How Much Should SEO Cost?

Learn how SEO agencies price their services and how you can budget appropriately to give your practice the best chance of success with SEO.

a year ago   •   7 min read

By Crawford Ifland
Table of contents

SEO is one of the best strategies a private practice can employ to get more patients, but mysteries abound:

  • How does it work?
  • How can we measure ROI?
  • Where should we begin?

But the main question we get from private practices time and time again is this: how much should SEO cost?

This article will help you understand how various SEO agencies price their services, the pros and cons of each, and how you can budget appropriately to give your practice the best chance of success with this strategy.

Various SEO Pricing Models, Explained

There are several different pricing models that agencies use when running SEO campaigns for clients. We’ll explore some of the most popular models here:

One-Time Fee for Optimizations

For clients who are looking for a one-time optimization of aspects of their website, some agencies charge a one-time fee. Since these optimizations focus on issues and errors with a client’s website, they are mostly one-time optimizations.

  • Pros: This pricing model can be less expensive than other SEO work, because it is focused on a one-time optimization of your site.
  • Cons: SEO isn’t a one-time strategy. If you want to get the most out of the effort you put into SEO, you need to constantly monitor a variety of factors that can influence how you rank. Optimizing your website is just one small piece of how SEO works. While these optimizations may provide a quick boost to user experience on your website, they aren’t likely to produce a long-lasting effect on your search engine rankings.

The ever-important linka
The ever-important link

Backlinks are a vital part of any successful SEO strategy. Without link signals, search engines like Google can’t accurately assess the reputation of your website – and if your backlinks are bad, you aren’t likely to rank well.

Some SEO agencies focus most of their efforts on building backlinks to your website. While these agencies typically charge a monthly fee for their management (more on that below), some agencies employ a “pay per link” pricing model.

It’s important to make a distinction here: while it is against Google’s Terms of Service to pay any website owner for placement of a backlink to your website (this is called a “link scheme”), it is acceptable to pay an SEO agency on a per-link basis to do the hard work to earn backlinks naturally.

  • Pros: For some practices looking for a boost to their backlink profile, this “a la crate” strategy pay prove useful and relatively inexpensive – provided that the quality of the links is good.
  • Cons: Buyer beware – not all links are created equal. In order for this pricing strategy to work for your practice, you need to ensure the quality of the links you’ve paid for: are they relevant? Are they natural links? Are the links followed? Unless you carefully audit the quality of each link, you could be overpaying for links that don’t produce a result.

Hourly Rate

Although an hourly rate is more popular amongst freelancers and SEO consultants working on projects with a limited scope, some agencies prefer to charge by the hour for the SEO work they do.

  • Pros: The hourly retainer pricing model offers the client flexibility: if you have some extra funds to devote to SEO, you can instruct your agency to work longer hours or focus on certain aspects of your search presence.
  • Cons: As with all of these pricing strategies, you need to check in regularly to ensure you’re actually receiving what you’re paying for. Not only that, but not all types of SEO work are created equal: building backlinks involves lots of emailing, while the more technical parts of on-page SEO can be highly complex and require knowledge of code. So if you’re paying one hourly rate for all types of work, you may be overpaying for certain parts.

Monthly Retainer

Perhaps one of the most popular SEO pricing strategies is the monthly retainer. Many agencies utilize this structure to bill clients for the SEO work they do.

The final price you pay will depend on the type of work performed, such as on-page audits, backlink building, website speed optimizations, as well as the size of your site and how much work needs to be done.

  • Pros: The biggest pro for this pricing model has that you know exactly what you’re getting. This pricing model makes it easy to budget for SEO as part of your marketing plan, without any worries that you’ll go over budget.
  • Cons: As with all of these models, you need to check in regularly to make sure the work is actually being done. Having. A monthly check-in meeting with your SEO team can be a valuable way to sync up, review results, see what they have been working on, and set goals for the future.

What factors affect the price of SEO?

As we’ve seen, different agencies price their work differently. But there are several factors that, in general, will affect the price you pay for SEO work, regardless of how an agency chooses to bill you.

Your Website’s “Health”

Every website is different, and every website is in a very different place when they start working on their SEO.

Some sites have been working on SEO for years with various providers, while others are newer and don’t have as much experience. Some websites are massive and contain lots of content, while others may not even have a blog.

No two websites are created equal – and the state of your website will affect the price you pay.

How many backlinks you have, your site’s reputation, technical issues and errors: these will all affect how much work needs to be done, and in turn, will affect the price you will pay.

No two websites are the same. The "health" of your website will affect how you rank - and how much you pay for SEO
No two websites are the same. The “health” of your website will affect how you rank – and how much you pay for SEO

Backlinks are an important part of how well you rank. But what existing links does your website have? Are there lots of high-quality links from reputable sites? Or are your backlinks few and far between – or even worse, spammy?

Any good SEO will begin their work with an in-depth audit of your backlink profile to see where you stand and what needs to be improved. Maybe you have lots of toxic backlinks from low-quality sites. maybe you’ve been the target of a negative SEO campaign.

Either way, these situations mean more work for your SEO agency to do. The state of your links – and how much “cleanup” the SEO has to do – will affect how they price their services.

Your Website’s Content – Both Quantity and Quality

The quantity and quality of the content on your website will also affect the price you pay for SEO services. On one hand, smaller sites without as much content may not have as much “technical debt”, so to speak – but they also have fewer pieces of content to rank.

On the other hand, larger sites may have more on-page issues that stem from their sheer amount of content on their site, but that also means more opportunities to rank for more keywords.

Any good SEO will take an in-depth look at your website to assess the quantity and quality of your website’s content – and that will affect the price you pay.

Again, no two sites are created equal. Maybe you have lots of quality backlinks. Or maybe you have just a handful, while your competitors have thousands.

Links are one of the best ways to rank, so if you want to build lots of links, you should expect to pay more. Each backlink an SEO builds takes lots of time, research, and outreach, so if you want lots of high-quality links, it’s going to cost you.

Of course, you should never start building links before you carefully assess your on-page experience, your website’s speed, and other on-page technical factors. These are the foundation that future SEO successes build on – if you don’t provide a good on-page experience, all of the links in the world aren’t likely to help you.

The Competitiveness of Your Market

The final factor that will impact the price – and the difficulty – of your SEO campaign is the competition

Are you in a dense, highly-competitive market? If so, you should expect SEO to be more of an uphill battle – and it will almost certainly cost more.

If there is less competition for your target keywords, you may have an easier time ranking. Just remember that just like websites, no two keywords are created equal.

How Much Should SEO Cost?

The most common answer to any question in SEO is, “It depends.”

Unfortunately, that answer applies to the question of price as well.

The final price you pay for management of your SEO campaigns will depend on a variety of factors, including the agency’s preferred pricing structure, the state of your website and backlinks, your business’s reputation around the Internet, and the competition in the marketplace.

That said, it’s very difficult to see success in SEO by spending less than $1,000/month. Again, this depends on the size of your site and many other factors, but paying less than $1,000/month for SEO is very unlikely to produce the results required to move the needle.

Some agencies charge upwards of $5,000-$10,000/month for SEO services, while others come in significantly under that amount. As always, it’s important to conduct an in-depth interview of potential SEO providers, just like you would with a new hire at your business.

So, as with nearly everything else in SEO, the answer to the question of “How much should I pay for SEO?” is, “It depends.”

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