Defining the Cost of SEO; A Buyers Guide

How Much Does SEO Cost?

We hear (and answer) this question every day. Although the question from business owners and marketing managers is often the same, our answer never is. Here’s why: every business is different.

Before we discuss the cost of SEO, let’s talk about your business.

A results-driven and ethical SEO agency should always ask you to complete an in-depth questionnaire about your business prior to discussing the cost of an SEO campaign. Your industry, your business and your marketing goals – along with your budget – will dictate how much you should invest in SEO services.

Your B2B Industry

Your industry will affect the cost of your SEO campaign. And depending on your industry, this may mean you may have to invest more or less to achieve your goals. Two industry specific factors that will significantly impact SEO pricing are:

The Competitive Landscape

Highly competitive industries, in other words industries with many direct competitors, such as real estate agents or flooring companies, usually have to invest more in SEO to achieve comparable results.

SEO Adoption Rate

Not all industries are effectively leveraging SEO to achieve business goals. The construction industry is a good example; while the industry itself may be competitive, very few construction companies are capitalizing on the power of SEO. You may benefit from a lower investment if your business is an early adopter.

Your Business

Your business will further influence the cost of your SEO campaign. While your industry sets the tone, your particular business defines the scope of your investment. Prior to providing you a quote, your SEO agency should at least have a clear understanding of the fundamentals, including:

Target Markets

Vertical or niche businesses often benefit from a greater SEO return on investment than businesses with multiple target markets. This may not mean they spend less, only that they can often achieve more with the same budget.

Geographic Markets

Ever since Google made the move to local search results, where you do business drastically influences the cost of your SEO campaign. An online store that sells worldwide versus a service provider in a small city will have two very different SEO budgets.

Products or Services

The same rule holds true for products or services. The more products or services you offer, the more you can anticipate to set aside for SEO services. Whether your business model is B2C versus B2B will also affect the cost of SEO.

Your Marketing Goals

Arguably, the most important factor that determines how much to spend on SEO services is your marketing goals.

SEO is a broad term that is continually evolving to encompass more and more services. SEO can help you increase website traffic, it can help you improve your website’s conversion rate, or it can help you become an industry thought leader with well-researched and written content – and that’s only scratching the surface of the benefits of SEO.

As you would expect, each of these marketing goals has its price tag. Your investment will vary greatly depending on what you want to achieve – and ultimately how quickly.

While the cost of SEO varies depending on your industry, your business and your marketing goals, it’s still important to know industry averages for results-driven and ethical SEO in order to properly budget for it.

SEO Pricing Models

In our experience, there are four common SEO pricing models. The prices below are a combination of our experience and a 2011 SEOmoz survey of 500 SEO consultants and agencies.

Although the survey is a bit dated, we’ve found that the SEO rates still hold true: while there are more SEO professionals in today’s market (driving the price down), SEO is becoming more and more complex (driving the price up). And just like in any industry, you get what you pay for; quality isn’t a guarantee.

Hourly Consulting ($51 to $200 per Hour)

In Canada, the average hourly rate for SEO services is anywhere from $51 to $200 per hour. The price difference is largely dependent on the range and depth of the services offered. SEO is complex and ever changing; higher hourly rates should reflect the SEO agency’s experience, skill set and range of services.

Fixed Rate Projects (Varies by Project)

Some SEO agencies list standard SEO services at fixed rates on their websites. A common fixed rate project is a website audit or blog post. Although fixed rates may be attractive as it allows you to compare pricing, fixed rates fail to take into consideration your particular business needs. Taking the time to request a custom quote for your project that reflects your business will most often guarantee better results.

Project Pricing (Varies by Project)

Project-based pricing is ideal for one-off services that don’t necessarily need ongoing support. It also allows the SEO agency to put together a custom quote for your project based on your needs. Once the project parameters are agreed upon, most SEO agencies will require a 30-50% deposit at the start of the project with payments owing when specific milestones are reached or the balance owing once the project is complete. Project-based pricing is ideal for projects such as creating re-directs, performing a website audit, setting up social media accounts, and writing blog articles.

Monthly Retainer ($750 to $5000 per Month)

The nature of most SEO activities requires ongoing effort to achieve, maintain and surpass (in that order!) your marketing goals. Cheap and quick results are rarely sustainable or worse, they are often synonymous with unethical SEO practices that could be harmful to your brand.

There are three big benefits to this pricing model. First, a monthly retainer allows the SEO agency to dig deep into your business to deliver better solutions. The initial questionnaire uncovers immediate SEO needs, but often misses hidden opportunities.

Second, it offers much-needed flexibility to accommodate for any shifts in business needs or marketing goals. Most businesses are static entities; to succeed they need to be responsive to their environment. A monthly retainer allows the SEO agency to work alongside your business to respond to these changes.

The third big benefit is that it allows the SEO agency the ability to be proactive to industry changes to minimize any potential negative impacts to your business (and trust us, there are lots of regular industry changes!). A successful SEO agency is aware of upcoming Google changes and ensures your SEO activities are not affected.

In our experience, many clients choose a combination of project-based pricing followed by a monthly retainer. At the onset of the relationship, project-based pricing allows the two parties to get to know each other while offering a jump-start to fundamental SEO requirements. Then the monthly retainer allows the SEO agency to build on the initial results to achieve your marketing goals.

In an article for, online marketing expert Josh Steimle wrote: ‘Asking what SEO costs is a bit like going to a car dealership and asking the dealer “So, how much for a new car?”  The natural response is “It depends. What are you looking for?”

We couldn’t agree more.

Instead of asking about costs, focus on your marketing goals. If your marketing goals are out of focus and you want help defining the specific needs of your business, simply fill out our contact form for a free, no obligation marketing consultation.

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Todd Mumford