How Much Does SEO Cost?

Estimated Reading Time 17 minutes

SEO or organic search is often known as free. The fact that you don’t pay for the clicks has led to this perception and yes 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, to do search engine optimisation well it 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.

The Audit

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

How can this be so drastically different? Well, let’s take the example of a medium size travel website which markets globally, they offer a wide range of holidays to a number of locations.

The main goal of the audit process is to identify areas which require improvement across the whole website and domain, as well as understanding website and brand exposure. From here then strategize how to best fix or address those issues and create opportunities for increased relevant sources to link to or at least mention your brand.

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

So on the higher end of the pricing, you will see more tools used to compare metrics. This should be combined with human analysis and review to help decipher the information and make 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, I am talking about 300 independent elements which need addressing.

At the lower end of the pricing this may mean that automated report churns out a list of tasks for the web developers. Job done.

On the higher end the first main difference is often the bigger picture and long term plan. How does SEO fit into the marketing mix? Why SEO? What is the marketing solution to address the clients needs? e.g

  • PR for brand exposure
  • Social media for building brand advocates and pinning down specific audiences
  • PPC for quick results
  • Email for customer engagement
  • SEO for long term leads/sales and due diligence
  • Etc…

Once this is established there would likely be a bespoke document tailored by priorities to meet the business goals and clear guidance and reasoning for the web developers to understand why. You would then expect support for the web team whilst they implement the changes 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, time costs money.

Now we know how the agency process may differ but we haven’t even taken into account the goals.

What do you want to achieve?


What is realistic and within what time frame?

This can all depend on your budget. This is where the vicious circle of…

  • How much budget do you have?
  • Well how much is it going to cost?
  • It depends what you want?

Why is there never a direct answer?!


If you want to start ranking well within 6 months and increasing traffic for all holidays you offer, to all destinations within all the locations you sell to, the work required is huge. Imagine how many keywords that might be:

Beach holiday in spain/france/italy/greece/africa/Australia

Heathrow to Barcelona holiday

City break Madrid

Hotel … Costa blanca

To give you a taste of just a few.

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

What we tend to do is work with our clients to prioritise key locations and products within those locations to implement first.

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 to SEO improvements is the audit recommendations not being implemented. So make sure your developers have bought into this.

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.


The Ongoing 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 and 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.

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 links and the quality of 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 reference to 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 understand what your website and/or pages are about.

So back to the fees..

Some charge for just content..Not ideal as you will then have to figure out what and where to place that content and how to use it. Possible fees range from £200 to £2,000.

Some charge for a content plan, content creation and link building. This seems more robust but still misses some fundamentals, ranging anywhere from £500 to £3,000.

Some charge to use their tool (which isn’t even their 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.

Some charge a flat retainer over 12 months from £500 up to £20k depending on website size and market competitiveness e.g. loans, credit cards, car insurance are highly competitive, whereas a company with one shop selling rare artwork in Frimley High Street is more specific and hence likely to be easier to achieve improvements more quickly.

Some charge per hour, this could be £35 up to £300 depending on the seniority of the account manager.

This can be all very confusing.

We charge based on achieving your results and taking into account your current website status:

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 throw at it.

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 £2,200 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.


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 resource 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 have 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, who can you work with? As we all know SEO IS a long term investment in time, resource and agency. So make sure you fit the service criteria however it also helps if you trust your chosen SEO partner.


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

Rachel Mepham
With over 10 years’ experience in Digital Marketing, Rachel heads up the team at Digital Clarity. With a history in Paid Search (PPC) since before Google AdWords existed, Rachel is regarded by both clients and peers as one of the most experienced and prolific women in the digital space in the UK. Her approach and application to digital strategy planning has been used by some of the biggest brands as well the leading advertising and marketing agencies.
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