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How does SEO pricing work and what does SEO cost?

The national average cost for SEO services from an agency or freelancer is $50-$75 per hour. The exact cost of hiring a search engine optimization (SEO) professional to improve your business's website will depend on the frequency of services (one-time services versus ongoing services), whether you opt for an agency or freelancer, additional marketing services (like social media and PPC marketing), their experience, and the scope of your project(s).

If you're not already familiar, SEO is a practice that helps increase "the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results" (Moz). For small businesses, SEO can be a crucial and cost-effective part of your marketing strategy. Without a huge marketing budget, you probably rely a lot on search engines to send your website traffic, or help customers to discover your brick-and-mortar store.

To make sure your business appears in important search engine results, an SEO company or consultant can find the right keywords to target and implement the right optimization strategy to get you there. Before you hire a professional for SEO services, learn about average SEO consultant rates and the types of services they offer to get a better estimate of your SEO costs.

What's in this cost guide?

What impacts the cost of SEO services?

SEO pricing varies depending on whether you hire an agency or freelance consultant, their specializations, additional marketing services, project scope, and whether or not you need ongoing SEO work. Many SEOs will charge a retainer for ongoing work beyond an initial website audit or project.

When you start researching SEO consultants, you'll want to know more about their company, clients, experiences, and what results they can help you work towards. Here are some considerations to help you understand what services to look for and how much they'll cost.

SEO company vs. freelancer

If you hire an SEO agency, you will likely have a small SEO team supporting your account. This is a great option for mid- or large-sized websites or companies, who need a lot of support, additional marketing services (like SEM, or search engine marketing), or a wider breadth of expertise from an SEO specialist. However, since hiring an agency means hiring multiple people, you'll pay more for their SEO services.

With an individual consultant, you're just hiring one freelancer. This is a great option for small businesses. It will be less expensive, but also allows you to focus in on one or two specific business goals, like getting more people to discover your restaurant with a local SEO strategy, or increasing the number of customers with high purchasing intent finding your line of organic beauty products.

Hourly rates vs. project-based pricing

Agencies and consultants will either set hourly or project-based rates. Hourly rates average $50-$75 per hour. A project based rate can range from $1,000 - $7,500 depending on the company, project, and the exact services you request from your SEO team.

Types of services offered

With SEO, you may not know what exact services you need—even if you know the goals you want to reach. When an SEO firm or consultant begins working with a new client, they'll often run an audit to identify website problems and look for opportunities for optimization. They will then help you develop a customized SEO strategy based on your business goals, industry, and the current state of your website.

Some common SEO services include:

  • SEO audit: This will uncover technical issues, low-quality webpages, and identify optimization opportunities with your website's architecture, design and content.
  • Keyword research: This looks at keywords (both short and long-tail) from Google, Bing, and other search engines, along with volume and what appears in the search engine results. This will uncover common keywords people search for that are relevant to your business, which then informs potential content opportunities. They can also do competitive keyword research, which gives you insights into your competitors' website traffic and visibility in search engines.
  • Content recommendations: Based on your keyword research, your SEO will make recommendations for new content and on-page optimizations for existing pages. They can also help create high-quality content (written content, images, videos) that optimize for organic search engines while also fitting into your content marketing strategy.
  • Local SEO: If you have a brick-and-mortar business, like a shop or restaurant, an SEO who specializes in local SEO can help make sure your website appears in local search results. This is when someone searches for a service near them (i.e. "bike shop near me") and search engines, like Google, recommend a list of local businesses near their location. They can also ensure that the correct information (address, hours, phone number) appear when someone searches specifically for your business.
  • Link building: They will recommend links to add on your website (internal links) and can assist with gaining more backlinks (external links) from other websites to your website. This helps build your website and webpage's authority and, therefore, improve its chances of ranking higher in search results.
  • Web design: SEOs can make recommendations on web design improvements, and run tests to find ways to incrementally improve on-page conversions.
  • Fix technical SEO issues: SEOs who specialize in technical SEO (TSEO) or with a background in web development can help implement technical changes, like improving your site speed or make your website more mobile-friendly.
  • Analytics and reporting: After making updates to your website, you'll want to know if you're getting the results your SEO consultant or agency promised. For this, your SEO can provide website analytics and reports to track website traffic, rankings, and conversions. Keep in mind that most websites don't start seeing results from SEO initiatives until at least a few months after implementing changes.

Before you hire an SEO professional, ask the consultant about the range of costs for standard SEO services and how those costs differ depending on their pricing models and packages.

Monthly retainer for ongoing services

Monthly retainers cost an average of $501-$1,000 per month, according to the popular SEO software, ahrefs. Some SEO specialists will provide long-term, ongoing services to maintain your website's SEO for a monthly retainer.

Level of expertise

As with any industry, you'll pay more for SEO work if the person you hire has less experience. Someone with only 2-3 years experience will usually charge a lower hourly or project-based rate than an SEO professional who is well-versed in every aspect of SEO (it's a complex and ever-changing field!) and has a proven track record driving results for clients.

Additional marketing services

Some, but not all, SEO professionals and agencies offer additional marketing services. If you need help with social media, paid search marketing (SEM), web development, or web design, and your SEO firm has experience with that area, they will charge an additional fee.

Average hourly rates for additional marketing and website services:

Like SEO, many of these professionals might set rates on a per-project, not hourly, basis.

How can you save on SEO service costs?

In order to save money on SEO costs, try the following tactics:

  • Ask about their pricing models and what SEO services are included in each. Then, choose the most affordable one that suits your business goals. Inquire about whether getting all-in-one SEO services are cheaper than a customized, tailored SEO project.
  • Consider working with a professional with fewer years of experience. This might be a good option if you only need help with some basic keyword research and link building.
  • Learn SEO basics alongside your consultant. An SEO professional can create an optimization plan that will improve your website's rankings, but also teach you some basic SEO knowledge. Once you know the basics, you can maintain the site after their project is complete.
  • Be flexible about when you need a project to kick off. Many consultants have busier and slower seasons for their businesses. Ask the SEO company if they have lower rates during slower seasons of work.

What should you look for in an SEO consultant?

Before you hire an SEO agency or consultant, don't just get a low-down on their pricing models—get to know more about their past projects and specializations as well. When interviewing potential SEO firms or freelancers, be sure to ask:

What do you specialize in?

SEO is more than just keywords, and SEO experts have a broad range of expertises within the field. Some may have a strong web development and technical background, while others are more experienced with content marketing. Make sure their specializations match the needs of your website.

Also ask about credentials and certifications. Although the SEO expert may have SEO certifications and experiences with courses, it's also important that they're staying up-to-date on changes to search engine algorithms.

What are some of your past clients or projects?

This will give you a sense of what types of businesses your SEO agency or freelancer have worked with. Doing search engine optimization for an e-commerce website is different from creating an SEO strategy for a blog or publication, so it's good to know if your SEO has experience with your business type. If you have a physical location for your business, you should also ask if your consultant has experience with local SEO.

How do you measure success?

Ideally, your SEO specialist will be able to give you more than just website traffic and keyword rankings. Other important metrics include click-through rates, conversions, conversion rates, growth over time, and revenue impact (especially for e-commerce sites). Ask them: How do you measure success? How long will it take to move the needle on my search rankings?

How do you charge?

Is it by the hour, monthly, project-based? If it's project-based, what are your prices for some common SEO services?

Now that you've learned the basics of SEO pricing models and the costs of SEO projects, all you have to do is find your perfect hire. Start looking for SEO consultants near you today.

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