How To Determine and Optimize SEO Cost

Answering the question ‘how much does SEO cost?” is actually harder than it seems. There are many factors that can determine SEO pricing, as SEO by itself comprises of many different marketing activities, some tangible and some not. So, it is not as easy as, say, calculating the ROI of a Facebook ad campaign.

Besides that fact, the cost of an SEO effort will be directly determined by your keyword selection. An ‘easier’ keyword with a relatively low competition, moderate search volume, and local-focused will be relatively affordable compared to a very difficult keyword with high PPC cost. So, you see the cost can vary a lot depending on many different variables.

In this guide, we will attempt to help you understand SEO pricing, while we will also discuss other factors related to organic search that might help you to have a better mindset regarding the cost of SEO.

Let us begin.


3 Main Factors Determining SEO Cost

While we have mentioned that calculating the price of an SEO effort will involve many different variables and factors, there are three main factors to consider:

  • Your Current Situation

If your industry is very competitive, the keywords will also be competitive and so the cost of SEO can be very, very expensive. Here, your current situation will determine how much you should need to invest on in SEO.

  • Your Goals

Obviously, if you only aim to be on the first page of search result, the SEO cost will be cheaper than aiming for the top spot. Also, local-related goals are generally more affordable than nationwide and global goals.

  • Time

The faster you want to improve your ranking, the more expensive it will be. You will need to mainly rely on PPC advertising, and this can be really expensive.

Let’s use an example to explain this better. Let’s say we have a company ‘X’  where their main site is ranked just outside the first page for the main keyword and several variations. So, their key competitors have invested more to get more links with good quality.

The goal of the company X is to get into the first page as soon as possible and so we have several factors we can use to calculate price based on this situation:

  • The amount of links we will need to get into the first page. At least, an approximation of it
  • How much work is needed, and whether you will need extra manpower
  • Do you need to invest on PPC ads? If so, you can roughly calculate the cost. This guide by wordstream might help you.
  • Since the objective is ‘as soon as possible’, what is the rough timeline to achieve this goal

Now, we can calculate the SEO cost by analyzing company X’s current situation, understanding their goals, and determining the timeline. Although there are still lots of different factors and variables, we can get a rough estimate of the price.

As you can see, with this method, we can also adjust our SEO budget by adjusting our goal and timeline. The keyword here is ROI: in an industry where a new customer is worth $1,000, we should adjust our SEO budget so that we can still make profits. Obviously, if your customer is worth $5,000, you can expect to spend more. Check out our previous guide on the important digital marketing metrics and how to calculate ROI here. (link)

Also, bear in mind that SEO is always moving. There will always be changes in Google’s policy and algorithms regarding ranking signal, and so you will always need to adjust your strategy. There’s also the fact that your competitor is not static, either. If you apply a new strategy, you can expect to also do them sooner than later. So, maintenance, as well as R&D will also be important variables to SEO pricing.


Understanding SEO Quality

Well, aren’t there affordable SEO agencies offering great results? Why can’t we use them to lower our SEO cost?

Questions like these always arise, and so it is very important to first understand that there is no secret strategy or holy grail tacic of SEO, period. If an agency is telling you otherwise, it is actually a major red flag that they are a scam.

So, while quality is another major factor in determining SEO cost, we should understand that it is not about method or tactic. Most SEO agencies and practitioners will, and should rely on basically the same tactics that are essentially:

  • Publish high-quality, relevant contents that are engaging for human audiences while also properly targeting the keyword(s)
  • Promote those contents with various methods like influencer marketing, social media marketing, etc. with the goal to:
  • Get more backlinks

That’s it, so how can we differentiate good SEO agencies from really good ones? The answer is execution and consistency. SEO is a long term business, and so the ability to maintain consistency while also adapting to competitors’ strategies and changes in ranking factors are essential.

So, if there is an SEO company that is offering you a deal that is too good to be true, it probably is. At best, their strategy won’t produce any significant results, and you will lose your money. At worst, if they are practicing black-hat strategies or other strategies deemed as improper, you can get a penalty or negative equity.

So, how much should we expect a proper SEO cost?


The Average SEO Cost

Although, as we have mentioned, there are many different variables than can alter your cost, here is a benchmark based on our experience.

  • $75-$200 a month for very low competition keywords (basically, you have no competition here)
  • $300-400 a month for a small business targeting keywords with medium difficulty
  • $400-600 a month for a more competitive, mid-range SEO
  • $600-1,500 a month for nationwide small business SEO or small business targeting competitive keywords
  • $1,500-$2,500 a month for competitive industries targeting high-quality keywords
  • $2,500 a month and above for high-end businesses, such as nationwide companies in a competitive industry, multi-location businesses and multinational companies

Of course, the cost can vary especially if you are building an in-house SEO team (link). Remember that the prices above are all relative. You might be a small business but you are in a competitive industry, and so you will need to pay more to stay competitive. On the other hand, if you are a small business in a local-focused environment like say, a local restaurant, you will need to pay less.

So, use the size of your market and your potential profit to determine the proper average SEO pricing for your business. If you are a business in a very profitable industry, obviously competition will be high. Or if it’s not, expect more competition to come soon. Vice versa, we can expect less competition if profit is not that high.

As mentioned, the required time will also dictate the cost. If you start from scratch, for example, if your site is brand new, you should expect at least 6 to 12 months before seeing any significant results. On the other hand, if your content quality has previously been great and you have ranked on the first page naturally, you might not need that much time before you can reach the top 5 or even top 3 with just a little push.


The Triangle of SEO Pricing

BowlerHat published a really interesting article about SEO’s project management triangle. Good, fast, or cheap, or as we’ll say it: quality, time or cost: you can only get two from the available three.

  • If the quality is good and it is affordable, it will take a long time before you see any results.
  • If it’s fast and the quality is good, it will be expensive.
  • Last but not least, if it is both affordable and fast, you will need to question the quality

Which approach is right for your business? It will depend on your needs. If you just need that extra push and have a limited budget, probably you will want to sacrifice quality. On the other hand, if you are okay with your SEO being a long-term investment, you might opt to sacrifice speed.


End Words

While SEO can be costly, you should consider the fact that SEO and inbound marketing still produce the most qualified leads. The prospects that are actively searching on the internet for solutions, or even better, products, are generally more ready to make a purchase.

Why should we know the cost of our SEO strategy in the first place? You should remember that in the end, it is because we want to know whether our investment will be justified, in short, we want to know the ROI. If a new customer will bring you $100 on average, and you can expect to get 100 customers from SEO, it will mean an SEO cost of $9,999 is still profitable. So, it’s all relative.

The key here is to consider your own situation, your goals, and how fast you want your SEO to bring results.

About the author

Mike is a lead SEO strategist at Nine Peaks Media. With over 10+ years of experience in SEO and Inbound Marketing, he helped hundreds of B2B and SaaS businesses rank on the first page of Google.