SEO Pricing in 2020 – How Much Do SEO Agencies Charge?

Frank Olivo

Frank Olivo is the founder of Sagapixel. He writes on a number of topics related to digital marketing, but focuses mostly on web design and SEO.

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SEO pricing can vary wildly depending on a number of factors. This article is going to share the average pricing for SEO agencies given each of these factors.

Before we get into the details, you should understand the main drivers of SEO pricing, which are:

  1. The reputation of the SEO company/the demand for its services
  2. The cost of living/cost of labor in the market where the SEO agency operates
  3. The skill required to deliver SEO services for the client’s industry/the supply of this skill

It goes without saying that it is significantly more expensive to hire talented SEO managers in NYC than it is in Utah, which is more expensive than hiring in India.

Additionally, SEO agencies that specialize in providing SEO services to some industries will have higher labor costs than others (for example, hiring someone with legal knowledge to do SEO for lawyers vs. an SEO to deliver services to gas stations).

If you own a business in the United States, you’re most likely to choose an SEO agency in the U.S. or in India, so this guide is going to focus on pricing for SEO in these two markets. If you’re not in the U.S., pricing for SEO in the UK is pretty similar to the U.S., so this guide should be helpful as well.

Before I go heavily into detailing SEO pricing in 2020, here’s the high-level pricing of SEO:

The “High-Level” Average Pricing for SEO Agencies

According to an industry survery by SEO tool Ahrefs, most SEO agencies in the United States and UK charge between $100-$150 per hour; SEO agencies in India charge <$25/hr. (Sagapixel operates in a relatively inexpensive market and charges $75/hr).

  1. The most common monthly retainers for SEO agencies in the U.S. are between $500-$1500/mo and $2500-$5000/mo; in India, $250-$1000
  2. For U.S.-based agencies that are hired for one-off projects, the most common price for SEO is $1000-$1500 or $2500-$5000; for SEO agencies in India, <$1000
  3. Local SEO tends to be much cheaper. It often doesn’t involve content marketing, which requires significant planning and well-written content.
  4. Ecommerce SEO tends to be more expensive. It usually requires highly technical knowledge, which can come at a premium. It can also have the easiest to calculate ROI, which makes it easy for CFOs to justify the cost for SEO.

Data source: Ahrefs

Like I said, SEO pricing can vary quite a by industry and location.

Offshoring SEO vs. Onshoring SEO

There are certain cost advantages to offshoring SEO. There are certain quality advantages to hiring a company based in your country.

My experience with SEO companies in India is that the quality tends to be much lower than it is with companies in the U.S. To start, communication is often more difficult. The time zone difference can complicate engagements, as can the difficulties that arise with communicating with someone for whom English is a second language.

SEO Pricing Models:  SEO Packages vs. Retainer Pricing vs. Hourly Pricing

SEO Packages Are Becoming Less and Less Common

SEO packages such as this one are becoming less and less common—for a reason:

seo pricing by packages

To start, descriptors offering to rank “up X number of keywords” are disingenuous at best. Here is a screenshot of the Google Search Console of a web design client of ours that has never done SEO. It ranks for 706 keywords:

example of website that never did SEO

This is just a way of trying to make a customer think they’re getting “keywords” in exchange for the SEO agency’s time. That’s not how this works.

An SEO agency could rank a website for 300 “keyphrases” without ever even lifting a finger. To use that as a deliverable is questionable.

If one were to create SEO packages that work, they should be based around the actual services delivered, such as creation of location pages for a local SEO campaign, or the planning and writing of content for a website that would benefit from content marketing (like a SAAS company). Even at that, we often don’t even know definitively what a website will most benefit from before the engagement—how can we put together an effective SEO package if we don’t even know what they need?

“SEO package” pricing is usually indicative of an agency focused on selling. My advice is to avoid them. There is no way to package effective SEO; it’s like going to the mechanic and getting pitched “the aggressive plan” for fixing your engine.

Retainer Pricing for SEO

SEO pricing is a retainer at 99% of the reputable SEO agencies out there.

In essence, the agency sells a block of hours to the client, billed at different rates depending on who is doing what. For example, an hour of an SEO strategist’s time is likely to be billed at a higher rate than it will be for link prospector whose job is to go through link building opportunities for a client.

This is the SEO pricing model at Sagapixel. Our client gives us $X each month and we deduct from that as work is completed. We also use a complex system to roll over hours from one month to the other, just in case we go over or run short one month.

As you shop around, you’ll find that most SEO pricing is a retainer model. Just be sure to hire a company that keeps clear records of its deliverables. Retainer-based SEO pricing leaves a lot of room for dishonest actors.

Keep Track of Your SEO Deliverables

This is not necessarily about the pricing of SEO services, but since you’re likely reading this because you’re in the market to hire a company, be forewarned. Your SEO agency should be accounting for the hours spent working on your project, or at the very least, the deliverables.

We inherit websites from businesses that have been getting “SEO services” for months, or even years, only to find that no link building has been done, no blog content has been produced, and no additional pages were added to the website. The client isn’t able to tell us anything else about what was done beyond “they put the right keywords on the page.”

This is not how SEO is done.

Hourly Pricing for SEO

Under an hourly pricing model, an SEO agency works X number of hours and bills you at the end of the month.

The advantage of such hourly pricing is that you only pay for the time your SEO agency works. The disadvantage of such pricing is that it’s usually indicative of a company desperate for business.

Successful SEO can have a massive ROI and good SEO companies are in high demand. According to Google’s featured snippet, ROI for SEO is normally between 50% and 5000%. While those numbers may sound incredible, there’s a reason for it. The return from an investment in SEO is perpetual; unlike other advertising media, it doesn’t go away when you stop spending.

Since many companies have realized this, good SEO agencies are in high demand.

The only ones using this pricing model are the ones that are not in high demand.

Ultimately, the Price of SEO Doesn’t Matter as Much as the ROI

Spending $250/mo for SEO that doesn’t drive sales instead of $2500/mo for SEO that does drive sales doesn’t make any sense.

Ultimately, the key is not to focus on SEO pricing; the key is to focus on the ability of the provider to drive traffic and sales. Start by eliminating the SEO agencies that require budgets higher than what you’re able to spend. Then, pick the one you feel is most likely to deliver the results you need.

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