How Much Do SEO Services Actually Cost?

The three most common types of SEO services and which one is right for your business.

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By Jacky Chou

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Let's face it, search engine optimization (SEO) is one of the essential driving factors behind most digital marketing initiatives these days. And all too frequently, speaking to an SEO agency, once the subject of pricing is brought up, you'll hear, " totally depends."

What does it depend on? Why can't there just be a clear answer or even a ballpark figure? As frustrating as it may be, unfortunately, SEO has a huge number of variables that an agency or a consultant would have to take into account before giving you a ticket price.

Related: 3 Tips for Choosing the Right SEO Agency

However, not all is lost. Thanks to some in-depth research and a large-scale survey done by Ahrefs, I'm able to give you the comprehensive rundown on just how much SEO services cost on average.

A peek at the numbers

At first glance, the data from Ahrefs pins the average hourly rate for an SEO agency to be anywhere between $100 and $150 per hour. However, fewer SEO agencies are charging by the hour these days. In fact, most agencies charge a recurring monthly fee, otherwise known as a retainer. These retainers will run you anywhere between $500 and $2,000 per month.

Related: 9 Key Questions to Ask an SEO Company Before Hiring It -- or Firing It

Now that you know a bit about the raw numbers behind the costs of SEO services, let's go over the most common pricing structures that SEO agencies use.

The most common SEO pricing structures

Monthly Retainer

Generally, this sort of model leans towards long-term relationships between an agency and their clientele instead of a one-off project where you'd typically see either hourly or one-time rates. This is the best option for businesses that are looking for a practically hands-off experience where the agency will take care of the majority of their SEO efforts across the board.

However, this model doesn't come without its downsides. Typically, monthly retainers feature long-term commitments, and you should expect to be locked in for at least six months should you sign. On one hand, this is valuable for SEO agencies, as it allows them the necessary amount of time to do their work. But at the same time, this could result in your being stuck with an agency that you're not happy with.

Typical monthly SEO cost: $500 to $2,000 per month

One-time projects

If recurring costs aren't your thing and keeping track of hours and estimate revisions is too much of a pain, the project-based model might just be your saving grace. This model is for businesses with detailed and specific needs that have a good handle on their SEO requirements and a solid strategy in place already. You should think of it as bringing some temporary help on board to help you execute an already existing objective.

So, what are the downsides to this option? For one, it's easy to get ripped off. If you have little experience working with other SEO companies and a murky understanding of what SEO is and what you really need out of the project, you could very easily end up paying double. And once the project scope is set in stone, any changes to milestones or pivots will result in additional costs.

Typical SEO project cost: $1,000 to $2,000 per project

Hourly and on-demand

What if you've got a good grasp on your SEO priorities and only need occasional help in executing your strategy? One of the best options for you would be to look into bringing on an SEO consultant or agency for a few hours when needed.

This is best for budget-limited operations such as a small website that is just getting started on building up its business. On-demand SEO is also a tremendous asset to those looking to manage and execute their own campaigns that don't need constant third-party involvement.

You can expect a good degree of transparency in terms of what your money goes toward, as the time spent on any given initiative will always be logged and reported. Thus, you have full control of how much effort is going into any given area of your SEO strategy. Additionally, this also provides for very predictable costs, so you can budget accordingly and retain total control of marketing expenditures.

Typical hourly SEO cost: $100 to $150 per hour

Should you hire an agency or a freelancer?

It's no secret that, on average, agencies charge higher prices for their time and services compared to freelance consultants and SEO professionals. However, whether you should opt to work with an agency or an individual depends entirely on the scope of your strategy.

Related: Should You Handle Your SEO Internally or With an Agency?

Although a single consultant or expert can help with smaller projects, they only have so much time on their hands and might be working with other clients. In contrast, an agency generally has all the necessary resources in place to carry out larger projects quickly. So the added costs are typically offset by the fact that you get to see the progress and results of your efforts much faster. In addition to this, agencies are also able to offer a more extensive breadth of services than freelance consultants. Base your decision to choose an agency or a freelancer on your budget and the scope of your project.

Related: 6 Warning Signs You May Be Dealing With an SEO Scam Artist

Jacky Chou

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Writer

Founder of Indexsy

Jacky Chou is founder of Indexsy, an enterprise SEO agency. He is a proud native of Vancouver, BC, who has been featured on Forbes, Oberlo and GoDaddy.

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