Bootstrapped startups have their place, and many of us, including myself, have gotten our start as one. But to have access to search engine optimization (SEO) that genuinely helps businesses grow, there are no cheap or free routes.
It all boils down to one thing: Solid SEO takes time — and a lot of it.
Whether it is your time, my time or some other SEO company’s time, that time has a dollar value attached to it. You need to decide whether you are willing to spend your time on SEO or pay someone else to spend their time on your behalf. If the answer is neither, then you are not yet ready for SEO.
To decide if you are ready to take the SEO leap, ask yourself:
- Can I grow by word of mouth and referrals only?
- If not, am I going to invest in a sales team, focus on online visibility or both?
- If online visibility is a priority, how many customers do I need to reach?
- How much capital am I able to invest to reach more customers?
- How much capital do I need to invest to reach more customers?
Note that questions No. 4 and No. 5 are not the same. If your answer to No. 4 is less than your answer to No. 5, you have to deal with your cash flow first. But there are no right or wrong answers to these questions. The only mistake you can make here is to not ask them of yourself and your business.
Before we dive into the cost of SEO, let’s check once more if you really need it. Many SEO experts will tell you that everyone must have SEO. Not true.
What? An SEO expert saying that SEO is not always necessary? Exactly.
While I love taking on new clients, I also have a conscience and like sleeping at night. My success in founding SEO National has primarily been built on honesty and transparency. If SEO isn’t right for someone — or at least, not at the moment — then they deserve to know that.
But if you want to spread your message further or grow your revenue, then SEO may be exactly what you need. So, how much is it going to cost? The answer will depend on several factors:
- Size and scope of work: The larger the business and the more competitive the industry, the more time, effort and cost you will need to invest toward SEO.
- Content management system: Some content management systems (CMS) are more SEO-friendly than others, allowing you to optimize quicker. Likewise, some are painfully slow to work with, costing more time and money.
- Previous SEO efforts: If a business had SEO done in the past, this could affect the cost of future SEO — unfavorably. If a business is seeking another SEO provider, it is rarely because the previous provider produced great results. Poor results are usually because bad SEO strategies were used, meaning the new SEO company has to clean up the mess. It’s fair to say that if you want effective SEO, you either pay now or pay more later. So, if it is tempting to cut corners, it is better to wait until you can pay to do SEO right the first time. This leads us to the elephant in the room: What sort of investment are we talking about here?
- Basic SEO: Typical SEO costs start around $750 per month or less, as a retainer for smaller businesses working with an equally small SEO agency offering a limited range of services. While this may sound like a great deal, the most important word here is “limited.”
- Full-service SEO: On the higher end of the retainer pricing model, full-service SEO firms typically charge between $2,500 and $10,000 per month. These full-service agencies not only offer website improvements, keyword research and competitive analysis, but also act as PR agencies to create constant streams of positive brand awareness signals for search engines to pick up on, which are crucial to SEO success. This is why this model is popular and provides high SEO ROI — because it’s structured specifically around the uniqueness of the individual website, its goals and precisely what content/assets are needed to achieve those goals.
Obviously, not every business is ready to invest $30,000-$120,000+ annually to establish reliable SEO results. For this reason, other options may be appealing and can be a reasonable bridge to the standard retainer model.
- Contract SEO: Contract services are a common SEO starting point when budgets are a factor. They help with fundamental SEO components, such as site structure audits and cost-per-word copywriting. As a result, contract services by a reputable provider gets a website set up for success at a one-time price (often between $2,500 and $18,000). Because of this wide price range, it is vital that you ask your SEO company the right questions and that it provides a clear outline of the costs, so you fully understand the scope and limits of what you’re buying.
- Project-based pricing: Much like the contract SEO option, buying SEO à la carte has equally limited results. If a business uses this model to execute the full range of SEO services, it is likely to spend just as much (or more) than a retainer would cost for the same work.
- Hourly SEO consulting: For a business intending to perform its SEO internally, it can be helpful to bring in an SEO consultant, as needed (expect to pay around $100-$300 an hour). While this arrangement doesn’t eliminate the burden of time-consuming effort required, it can guide a business down the right SEO path toward success.
SEO is not a mindless endeavor. You earn your rankings, and there is no corner-cutting. Copywriting skills and graphic design abilities are the prices of entry. Someone has to do the work, and that either costs you time or you pay for someone else’s.