How Much Does SEO Cost?

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SEO or organic search is often known as free. The fact that you don’t pay for the clicks has led to this perception, but how much does SEO cost? On the face of it that could suggest it is free or at least a much cheaper channel compared to pay per click (PPC).

However, search engine optimisation requires time, effort, expertise and therefore money. Whether doing it in-house or outsourcing, let’s look at what the possible SEO costs are and why they can vary so much.

There are multiple services which determine SEO costs:

SEO Audit – an overarching look at the website structure, benchmarking positions and current traffic levels.

SEO Audit

Onsite SEO – all things to do with the website from content and images on pages, to navigation and internal links. This service addresses technical and non technical strategies to help your website be crawled and indexed by the search engines.

Onsite SEO

Offsite SEO – any link or reference pointing back to your site or mentioning your brand. From directory submissions, articles, videos, social media links, online PR through to the creation of content in multiple media formats to be distributed.

Offsite SEO

Let’s break each one down.

The SEO Audit

Most SEO agencies charge for some kind of SEO audit. The cost of an SEO audit can range from £200 to anywhere over £20k.

How can these SEO agency fees vary so much? Well, let’s take the example of a medium-size apparel website which markets globally, they offer a wide range of clothing in different sizes, colours, fabrics etc.

Size of the website:

Clothing websites are often fairly large in regards to the number of web pages and content. This is an important factor as it means the search engines need to understand what pages to prioritise and crawl first. This will then lead to which pages they index on the search engine results pages (SERPs).

The larger the website, the larger the number of pages to be crawled and the more complex the architecture and navigation of the website.

Number of priority keywords:

Clothing websites often have vast numbers of keywords which are relevant and that they should or want to rank for. Just think about the categorisation; clothing category by colour, brand, size, gender, style, fabric etc.

For example, a possible keyword could be: ‘Ladies black dress size 10’

This leads to further keywords for all possible sizes, just for the ladies black dress. Multiply that by colour, then fabric or style and just for one item there are many possible keywords which are all very relevant.

The more keywords which are highly relevant, the more work may need to be done if you are not yet seeing the desired results from your SEO efforts.

Competition in the market:

The more competitive the market place, the harder you have to work in regards to outranking the competition. You often can’t afford to snooze as new competition is investing all the time. If you are not appearing, you are either losing sales or having to invest heavily in paid advertising to combat this.

So what is the purpose of an SEO Audit?

The main goal of the SEO audit process is to improve the volume or quality of traffic to the site via organic search. In order to do so, an SEO expert should review website and domain performance in order to identify any issues and required improvements. Alongside the technicalities of the website, an audit of the content, inbound traffic and brand exposure should be completed.

From here, a strategy can be devised as to how best fix or address those issues and create opportunities for increased relevant sources to link to or at least mention your brand.

Cheap SEO Services

On the lower end of the SEO fees, agencies tend to run the website through a chosen trusted tool. These can automatically generate a PDF download report of a basic audit. This means the agency can afford to charge just a few hundred pounds as the main core of work is being done by a tool.

But all SEO tools are different; rankings differ, errors differ, reported clicks differ. Remember SEO is not a static thing. Every search could lead to a slightly different result and hence the SEO tools are reporting on averages, on different times of the day, from different locations etc.. I am still unable to find an SEO tool which is good at everything.

Premium SEO Services

So on the higher end of the SEO pricing, you will see multiple tools used to compare metrics. This should be combined with human analysis and review to help decipher the information and make informed decisions based on the insights and information available.

Now, imagine from the SEO audit you find 300 different technical aspects which require improvement. Not just 200 broken links or 100 meta errors, but 300 independent elements which each need addressing.

At the lower end of the pricing this may mean that an automated report churns out a list of tasks for the web developers to add to their ever growing to do list.

On the higher pricing end a full approach to tackling those errors will be  planned. The main difference in cost is often the more expensive the SEO service the more you should expect the bigger picture and long term plan. For example:

  • How does SEO fit into the marketing mix?
  • Why SEO over other channels?
  • How will SEO address the clients needs?

Once this is established there would likely be a bespoke document tailored by priorities. This would aim to meet the business goals and offer clear guidance and reasoning for the web developers to understand why.

You should then expect support for the web team whilst they implement the changes, allowing them to refer back to your agency at any point, with questions and work around solutions where the website technology may not allow the exact recommendation.

This could take multiple calls or meetings if the website is particularly complex.

Meetings take time and expertise, time and expertise costs money.

Can managing SEO in-house cut costs?

Of course if you have expertise internally then that can allow you to reduce outgoing costs on 3rd party agencies. However, to hire a seasoned team of SEO experts across all disciplines of auditing, technical and content, as well as onsite and offsite can be more costly than you might imagine.

Salaries can range anywhere from £25k to £45k per annum for an SEO manager. That’s £2000 to £3750 per month for one individual who you hope can cover all bases. Add a support or administrator to help deliver the work and all of a sudden your costs are looking more expensive than hiring a premium SEO team of experts with years of experience between them.

It comes right back to what you need and what you can afford.

What do you want to achieve?

What is realistic and within what time frame?

The two questions above will determine a possible cost. If you only have a set budget to allocate then you need to identify what results you may be able to achieve within the given budget limitation. This is where we can often see the vicious circle of…

budget vs fees cycle

If you want to start ranking well within 6 months and increasing traffic for all the priority products you offer, in all colours and sizes, within all the locations you sell to, the work required is huge.

If you are trying to focus on all keywords at the same time it is going to take a lot of man hours and is going to be pricey.

How we work

All of our clients receive a diagnosis upfront to establish their goals, needs and available inhouse skills, resources and budgets. From there we can shape a robust plan of how best to achieve the goals.

We then work with our clients to prioritise key categories and products/services within the right locations to implement first.

via GIPHY

We also prioritise the audit to clearly state the urgent fixes, then medium and low priority. This way the web team can schedule in the changes gradually.

The biggest delay in seeing SEO improvements is the audit recommendations not being implemented by the client. Make sure your developers have bought into the SEO and the fact that they will have some work on their hands.

Because of this, our audit process also takes into account the capacity of the team, what can and can’t be done, and we help to settle on the ideal within any limitations.

Offsite SEO & Monthly Management

Any agency telling you an audit alone is going to cut it, is likely to be out for a quick buck! The balance between onsite SEO and offsite SEO is crucial. Like building a house, you need to get the foundations right before placing brick by brick, layer by layer then a roof. We are not finished there, you then need to decorate and furnish and clean to keep the house up to scratch.

SEO is a long term investment in process, time and effort, but with that comes the rewards. SEO can convert at a better conversion rate than paid advertising. It’s consistent and trustworthy to users and above all it drives volume if you do it right.

Ongoing SEO costs

Again the fees for ongoing SEO can be wildly different. The service itself can also vary. As well as SEO agencies and digital marketing agencies there are also PR agencies, copywriters, content bloggers, online content creation tools, infographic and video creators and web designers all offering SEO services. It is sometimes hard to know where to look.

The core foundations to ongoing SEO services are:

  • Regular technical checks – make sure your audit isn’t slipping backwards after the hard work you have done. Remember once the house is built you need to focus on the upkeep.
  • Links – no matter what we all think, Google still uses the number of quality links as a ranking factor. Building awareness and gaining valuable links and mentions about your brand and website are vital.
  • Device – unless you have been hiding under a rock you know by now if the SEO strategy being presented does not include mobile, then you might want to ask about that. Mobile indexing is more important than ever due to the highest volumes of searches being done on mobile devices.
  • Content – of course this is the one everyone pushes down your throat but without it, the rest may be useless. Content onsite and offsite is important to help create links and help search engines and customers understand what your website and products/services are about.

So back to the fees..

Content creation agencies

Some agencies charge for content creation only.

This is not ideal as you will then have to figure out what and where to place this content and how best to use it. Possible fees range from £200 to £4,000 per month depending on the volume and format that content takes.

Video content, for example, can be very costly as the production costs can vary depending on the storyboard, location and editing of the video.

Content planning agencies

Some charge for a content plan, content creation and link building. This seems more robust but still misses some fundamentals of SEO, with prices ranging anywhere from £500 to £5,000 per month and often an upfront cost for the content plan. Again these costs will depend on the volume and speed of production and outreach.

SEO tools

Some charge to use their tool, which is often another company’s white labelled tool. Beware of these automated reports, they may not be worth the paper they are printed on. This could be charged anywhere between £100 up to £10k.

SEO retainer

Some charge a flat retainer and tie you into a 12 month contract – this doesn’t mean the results are guaranteed within the contract. This may range from £500 up to £20k depending on website size and market competitiveness.

SEO hourly rate

Some charge per hour, this could be £35 p/h up to £400 p/h depending on the seniority of the manager.

This can be all very confusing.

We price up each project based on building a path to achieving your results and achieving and ROI. This takes into account your current website status and market position:

  1. How big is your website? E.g. amount of content, number of pages, number of images, volume of products.
  2. How competitive is your market? How many other companies are competing for the keywords relevant to your business, whether you see them as direct competition or not?
  3. How good are your current SEO foundations? e.g. domain authority, content quality and relevance, site architecture, inbound links, brand awareness, etc…
  4. What are your priorities, goals and expectations?

Only by asking these questions can we establish how much resource to invest to meet your goals.

With all this information we tailor a bespoke SEO package to your needs.

We have found over years of experience that a minimum entry level for smaller projects is £2,600 based on 20 hours per month. Any less than that and we don’t feel there is enough time to make an impact month on month, even for a small site.

Things to bear in mind when weighing up the price and choosing the right agency:

  1. How many sales do you need to make to cover the cost of the agency? Use this as your benchmark goal for them to work towards.
  2. Who will be creating the content? If you have internal resources to actually create the content based on the guidance and planning of the agency then that can save you money. But don’t try to cut corners by putting the wrong task with the wrong people.
  3. What are your needs? Some clients want an audit to check their fairly competent web team has covered all bases. But where they really need the help is to find opportunities and build online awareness. Others have no idea where to start and need a full service including a level of education and hand holding. Know where the gaps are and what you need to pay for.

Once you have satisfied the points above ask yourself, who can you work with?

SEO is a long term investment in time, resource and agency, so make sure you fit the service criteria with your needs, but it’s also important that you trust your chosen SEO partner.

For more information or to understand how we can help your business grow, contact us.

Rachel Mepham
With over 15 years’ experience in Digital Marketing, Rachel heads up the team at Digital Clarity. With a deep skill set in the Paid Search, Social Media and Analytics, Rachel is regarded by both clients and peers as one of the most experienced and prolific women in the UK digital space. Her approach and application to digital strategy planning has been used by some of the biggest brands as well as leading advertising and marketing agencies.