There’s a common misconception that search engine traffic (aka SEO traffic) is free. That’s primarily due to the logical comparison against search engine advertising, which is obviously not free. With search engine advertising, you’ll pay for every click on your ad. With organic SEO traffic there is no cost for clicks to your website.
But is it really free? Is it possible to invest zero time and money and still generate traffic from SEO?
Of course not. Just because you built a beautiful website does not mean you’re going to rank high enough in Google to drive any meaningful traffic. To rank high in Google, you’ll need a relevant webpage and an authoritative domain.
You may be wondering, “How relevant and authoritative does my website really need to be?” That question leads us to the #1 factor that will determine how much local SEO will cost…
#1 Factor That Determines the Cost of SEO
Ever hear the joke about outrunning a bear? I’m no comedian so I’m sure I’ll butcher this, but it’s an important lesson, so here we go… If you’re in the woods with your friends and an adult black bear starts chasing you, then how fast do you need to run?
Do you know the answer? If you’ve never heard this before then you’re probably trying to figure out how fast an adult black bear can run. Hint: It doesn’t matter how fast the black bear can run. What matters is how fast your slowest friend can run, and whether you can outrun him! :)
OK, I know that’s not a great joke, but it’ll get your brain warmed up and you may have already guessed the #1 factor that determines the cost of SEO.
The #1 factor is your competition.
If you’re in a more competitive industry, then, unfortunately, you’ll have to invest more in your SEO. If you’ve never done any local SEO before, we wrote a beginner’s guide to local SEO that we recommend reading.
You’ll have to work harder to create a more relevant webpage (e.g. create better content) and to build up your domain authority (e.g. build more links) than a business in a less competitive industry. In other words, to rank high you just need to outrun your “friends.”
The first step is to review the websites that are ranking high in Google for your target keywords. An easy and fast tool to complete this analysis is Moz’s Link Explorer. (You’ll need to create a free account here first).
Head over to Link Explorer and simply copy/paste your competitor domains into the tool. You’ll instantly see their domain authority score and their total number of backlinks. The higher the authority score and the more backlinks your competitors have, the more you’ll have to invest in SEO to outrank them. You can also install the MozBar browser toolbar to quickly check domain authority metrics on any site while you’re browsing online.
Do You Have Multiple Office Locations?
With local SEO, the number of office locations will also play a role in determining how much you need to invest. This is pretty straight forward. Ranking local Google My Business listings for each location (as well as maintaining other directory listings for each location) requires more resources than just one location.
At a minimum, each additional location will require you to build additional citations. Citations are mentions of your name, address, and phone number on another website. Think of citations like reference checks for job candidates. Search engines need to confirm your business information is accurate and up-to-date and they do this by reviewing all the citations on different websites. If all your information checks out, then you have a better shot at ranking on the first page.
Creating citations for one location can be tedious enough. Each additional location multiplies the workload.
Do You Have Multiple Products or Services?
The third consideration is how many products or services you’re trying to promote via SEO. Again, this is straight forward. As you try to expand your reach by targeting more and more product or service keywords, then you’ll need to invest more in your SEO. At a minimum, you’ll want to build separate webpages for each of the products or services you’re promoting.
Remember, each additional product or service comes with a new set of competitors already ranking high in Google. So make sure you analyze the competition using Link Explorer before diving in too deep.
No One-Size-Fits-All Solution
I hope at this point it’s clear that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for SEO. That’s why if you’ve done your homework, then you’ve noticed the range in fees is quite wide.
For businesses in less competitive industries, with one location and a limited numbers of services, the investment for SEO fees is often in the range of $500 to $1,000 per month. For businesses in more competitive industries, targeting multiple locations and with larger websites a wider range of services, the investment could be $2,000 or more per month. It just depends on your unique situation.
Related article: SEO Pricing: How Much Does Search Engine Optimization Cost?
In that article, we explain common pricing models as well as the pricing model we use at Main Street ROI.
Want Help with Local SEO?
Here at Main Street ROI, we provide custom SEO services specialized for local businesses. We also create new small-business-driven content monthly, including specific steps you can take to improve your local SEO.