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How Much Should SEO Cost?

One of the most common requests that we receive from business owners is to assist them in their search for an agency or consultant to manage their SEO needs. A primary criterion for our clients is finding someone who can help them grow their business within their budget. They would often like to know exactly how much they should allocate for SEO, but it can be difficult to define this as there is such a wide price range amongst SEO professionals.

Recently, we decided to run a global survey to find out what digital marketing experts and agencies are charging for SEO services. I asked a number of questions from a total of 184 respondents, including questions concerning their hourly rate, their total number of employees, types of services offered, and past experience in digital marketing.

The results of this survey proved that there were a huge variety of price offerings within this market. My findings included the following results:

  • Across the world, individual consultants are more cost effective than agencies, charging £117.90 per hour as opposed to agencies charging £123.90-£142.23 per hour (depending on their size)
  • Individual consultants stated that their prices were based on how many years they had been working in the field, with their charges increasing as years progressed
  • Those that were offering strategy development, together with services, were able to charge higher rates overall.

As each individual business can have very different SEO requirements, it is difficult for experts to set a fixed price for their services. Usually, they will have rough rates for the services on offer, with a caveat that they will offer a bespoke quote depending on the individual business requirements. This is partly why it proves difficult to search for someone to work with based on a set budget. Hourly rates can range from only £20 per hour to as much as above £380 per hour. Most consultants price their services at over £80 per hour.

The survey also found that many agencies and consultants (42% of the total surveyed) did not want to take on any projects that paid less than £1500 a month. This still leaves 58% that are willing to take on the smaller projects and smaller budgets.

So you might now be wondering how exactly you define which services you should look for, and how much budget you should allocate to SEO. It is important to have this some insight on this before you enter into negotiations.

In this article, we will clearly list out what you should clarify before you look to hire an SEO consultant or agency, what services you should ask for, and roughly what you can look to pay them on a monthly basis. Being clear about all of this before you get marketers involved will help them fully understand your requirements, and thus enable them to offer a suitable quote to help you achieve your results.

Questions we may ask you beforehand to help gain clarity on what you require:

What is your own experience working on SEO marketing or other digital marketing elements?

It is important to know about any previous knowledge you or any of your employees may have on the subject of SEO, or any other experience with the marketing channel you are looking for assistance with. We will ask what, if any, marketing you have previously done for your business, what your marketing knowledge consists of, and why you are currently searching for marketing assistance. Your answers to these questions should be extremely helpful to an agency looking to provide you with a marketing solution, specific plan, and tailored quote.

Do you currently have an in-house marketing team, and if so, what does it consist of?

Businesses who turn to us for help range massively in their internal set-ups. Some have entire teams already devoted to marketing, and some are just individuals who are doing everything in their business. Good agencies or consultants will want to know what your specific company makeup is, as to define their involvement and understand who they will be working with through the course of the project. It may be that part of the work will be handled in-house, and you are simply wanting external help to manage specific SEO needs, or you may be looking to gain some specialised assistance. It is important for you to clarify the scope of work, and define roles and responsibilities for all involved up front.

What support will be available to the external consultant or agency in terms of design and development?

To follow on from the last point, your appointed agency will need to know up front what support is available to them either from your in-house team or another individual/team. This is especially true with regards to design, content creation and development needs. SEO these days requires experts in all these fields working together to provide strong results and increase your site’s ranking. Your website itself will need some work, and a content manager, a web designer, and developer will need to be involved in an effective SEO project.

If you don’t have internal employees that can handle this, you should inform your agency up front. Any good SEO expert will either be able to provide these services themselves, or appoint someone else within their agency.

What are your specific objectives and goals for the project?

All businesses are turning to SEO experts to assist them with their growth, but it is important to set more specific goals for anyone that you are hiring. Once these have been defined and understood by all parties, it is much easier for the agency/consultant to create a strategy and set a realistic time frame to help you meet those goals. They will also need to know your goals up front, as the budget will be allocated depending on what you are trying to achieve.

How much of what you are looking for is strategic and how much are actual services?

Prior to the negotiation stage, it is important to be completely clear on the type of work that you are looking for from your vendors. This is usually split into the two different types most commonly offered by marketing experts, with many offering both:

How much of what you are looking for is strategic and how much are actual services?

Prior to the negotiation stage, it is important to be completely clear yourself on the type of work that you are looking for from your vendors. This is usually split into two different types which are most commonly offered by marketing experts, with many offering both:

  1. Strategy: This involves conducting research on your website or your business, understanding your goals and objectives, and developing a strategy for exactly how you can use your marketing channels to achieve those goals. For businesses that already have in-house designers, developers and content writers, all that may be required from an external source is an expert strategist who can pull together a plan for your employees to execute.
  2. Services: If you do not have anybody internally to implement the agreed strategy, then you may want to find an agency or consultant to do so. This could include content creators, research experts, website developers and designers amongst others. An agency that offers all of the above is commonly referred to as an integrated full-service company. Consultants who work individually can also sometimes perform all of these services, but they often work with other freelancers who specialise in specific elements such as content creation or analytics. It may be difficult to find one person who is an expert in absolutely everything involved with SEO.

So it is clear that prior to hiring anyone external to come in and work with you, you should be really clear on what exactly is required from them. Having this defined beforehand can help reduce costs, as you will be focusing only on what is needed. It also helps all parties be really clear on any requirements or missing pieces. Hourly and monthly rates will, of course, vary considerably depending on whether you need strategy, services or both.

The Minty Digital survey also provided the following findings on this subject:

  • On average, solely strategy can be obtained at an hourly rate of £150. Services or implementation of strategy can be provided for just £90 per hour. If you would like both, you are looking at around £128 an hour.
  • For those who are looking to pay on a monthly basis, for strategy alone, this could cost roughly £990, and for services alone it could be about £1150. A combination of both would set you back about £1400 a month.
  • Project based costs can be provided at an average minimum of £1672 for just strategy and £958 for just services. For both (with services provided for a limited time) it averages at around £1500.

How to understand the price quoted

So now that we have discussed in detail what you need to clarify before approaching a consultancy or agency for your SEO needs, let’s discuss how you can fully comprehend their pricing offer and have clear expectations on exactly what you will receive. For example, if you have gone through all the above with an agency in detail and received a monthly quote of £1500 for strategy, content creation and link acquisition, what do you then need to ask them? In this scenario, we will assume that there is no content strategy in place, but you already have an online blog and can publish and email articles to potential customers.

Ask the agency for a plan for the project. You need clarity on when to expect the delivery of the strategy, what is required of you to help deliver it, and what format it shall be presented in (e.g. will it be presented in a Word document, Powerpoint, or in-person presentation?). You also need to know the rate that they will charge per every single content piece produced, and the hours it will take for outreach.

For those businesses that are looking for both strategy and services from one consultant or agency, my recommendation is to ask them to clearly divide the project plan into two sections. The first part of the project should be where they create the strategy for you, after researching the business and market. This should include an easy to understand strategic proposal that you could implement yourself if needed. The second part of the project should include the execution plan for that very proposal, with a breakdown of all the different elements that they would implement, a timing plan, and scope of outreach.

Request a breakdown of the quoted price

You may find that agencies and consultants don’t often like doing this but I believe it is a necessary step for you to understand exactly what you are receiving for the amount you’re spending. If they push back on it, I would recommend that you politely insist so you can gain clarity for your own peace of mind. If you follow the advice above about splitting the project plan into two sections, strategy and services, then your pricing breakdown could include the following:

  1. The first part would include the hourly rate for the creation of the strategy. If this is, for example, £115 per hour, and they expect to spend about 20 hours on this part you will have a total price of £2300 for strategy.
  2. If the proposed execution plan consists of one whitepaper and three blogs a month, then request a breakdown of how much each piece costs. For example, if this part is quoted as £1500 per month then they can break it down further (e.g. £765 per whitepaper and £115 per blog, plus 5 hours outreach)

The breakdown will help you further understand how the agency/consultant came up with the quote that they have provided you, as well as giving you a clear understanding of the monthly deliverables to expect.

Try to avoid over-negotiating once you receive the breakdown

We are all guilty of trying to cut corners by eliminating elements from the plan that we might not understand the importance of. At the end of the day, the agencies and consultants that you work with also have to remain profitable and have included a margin for their services, based on their own experience and expertise.

You need to keep all this in mind before trying to negotiate too hard and potentially undervaluing their expertise. Ultimately, you have to try and keep your goals in mind and understand that a high quality marketing plan will help your business grow and improve your profits in the long run. If you think that they are trying to overcharge you or you simply do not have the budget to meet the cost they are quoting, then you could try to find another vendor.

We hope this article has helped you gain more clarity around the average prices for SEO expertise, both from agencies and individual consultants. We hope this has also helped you understand your own requirements. You can now use all these insights to find someone who can help you achieve an effective SEO plan to help your business grow!