When it comes to the cost of SEO, many business owners I speak with are confused and I don’t blame you if you feel that way too. I’m constantly answering questions like:
- “How much will it cost?”
- “What’s the difference between $5 on fiverr and you, isn’t it the same thing?”
- “I’m paying $299 per month to some guy in India who said my site wasn’t ranking”
- “I’m paying $3000 per month to a big agency but nothing has changed”
It’s true, you can find SEO services anywhere from $6.51 on fiverr to $5000 per month and more, but the price you pay can be an incredibly poor indicator of the level of service quality.
What makes things even harder is that purchasing on the quality of service isn’t an easy decision either.
Unless you have the time to research how quality SEO works, hint: most business owners don’t, it’s near impossible for you to differentiate between good SEO and bad SEO – from the outside they can look exactly the same.
And what happens is, when there is a lack of understanding about what’s involved, it’s easier for you to focus on what you do understand – which is price. Price, or the lowest price, regularly becomes the only consideration and businesses often experiment at the bottom end of the price spectrum only to become stressed, badly out of pocket or even worse – you cop irreversible damage to your business.
While cost is obviously important, what you should be more concerned with is how much you need to pay to have the right strategy and the right people in place and to maximise your chance of return.
SEO is considered an expense
You see, SEO is intangible which means it’s only once you see the impact on your business that you begin to understand its value. Price, or the lowest price, regularly becomes the only consideration rather than focusing on the potential return.
Most business owners see SEO as an expense and they always will because they fixate on rankings rather than revenue.
Imagine if I told you that for every $1 you invest you’d receive a guaranteed $6 dollars back in return – the value of that service suddenly becomes very high. The question would be less about cost and more about how much you could afford to invest.
There’s no doubt that if something is valuable to you then the price you’re willing to pay for it will inevitably go up.
That’s where it becomes challenging with SEO, your return is not guaranteed and business owners don’t have the advantage of foreseeing the future, but what you need to know is that the likelihood of return is heavily dependant on the strategy and the level of SEO experience you employ.
Any reputable professional with significant experience and a history of results will charge you accordingly for their time.
Hourly rates for SEO professionals
At the core of all SEO pricing strategies is the component of time; what you’re basically paying for is for hours to be spent managing your campaign.
I don’t want to bore you with the details but a recent survey highlighted that most SEO professionals will charge within the $75 – $200 price range per hour and most digital agencies operate on 10-30% profit margins (although from my experience it can be much more).
While it’s worth noting that overseas companies (e.g. India) can charge as little as $25 or less, I’m not going to discuss that here. You can find out more about my thoughts and the risks of offshoring SEO here.
So let’s use the $500 scenario and see what that might get you:
- $500 with 30% agency margins leaves $350 for your campaign.
- $350 dollars is divided by $75 (the average hourly rate).
- At best, your campaign will receive 4.5 hours of time.
In fact this scenario can only get worse; if the hourly rate or the agency margins are higher, then the amount of attention you’re paying for is incredibly low.
- $1000 @ 30% and $100 per hour – 7 hours per month
- $200 @ 15% and $50 per hour – 3.4 hours per month
The question you should ask is – “What could possibly be done in a such a short period of time?” and the answer is simple – not much at all.
Any service at this price point is potentially:
- a) outsourcing overseas
- b) using black hat strategies (see cheap SEO below)
- c) using churn and burn tactics i.e. high churn rates for a greater volume of sales
- d) due to less experienced freelancers without any results to show
There are occurrences where this is not the case but those are rare, I’m talking unicorn kind of rareness.
The risk of cheap SEO
Cheap SEO can be incredibly expensive, let me tell you why.
Firstly, to put things in context, I define cheap SEO as anything sub $500 but I’d also say the $500 – $1000 range is reason for caution too. But before I go on I want to be clear that I’m not saying that expensive SEO means better SEO, that has its risks too.
As I’ve highlighted above, cheap SEO typically means you’re getting a smaller amount of time. When there is less time, agencies begin to look for shortcuts to keep their customers happy.
Agencies operating at low price points tend to:
- have a high churn rate because they don’t have the time to service clients adequately
- care more about volume of sales than they do about your success
- use short term strategies that typically result in long term penalties (see below)
- outsource overseas reducing their hourly rates but also their service quality
- use black hat strategies to hack the system (pbns, poor linking strategies, duplicate content)
- do absolutely nothing at all … (trust me, I’ve seen it many times)
When you’re the victim of cheap SEO you start to see just how expensive it can be, and you might:
- receive a search engine penalty that significantly impacts your search visibility
- receive a search engine penalty that removes your domain completely
- receive a temporary increase in rankings before one of the above scenarios occurs
- build a business (hire new staff etc) based on organic growth only to wake up one day and it’s all gone
- lose all of your site revenue overnight, immediately hurting your business
- waste tens of thousands of dollars and have nothing to show in return
When any of the above occurs the damage has been done, and in many cases trying to undo it becomes time consuming and expensive. I’ve spoken to a number of businesses who had to dump their domain and start over; when you consider your branding regarding signage, vehicles, stationery and more, this can be incredibly expensive.
Not to mention the expense of trying to fix it or recover from a penalty – it can literally put your business years behind.
SEO takes more time than you think
No matter how good the SEO professional is, they can’t just wave a magic wand and get you results.
SEO takes time and time equals money.
The time frame, and therefore the price you pay, is going to depend on your goals, the level of competition and how fast you want results. It would be unreasonable to think that a local business, wanting to target nearby suburbs, needs to invest the same amount as that of a national business seeking industry domination.
What we often find is that prospects and clients often find that their SEO goals and ambitions don’t match the budget they have allotted.
It’s a simple equation:
- Want results faster? You need to pay for more time.
- Want to target national terms? You need a bigger budget.
- Want to beat the competition? You need to invest more than they are.
When you see SEO as an expense, with the stress of unprofitable campaigns, the value you place on services is reduced and business owners struggle to see why they should invest higher amounts.
But if you don’t invest in quality services or at a competitive budget level then you’ll continue to struggle to see results.
Read more: How Long Does SEO Take To Work?
What investment do you need to make?
What can be frustrating in the SEO industry is that many business owners think that they can invest $500 per month and actually get results. Minimum effort for maximum reward – it’s just not realistic.
When you consider a budget of $500, the total per annum is $6000. In terms of marketing this is an incredibly small budget. You might not know, but stable businesses invest up to 5% of their revenue in digital marketing and growing businesses average more like 8% and more.
It’s simple, if you want your business to grow you need to provide it with fuel (money) to do so.
Smart company describes it best – view it here:
- Less than $2000 – Are you really serious about being in business?
- $2000 – You better be a marketing ninja yourself and have a lot of time on your hands.
- $2000 – $5000 – Enough to get you looking good but not the eyeballs to appreciate it.
- $5000 – $10,000 – A small amount of advertising and a good set-up for building and communicating to your database.
- $10,000 – $20,000 – You can start testing some advertising tactics.
- $20,000 – $50,000 – You can start to run some focused and consistent marketing campaigns.
- $50,000 – $100,000 – You’re serious about growth and gaining strong brand awareness through your consistent and effective campaigns.
You get what you pay for
The reason I wrote this article is because I’m tired of hearing the same old story from prospects in SEO:
- Our domain has been penalised…
- Our agency took our money and did nothing…
- I’m paying $1000 per month and I’ve no idea what they are doing…
- My rankings and traffic have gone backwards…
- I bought 10,000 links on fiverr and now my organic traffic is gone…
If you don’t want to become a statistic, and suffer loss and damage to your business, then your key takeaway should be that you get what you pay for just like any other industry.
By now you realise that you don’t get to choose the amount you pay for SEO, instead you need to invest an appropriate amount relative to your revenue that allows you to reach your goals and be competitive in your industry. To maximise your return potential, you need to employ a quality SEO professional with proven experience and referrals and in doing so they will likely charge in the $75 – $200 per hour range to do so.
If you’re tired of the stress of under performing campaigns, not sure what your agency is doing or want a quote on SEO for your business then contact me today. I’ll happily provide you with a personalised video review of your website and highlight the exact strategy I’ll use to get your business results. No hard selling, no pushy sales guys, just an honest conversation about how I can help you.