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 website tune-up for a chiropractor in a small suburban town might shoot the site to the top of local rankings, while the same tune-up 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 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For example, it is not uncommon for an outdated and slow website to rank higher than a technically-perfect newer website because the older site has a robust and hard-earned back-link profile.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 budget of clients. It is a competitive marketplace and it seems agencies are very willing to adjust their systems to retain clients.

Main Street ROI’s SEO Pricing

Over the years 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?

For a typical smalll business website, we often recommend a budget of around $1,000/month. In month 1, we focus on conducting an SEO audit, analyzing the competition, and optimizing the top 10 priority pages. Then, beginning in month 2, we resolve technical issues from our audit and continue to optimize more pages, build out content, and build links and citations. 

For larger websites, we’ll often recommend a higher initial fee of $2,000 – $3,000, and at those budget levels we would be optimizing 30-50 pages in the first month vs 10 pages. And then at higher monthy SEO budget levels of $2,000 – $3,000 per month, we’re devoting more resources to content development, technical auditing and fixing, and link-building work each month.

At the same time, a major factor in pricing our SEO services is the client’s budget.  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 below $1000 per month, such as $500/month and $750/month.

With reduced monthly SEO reduced fees, we have fewer hours to invest in the work, so we execute our strategy at a reduced speed and with a reduced scope of work. In practice, this means it may take us an additional month to complete the initial optimization of some priority pages, and we’ll develop less content per month and build fewer links per month on an ongoing basis.

We also offer one-time SEO projects for clients who are interested in getting SEO help but aren’t yet ready to commit to ongoing monthly SEO services. And those projects are priced based on the number of pages we’re optimizing (for example, $1,000 for 10 pages, $1,500 for 20 pages, etc).

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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