SEO Pricing: How Much Should SEO Cost in 2019?

Since the dawn of the internet, businesses have searched for ways to leverage search engines so they could derive additional value from their websites. Optimizing a website for search engines was once a hit or miss prospect, but soon, a series of best practices began to take form

Search engine optimization (SEO) has evolved from a niche agency service offering to an entire industry. Any business that operates a website needs SEO — and where there’s a need, there’s money to be made.

As a result, there are plenty of SEO agencies that either don’t know what they’re doing or are actively trying to scam businesses. Their SEO pricing varies, but they usually sell vague “packages” that are task-based instead of performance-based.

To get a full understanding of how much SEO should cost in 2019 — as well as how it really works — let’s start with a little history lesson.

A Brief History of SEO

In the ’90s, keywords became the key driver of search engine results. Site owners stuffed their web pages with the keywords they wanted to rank for, and the practice seemed to work:

At least, it worked for a little while, but not for long.

At the time, search engines only matched results based on the words in search queries, so website owners had an incentive to try to game the system by stuffing their pages and keyword tags with the terms they wanted to rank for.

There also emerged the shady business of black hat SEO. Backlinks were spammed from bogus websites to boost rankings. People started offering SEO services to companies knowing full well that their clients had no idea how SEO worked or what constituted value.

The SEO industry was born, but it had a lot of growing up to do.

It wasn’t until Google came onto the scene in the early 2000s that clear lines between black hat SEO, white hat SEO, on-page SEO, and off-page SEO were delineated.

Google created new search algorithms that prioritized the needs of the user rather than the needs of the website owner. Results were served based on factors like trust, authority, relevance, and context, such as the user’s physical location and their previous search history.

SEO companies had to change their game. Some have stepped up to the challenge, but sadly, most have not.

There’s more information than ever out there about SEO. And yet, the veil of mystery surrounding SEO remains for many companies.

Are you ready to finally understand how SEO works so you can leverage it for your business? We have years of experience working in the SEO industry. Sign up for our SEO training course today!

What is the Value of SEO?

Today, the value of the SEO industry in the United States is approaching $80 billion. There are hundreds of SEO agencies in the U.S., and perhaps thousands around the world.

Unfortunately, many SEO agencies today still don’t take a holistic approach to their services. Some still practice (and swear by) black hat techniques like keyword stuffing, which can damage your website’s rankings. Those SEO agencies that don’t use black hat tactics typically only provide partial SEO services, such as on-page SEO and content production.

They can get away with it because the businesses they serve are none the wiser. According to one 2018 survey, 38% of small businesses still believe keyword stuffing is a good SEO tactic. In another study, 45% of the online entrepreneurs surveyed didn’t even know what SEO meant.

With so much ambiguity in the SEO market, it can be a real challenge to know how much you should pay for SEO services and which types of services you need. As we’ll see, SEO pricing is all over the map. But as with most investments, the more you invest, the better you’re results — as long as you’re working with a reputable agency.

You can get SEO services on a small budget, but you should have different expectations than if you have more to spend. Furthermore, you’ll need to find an agency that’s transparent about their pricing and about what they’re actually doing each day to give you results.

The Average Cost of SEO

SEO pricing ranges from just a hundred dollars a month to tens of thousands.

According to Search Engine Land, most businesses spend less than $5,000 per month on SEO in the United States. Search Engine Land also reported that the average amount SEO companies bring in from a single client each month breaks down as follows:

  • 10% — less than $500
  • 27% — $500-1,000
  • 29% — $1,000-2,500
  • 20% — $2,500-5,000
  • 15% — $5,000-10,000

The most inexpensive SEO services are usually offered by freelancers or solo consultants. But most companies work with agencies because they’re more reliable.

Companies often look for smaller SEO packages, such as those under $1000, to save money. They may consider SEO a vague and secondary digital marketing strategy, so it doesn’t warrant a hefty piece of their marketing budget.

But a typical agency will bill their work for anywhere from $75 to $150 per hour. Even if you’re on a monthly retainer, the agency will always consider the work in an hourly format because of their overhead.

So, for example, if you were to pay an agency $1000 each month at $100 per hour to work on SEO, they’d only do 5 hours of work each week.

According to one survey, less than half of all small businesses have an SEO budget at all. Of those that do have an SEO budget, the majority spend less than $100 per month.

A monthly SEO budget of $100 at $100 per hour? That will only give you 1 hour of work per month on SEO. Some SEO agencies will try to tell you that a few hundred dollars will give you a long shot chance at ranking, but it your competitors are spending thousands on SEO, you’ll always be outgunned.

It’s better to educate yourself and understand how SEO works, then make a solid investment in a strategy that’s right for you.
That might be enough time to fill in a few SEO titles and meta descriptions on your pages, but that’s hardly a holistic strategy. With a tool like Yoast, all you need to do is fill in the blanks:

This type of on-page SEO work is important, but it isn’t enough for you to beat your competitors in search results.

Even for $500 a month, most agencies aren’t going to build you many backlinks, if any. And today, backlinks from reputable websites are essential. Without them, you can’t generate the page authority to rank anywhere near the top.

If you don’t have the funds to pay for serious SEO work, you can still invest to correct SEO issues on your website. But that’s almost of waste of your time. Furthermore, that’s not why most companies hire an SEO agency — they want to rank #1.

If you want real results, you need to find an SEO agency that knows what they’re doing and pay them to do some legwork.

SEO in 2019 isn’t just about putting the right words on the page. Successful SEO means gaining traffic organically, building relationships with other website owners, producing content based on a documented strategy, prioritizing conversions, and earning legitimate backlinks to increase the authority of your domain.

SEO Pricing Models

Today, the value of the SEO industry in the United States is approaching $80 billion. There are hundreds of SEO agencies in the U.S., and perhaps thousands around the world.

Unfortunately, many SEO agencies today still don’t take a holistic approach to their services. Some still practice (and swear by) black hat techniques like keyword stuffing, which can damage your website’s rankings. Those SEO agencies that don’t use black hat tactics typically only provide partial SEO services, such as on-page SEO and content production.

They can get away with it because the businesses they serve are none the wiser. According to one 2018 survey, 38% of small businesses still believe keyword stuffing is a good SEO tactic. In another study, 45% of the online entrepreneurs surveyed didn’t even know what SEO meant.

With so much ambiguity in the SEO market, it can be a real challenge to know how much you should pay for SEO services and which types of services you need. As we’ll see, SEO pricing is all over the map. But as with most investments, the more you invest, the better you’re results — as long as you’re working with a reputable agency.

You can get SEO services on a small budget, but you should have different expectations than if you have more to spend. Furthermore, you’ll need to find an agency that’s transparent about their pricing and about what they’re actually doing each day to give you results.

Monthly SEO Retainers

Monthly retainers may be the most common type of SEO pricing model. Businesses like them because they can work the expense into their existing budget; there are few surprises when it comes to cost, and most agencies can give you a clear understanding of what they’ll be doing each month.

For example, if you pay an SEO agency $3,000 each month, they can usually quote how many backlinks they can bring you, how much content they can create, how much of your site they can optimize, and what your search results might look like because of all that work.

 

Fixed SEO Prices

In a fixed pricing model, you’ll usually pay a lump sum for a specific project. Some agencies offer fixed pricing for their extra services, in addition to a monthly retainer.

You may find some freelancers offering fixed prices for specific jobs. However, most agencies shy away from fixed pricing because it isn’t a reliable stream of revenue.

 

Hourly SEO Services

Hourly SEO services are perhaps the second most common pricing model. Simply put, you’re paying for each hour your agency puts into your SEO work.

You could agree on a set number of hours each week or each month, or you could hire the agency for a specific project and pay them as many hours as it takes. In this scenario, it pays to be mindful. You should know what your agency is working on and why, and you should be sure they aren’t charging you for extra hours that aren’t warranted.

 

Project-Based SEO Pricing

Project-based pricing is like fixed pricing, but the agency will set the price points for each project. For example, building and optimizing a website with a specific number of pages may have a fixed price. Updating and optimizing a specific number of old blog posts might have its own price, as well.

Some agencies also offer a points system. You pay a certain amount for each point, then spend the points on the projects you want.

All these models may be familiar to you — they may even make sense. Unfortunately, most of them are flawed.

Choosing an SEO Package

Most SEO companies sell their services in the form of packages. You’ve probably seen them on SEO agency websites. There may be 3-5 packages available on their pricing page, with a middle-of-the-road option labelled “Most Popular.”

The truth is, it’s now antiquated to sell SEO packages this way. Your agency won’t know the cost of their SEO services until they talk to you and determine your needs. There’s no one-size-fits all package; there are only similar strategies.

For example, if you’re a business consultancy that wants to rank #1 for the search term “business consulting,” you’ll need a considerable SEO investment that most “packages” won’t cover. There may be thousands of web pages competing for that term. It could take months of work before you reach your goal.

The agency offering you the package may take your money, but chances are, they won’t give you the results you want. Furthermore, your agency needs to keep things realistic. Just how much would it take to rank #1 for that keyword? Would it even be worth the investment?
Most agencies should know the answers to these questions. If they don’t, they aren’t using the right tools. For example, Ahrefs’ keyword tool helps you determine exactly how many backlinks you’d need to rank for a specific keyword:

You should always have a clear understanding of where your money is going. If your agency can’t provide you with clear numbers like this one, they may not know what they’re doing.

Literally, you should be able to say to yourself, “I’m spending X number of dollars — I expect to reach Y level of authority with Z number of backlinks built.

Most SEO agencies don’t want to talk about this because they don’t want to be held accountable. Too many agencies will take your money month after month, show you a few blog posts, and neglect the backend of your website and any off-page resources.

It’s for this reason we don’t offer packages at BlissDrive. We’ve worked with plenty of clients who’ve hired multiple SEO agencies before us and have gotten burned every time.

When we start talking about backlinking and real work it takes to do SEO, those clients have no idea they needed those types of services. They’ve never received them.

SEO Pricing Factors

If you’re shopping for SEO services and trying to figure out what it’ll cost to get good results for your investment, there are several factors to consider. Your SEO agency should consult with you about these factors and give you a reasonable explanation for their price points.

Here are a few factors that may contribute to your SEO pricing:

Resources and Deliverables

The key differences between what companies charge lies in the number of resources and deliverables they’ll dedicate to your campaign. Some of those resources are things you can see, but some aren’t.

For example, you may pay an SEO agency to generate 5 blog posts each month. Creating content is an essential step in your SEO strategy, but it probably isn’t worth thousands of dollars on its own.

However, if your agency is generating backlinks with content on top of creating the content itself, this can bring you some real value. That content will have a higher chance of ranking in search results, and your analytics should reflect that.

The best types of SEO content are adored by both search engines and humans. They also attract organic backlinks. Here are a few:

  • Blog posts
  • Long-form articles (epic content)
  • Visual galleries
  • Rich lists
  • Interactive content (games or online tools)
  • Landing pages
  • Data visualizations
  • Multi-page guides
  • Videos

Your results should not only be backed by content marketing and on-page SEO (keywords, meta descriptions, etc.), which you can see, but also by backlinks from authoritative websites, which influence your rankings behind the scenes:

This is the most important part of the SEO process, but it’s also the activity most SEO companies won’t report on. In fact, many SEO companies don’t do backlinking at all. And if that’s the case, they aren’t really doing SEO.

Quality and Investment

Not all backlinks are good, and not all SEO work is quality work.

Most companies only allocate a small portion of their marketing budget to SEO. Unfortunately, you aren’t likely to get the results you want with a tiny budget. That’s because not much can be done in the amount of time the money will buy you.

If your SEO pricing is coming out to be less than $1000/month, your agency won’t have the time and resources to acquire backlinks. They may be doing quality on-page work, but there won’t be enough going on off the page for it to count.

$1000 may buy you 8-20 hours each month for the agency to spend on your account. That will get you a couple of articles, some on-page SEO, and some account management time, leaving very little time for them to focus on backlinks.

Of course, that’s what many SEO agencies want. They aren’t set up to do backlinks because they aren’t willing to do the manual work required. It takes legwork and coordination, and it usually requires the SEO agency to reach out to other website owners.

Backlink Quality

Many of the SEO agencies that are set up to acquire backlinks for their clients won’t get them from reputable sources.

There are thousands of websites online right now that sell backlinks, or at least trade them for content. Most of them aren’t very authoritative and exist solely for the purpose of click-baiting people and generating ad revenue, not providing readers with helpful content.

Some backlinking sites are even personal blogs or fake news websites.

At the very least, such websites won’t have anything to do with your industry, so the backlinks are more or less worthless. At the very worst, they’ll be toxic assets and they’ll diminish your website’s authority just by linking to you.

That said, high-quality backlinks aren’t that difficult to acquire if you have the budget and you know-how to do it. With the right strategy, you can even beat the big competitors in your industry.

Your SEO agency will start with quick wins, like getting you listed on the Better Business Bureau website and in other high-quality directories. These will provide you a link to your website to help build your authority on Google.

After that, they can focus on building great content and pitching it to other high-quality content sites.

Want to learn how to get quality backlinks, build great content, and master on-page SEO? We’ve got the tools and experience to help you succeed. Sign up for our SEO training course today!

Local and National SEO

Does your business sell locally or nationally? This will have an impact on your SEO pricing, as local search terms have less competition than national search terms. Fewer people are typing them into Google, so fewer companies are trying to rank for them.

For example, you’ll have an easier time ranking for a search term like “Irvine California SEO Agency” than you will for a search term like “SEO Agency,” simply because there won’t be as many SEO agencies competing for people’s business in Irvine, California, specifically.

*Note: If an SEO agency suggests you build content around a keyword like “SEO Agency Near Me,” find a new agency.

But local SEO has different requirements than national SEO, mainly in terms of keywords and what pages need to be built. Local keywords are easier to rank for by generating lots of helpful content, whereas national keywords are easier to rank for by generation lots of backlinks.

You’ll also need to build up your local credibility with reviews. 88% of people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

This chart outlines the key differences between local SEO and national SEO.

In some cases, you may wish to combine these strategies, but it depends on your budget and your goals. An experienced agency will analyze your business and determine the best strategy for you.

International SEO

If your business sells internationally, you need to optimize your website so search engines know which countries you are trying to target.
There are a few ways to do this. For one, you can use country codes in the top-level domain of your website, or on your subdomain, a subdirectory, or subfolder. You’ll also need to cater to that country’s language by adding the language to your generic top-level domain (gTLD).

You may wish to create a separate website for your international customer or use backend tools so your website’s language changes dynamically depending on where the visitor is accessing it from. If you choose to create text that changes languages based on the user, keep in mind that search engines will only index the website’s original language.

That being true, if you’re trying to sell to customers in Brazil but your website only has an English version, you aren’t likely to get as much traffic.

You can show search engines which languages your website supports by using language meta tags (hreflang), which are short pieces of code that indicate which languages your content comes in. You should also consider cultural contexts when designing your webpage, as users in different countries may expect different experiences for the websites they use.

International SEO pricing may be higher than most. Ranking abroad requires more legwork and is generally a bit more expensive. It may also include services such as:

  • Acquiring hosting on an international IP address
  • Building backlinks from international websites
  • Creating contextual content for specific regions
  • Hiring writers who can use the language you need
  • Registering your site with local search engines (ex. Yandex in Russia)

Keep in mind that language targeting is different from international targeting. For example, you’ll use a different strategy for targeting Spanish speakers in the United States than you would if you were targeting Spanish speakers in Mexico.

Stop Getting Burned by Shady SEO Agencies

The truth is, SEO Pricing isn’t as straightforward as most agencies make it out to be. You can’t pick a package and expect to get on top.
That’s how they burn you: by encouraging you to sign ambiguous contracts that relieve them of any responsibility but guarantee they’ll be paid.

Producing content and doing on-page SEO is an important part of an overall SEO strategy, but it’s just a portion of what your agency doing. They should be able to tell you how many backlinks you need to get on the first page and how many new backlinks they can build with your budget.

They shouldn’t be placating you with vague promises or pitching outdated SEO tactics that haven’t worked in years.

SEO pricing varies depending on numerous factors, such as your target audience and the search terms you’re trying to rank for.

Nonetheless, the SEO services you pay for should always be transparent.

If you’re ready to start seeing real results from your SEO, contact BlissDrive today for a free consultation. We’ll do a thorough assessment of your current strategy, then give you a clear and realistic estimate of your SEO pricing. If you’re anxious to get a quote of our SEO pricing, don’t hesitate to get a proposal.

Have you been burned by a shady SEO agency? Do you have questions or concerns about the SEO industry? Tell us all about it in the comments below and we’ll respond!

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