Since the start of SEO, providing a simple answer to the question ‘how much does SEO cost?’ has been tricky. While the mechanics and toolkit for SEO are fairly similar for most projects, there are a huge amount of variables to take into account when building a strategy and budget. It’s often difficult to judge to the true cost and potential ROI of an SEO project at its start.

Understanding the Many, Many Variables

First off you have to understand the marketplace dynamics which affect search engine optimization pricing and client success. How competitive is your industry? How competitive are the areas you serve?

For example, an SEO Tune-up project for a chiropractor in a small suburban town might shoot the site to the top of local rankings, while the same SEO Tune-up project for an identical practice in a major metropolis might only improve rankings slightly.

Furthermore, the value of improving rankings can vary dramatically from business to business and the amount of available traffic in a particular market. For some local businesses, being on the first page of Google results leads to a dramatic increase in leads and revenue while for others only a marginal difference.

Next comes considering the starting position of a business’ complete digital presence. How large is the website? Is the site structure well for SEO?  How much keyword-rich content does the site hold? How many technical SEO issues does the site have? How many links and referring domains are pointing to the website?  Is the business listed accurately on local listing sites? The list goes on.

For example, it is not uncommon for an outdated and slow website to rank higher than a technically-perfect newer website because the older site has a robust and hard-earned backlink profile. No site’s SEO is perfect. The entirety of the digital presence has to be taken into account and then you can develop a strategy that addresses important weaknesses.

Common SEO Pricing Models

Back in late 2011, SEO powerhouse MOZ conducted a survey of over 600 agencies in order to understand variations in SEO services pricing models. While this survey is now over a decade old and MOZ admits the survey isn’t perfectly scientific, it does provide a solid general understanding of how most agencies price this type of work.

Some key takeaways from the survey:

  • Project-based pricing is by far the most popular model. Around 70% of the agencies surveyed said it’s their most commonly used scheme with projects falling into the four price ranges: $1,001-$1,500, $1,501-$2,500, $2501-$5,000, and $5,001-$7,500.
  • Monthly retainer pricing models, specifically the monthly rate, vary radically from agency to agency. The two most common were $251-$500/month and $2,501-$5,000/month.
  • Most agencies offer project-based, retainer-based, and hourly-based SEO pricing models in order to fit the diverse needs and budgets of clients. It is a competitive marketplace and it seems agencies are very willing to adjust their systems to retain clients.

An Overview of Main Street ROI’s SEO Pricing

Over the years of working with hundreds of SEO clients, we’ve learned how to tailor our SEO services to the unique needs of each client, and we tailor our plans to our clients’ budgets.

We determine a scope of work by breaking down factors such as:

  • How big is the website? How many pages need optimization?
  • How much content development is needed, particularly if the site is obviously lacking important pages?
  • How many technical issues need to be fixed?
  • If it’s a local business, are there multiple locations requiring business profile listing setup or edits?
  • How many backlinks does the website have? If there are not many, we’ll allocate more budget to focus on building a stronger link foundation.
  • How strong is the competition?
  • Are there aspects of the work that our client can handle on their end?

SEO Tune-Up Projects

For clients focusing on Local SEO, we also recommend a Local SEO Tune-Up project to optimize the Google My Business profile and primary citation directory websites (including data aggregators), and those projects are typically in the $1,500 range. The Local SEO Tune-Up is the foundational work in order to help your business rank higher in Google’s local map rankings.

Simultaneously, we also recommend a Website SEO Tune-Up to improve the website’s rankings. The Website SEO Tune-Up project is priced based on the number of pages we’re optimizing at the start. For a typical small business website, the Website SEO Tune-Up project is typically 1,500. We focus on conducting an SEO audit, analyzing the competition, and optimizing the top 10 priority pages. For larger websites, that fee may be in the $2,500 – $5,000 range or higher depending on the number of priority pages we are optimizing right away.

We realize these projects can be a significant investment to small business owners, and that’s why we can provide payment plans to spread out the costs over time.

Monthly SEO Services

Then, after completing the SEO Tune-Up phase, we also recommend investing in ongoing Monthly SEO Services. Monthly SEO Services are focused on a mix of on-page SEO, content development, technical auditing and fixing, and link-building (and citation-building) work each month. Our typical Monthly SEO recommendations can range from $1,500 to $5,000 per month and up, depending on several factors, including your current SEO baseline, the strength of your competition, the amount of heavy lifting that’ll be required to catch up with competitors, and how quickly you’re looking to get results.

Frequently Asked Questions

You may be wondering, “What if I have a more limited budget?”

Budget is always a major consideration in the pricing of our SEO services. We are always ready and willing to customize plans based on our clients’ budgets.  We understand that most small businesses have SEO budgets in the hundreds of dollars versus thousands. That’s why we also provide reduced scope options at budget levels, such as $750-1,000 per month. At these reduced price points, we’re still implementing a well-balanced approach (a mix of on-page SEO, content, and link-building), but we’ll execute our strategy at a reduced speed. In practice, this means we’re alternating between some tactics rather than doing them all simultaneously, and it’ll take us longer to generate results.

“Is it possible to generate meaningful results with smaller SEO budgets?”

In our experience, yes, especially for locally-focused service businesses. Since 2010, we have been consistently able to generate strong results for local small business clients at these affordable price points. However, especially at lower budget levels, investing in SEO can require patience. In other words, there is a trade-off between budget and speed.

“How long does it take to get results?”

Most clients who are looking to invest in SEO aren’t yet happy with their rankings and traffic, and it’s going to require some work and time to catch up with their competitors. In order to catch up, we recommend a sustained, long-term multi-month effort and investment. We recommend planning to invest for at least 6-12 months.

Meanwhile, we have often been able to generate positive improvements in faster timeframes (such as 3-6 months), and sometimes we even see significant jumps within 1-2 months. However, every client situation is different, based on your baseline starting point and strength of competition. We can’t directly control Google’s algorithms and we can’t guarantee any specific results.

You may also be wondering, “Do you have minimum commitment requirements?”

We don’t require long-term contracts, but we do recommend planning to invest over the long term, initially to catch up with your competitors and then to stay competitive. Once you achieve top rankings, we recommend continually investing in SEO in order to maintain and defend your positions. That’s why we have SEO clients who are still with us since 2010.

“What if I’m not ready to make a longer-term investment?”

While an ongoing investment in SEO is the best way to generate long-term results, we often have clients start out with SEO Tune-Up projects, either due to budget limitations or because they want to “date before we marry” and see how we work together. Then, after completing the initial SEO Tune-Up project, you may decide that you’re ready to make a more sustained, long-term investment with ongoing Monthly SEO Services.

The Bottom Line

A successful SEO strategy involves evaluating many variables and forging a path forward within the client’s budget.  ‘How much does SEO cost?’ will always be a tricky question, but it’s important to recognize that — with the right strategy — progress can be made at nearly every price point. 

In our experience, SEO is one of the best marketing investments you can make — and the faster you begin, the sooner you can start reaping the rewards. So, even if you only have a limited budget to start, it’s always better to get started rather than putting it off. 

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