Cost of SEO services, along with pricing structure, types of services, and service providers, are factors for businesses to consider before partnering with an SEO firm.
Gathering information and making decisions boil down to a single action: Google search.
As a result of buyer impulse to refer to search engines to make buying decisions, businesses have been investing more in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to appear among the top results for target search terms. Our surveys of 500 enterprises and 305 small businesses found that 47% of enterprises and 52% of small businesses use SEO.
But, finding an SEO firm that offers the services you need and fits your budget is difficult, according to interviews with 150 clients of SEO and digital marketing agencies listed on Clutch. Nearly 1 in 5 (19%) said they had a negative experience with an SEO firm before finding the right SEO service provider.
Using insight from thousands of reviews of SEO firms on Clutch, we help you choose the SEO services, and the type of provider best suited for your company, based on your SEO needs (onsite, offsite, and/or digital marketing) and budgetary restraints.
SEO Services: Factors for Consideration
- Cost of SEO Services by Project Type, Illustrated Through Case Studies
- Monthly Retainers and Other Pricing Structures
- Types of SEO Services: Agencies, Consultants, Software, and Digital Marketing Firms
- Value of SEO Services Depends on Company Needs
- Additional Factors to Evaluate for Partnering With an SEO Firm
Cost of SEO Services by Project Size & Complexity
The cost of SEO services depends on the complexity of a campaign: the number of pages on a site, existing SEO efforts, and site structure.
Dan Golden, President of Be Found Online, a Chicago-based SEO firm, says his firm determines the price of SEO services according to project complexity factors.
"When we work with a web development firm that has resources, hours and a retainer in place, for example, we charge a lot less. In that case, we are giving really high-value advice and counsel, but we aren’t building pages or making the updates to the site architecture.” – Dan Golden, President of Be Found Online
Determine whether basic, agency, or enterprise level SEO services are best for your organization by using our monthly cost breakdowns and case studies.
SEO Services (level)
Price per month
Small businesses (1-5 employees) & Local contractors
Local SEO (i.e., local directory listings) and low-level, basic SEO services
High-level local SEO for low competition searches, national SEO for low-competition terms
Small to mid-sized businesses, franchises
National SEO, high-level local SEO for moderate-highly competitive search terms
Large companies & Enterprises
High-level national SEO, International SEO
Basic SEO Services Suit Local, Small Businesses
Approximate Monthly Cost: $300-$500
Basic SEO services are a low-cost, low-risk investment for smaller businesses and local contractors, companies with a new website, or companies with fewer SEO services demands.
Services provided in this price range include local organic optimization techniques, such as listings on local directory pages and on Google Local Business.
Case Study: Boostability Local SEO for Small Fencing Company
Cost: $500/mo. (after initial 3-month implementation rate of $1500/mo.)
A fencing company ranked for 7 out of 17 target keywords in 2013. They worked with Boostability and now rank on page 1 for all 17 keywords.
Boostability launched 800+ SEO tactics focused on keyword optimization. They also provided content marketing, link-building, and monitoring services.
Agency Level SEO Services Improve Visibility Locally & Nationally
Approximate Monthly Cost : $1,000-$3,000 for competitive local SEO; $3,000-$10,000 for competitive local and national SEO.
Agency level SEO services are best for organizations that want to rank in search engines both locally and nationally. The cost of SEO services at this level breaks down into two main ranges according to keyword competition, market size, and website size.
Competitive, Local SEO Approximately $1,000-$3,000/Month
Agency level services in the $1,000-$3,000 range provide SEO for small businesses that operate in a competitive local market or a moderately competitive national landscape. In this price range, an SEO services firm provides:
- High-level local SEO for markets with low competition for target terms
- Competitive local placement for high concentration or competitive terms
- National SEO for terms with low competition or low search volume
Case Study: Pole Position Marketing Boosts Organic Traffic for Battery Retailer
A small, e-commerce site that specializes in online battery sales struggled with rankings for its two target terms.
Pole Position Marketing removed no-follow links from all of the sites product pages, not just those relating to the top two target terms. As a result, product pages receiving organic traffic increased greatly. Correspondingly, revenue grew 92% over a three year period.
Case Study: Coalition Technologies Optimized New Domain for Fashion Retailer
High-Level Local Rankings & National SEO Approximately $3,000-10,000/Month
Agency level SEO services at the $3,000-$10,000 range benefit small and medium sized businesses with high-volume websites that operate in competitive and large markets or want to rank for searches nationally.
SEO services in this range provide:
- Greater visibility for searches nationally
- High-level local rankings for moderately competitive terms
- Page-one rankings for highly competitive local searches
Case Study: Searchbloom National SEO for Social Media Marketing Firm
Social Vantage, a social media marketing company, faced an incredibly competitive landscape for target industry terms and keywords (i.e. “social media marketing”, “social media management”).
Searchbloom instituted an on-site focused optimization campaign and moved the site into competitive positions for approximately a dozen key terms. As a result, the first half of 2017 saw a YoY increase of 224% in completed leads.
Case Study: Thrive Internet Marketing Moves Law Firm to Top 5 Local Rankings
Case Study: Fruition Facilitates Growth for Dental Practice Through Local SEO
Enterprise Level SEO Services Serve Large Companies With Competitive Keywords
Approximate Monthly Cost: $10,000+
Enterprise level SEO services serve large companies, large e-commerce sites, and companies competing for hypercompetitive keywords. Firms that require enterprise level SEO services often have websites with tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of pages that require regular, high-level SEO services.
Case Study: Sachs Marketing Group Builds Domain for Adolescent Rehab Group
A national rehabilitation clinic had no website or domain, and operated in a competitive national market against household names.
Sachs Marketing Group built out, and optimized, the clinic’s website. The site now ranks on page one for 150+ terms and experienced notable expansion as a result of the leads brought in from search engine traffic.
Case Study: Be Found Online Expands Search Presence for Online Golf Retailer
Cost: Minimum 40 hrs/month at rate of $195/hr
An online golf retailer only ranked for brand search terms, or keywords with their actual company name in them.
Be Found Online instituted site architecture changes and optimized high-performing landing pages to move the golf retailer to competitive positions for national search terms.
Case Study: SEO Advantage Earns Rankings for Precious Metals Firm Through Content
A startup precious metal collection firm needed immediate, and effective, returns from search engines to compete in their highly competitive industry space.
SEO Advantage used a content services-led SEO campaign to earn page-one rankings for over industry 40,000 industry terms.
Case Study: Vizion Interactive Skyrockets Rankings for Furniture Retailer
Cost: $5,000 per domain with an average rate of $10,000/mo.
Negative past experiences with an SEO firm made a B2B furniture retailer doubt the value of SEO.
Vizion Interactive enacted an encompassing SEO campaign that increased organic traffic for the furniture retailer over 700% over 11 years.
Case Study: Bruce Clay Reverses Google Penalty for Commercial Equipment Retailer
Cost: $8,000 initial penalty assessment fee, current operates on monthly consulting fee
A commercial equipment retailer suffered tremendously from being placed under a Google penalty due to shady back-links to their site.
Bruce Clay performed a Google penalty assessment, nullified the effects of the penalty, and instituted link maintenance services to move the company back into positions of search relevancy.
Case Study: Directive Consulting Brings Leads for Construction Mgmt Company
Cost: $10,000 monthly retainer with additional project-based costs
A construction management software company was not generating returns from previous SEO & PPC work with smaller providers.
Directive Consulting optimized high-performing pages as a basis to build authority for the site, which coupled with on-site technical SEO work, improved site traffic and drove qualified leads to the site.
Case Study: 97th Floor Optimizes Content to Improve Health Site Rankings
Monthly Retainers the SEO Industry Norm for Pricing Structure
Most SEO firms charge clients monthly (a monthly retainer) according to project size and contract length. SEO firms also require minimum terms for SEO campaigns: The industry standard is six months.
Other pricing models for SEO services include performance-based and service-based models – often in addition to an established monthly retainer.
Performance-based pricing for SEO services is based on project results: key performance indicators (KPIs) like keywords rankings, traffic or leads.
Performance-based pricing is relatively low-risk since SEO firms only charge you if your campaign hits the agreed KPIs. However, you may face higher rates for SEO efforts that exceed established benchmarks.
Service packages charge a fixed rate for one-time or short-term SEO services, such as an audit or social media marketing. Individual service packages resemble a traditional transaction (payment for an immediate deliverable) but are unlikely to yield ongoing results like SEO efforts covered under monthly retainer fees.
Full-service packages include all of a firm’s SEO offerings at a fixed rate.
Types of SEO Service Providers Offer Different Degrees of Control and Support
There are four main types of SEO services: SEO agencies, SEO consultants, SEO software, and digital marketing agencies. Control over your SEO strategy and the type of advice and guidance you receive varies based on the type of SEO service provider you choose as a partner
SEO Agencies handle all aspects of an SEO campaign for a company: initial research and audit, strategy formulation, campaign execution, project maintenance, and data analysis.
Agencies specialize in SEO services and have advanced SEO tools and software at their disposal. Companies with limited knowledge of SEO or limited resources to maintain an SEO campaign benefit from the hands-on, leading role of SEO agencies.
SEO Consultants play a supporting role. Consultants are SEO experts that specialize in SEO services. However, they are “more mentors than doers,” according to Bruce Clay, who runs the consultancy, Bruce Clay Inc., and is one of the most recognizable SEO consultants in the field. Consultants work with their clients to develop an SEO strategy, show them how to execute strategy, and teach them to maintain SEO efforts over time.
For companies that are unsure about hiring an SEO agency or consultant, SEO software is a do-it-yourself option. SEO software automates optimization efforts, such as link auditing and keyword research.
SEO services are not exclusively provided by firms with specialized SEO knowledge. Digital marketing agencies offer services that impact SEO, including content marketing, social media marketing, and paid advertising.
Which SEO Services Are Right For You? Initial Audit Through Analytics Reporting
The SEO services that are valuable for your company depend on your SEO needs and the competition in your industry.
“It's very important to properly qualify the client to solve their pain points and then recommended SEO as a channel that may help accomplish the clients' goal(s),” said Mike Salvaggio, CEO of Philadelphia-based SEO firm SEO Brand.
SEO firms offer services in five buckets: an SEO audit, on-site optimization, off-site optimization, digital marketing, and reporting and analytics. Understanding what services you need will help you determine the best SEO provider: an agency, consultant, software, or digital marketing agency.
Start With an Audit to Determine What SEO Services You Need
SEO campaigns begin with an audit to identify areas of opportunity for SEO. A typical audit examines a site’s:
- Load speed
- URL structure
- Content (site copy, blog)
- Information architecture (layout, hierarchy, taxonomy)
- Link profile
The audit determines whether you should invest in on-site, off-site, or digital marketing SEO services.
On-Site Optimization Makes it Easier for Search Engines to Index a Site
On-site optimization makes your site easier for search engines to index by improving your site’s UX and ensuring proper categorization.
The main on-site optimization effort is keyword optimization, which ensures target keyword phrases are included, where relevant, in the content of your site – namely site copy (including blogs, landing pages, and navigation functions) and alt text labels (images, internal links).
Second, optimizing your website’s design helps search engines process content on your site. SEO firms optimize design elements like your domain name (ensuring your domain name matches your service offerings) and site format (site menu, landing pages) to emphasize target search terms and topics.
Finally, optimizing the back-end structure of your site includes editing URL structure, attributing images using target keywords (alt image attributions), adding title tags, and including meta descriptions for relevant pages.
Off-Site SEO Earns Backlinks to Support On-Site Efforts
Offsite optimization efforts support on-site optimization by earning backlinks to your site. Every link to your site from another page serves as an “endorsement” from Google. The more authoritative the page, the greater weight an endorsement carries.
Link-building campaigns acquire links from external sources, like industry websites, blogs, and forums, to build authority on a topic. To maintain a strong link profile, link monitoring and disavowal services ensure that “spammy” links, or phony endorsements, are wiped from your profile.
In addition, creating quality content and marketing it signals authority and draws links to your site.
Content that aligns with user intent and focuses on comprehensiveness and usability resonates with target audiences and draws traffic to your site. High site traffic and low bounce rates signal authority and play a role in search rankings.
Off-site SEO serves as the “differentiator,” for Searchbloom, according to Founder Cody Jensen. Searchbloom acquires links for its clients by pitching content to relevant sources and outlets.
A model for effective content marketing is Rand Fishkin’s 10X Content.
Social media marketing also creates a potential for links back to your site. Experts disagree on the relationship between social media and SEO, but most acknowledge social media engagement increases traffic to your site and exposes your brand to a larger audience.
Other forms of off-site optimization include reputation management, influencer marketing, and public relations.
Digital Marketing Complements SEO, Helps Companies Achieve Visibility
Digital marketing services like pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, paid media, and web design improve your site’s visibility in search engines but are distinct from SEO services.
An SEO agency or consultant uses on-site and off-site SEO strategies to improve a site’s ranking, while a digital marketing agency looks at SEO in the broader context of a marketing campaign.
For example, although PPC and SEO are often grouped together, PPC is a digital marketing service that requires businesses to bid on placement in search results based on target keywords. An SEO firm would optimize on-site and off-site elements to improve the site’s ranking.
Wes Reuning, Executive Vice President of Atlanta-based SEO firm SEO Advantage, frames the differences between digital marketing strategies, particularly PPC and organic SEO, as similar to the difference between renting and owning a house.
“Organic SEO is building a mansion at the beach. An organically ranking website is an asset that can be valued if you were to ever sell your company. You could monetize it in a number of ways,” Reuning said. “PPC, or any other type of digital advertising, you pay the going price and get instant results.” – Wes Reuning, Executive Vice President, SEO Advantage
Organic SEO services achieve rankings for the long-term, thus provide ongoing returns. Digital marketing services, on the other hand. provide short-term and instant impact and returns.
Analytics Reporting Shows SEO Campaign Progress But Depends on Communication Frequency
Analytics reports illustrate the impact of SEO efforts: progress toward the goal of target search term rankings, impact on site traffic, and changes in click-through rates or engagement rates.
Source: Pole Position Marketing
The depth and frequency of analytics reporting depend on the level of communication between an SEO firm and a company: the more often the communication, the more regular the updates. The level of communication varies by project and service agreement. Typically, the larger the project, meaning the more you pay, the more frequent the communication.
Look to Ratings and Reviews, Company Characteristics Before Choosing an SEO Services Firm
This report guides you through the process of choosing an SEO services firm based on cost and SEO service offerings. But, it’s important to examine SEO firms beyond cost to find the best partner for your company. Thorough research during the process of selecting an SEO firm helps to avoid an unsuccessful partnership, a fate suffered by nearly 20% of companies.
Start your evaluation process by learning about SEO firms. Seek referrals and read ratings and reviews to gain insight into the type of clients firms work with and the feedback they receive for their work. Reference case studies to see if firms have provided solutions for organizations with similar needs as you.
“Some SEO agencies do really well with [small businesses] or just understand how different verticals work. Make sure the [SEO] agency understands the vertical and its nuances.” – Dan Golden, President of Be Found Online
Next, examine the SEO firm's attributes you consider most important. Does the firm share analytics reports with its clients? How often does it communicate with its clients?
The more transparent and communicative the firm, the better you understand the impact and value of SEO services. To this point, be realistic about your expectations, says Tony Wright, President of WrightIMC, a Texas-based SEO firm: “If you're paying $1,000 a month, do not expect a phone call every day.”
Helpful Tool for Selecting an SEO Firm
Clutch’s process for determining the best providers of SEO services takes into account client reviews, past clients, experience, market presence, and service focus. Our content helps people choose the best firm based on cost, geography, size, and service focus.
We suggest you use our evaluation tool to help select an SEO firm that's right for you.
The tool allows your company to select your needs and the importance your place on a firm's ability to deliver and value. Based on your responses, it recommends SEO firms that fit your desired partner attributes.
See Clutch's guide How to Select an SEO Company for a detailed description of the evaluation tool and the information it provides.
Evaluate SEO Firms Beyond Cost and Services Research
This guide informs businesses about SEO services and walks them through the process of partnering with a service provider to launch an SEO campaign. The following takeaways summarize crucial cost and service information associated with SEO services that equip businesses with the knowledge to evaluate and approach an SEO partner with confidence.
Project complexity and size determine the cost of SEO services. The price of SEO services is determined by the size of the campaign and the challenges your company wants to address, factors that differ by individual firm.
Monthly retainers are the most common pricing structure for SEO services. Most firms require a monthly retainer as a baseline price for their services. Some firms also price services according to project type or performance, often in addition to monthly fees.
SEO service providers vary in the degree of control over SEO strategy they allow. SEO agencies maintain control over every aspect of your SEO strategy, while consultants provide a more supportive role and SEO software represents a do-it-yourself (DIY) option.
SEO services provide value for a business according to its individual needs. The most effective type of SEO service for a company—whether it be on-site, off-site, or digital marketing—depends on their individual SEO "pain points".
Evaluate SEO services beyond service offerings and cost. Conduct thorough research into SEO firms before partnering with an SEO service: search for reviews, examine company characteristics, and budget accordingly.
More SEO Content on Clutch
- Small Business SEO in 2017: A Survey
- The Complete Guide to Content Marketing for SEO
- How to Select an SEO Company