In the past, it was acceptable and even commonplace to outsource search engine optimization (SEO) services to the lowest bidder. However, in our web-driven world, every business owner is starting to realize the impact a good SEO specialist can have to increase their website’s traffic through “free”, “organic” or “paid” ads.

In today’s world, a dynamic online marketing strategy along with a robust website is essential for survival in this competitive landscape. Rarely do people searching for services even make it to page 2 of the search results, making your placement on the first page so very important.

So you may be asking yourself…

“How much will we end up spending on SEO services?”

When online marketing first started, SEO consisted of directory and article submissions as well as keyword generation, but that was about it. These days, however, you will want an SEO professional who can develop a comprehensive online marketing strategy, develop unique and keyword rich content, optimize your website for speed and a user-friendly interface and include links to relevant articles on your site and to industry websites. This will give you somewhat of a guideline when comparing agencies.

This past summer, HubSpot surveyed 750 SEO agencies, revealing the following average monthly retainer amounts:

Most of the agencies surveyed revealed that they charge between $2,500 and $5,000, while the second most common price range is $1,001 to $2,500. In general terms, you will be looking at least $750 per month for SEO or $100 per hour as an agency minimum hourly price.

SEO Costs and Pricing

Recent changes to Google’s algorithms have increased to hundreds of variables. Traditionally, SEO was less reliant on content and required less web development expertise. Even still, there were a number of “short cuts” or “black hat strategies” a questionable agency could take to get users results. In SEO terminology, black hat SEO refers to the use of strategies, techniques and tactics that focus only on search engines and not a human audience (read our article Black Hat vs. White Hat SEO). These tactics typically do not obey search engines guidelines and could affect your search results.

In order to better understand why the average cost of SEO services has increased, you should understand some of the additional roles SEO professionals are now taking on:

  • Website Speed Optimization

Website Speed Optimization is the focal point of technologically superior website designs. After all, unimpressive website performance and slow web page downloads frustrate visitors into seeking alternatives.

  • User Experience Optimization (Split Testing)

Split testing is a method of conducting controlled, randomized experiments to improve a website metric, such as clicks, form completions, or purchases.

  • Comprehensive Content Research

Content and keyword research is a fundamental part of online marketing. We have all heard the saying “content is king”, but while compelling content is favored by search engines, it can only take you so far. If you do not use the words people are actually interested in and actively searching for, then you will miss out on a lot of traffic regardless of how well written your articles are.

  • Text/Video Content Creation

Content marketing is a technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined target audience. In today’s instant gratification society, videos can be an excellent way to grab your audience’s attention.

  • Content Marketing

Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined target audience. This strategy is an ongoing process that is best integrated into your overall marketing strategy.

Television and radio advertising are well-known and commonly used marketing mediums for businesses of all sizes. However, a 5 minute spot could cost you upwards of $5,000 per month. Once you put traditional marketing costs into perspective, it is easy to see the value of a more modernized marketing campaign using the services of an SEO agency.

What Does an Average SEO Campaign Include?

The role of your SEO professional now requires knowledge of web development, content marketing, technical SEO, link building and general digital marketing strategies. Even the most basic SEO campaign should include the following:

  • Content Research, Creation and Optimization
  • Keyword Research and Mapping
  • Technical SEO Audit
  • Technical SEO Corrections
  • Website Speed Optimization
  • Website Hierarchy (Architecture) Review
  • Analytics Implementation & Setup
  • Link Building & Link Outreach
  • Campaign Tracking & Reporting

Hiring In-House for SEO vs Hiring an Agency

According to our research, the median yearly salary of an experienced copywriter is $60,426, coming out to about $31 per hour.

Copywriting for Marketing

The median yearly salary of a skilled Web Developer is $63,490, coming out to $33 per hour.

Salary of Web Developer

Hiring either of these positions as a full-time, in-house employee would cost you over $5,000 per month and they may not have all the skills needed to effectuate a full SEO campaign. Additionally, an agency is essentially a contract employee, requiring no benefits, vacation time or necessary training.

Understanding How Your Budget is Being Used

If an agency bills hourly, you can expect to get about 20 hours of work each month for $2,500. The retainer pricing model is much more popular since it combines value for the customer with the internal ability to accurately budget for expenses.

Here is what the average breakdown can look like for a $2,500/month retainer.

Content Research: 2 hours to review the top 5-10 search results for a particular topic, identifying areas that could be improved and developing a strategy for your content.

Content Creation: $300 – $500 per 1,000 words of first-rate content.

Link Prospecting: 3 hours per month to identify resources and even guest post opportunities.

Current Total Expense: $930 – $1,130 (depending on cost of content)

Link Outreach: 10 hours per month of outreach link building comes to $1,260 per month.

Current Total Expense: $2,190 -$2,390 (depending on cost of content)

Additionally, an agency usually covers analytics setup and tracking, on-page optimization, technical site audit and revision, page speed optimization, client reporting and 2-4 hours per month on the phone with a client.

What About ROI?

The most important factor in determining an SEO budget and measuring success is ROI (Return On Investment). The biggest issue is the understanding of cost versus value among customers. “Cheap SEO” will give you cheap results. Realistically speaking, if you are paying $50 – $100 per month for SEO, what are you expecting to get? Low value offers are continuously being pushed to consumers who then think that SEO must not work for their business rather than understanding that “cheap” SEO was the actual problem.

Cheap SEO Search Results

As a business owner, I hope I have educated you on the evolving landscape of digital marketing and more importantly, why you should understand that if an agency seems too good to be true just because they are cheap and promising great results with no actual proof, then they probably are. Legitimate quality SEO work takes time, experience and knowledge. Anyone who tells you otherwise is probably trying to sell you the moon at a great discount.