Why is SEO so F*ing Expensive?
If you don’t want to spend your next 5 mins reading this article, here is the TL;DR – As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. Good content, quality backlinks, and competent service cost money.
Now, a quick clarification.
Good SEO is expensive.
There is plenty of crap SEO out there that is cheap.
I tried one service once and for $100/mo and you got, I think it was, 4 blogs a month and backlinks.
It was complete garbage.
The backlinks never came through and, if you had any self-respect for your website, the blogs had to be rewritten, because they were trash. Clearly not written by a native English speaker, they were filled with grammatical errors and unnatural language.
But, you get what you pay. 4 blogs and backlinks for $100/mo?
So, what exactly does SEO cost?
It can vary widely depending on the industry, location and scope of work. You may see prices anywhere from $100 to $25,000/mo.
WebFx suggests $750-$2,000/mo.
Growthramp reports: “24.6% of respondents indicated that they charge between $1,000-2,000/month. About a third (30.6%) charge less than $1,000/month. But nearly a quarter (23%) surveyed charge $4,000/month or more.”
Digital Current warns that, “Unless you are a hyper-local company that has little competition and your site is very small, you should be careful when purchasing SEO for less than $500 per month.” They go on to showcase ranges from $1,000-$20,000+/mo.
RankPay puts monthly retainers between $1,000-$3,000/mo.
Pixelcut Labs breaks it into 3 categories.
1 – Low-Cost SEO at $150-$500/mo.
2 – Middle-Market SEO at $2,500-$5,000/mo.
3 – High-Investment SEO at $5,000-$25,000+/mo
BrightLocal’s local search survey found the following results when it comes to monthly retainers:
A Breakdown of SEO Costs
You may be thinking, “So, if I’m spending $5,000/mo on SEO, where exactly is all of that money going?”
Every agency or freelancer will approach things a bit differently but when it really comes down to it, I like to think you can break the cost of SEO into three areas: technical/onpage, content, and backlinks.
1 – Technical/OnPage SEO
This is going to cover all of your H1s, H2s, meta descriptions, image optimization, site speed optimization, URL structure, interlinking, etc…
This is, as the name would suggest, the most technical side of things and can be quite manual and time intensive.
You are paying for expertise and man hours here. A heavier chunk of the work is upfront, but there will be ongoing audits and updates, and as you add more content, each new piece needs to be optimized.
Technical site optimizations can run you into the $1000’s.
2 – Content
For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to include not only content creation here, but also the keyword research, content strategy, and posting of the content.
The internet is saturated with content, and so throwing up some run of the mill cheap content, isn’t going to get the job done.
To do things well, you want a quality writer that is going to either already have knowledge of the subject or put in the time to do the research.
You also, typically, want longer pieces of content (1000+ words). For any decent writer, you are paying at least $100 an article and that is on the lower end. I know great writers who are charging $500 for a 500 word article.
Then, you want to be posting consistently, in most cases, once per week if not more often.
So say you are paying $150 for an article and posting 4 a month. That is $600 right there and that may not cover positing and optimizing it.
These costs also do not include keyword research or content strategy, which is critical and will run around $500 for a quality breakdown.
And…we have yet to get into distribution of the content or video. Not every SEO will go this far, but typically, we will get content distributed out to various social channels and branded accounts. And, in the perfect world, you are also creating video based around your content to push your post over the top and give you opportunities to rank on YouTube.
Needless to say, content costs can rise quickly, but content is critical and many people, left to their own, simply will not follow through with creating it (I’ve had many a client, who wanting to save on costs said they would create the content and I haven’t had a single one carry through for more than a couple months).
3 – Backlinks
The last “core” piece to SEO are backlinks. Backlinks are still incredibly important and get us into one of the more sketchy areas of SEO.
There are many ways you can go about getting backlinks and Google is not too fond of many of them.
There used to be a day where you could pay for tons of spammy links and rank your site.
Those days are gone.
Now, you have to be very careful about what types of links you direct to your site, as some may end up penalizing you.
This is one area that many SEO’s are not always forthright about.
Ultimately, you can go about backlinks one of two ways.
First, you pay someone cheap to build backlinks. You get cheap backlinks, and it may help you rank, or you may get penalized.
Second, you pay someone expensive to build you backlinks. They will get you more quality backlinks that are better able to help you rank and less likely to cause any penalties to your site.
There are some heated debates and stances on the proper way to build backlinks, I’m not going to dive into all of that. I’ll just leave you with 3 things:
2 – Links are important. If you are not building them, you are going to have a tough go of it, so figure out a way that works for you.
3 – Quality link building is not cheap. Many companies that build links recommended monthly budgets of $1,500 – $3,000/mo just for building links.
A Sample SEO Budget
With all of that said, here is what a sample SEO budget of $5,000/mo may look like:
$1,000 – Technical SEO
$1,500 – Content
$1,500 – Backlinks
$1,000 – Admin (Account manager, software, profit, etc…)
And just to clarify, this is a broad overview of an example budget, every company, including my own, will have their own specific breakdown and allocation of funds.
What would you recommend spending on SEO?
It is hard to give an overarching recommendation as context (industry, location, existing website architecture) will impact this, but I will say this:
Your SEO company should be delivering quality content, building quality backlinks, and should be optimizing your website.
I would expect at least 1 quality article and backlink per month, as well as an initial optimization, and ideally, some ongoing optimization.
Assuming a quality article is at least $150 and a quality backlink $200, plus time for optimizations, well say another $150, and then you have to factor in software, general expenses, and profit for the company, in most cases, you are probably looking at around $700+/mo.
If you are paying less than $500/mo it probably isn’t worth it.
And ideally, if I have a client, I would like at least a $1000 budget for content, $1000 budget for backlinks and then another $1,000 for optimization, expenses and profit for a total of $3000/mo. And that is on the lower side.
Better world it would be more like $2,000 on content, $2,000 on backlinks, and $2,000 for optimizations, software, expenses, profit, etc… or around $6,000/mo.
And perfect world, you are in 5 digits and we are cranking out content and building backlinks like our lives depended on it.
Alright, I hope this helps give some context and put some perspective onto the cost of SEO.
There are plenty of shady SEO guys and gals out there, but there are also a lot of people like us, who want to do a good job and know that it takes money to do it that way.
Early on in my SEO career I realized that I wasn’t actually helping anyone by being cheap. I wasn’t able to produce good content, build good backlinks, and ultimately, move their rankings because of it.
There are some things in life you can skimp on. SEO isn’t one of them.
That’s great and all, but I don’t have that kind of money, any options for me?
Glad you asked! We do actually. Sam created an SEO course for SMB’s which you can find here. It is full of useful resources and a game plan that will walk you through everything you need to run a successful SEO campaign.