Pricing out SEO services can be a challenge for any business looking to invest in their online marketing efforts. It's difficult because there is no one-size-fits-all pricing metric. It seems that, no matter where you turn, you're comparing apples to oranges when it comes to pricing and services offered between SEO companies.

Ultimately everything comes down to hours. How many hours are involved in doing the tasks at hand?

To figure that, you have to know what's required in order make your site successful. And, that's the rub. When comparing quotes between SEO companies, the price is only a reflection of two things: 1) What services are going to be provided, and 2) How much does the SEO get per hour. Each service will have an estimated number of hours attached to it. Some will be one-time hours, others will be ongoing hours, some tasks will require a lot of hours, and some only a few.

Successful SEO requires quite a bit of time. The question becomes, what is "success"? Is it improved rankings? First page rankings? #1 rankings? More traffic? More conversions? More profit?

Most people looking for SEO seem to be looking for "top search engine rankings". Which is odd, when you think about it, because you would think they would want "more profits". Sure, they'll tell you that's what they want... but their actions, or rather reactions, tell a different story.

I've seen this a dozen times. Client's profits are up. They are getting better rankings, more traffic, more conversions. But, the client still looks at a couple keywords and says "why aren't we doing better here?" It's like the kid who comes home with all A's and one B and, the parent says "what's the problem here, son?"

Sometimes the keyword in question is just a pet keyword. The business owner thinks its relevant, but the keyword research tells a different story. You're not even optimizing for it because, well, it's useless! Other times it's a legitimate keyword, but a competitive one. But, the point here is... it's just a keyword. Business is great, but the client wants to know why the SEO efforts are unsuccessful!

So, back to what does make SEO successful. SEO will have a different price tag based on what is considered success. The cost will be very different, depending on whether you are simply looking only for SEO or whether you need SEO and Link Building. Or, if you need SEO, link building (or social media), usability, and site architecture, then you're looking at a whole other ball game of costs.

The lower end may bring you some success. The higher end will likely bring you much more success. Which will bring you more profits? Well, that's what you have to figure out.

How Much is that SEO in the Window?

SEO providers come in all shapes and sizes. We often have potential clients contact us, shopping around for the "right" SEO company to work with. Nine times out of 10 they are really just price shopping. They are not comparing services, they are comparing our prices.

In a battle against prices, we lose. There is always an "SEO" company that will work for less. Either they are offering less in services or they are charging less per hour. Neither of these is necessarily better or worse... just different. You need you know the difference before you can make an informed decision.

Of course, the old adage, "you get what you pay for" is often true. Typically, the lower the price is, the lower the quality will be also. And, if you want an expert in any field, you're going to have to pay them what they're worth. And... it's usually worth it.

It is rare to find "cheap" SEOs that can achieve top rankings for competitive, high ROI terms, maintain those top rankings through constant algorithm changes, and continue to beat out your competition that is optimizing for the same keyword phrases.

If you're paying someone only a few hundred or even just a few thousand dollars each year to optimize your site, how many man-hours do you really think is being invested each month on your account? Is that enough? If your SEO charges $25 per hour, do you think they are offering the same quality as one that charges $200. Doubtful. But, you need to know for sure.

What's it Gonna Take to Close This Deal?

SEO isn't a one-time service. I mean, it can be. You can optimize a site in a few simple steps: 1) keyword research, 2) keyword selection, 3) page optimization. Depending on the size of your site, this can be done in a few weeks, a few months, or it may take a few years. Back to that "hours invested" thing again!

Then, you add in keyword research or social media, usability testing, analytics, SEO tweaks and improvements, site architecture improvements, and then some. Forget "set-it-and-forget-it". That's your competitor's dream!

SEO work is something akin to hiring a private investigator on retainer. The SEO's job is to continue to seek out potential problems that may now, or in the future, be keeping a client's site from performing as strongly as possible. If the client isn't ranking well, or traffic isn't increasing, or business isnt' growing, the SEO needs to investigate to figure out why.

We check out competitors, back links, on-page optimization, site architecture, and a whole host of other areas for potential snags that could be keeping the client from performing.

Sometimes all this is as simple as finding a duplicate URL somewhere that we didn't know about, and other times, after months of research, we find that a client links out to sites that link out to other spammy sites. Rarely is it one thing, but a combination of things. But, SEO is all about baby steps. A small step here, a small step there, and pretty soon you're several steps closer to your goal.

These types of things have to be under constant analysis, even if a site performs well. Heading off problems before they occur is a big part of the SEO game, and plays heavily into pricing.

SEO pricing can be a big deal for the average business owner, and it should be. However, pricing alone should not be the deciding factor in which SEO provider you choose. Find out what services you'll be getting. If you get the impression that the SEO is done after a few hours of up front work, you may not be getting enough investigation for potential or existent, yet unknown, problems. This can cost you later on.

On the other hand, just because someone charges huge fees does not mean they'll do you well either. This is an issue with many of the very large SEO companies. Do your homework, and find the company that will treat you as their only client, even though you're not. If you get that kind of service, you will undoubtedly reap a very significant return on your investment.

September 15, 2010

Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.


I think alot of business descion makers struggle with SEO due to a lack of knowledge, there seems to be a belief that high rankings will make more money. To earn the contract you have to convince a potential client you get their business. Which generally means research before you take a job.

Small business owners have no clue what SEO is so they have no budget. The feel "yea im in google thats enough" and when you approach them on the idea they feel your a scam.

It be nice to see SEO talked about at a human level so the village idiot knows website = seo = customers!

Great article, Stoney. There are so many questions regarding SEO value, SEO work and what is SEO finally. Seams it would be the best if we give some quick course to clients before we start talking about project.

Great post, Stoney! Your reference to deciding what's important in SEO, and what may be considered an acceptable ROI...that's quite true. There are some SEO providers who take the 'black hat' approach to determining value, assigning value to results that aren't really relevant. We have a responsibility to tell our clients - particularly those small business owners who rely on us for their hard-earned advertising dollars - what they need to hear, not what makes them feel good till the check clears! :) Thanks for the 'straight talk'!!!

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