SEO Pricing for SEO Consultants and Prospective Buyers
SEO gets a bad reputation and for good reason. There are tons of so called “experts” who spam the internet with email, Tweets, comments, forum posts and other solicitations with guarantees of getting websites to the top of search engines. If I had a nickle for every email in my junk box, cheesy website I found or tweet I received from India based seo companies I think i’d have enough to buy front row season tickets to all Memphis Tiger Basketball home games.
Prices for SEO services are all over the place. You can find complete SEO services for your website for as little as $49 for an entire site to as much as $100,000, if not more. You don’t always get what you pay for. I’ve often seen reputable SEO companies charge tens of thousands of dollars for SEO services that should be a fraction of the price. Since very few people understand just what SEO is and what is involved in getting a website to rank highly in search engines, companies routinely charge basically whatever they want.
So, just how much does or should SEO cost?
Let’s first briefly define exactly what SEO is. As most people know, SEO is defined as “search engine optimization”. It’s on page and off page methods and tactics for getting a website ranked higher in search engines. That could basically mean anything. SEO is a very broad art. It encompasses everything from optimizing a website’s structure and content to social media campaigns aimed at getting more visitors to a website. Social media is a subset of SEO. A successful social media campaign can dramatically affect rankings. SEO is whatever tactics it takes to rank a website higher.
A lot of consultants and companies selling SEO services tend to break down SEO into two categories:
- 1. on page SEO
- 2. off page SEO
Some on page SEO items include content optimization, server and site code structure optimization, META tag optimization and sitemap creation. Some off page SEO items include link building, sitemap submission, social media campaigns, directory submissions, competitor and market analysis and link analysis.
Many SEO companies typically break down pricing based on number of keywords a site is to rank highly for. SEO companies and consultants often base how much they charge on how big of a website you have and often an SEO company will have different rates or tiers they charge depending on just how highly they will help you rank your website in search engines. So, if you have a website and just want to rank at the top of search engines for 3 keywords, you will likely be charged a much lower amount than if you have a website you need to be ranked at the top of search engines for ten, twenty, thirty or more keywords.
The image above is a well known image of where users look and click when on Google. This heat map shows overwhelmingly, users of Google tend to only click on the first few results, above the fold of the page. For most keywords, if you aren’t in the top 5 you aren’t going to get many, if any hits. For more please read more about this study at http://eyetools.com/research_google_eyetracking_heatmap.html
When they say “search engines” they really only mean one!
Let’s be honest, overwhelmingly the search engine that matters the most…by far, is Google. Yes, Yahoo, Bing and other search engines do offer a lot of value and generate roughly 15 to 30 percent of traffic (on average depending on keyword), but most of the time SEO consultants and companies are charging to rank your website highly for Google. A reputable SEO company will analyze your traffic with you to determine how much of a percentage of your visitors and customers are coming from other search engines besides Google and will detail a plan for getting your website to rank high in those search engines as well.
If you have a website that is ranking very well in Google and Bing but is not ranking well in Yahoo then some sound advice is to ask your SEO consultant how they would go about ranking your site higher in Yahoo. A reputable and good SEO consultant/company will know how tactics to rank a site higher in individual search engines.
A breakdown of SEO charges
So, let’s dive in and look at an itemized list of services that most SEO companies/consultants charge for or include in their services.
Number of keywords or keyword phrases to rank highly for
It’s easier to rank some keywords higher than others. Keywords like “ink cartridges” are going to be much more difficult to rank highly for in Google than it would be to rank highly for “canon ink cartridges”. An SEO company needs to analyze the market and determine how difficult it will be to rank your website on the first page of Google. An SEO company will need to look at:
- 1. Where does your website currently rank for your keywords?
- 2. How many competitors/websites are there for each keyword?
- 3. Google Adwords Keyword Tool to check competition, average traffic and trending info
This is the main variable part of SEO. For example, if your website is currently on the second page for your main keyword and the keyword isn’t very competitive, it could take only a couple of tweaks to your website to get your site to rank in the top 10. SEO companies shouldn’t charge you an arm and a leg in this instance. However, if you have a relatively new website and you wish to rank for competitive keywords, SEO companies can justify charging more as a lot more work is needed in order to get your site ranked higher.
Beware of SEO Plans!!
Because of the variable aspect of SEO, as explained above, you should be weary of any company that offers tiers or plans. Just like if you have a problem with your car you never pay a flat rate for the mechanic to fix your car. The mechanic will examine your car inside and out to determine the problem and offer a solution and then charge accordingly. A good SEO company will do the same. Plans are scams! Avoid them at all cost.
A good SEO consultant or company will have an initial consultation with you. They will either charge you for the consultation or offer it for free. This consultation will determine what is needed for your website. A consultation should establish:
- 1. the best keywords for your website/business to rank for
- 2. what websites are your competition
- 3. the amount of work and a generalized amount of time it will take to get your site ranked on the first page of Google
There are many factors an SEO consultant has to take into account in order to estimate how easy or how hard it will be to rank a website for a keyword phrase. Reputable and experienced SEO companies should have an adequate idea. However, no SEO company can give a guarantee. If you are shopping around and come across an SEO company that guarantees top placement or a time frame for top placement in Google, RUN away!
Just tell me how much to charge!!!
Ok! Here’s an example:
Company A comes to me seeking SEO. From an analysis of their website, market and competitors we determine that there are 10 keywords that they should be optimizing/promoting for. The keywords are competitive but not extremely competitive and Company A’s website does not currently rank on the first page, or even second page, for any of the keywords. I determine it will take between 3 to 6 months to rank on the first page for most of the keywords. Company A agrees to have me do SEO for them. I charge for the consultation but roll that into the cost of the SEO campaigns. If they had decided against me performing SEO for their site I would have sent an invoice for the amount for the consultation. I do not do free consultations because of the amount of research and effort it takes to do a thorough and adequate analysis.
How much is the consultation?
Not that much, actually. It really depends on how long it takes me to do a thorough analysis but there’s nothing wrong with an SEO consultant or company charging a flat fee. My rates typically range from $150 to $500, however I typically eliminate that fee for companies that hire me to do the SEO for them.
If Company A above, who wants to rank for 10 somewhat competitive keywords, hires me to do SEO for them I would likely charge at a minimum of $2500 to a maximum of $5000. That’s usually for a 3 to 6 month campaign to get Company A’s keywords, most or all of them, onto the first page of Google. If Company A had many more keyword phrases they wanted to rank highly for, we could scale up the pricing by adding another $1000 to $2500 for each additional 10 keywords.
So, if Company A wanted to rank on the first page for 50 keywords they would be charged $6500 to $15000. Yes, there is quite a difference between those two numbers but this is a good example of what a typical SEO company/consultant should charge for a small to medium sized business who wants to rank on the first page for semi-competitive keywords.
What about getting my site ranked #1?
It can and usually does take a lot more work and patience to get a website ranked #1 in Google for a competitive keyword. However, it depends on the factors we discussed earlier. A good SEO company should be able to determine how difficult it will be to rank #1 and how much work and time is needed. Getting a keyword phrase to #1 could be fairly easy or could take a lot of work and time.
I typically do not charge extra for #1 placement for keywords in Google since that is what I try to accomplish for every client and for every keyword phrase. However, I am up front and honest with clients when I tell them how difficult it will be for keyword phrases to rank highly for and will say up front if a lot of extra work and time will be needed to rank a particular keyword phrase at #1 in Google. In some instances, more money will be required. This is usually true for very competitive keywords.
Ok, so your SEO company got your keyword phrases on the first page of Google for your website, now what?
There is a maintenance phase to SEO campaigns. I typically do not require a client to sign a maintenance contract but I always make sure to fully explain to clients that just because their website is on the first page of Google now doesn’t mean it will still be there in a month. Often times it will require ongoing efforts to make sure the rankings “stick” in Google. I attempt to accommodate for this in my pricing and length I typically require to work on a campaign (3 to 6 months on average). However, I usually recommend that a client sign up for monthly maintenance (after the initial 3 to 6 months of work) for an additional duration of 3 months to 6 months depending on the competitiveness of the keyword phrases.
What about extremely competitive keywords?
An SEO company should be honest with you and tell you up front if a keyword is just too difficult to rank well for. As much as you would like to have your brand spanking new website rank on the first page of Google for the keyword “cell phone” or “cellphone”, it just isn’t going to happen. The websites taking up the first page of Google for that keyword are just too dominate. It should be my job as an SEO consultant to manage your expectations and explain exactly what your options are. Maybe you want to rank on the first page for “cell phone” but more realistically I might be able to get your company ranked for “cheap cell phone” or “new cell phone” and in actuality those keywords would probably bring your new website a lot of business. All of this will come to light in the initial analysis, not after you have paid or signed a contract.
I have gotten companies ranked #1 for very competitive keywords. However, I managed my clients’ expectations and fully explained the amount of resources, money and time would be needed.
What should be included in EVERY SEO campaign?
So, you’ve found the perfect SEO company/consultant and you are ready to sign a contract. Here’s a list of items that every SEO company/consultant should address and accomplish/perform for your company’s website:
|SHOULD be included|
|Web server analysis|
|On page content analysis|
|Web site structure analysis|
|keyword research and analysis|
|web analytics analysis (Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools)|
|META tags analysis and optimization|
|robots.txt analysis and optimization|
|sitemap.xml creation/analysis and optimization|
|Key directory submissions (DMOZ and Yahoo Directories)|
|Page Tags analysis and optimization (H1, H2, etc)|
|Google Local Search Analysis and Optimization/Submission|
|Custom 404 error page analysis|
|Internal link analysis and optimization|
|Weekly analytics and SEO reporting|
|Content creation consultation|
|Social media campaign analysis and consultation|
|Web properties analysis and consultation|
|Building of targeted back links|
All of the above items SHOULD BE INCLUDED in any SEO plan you purchase. Your SEO consultant shouldn’t be directly responsible for performing the items above that are to be done on your webserver/website but your consultant should give you exact and explicit instructions on what is needed so either you or your company’s resources can handle the tasks.