SEO Pricing: What’s The Cost of SEO?

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SEO Pricing: What’s The Cost of SEO?

When communicating with a client, it’s crucial to correctly define the price of work and explain its composition. This approach makes it easier to achieve mutual understanding and avoid misunderstandings related to different perspectives on search engine optimization.

An SEO-specialist, aiming to logically price their services and explain it to clients, must understand how the cost of SEO is formed in the market.

Texts 

Readable texts, which don’t make you want to cry while reading, start at 1 dollar per 1000 characters with spaces. Good texts cost around 3 dollars. Excellent texts are priced from 10 dollars and higher, depending on the topic.

Design, Layout, Web Development 

The same principle applies to designers, layout designers, and developers, but with a different pricing principle. They often estimate the cost of work based on hours spent. The minimum cost with corresponding quality is about 5 dollars per hour. A decent result can be expected within the range of 10-15 dollars. A top designer or developer with knowledge of rare languages and systems charges 25-30 dollars per hour, sometimes more.

The cost of the SEO-specialist’s work itself is not mentioned, and there’s a reason for that. Unlike copywriters and developers, an SEO specialist’s tasks are not as easily quantifiable and assessable. Typically, they handle analytics, write technical specifications, purchase links, interact with all performers and the client, report, etc. Sometimes, they even write content and make changes to the site.

Thus, while the amount of work done by a copywriter, designer, or developer can be estimated, the volume and cost of an SEO specialist’s work are often much more complex to determine. More on this in the next section.

Outcome

On one hand, it’s simple – the more work, the higher the SEO cost. On the other hand, it’s not always clear whether a lot or a little work has been done. It’s relatively easy to verify the volume of copywriting or development, but it’s almost impossible to check analytics, technical specifications, link purchases, and many other tasks. What may seem elementary to a non-specialist can take several hours or even days and vice versa.

Contractor’s Commission 

This is the income that the contractor earns from the project. Part of it is spent on overhead costs: taxes, service fees, etc. The other part is the contractor’s net profit.

Most contractors include a commission in the estimate: for example, 100 dollars. However, this doesn’t mean that their income from the project will be exactly 100 dollars. When calculating other items in the estimate, a certain reserve is always included.

For example, let’s consider the budgeting of development or copywriting:

  • It’s impossible to precisely estimate which level of performer will be required before starting work on a site – this can significantly affect the cost range.
  • More work is always done in one month and less in another, which is normal.
  • In reality, the contractor may earn more or less than the stated commission each month.

Large, image-building projects for a portfolio are sometimes calculated “at cost” or even at a slight loss for the contractor. “Just don’t leave, we’ll use your brand as advertising.” And this is also normal.

There’s a notion that the larger the contractor’s company, the higher the commission. Thus, ordering SEO from a freelancer would be cheaper than from an agency, all other things being equal. In reality, that’s not necessarily the case. Simplifying, the commission is what goes into the SEO-specialist’s pocket as their salary and what goes to the owner’s pocket. In the case of a freelancer, it’s the same pocket, while for an agency, it’s two different ones. Hence the belief: two pockets are more than one.

Let’s look at the issue from another angle: how many projects are serviced in an agency and how many by a freelancer? Accordingly, how much money does an agency owner need to earn from one project, and how much does a freelancer need to make a good income? In an agency, there is also the SEO-specialist’s salary, but usually, an SEO specialist in an agency is not the highest-paid profession.

Outcome

SEO is not charity, all contractors include a commission in the cost of services. The possible exception is work with image-building projects when they are highly desirable for the portfolio. If you, as a client, did not see the commission in the estimate, it means it is already distributed among all items in the estimate.

The contractor earns different amounts each month, not necessarily what is stated in the commission, and this is normal. Sometimes they operate at a loss, especially in the first months when there is the most work for initial optimization.

There are no objective factors for the size of the commission. Each sets a commission that they are not ashamed to include in the estimate and can sell to the client.

Don’t think that a freelancer’s or small company’s commission is always lower than that of a large agency.

Link Building 

Another mandatory and significant expense item that entirely falls on the SEO specialist, much to the displeasure of clients inclined to total control of contractors. Let’s consider this issue from this perspective.

There are many approaches to link building – the link strategy for promoting websites. Since no one knows the algorithms of Google and  other search engines for certain, no specialist can accurately predict the impact of links and select “guaranteed useful” ones.

There are only factors supported by experience and research: in which cases which links are more likely to help the site, which will harm, and which will have no effect. The link selling market is huge: SEO-specialists choose them based on more than 30 parameters. Which parameters to prefer and which to consider “empty” is up to each SEO specialist to decide.

In theory, an SEO specialist can be forced to report on every purchased link – such a practice exists. However, for several reasons, this may not provide an accurate picture of the progress and results of link-building:

  • Backlinks can be purchased not only by dozens but also by hundreds and even thousands – depending on the project, the age of the site, the chosen strategy, and the existing link environment.
  • Links can “blink,” that is, disappear and reappear. This is why reputable link exchanges offer placement control and, in some cases, money back or free replacement of a missing link.
  • The mere fact of placing a link gives almost nothing. For a link to work, a search engine must index it. This can also be checked, even manually for free, but it is lengthy and tedious.

Outcome

The estimate cannot lack a “link purchase” item. If it is missing, the SEO specialist is either deceiving, incompetent, or inclined to experiment with link-less promotion at your expense.

Controlling the link-building process for the client is futile. It can only be assessed comprehensively, as part of the entire service. The assessment criterion is simple: whether the site’s pages are moving to the top of the search results or not.

Age of the Site 

It may seem that the younger the site, the more money needs to be invested in it for promotion. In reality, the influence of age on cost is a bit more complicated.

A young site – from a few weeks to a year old – sits in the “sandbox,” i.e., it is not perceived by search engines as a resource deserving full trust. Some specialists dispute its existence, but we tend to believe that it does exist. Search engines will index such a site and may even rank it for some queries, but there won’t be substantial SEO traffic. When it grows and gains trust from Google and other search engines , it can then expect results.

This is a good time to gradually build up the link mass, fix all the flaws made by whoever created the site, and carry out initial optimization. While the site is young, the correlation “invest more – get more” does not work.

Outcome

A young site needs to exit the sandbox to compete with other sites in the search results. At the start of its existence, significant SEO traffic should not be expected, even with substantial investment. Many agencies even offer a separate service called “Promotion of a Young Site.”

Tactics for young sites: pay a little, do a little work, and cautiously purchase links. In the end, after a year, you have a resource that is competitive and ready for full promotion.

Promotion Region 

The larger the region, the higher the promotion cost, all else being equal. Promoting a dental clinic in Delhi is more expensive than in Bangalore, and in Bangalore, it’s more expensive than in Raipur.

This is easily explained: the larger the region, the more companies in the same field compete with each other. There are exactly 10 spots in the first ten of search results, which collect more than 90% of the traffic, regardless of the region. The competition for these 10 spots is tougher the more contenders there are.

If there are only 11 dental clinics in a city, roughly speaking, 10 of them will make it to the first page of search results and collect traffic. It won’t require much money and effort to not become the lagging eleventh that goes to the second page of search results.

However, if there are 111 dental clinics in a city, you will have to surpass 101 competitors to break into the top. Consequently, the battle is fiercer, and clinic websites are of higher quality because more money is invested in them.

Of course, there are exceptions. The entire population of Singapore is much less than that of Delhi alone, but it is logical to assume that there are more veterinary clinics in Singapore that treat reindeer. Consequently, the competition among these clinics in Singapore will be stronger than in Delhi —with all the consequences described above. However, this situation is rare.

Conclusion

The larger the region, the more expensive it is to promote there. The exception is niche businesses that exist only in that region.

Quality of the Website 

Before promoting a website, any contractor performs an audit—analyzing and identifying a significant portion of errors and deficiencies that need to be corrected. Every correction incurs costs.

Logic suggests that the minimum number of errors should lead to cheaper promotion. But no, almost none of the contractors in the market reduce the price for a high-quality website.

Another logic works: if there are too many critical and expensive errors to correct, new items that increase the cost of work may be added to the estimate. For example, if the site is built on a flawed custom engine, it may require migration to another, more quality one. This work costs hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Does correcting errors cost money, and if there are few errors, does the service not get cheaper—are all deceiving clients? Some do deceive, but mostly not. If there are few shortcomings, the budget will be spent not on treating a sick site, but on developing a healthy one. All else being equal, queries will reach the top faster with a high-quality site, and slower with a low-quality one. As a client, you are unlikely to get a discount for a cool site, but you will get a more significant bonus—a quick result and the payback of the advertising campaign.

Conclusion

If there are many errors on the site, either an additional estimate for their correction will be added, or the result from the promotion will come later.

Almost no one offers “discounts for a good site,” but its quality will provide a faster effect from SEO.

Size and Composition of the Semantic Core 

There is a belief that the bigger the site, the more expensive its promotion. Not quite so: the cost directly depends, both upwards and downwards, not on the number of pages as such, but on the number of pages being promoted. That is, those to which the SEO specialist deliberately attracts clients from the search results.

To be more precise, the cost depends on the number and quality of promoted queries.

Two key factors are considered: the frequency of the query and its competitiveness:

  • Frequency refers to the number of times users have searched for something in Google or  other search engines using this query.
  • Competitiveness is the number of sites that want to get to the top of the search results for this query.

The higher the frequency and competitiveness, the more expensive it will be to promote the site for this query. The price is determined by the amount of work and the required number of incoming links needed for success.

Conclusion

The more queries, the more expensive the website promotion is. Promotion for each query involves a specific set of tasks paid for by the client.

High-frequency and highly competitive queries are the most expensive to promote, and vice versa.

Other Factors 

For example, the presence of penalties from search engines, the CMS of the site, the payment strategy (for positions, traffic, leads, etc.), and a list of other factors.

Conclusions on the Cost of Promotion 

The quality of an SEO specialist’s services can only be judged by the result, not by the details of the process. The client’s task is not to count every penny spent by the SEO specialist but to achieve a result and a profitable advertising campaign.

  • Sergey Pankov

    Sergey is a seasoned SEO expert with 20+ years of experience, global link building opinion leader, he is a regular speaker at various SEO conferences and webinars dedicated to website optimization. As a CEO at Serpzilla.com, Sergey is responsible for strategic & operational management of business areas, business scaling, building first-class customer service, innovation & technology management, hiring & management of teams of talents. Sergey's Linkedin
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