Back in the day, when SEO was still a fringe concept, keywords ruled the digital realm. It was relatively simple to get to the top of search engine results. All you had to do was determine your keywords and repeat them tirelessly throughout your website content.

Nowadays, things have changed dramatically. Sure, using relevant keywords is still important, but other components, such as creating high-quality content, having a website that loads fast, and ensuring a flawless user experience matter just as much.

It all may seem like a nuisance, but businesses today cannot succeed without search engine optimization. Just consider this fact:   70% of Internet users  ignore paid ads and click on organic results. In fact, the first organic results get around 33% of all clicks.

That’s huge!

Because SEO has become such an essential part of a small business’ strategy, it requires significant investment, both time and money. So, one of the questions we regularly get asked by small business owners is: how much does SEO cost?

Let’s break it down.

What Factors Contribute to the Cost of SEO for Your Business?

Every business is different. Hence, your SEO strategy and eventually the cost of it may differ as well. That’s why professional SEO agencies have in-depth conversations with their prospective clients about their businesses to understand their market, search engine optimization needs, and objectives. Only then can you truly estimate the timeline and the level of work that’s required, and the subsequent price.

Here are the main factors we look at when trying to answer the question of how much does SEO cost:

Your Industry

If you’re in a highly competitive industry in terms of search engine traffic, you might need to make a significant investment to see a difference. However, in some competitive niches, such as the construction industry, numerous companies are overlooking the benefits of SEO. In this case, if you become an early adopter, you may get a lower price and a competitive advantage.

Your Goals

SEO can help you accomplish a variety of goals, from increasing your website traffic to improving your conversion rate or becoming an industry leader. Your objectives, along with how quickly you want to meet them can impact your SEO budget. The longer and more extensive the goal is, the higher the price.

Your Target Audience

Businesses with broader or multiple target audiences need a bigger budget to reach their prospects and see a good return on their investment. That doesn’t mean that vertical or niche businesses spend less on SEO, but that they can achieve more with the same resources.

Your target audience also influences how hard it will be to rank and get traffic for your website. Depending on the problems and solutions they are searching for, and how many other websites are currently competing for search positions for those terms.

Your Location(s)

When it comes to local SEO, citations and links from relevant and authoritative directories and websites can be difficult to find and obtain. It’s intensive work that requires a lot of time and money to accomplish.

As well, things tend to get a bit complicated if you have multiple locations and must treat each one as a separate business, with its own links, citations, content, and unique pages on your website. An example of this approach is for travel and accommodation websites such as Airbnb, that have location-specific pages:

Airbnb Location Specific Landing Pages

Your Keywords

Although keywords aren’t as important as they used to be, they are still essential in ranking your website in search results. After all, Google is a robot that needs to crawl your website and quickly understand what each page is all about. Your keywords help this robot understand those pages.

As you can see in the search below for “best wine new york” , some form of those exact words appear in both the headline and the meta description of the top ranking pages:

Google Image of best wine new york search results

Keywords also influence how much you need to invest in an effective SEO strategy. A high-competition keyword, such as “bakery in New York,”  may generate more clicks, but it involves more advanced and costly techniques to rank for. On the other hand, longer phrase and more specific keywords like "french bakery in Manhattan,"  have less competition, and are, therefore typically cheaper to rank for.

What Are You Actually Paying For When It Comes To SEO?

“SEO”  is not a one off tactic with a specific set of neatly defined tasks. There are a number of different skills, roles, and activities you need to do in order to rank your website consistently in search results. Some of these things are done on a temporary basis, such as website design and optimization. Others are ongoing, such as content creation.

Here’s a breakdown of the components an effective SEO strategy must include (the things you are paying for):

Website Design and Optimization

SEO agencies can help you setup your website if you don’t have one already. Otherwise, they’ll skip directly to assessing your current pages and optimizing them for search engines. Usually, these are one-time changes, such as restructuring the navigation, writing good page titles and meta descriptions, or installing social sharing buttons.

When designing the structure and navigation of a website, it should look something like this , where the top page is your homepage:

Site Structure and Navigation

Keyword Research

Keywords are at the core of SEO as they help you determine what words and phrases your prospects use to search for your products online. Keyword research gives you insights into how to design the rest of your strategy and how to use keywords in your content, titles and meta descriptions so that your website has the ability to rank.

Content Production and Publication

Considering how crucial it is to publish regular keyword-rich content on your website for SEO, many digital marketing agencies these days are taking the opportunity to extend their services to include content production and publication. The costs for this part of your strategy range from simply sourcing your content to creating a full content marketing plan.

Building Authority and Trust

Search engines rank pages mostly by trust and authority. The language, the structure of the page, or the reliability of your inbound links are just a few factors search engines assess to decide how relevant and useful your page is to a search query. However, that is an ongoing process that takes time to show results. You will have to work hard to turn your business into an authoritative voice in your niche - it can take months, or even years to achieve this.

How do you know how much authority and trust your website already has? Well, there are some good software tools out there to estimate this kind of thing. Moz Open Site Explorer , for example, gives all websites a score between 1 and 100. If your site has a higher score than the other websites trying to rank for the same terms, you have a good chance to out rank them.

Off-Page SEO

This concept refers to the actions you take outside of your website to increase your search rankings. Link building, social media marketing, guest blogging, and influencer marketing are common elements that prove the quality and credibility of your website to the major search engines.

Ongoing Website Maintenance

After optimizing your website, there’s not much work to do from onsite maintenance perspective unless something changes. Still, regular checkups are a good idea as they don’t take much time and shouldn’t count that much in the price offered.

How Much Does SEO Cost Then?

Depending on the services you need, you can choose from four types of payment models.

  • Hourly Rate:  It's ideal when you want to outsource only specific tasks and you are confident with the SEO strategy you are trying to execute. Whether it’s an independent SEO consultant or an agency, they charge you between $125 and $150 per hour .
  • Project-Based: You agree on a fixed price for a project as a whole, no matter the hours spent. Prices range from $1,000 to $7,500  based on the complexity.
  • Fixed Priced Services:  SEO agencies have a list of services they offer at a set price. Typical services are an SEO audit varying from $500 to $7,500, social media site setup, between $500 and $3,000, or SEO copywriting, $0.15-$0.50 per word. It’s a good method to start with if you want to test an agency before committing to a retainer.
  • Monthly Retainer: Each month, you pay a fixed fee in exchange for a particular set of services. Both agencies and clients prefer this pricing model. Most businesses pay  between $1,000 and $2,500 per month. However, small businesses usually pay between $500 and $1,000.

What Type of SEO Should You Avoid?

Because SEO plays such an important role in a company’s success, many so-called “SEO professionals”  have taken advantage of this trend by offering low-quality services. Be wary of any agency or consultant that makes one or more of the following promises:

  • Guarantees:  No SEO company can give you a guarantee because the industry is constantly changing.
  • Instant Results: Cheating the search engine algorithm can give you immediate results, but can also get you penalized if the tactics employed are against the webmaster guidelines.
  • Shady Link Building: Ask the company how they intend to obtain links for your business and make sure the practice is ethical, otherwise your website can be penalized.
  • #1 Spot on Search Engine Page Results:  Sure, everyone dreams of achieving this position, but the truth is that it’s nearly impossible for most highly competitive keywords. Just look at the first result for your industry, and you will see that it’s taken by high authority companies with years of experience.
  • Unbelievable Deals: You’re looking for the best service your budget can buy, not for the lowest price.

And the answer is….

“It depends.”

Frustrating or not, it’s the answer any SEO professional will give you when you ask how much does SEO cost.

We can only suggest that you spend at least $500 per month to see steady improvement as a small business.

If that seems like too much, just think of the advantages: a well-written article can compel prospects to convert into leads, high-quality backlinks can increase your website traffic, and the right keywords can help you rank your page high for relevant searches. All of this can help you generate new revenue, which will, more than likely, outweigh the cost in the end.

SEO is an investment, not a cost.

If you are looking for an SEO strategy designed and executed for your small business, open up a dialogue with us at Sharp Notions  and see how we can help enhance your search rankings.

About Shawn Carr

Founding Partner

An accomplished Senior Software Engineer specializing in the Microsoft .Net Framework and SQL Server with experience in the full lifecycle of the software design process of both Data Driven Windows and Web Applications utilizing the latest technologies and best practices.

Certified: Google Analytics, Google Mobile Sites, Google AdWords Certification - Video Advertising, MCSD: Web Applications, and about 13 more Microsoft certifications that have since expired.

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