As a digital marketer, I get asked this question multiple times per day. Every time, I answer, “it depends’’. Let me tell you why..
What is SEO?
Every client wants to save a buck or two, and fair enough. But if you’re purely looking at SEO from a cost perspective, you’ve already got your eyes on the wrong prize. SEO is commonly one of the most cost effective and accountable marketing tactics available, but for some reason marketers and business owners often focus on the price of SEO. Funnily enough, price doesn’t seem to be as big of an issue when it comes to TV or radio despite these methods being more costly and less accountable. Perhaps it’s the intangibility of SEO that causes this.
SEO is not a quick fix nor is it simple and easy. There are over 200 different ranking factors that Google takes into account when ranking your website. On top of this, Google is constantly tweaking its ranking algorithm to ensure that only relevant websites appear at the top of the SERPs (search engine result pages).
A good SEO company can never give you a cost straight off the bat. If they do, it’s likely you’re speaking to the wrong person. SEO is not a one-off plug and play quick fix solution. It’s an ongoing strategy that requires a lot of collaboration and understanding of your business.
As a client, you need to be focusing on who will take the time to understand your business, your business goals, your marketing goals, your market position, your key selling propositions, your highest selling products or services, your profit margins, your current marketing activity, your expectations, your KPIs, your board’s KPIs, and more. This can become interesting if you’re a marketing manager because you will no doubt have certain metrics that are important to you (i.e. database growth, traffic increases, ROI), but your board will also have certain metrics that are important to them (market share, growth, expansion). So it’s really important you work with someone who gets this and can create a win-win for you and your board.
Cheap SEO may save you some money from your marketing budget, but it probably won’t make you much of a return. In fact, sometimes cheap SEO can negatively impact your business and cause more headaches than it’s worth.
So, when speaking to a potential client, I simply ask them:
- Why are you looking for SEO?
- What do you expect to achieve from SEO?
- What will make our relationship a success?
- What are the key metrics that you’re looking to measure?
- What are the key metrics that your board or manager is looking to measure?
- Is SEO going to be something that just ticks along or is it something that you want to turn into a competitive advantage?
Once the above is known, even further research needs to be done. This includes looking into the following:
- The technical state of your website: If your website doesn’t speak Google’s language, it’s going to need some work to get it up to speed.
- Keywords: It’s important that you understand how many people search each month for your target keywords and what sort of traffic volumes you should be aiming for. This can help you determine how many website visitors you need each month to generate a positive ROI. Generally, high traffic keywords also mean high competition.
- The content on your website: If you’re not giving back to the internet, how can the internet give back to you? To prove that you should appear in the SERPs, you need an ongoing content strategy. Sometimes clients already have great content that simply needs to be repurposed for SEO. Sometimes clients have internal resources that can produce content with the strategic guidance of an SEO agency. Sometimes clients have no to very little content. Extra reading: what is a content strategy and why you need one.
- Google Analytics: An SEO agency needs to understand your current traffic volumes, sources and conversions. Some of your KPIs may not be able to be reached because you could already be capturing an enormous chunk of available search traffic. Also, it may be identified that your website is converting poorly. This could be due to low quality traffic or a non-conversion friendly website design.
- Google Webmasters: An SEO agency needs to understand your previous SEO history and if your website has any alerts that are impacting your website’s performance. If you’ve implemented cheap SEO and have a lot of spammy links, this will cause a lot of headaches for your new SEO agency. Extra reading: step-by-step guide to Google Webmasters.
All of the above will impact the price of your SEO strategy. But you shouldn’t focus on cost alone, you should be made aware of your current situation and focus on your goals and objectives and which SEO agency or consultant is the right fit to achieve these. You also need to be open and flexible with what your goals are so you can truly partner with an agency to work towards what is achievable based on your current situation. This will prevent you from having mismatched expectations.
There’s lots of analogies when it comes to SEO pricing. Some that I’ve heard of include:
Although cheesy, this analogy has a lot of merit. How much does a car cost? It depends. What type of car do you need? A family 4WD, a sporty coupe, or a runabout from a to b? This is very similar to SEO. SEO is all about what you need based on your objectives.
Again, a little cheesy but this really rings home. Especially considering the intangible nature of SEO. When I hear of an SEO campaign going wrong, it is generally because of poor communication or mismatched expectations. A lot of the time, there is copious amounts of work going on in the background that many clients don’t know about. Sometimes you will only see a few tweaks to your title tags, some fresh and engaging content and some increases in organic rankings and traffic. I assure you that if you’re using a reputable SEO agency, there is generally a lot of work going on behind the scenes and both you and your agency need to have good communication around what is getting delivered each month.
A lot of business owners and marketing managers wrongly delegate their precious SEO strategy to their web developer, IT consultant or even advertising agency. They can generally do some ‘tip of the iceberg’ stuff, but can they really take you to the next level with an in-depth SEO strategy? Heck, I can install a light bulb, but there is no way I could wire up the light. We all know how that would end…
SEO should no longer be seen as a ‘quick fix’ turn key solution. It should not be left to the last minute of launching a new website as there are a lot of elements at play and it’s critical that you get these sorted prior to launching. Your designer should not even begin outlining your site and your developer should not begin touching code until you’ve spoken to or engaged an SEO agency.
Ok, every SEO analogy is cheesy. But again, this is so true. Think of SEO like punching little holes into a dam wall. Your keywords will include a combination of branded terms (e.g. Telstra) and non-branded terms (e.g. mobile phone plans) including long-tail terms (e.g. best value mobile phone plans).
SEO is something that continues to gather steam if done properly with a long-term view in place. The same cannot be said about many other marketing tactics.
SEO Payment Methods
Hopefully by now you’re starting to get an idea of what’s involved. So how will an SEO agency charge for SEO? There are a number of different pricing options, including:
- Monthly retainer: This is by far the most common form of SEO pricing. You will pay a set fee per month for inclusions that are most relevant for your business. This typically includes ongoing keyword research, on-page optimisation, content creation, repurposing and promotion, off-page optimisation and link building, analytics analysis, and detailed monthly reporting.
- Fixed price: Some SEO agencies will have a fixed price for certain services such as SEO audits. Some SEO agencies will also have fixed priced SEO packages.
- Project pricing: Not all clients need an ongoing SEO strategy. Some only require a one-off project fee for an SEO audit, documented SEO strategy, analytics analysis or content strategy.
- Hourly fee: This is where an SEO agency will charge an hourly fee for their services like many other consulting firms.
Most SEO agencies will use a combination of the above depending on what each client needs. My suggestion would be to use an ongoing monthly retainer as this is where you’ll generally get something tailored for your business.
Things To Look Out For
Before pressing the green light on your SEO strategy, there are some warning signals that you should take note on. These include:
- Guarantees: SEO is constantly in a state of flux. If an SEO agency guarantees you rankings on the first page of the SERPs you should be instantly suspicious. Getting a first page ranking can sometimes be quick and easy if your SEO agency implements spammy tactics or targets low competition keywords with no traffic. You’ll initially be full of praise for your SEO agency and how quickly they’ve delivered rankings, but be warned. This is highly unlikely to last or give you long-term results. Good SEO is all about a long-term view to ensure your website is technically sound and that you give back to the internet and your customers with high quality content that generates high quality links. This cannot be done overnight or sometimes even within 3-6 months depending on how competitive your industry is.
- #1 on Google: The #1 spot on Google isn’t anyone’s to give away. Unfortunately no one has the keys to Google. Simple. Also, there are many important SEO metrics other than rankings. Try not to be fixated on individual keyword rankings. Instead, focus on more important metrics like overall visibility, traffic and conversions. These can all be achieved without necessarily having a #1 ranking for a certain keyword.
- Spammy link building: As I just alluded to, good quality links are an important part of your SEO strategy. Unfortunately, this is where many SEO agencies cut corners by buying links from overseas link farms that are totally irrelevant to your business. The real benefit of links comes through the production and promotion of high quality content. This isn’t easily replicated by competitors and will give you a competitive advantage if done properly. Hint: avoid the $99 link building emails from overseas! Also ensure that you understand your SEO agencies link building strategy.
- The team: Who will be working on your account if you decide to get started? Every SEO agency has different internal structures. Ideally, you should have an account or campaign manager, an SEO consultant, a content marketing expert and sometimes an analytics/data specialist. Be wary of an agency where your campaign or account manager also implements your SEO strategy. If they’re managing 30 or 40 clients, how much SEO will they be able to do on your website? Also, 3 or 4 heads are better than one!
- Reputation: What case studies and testimonials can your SEO agency show you? Sometimes it’s a good idea to ask for some references or ask around town to ensure that your SEO agency is the real deal. If they have reputable clients on their books and customers screaming from the rooftop about how great they are, it’s likely that you’re onto a winner.
Tips for Marketing Managers & Business Owners
Once you’ve grasped SEO and collaborated with an SEO agency to establish your goals, there is still plenty of work to do.
You need to work very closely with your SEO agency and the team working on your account. You need to be very clear in what your expectations are and ensure that your KPIs and your board’s KPIs are constantly at the centre of all SEO activity. In saying this, you also need to be flexible and open to adjusting your SEO KPIs to what is achievable, based on your SEO agency’s research and advice.
You need to be very cautious of letting your SEO agency simply sit in the corner to do their thing. If you or your agency does not look to constantly collaborate to ensure things are on track, things will get off track, quickly. This leaves sour grapes in your mouth and your agency’s.
Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate.
So How Much Does SEO Cost?
Sorry to be a killjoy, but, it depends.
Not every SEO strategy is created equal and no two clients are the same. Over the years, I’ve seen SEO prices in the market from $99 to $30,000 per month. To give you some ballparks on what you should be expecting, see below:
You my friend are awesome for reading this entire article. Hopefully you will now have a great understanding of SEO and what you need to look out for. Remember SEO is not all about price. To me, it’s about mutual understanding and ongoing collaboration. This leads to a long-term partnership that will get you and your board a fantastic outcome.
For extra reading, check out: How Long Does SEO Take?
If you have any interesting experiences with SEO prices, feel free to share them below.