigns ranging from $1000-$3000 monthly.
The true cost of any SEO campaign is a measure of several factors, which include the expected ROI, the target market, and your area of operation. This is why I do not subscribe to generically designed SEO packages.
SEO agencies call those packages funny names such as “Starter”, “Silver” and “Gold” — or some creative names to catch your attention.
SEO campaigns are only successful when they are streamlined according to the goals and needs for businesses. These needs and the expected results are the only factors that can be used to determine the true price of an SEO campaign. It is important to get started by looking at the analytics drawn from the analysis of your target market by the SEO agency or SEO professional.
How to Start an SEO Compaign
The best way to start with SEO is to pay the SEO agency to conduct a research to explore the options that will be beneficial for your business. Only if you’re convinced, commit to a yearly contract.
If the SEO agency is serious too, they will not have issues with providing such SEO research. The research may cost a few thousands of dollars, but it is best that you understand what promises SEO holds for you before getting involved.
The research when concluded should provide appreciable insights into landmines with values, and risks. This will also help the SEO agency or professional to create roadmaps and strategic points to show you how a successful SEO campaign will look like.
If you have signed a yearly contract with some SEO agency, before rest was assured in their service, you must be certain that they will conduct a SEO research for your business on the fly. If they are not going to conduct research, then it cannot be a a serious SEO campaign that promises success.