What You Need to Know About the Average Price of SEO in 2017

The majority of current business owners do comprehend and accept just how critical SEO is. Having said that, the industry has wild swings in pricing variations, which makes it difficult for those same business owners to get their heads around what average costs are.

The early days of SEO involved low-cost outsourcing, which did things like article and directory submission campaigns. In the modern digital realm, which is increasingly competitive, your strategy has to be far more robust and thorough if you hope to actually make a dent in things. The SEO provider you use, in-house or outsourced, has to be not only coming up with content, but also optimizing your website and online properties for speed and user-friendliness. They must also make sure that all the technical nuts and bolts are optimized properly for the search engines you choose to pursue good rankings in. Links still matter as a central element of ranking high, but many modern agencies skip over link building in their approach, so keep that in mind if you are shopping around different agencies.

Not long ago, HubSpot published the final results of surveys they did across over 700 various SEO agencies. It revealed interesting data and findings about their retainer amounts and their monthly averages:

Most agencies charge their clients from $2,500 to $5,000. There also seems to be a second tier of common prices sitting between $1,001 and $2,500. Website Magazine published an article of ours back in 2014 that outlined what median SEO costs were at the time of publication.

As you’ll note, two years ago was when we recommended $750 be the monthly minimum for SEO, and that an agency’s minimum hourly rate should start at $100. Back then, prices like those might have gotten something done in a lot of niches and corners. However, the two years since then have witnessed numerous updates from Google, and so the roles that SEO agencies play has changed considerably.

Back then, content was not such a huge factor in SEO, and there were also fewer requirements in terms of the expertise needed for Web development. A handful of ‘short cuts’ were still around for unethical agencies to use, if they wanted to generate results for a client while charging less than a half a grand per month.

If we’re going to truly understand just why average SEO costs have gone up since then, let’s review a few additional tasks that SEO now incorporates:

  • Content marketing
  • Creation of text and video content
  • Split testing for optimization of user experiences
  • Speed optimization of website content and pages
  • Comprehensive content research
  • Press outreach in terms of links

That list could actually go longer, since a great number of SEO agencies now offer their clients or local markets digital marketing campaigns that are fully integrated. We’ll return to the topic of SEO providers, but before we do that, let’s go over the average costs involved in other popular marketing mediums.

Advertising on television is certainly well-known, and companies of all sizes use it. In the Nashville, Tennessee media market, which is mid-sized, you can get 15 minutes of airtime across a whole month for around $5,000.

Radio is another traditional and popular marketing medium businesses like to use. Again, let’s see what this costs in a market that is mid-sized.

The recommended cost for a monthly campaign is again $5,000. It’s more than 15 minutes on TV, but it’s still a ‘starter’ campaign. Spending half that on SEO is starting to sound better, isn’t it? If not, let’s think about a few more things.

What Comes With A Typical SEO Campaign?

As noted earlier, your SEO provider should now involve themselves in things like technical SEO, link building, general marketing, content marketing, and Web development knowledge. Even a barebones SEO campaign needs to incorporate these things:

  • Implementation and setup of analytics
  • A technical SEO audit
  • Site speed optimization
  • A review of website architecture and hierarchy
  • On-page content optimization
  • Campaign reporting and tracking
  • Link outreach and building
  • Content research and creation
  • Technical SEO corrections
  • Keyword mapping and research

Consider the hourly rates discussed earlier from two years ago. Remember the $100 per hour? Just how far do you think that goes if an agency is charging only $400 a month. To be clear, the majority of agencies bill through retainer models, not hourly rates. Despite that, consider the internal workings of a business doing things with a retainer model. Just how much are they doing at $400? And even if they’re doing more than you think or we’re implying, what’s the quality and caliber of the results? Probably not good. You might be thinking at this point that it’s better to just do things in house, since you could save money and get work just as good. It’s a valid though, but we have a valid answer.

In-House SEO Versus Hiring An External Agency

If you check the statistics of the Bureau of Labor, then you’ll see a skilled copywriter’s salary, median, was $60,250, averaging around thirty bucks an hour. Also look up the median annual pay of a competent Web developer. That’s $64,970, and absolutely averaging over thirty bucks an hour, and both those were based off of 2015 data.

Hiring either one of those professionals in your internal staff would cost you more than $5,000 a month, nor would either one have all the skills needed for a comprehensive SEO campaign. In fact, hiring one of each as a pair still wouldn’t be enough.

On the other hand, an external SEO agency can provide each and every service listed above, and then some, and do it for half the cost of hiring either professional. That’s not a steal. That’s a grand slam home run. You also don’t have to pay benefits, worry about anyone calling in sick, or learn on your dime. So now let’s consider what an agency can do in just 20 hours when trying to promote your website.

Learn Where Your Budget Goes

Going back to that HubSpot survey regarding average monthly retainers, the data also showed that respondents listed an average hourly blended rate of $126, with a common range of $125 to $150.

At hourly billing, $2,500 would get you around 20 hours of monthly work. As already mentioned, retainer billing is more common than hourly rates. Retainer pricing is popular since it is a combination of value with the power to budget expenses accurately and consistently. So, let’s look at the budgetary breakdown of a retainer of $2,500 a month.

Content research: Two hours of review of the top 10 posts of a certain subject, identifying areas for improvement, and deciding the angle for content

Content creation: A thousand words of truly premium content will go for several hundred dollars to half a grand. Truly in-depth content might cost multiple thousands, but we’re going with ‘average’ premium content for this illustration.

Link prospecting: Figure on three hours a month to identify good resources, broken links, and guest post potentials.

Current cumulative expense: $900 – $1,200 depending on content costs

Link outreach efforts: Ten hours every four weeks for outreach link building adds just over $1,200 a month.

Current cumulative expenses: $2,200 – $2,400, again, depending on cost of content.

That leaves you about one to three hundred bucks a month. Although, agencies also typically cover the setup and tracking of analytics, a technical site audit and the resulting revisions, client reporting, page speed optimization, on-page optimization, and several hours per month communicating with clients on the phone. That’s all before a business’ overhead comes into play, much less their own costs for customer acquisition.

At this point, you’re probably thinking that you pay SEO agencies to get results and to do so with efficiency. The industry takes this to heart more than you know. That’s why a combination of cutting costs while still ensuring customer expectations created a number of hurtful strategies. Spun content, submission spam, low-caliber guest posts, and automated link building were all born of this, from SEO agencies looking to speed up rankings while cutting expenses and prices. You know how well that turned out.

How Does ROI Factor In?

Forget the nuts and bolts and efficiency for a second and turn to the biggest factor of all when you are trying to figure out your SEO budget and what you can get from it, which is of course ROI. One of the biggest areas of weakness in this industry is often the disconnect between customers understanding what they pay for and what you get in terms of value. If you want to see just how low some prices are, Google ‘cheap SEO’ or something like that. The prices listed are not what we’re talking about here, that’s for sure.

To be clear, I don’t personally know what such companies actually offer, but if you consider all the points talked about so far, what are they really going to do for you at $50 a month? Even $200 is only two hours of work, and they’re going to get done half that list?

Despite this, companies and consumers buy the cheaper packages every day of the week. They just don’t understand SEO or what goes into it. Knowing what you know now, would you really go to someone saying they can rank you for $50, when you understand that even $2,500 is a steal? Despite knowing what the real deal is, consumers flock to the cheaper options all the time, given that such services have survived since the early days of the Internet. Of course they have. They make money; it’s not because they’re effective or doing things ethically.

Step your mind outside of SEO for a moment. What industry in the economy gets savaged with the highest volume of criticism? I’ll accept used car sales as a first answer, but with that one out of the way, isn’t SEO a strong contender for number two? People associate SEO with low-value offers and even scamming. Some businesses don’t even want to talk about SEO because they think it’s dirty.

If you want to avoid thinking of SEO as a filthy waste of time, look at the hard data about different marketing channels and how much your ROI can be. Data Mentors ran a 2014 study about that which many regard as reputable. Online marketing expenditure growth was twice that of the number two contender, which was tradeshows.

A more recent publication from Data Mentors illustrated continuing growth of expenditures through digital marketing mediums. As you are now aware, more and more businesses are sticking with investing into online channels. The economy is moving towards digital marketing, and that’s across all sectors.

Wake Up

I hope all this helps you wake up to the fact that digital marketing is evolving, but it’s also here to stay. You should also see how putting the proper level of investment into it is how you can get effective results. SEO does not have to be dirty, but you do need to pay someone to roll up their sleeves and do all the complex and dirty, technical work that now goes into it. Anyone who says it’s quick and easy is only looking to make quick and easy money.

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