SEO Pricing: What Does SEO Cost & What Affects It?

Jenny Abouobaia

Mar 20, 20248 min read
Contributor: Michelle Lowery
SEO Pricing


SEO pricing for external experts ranges from hardly anything to thousands of dollars each month.


Because each company has unique goals and needs. And each SEO provider has their own pricing packages and models.

Understanding SEO pricing and the factors that affect those costs will help you make decisions that align with your marketing budget and business goals. So, we created this SEO pricing guide for you.

Let's dive in.

Is SEO Free? 

Organic (unpaid) placement on search engine results pages (SERPs) is free in that Google doesn't charge for them.

But it takes experienced professionals to do things like create high-quality content. And implement schema markup—code that helps search engines understand what your pages are about and can lead to special search results like this:

Search results with schema markup (left) and without schema markup (right)

In short, they know what can lead to better rankings (higher placement in search results) and more traffic. And which tactics they should avoid to lower the chances of ranking losses.

For these reasons and more, SEO specialists, content marketers, SEO freelancers, and other experts can be costly.

And allowing someone who isn't a legitimate SEO professional to work on your website to save a little money could be detrimental to your search rankings, organic traffic, and conversion rates—and cost you significantly more in the long run.

What Are Some General SEO Pricing Benchmarks?

We’ll get into the specifics that affect SEO prices later. But here are some figures you can reference, based on a survey of nearly 400 respondents that do SEO for clients:

  • SEO agencies around the world charge $134.14 per hour on average
  • SEO agencies in the U.S. charge $147.93 per hour on average
  • SEO consultants around the world charge $139.29 per hour on average
  • SEO consultants in the U.S. charge $144.68 per hour on average
  • Half of SEO providers around the world require a monthly retainer of less than $3,000 per month

What Are SEO Prices Based on?

Here are the key factors that will affect your SEO prices:

Whether You Do Anything Yourself

Working with an external expert (or experts) is common. But there are many SEO tasks you can do yourself—so long as you have the right tools.

For example, the Keyword Magic Tool makes it easy to find relevant search terms to focus on when creating and updating webpages.

Go to the tool, enter a broad term related to your niche, and click “Search.”

"project management software" entered into the Keyword Magic Tool search bar

You’ll get a bunch of related keywords and information for each. 

Keyword Magic Tool results for "project management software" show 14,611 keywords

Next, it’s best to narrow down this list to find ones that are more specific. Which you can do by using the suggested groups and subgroups on the left to filter the results.

Look for ones that are highly relevant. And consider the “Volume” column (how many times the term is searched each month) and the “KD %” (a metric called keyword difficulty that indicates how hard it is to rank highly for the term).

Applying filters in Keyword Magic Tool to narrow down the results

Doing this will help you prioritize options that you can reasonably rank for and that will drive traffic to your site.

You can incorporate these keywords into your content yourself. Or work with an SEO provider to do it.

The SEO Provider You Choose

SEO agencies often have more resources and a team of people to handle all aspects of your project. They can also offer bespoke options unique to your business.

But agency prices are often high. Operating costs like rent for an office space and salaries for staff mean they have to charge more to cover those base costs.

And you don’t typically get a very personal experience with an agency. Most of the time, you won't deal directly with the SEO experts who are working on your site. Instead, you'll work with an account manager or other point person.

If you're looking for a more personal experience, you may prefer to hire a freelance SEO consultant. You'll deal directly with the expert working on your site and be more involved in the process.

The downside when working with a freelance consultant is it can be difficult to scale services. And you can’t usually find a single person who can help with all your SEO needs.

Your Provider's Location

Agencies and freelancers based in areas with higher costs of living may charge higher fees to cover their expenses.

On the other hand, providers located in regions with lower costs of living can offer more competitive pricing.

And remember that the agency’s location can make a big difference if you’re planning to do local SEO. Because they may have greater knowledge of relevant areas.

Your Provider's Experience

Experienced SEO agencies with a proven track record of successful campaigns, authoritative case studies, and deep industry knowledge will typically charge higher fees.

Individual consultants who are considered influencers in the industry may charge more than other freelancers. And in some cases, more than agencies. 

This is something to keep in mind when an appealingly low price catches your eye.

Yes, freelance hiring sites like Upwork let you set a budget as low as $5. But it often means the provider doesn’t yet have years of expertise guiding them.

Results for "seo" in Upwork

The Specifics of Your Business

SEO pricing can depend on the size of your business, the industry you operate in, and even things like the competitiveness of your target keywords.

For example, small businesses looking to compete against well-known brands often require more extensive SEO efforts to stand out from the crowd.

But it's important to note that SEO is a long-term process, and it may take several months to start seeing significant results. So, consider the ongoing costs and commitment required to improve and maintain your organic search visibility.

The Services You Need

The specific SEO services you need can dramatically impact your costs.

For example, a link building campaign will likely cost far less than a thorough SEO audit coupled with technical optimizations.

Here’s an overview of the types of SEO activities you can outsource:

On-Page SEO 

On-page SEO is about improving various elements on your webpages to improve their search engine visibility.

This includes actions such as:

  • Keyword research
  • Meta tag optimization (improving bits of HTML code that help search engines and people better understand your content)
  • URL structure optimization
  • Content optimization
  • Internal linking (linking to your own pages from other pages on your site)
A visual showing internal link to a relevant content

Technical SEO 

Technical SEO involves improving technical aspects of your website, mainly to enhance its crawlability and indexability (making it easier for search engines to find your content and store it in a database).

Services can include:

  • Website audits
  • Site speed optimization
  • Hreflang attribute implementation (adding HTML that specifies a page’s language and target location)
  • Website migrations
  • XML sitemap creation (making a file that lists all the important pages you want search engines to crawl and index)
A section of an XML sitemap

Content Creation

Content creation is an integral part of any SEO strategy. Without content, there's nothing to rank and nothing to bring traffic to.

Content creation also involves keyword optimization and ensuring the content aligns with your target audience's search intent (the purpose behind a searcher’s query).

Costs for content creation are based on factors like the creator’s expertise, how many editing phases there are, and much more.

It also depends on the format, which can include the following:

  • Blog posts
  • Videos
  • Ebooks
  • Podcast episodes
  • Infographics

Link building is the process of acquiring high-quality links from reputable websites. Getting backlinks like this can improve your website's authority and rankings in search results.

Link-building services often include:

  • Creating linkable assets
  • Outreach to relevant websites
  • Guest posting
  • Building relationships with influencers and journalists
  • Skyscraper link building (creating and sharing the best content on the target topic)
Skyscraper link building technique

Local SEO

Local SEO focuses on optimizing your online presence to increase visibility among nearby audiences. Which is particularly important if your business has physical locations.

It includes activities such as:

  • Getting local directory listings
  • Managing online reviews
  • Finding local keywords
  • Getting backlinks from other local businesses
  • Optimizing your Google Business Profile (which can appear in search results)
Google local pack results for "hardware store near me" query

The Model You Select

The SEO service model you opt for plays a huge part in determining your exact costs. 

Let’s go over your options:

Project-Based SEO Pricing

Many agencies and freelancers offer a flat fee for specific projects, such as website audits or content optimization.

The cost of these projects varies depending on their complexity and the time required to complete them. 

Usually, the provider will go through your SEO goals and give you a project quote based on the size of the project and the expected results. They should also let you know whether there are any circumstances where you may be charged additional fees. 

Monthly Retainers

Some SEO agencies use a monthly retainer model. This means you pay for ongoing SEO services each month.

Costs can vary greatly depending on the services included and your desired outcomes.

Some options combine SEO with paid media and public relations services. To help you manage all aspects of your marketing strategy.

This is a good option if you have lofty goals and want to take a hands-off approach.

Hourly Rates

Some SEO agencies or freelance consultants charge for their services on an hourly basis. 

This can help you control costs because you can limit the number of hours worked on your project.

Just know that you may end up purchasing more hours than you planned to. Because many SEO tasks take a considerable amount of time.

Performance-Based SEO Pricing

Some SEO agencies and freelancers offer a performance-based pricing model. 

This is where the fee is tied to specific outcomes like meeting concrete key performance indicators (KPIs). SEO KPIs can include keyword rankings, organic traffic growth, and conversions.

Keep Your SEO Costs in Check

You may need help with technical SEO like adding schema markup or reworking your site architecture. But you can stay within budget by going the DIY SEO route for some things.

Semrush enables you to easily do many SEO tasks with tools like:

And more.

You can even get started with a Semrush account for free.

Author Photo
Jenny is an award-winning SEO consultant, a speaker at search industry events, and a regular contributor to leading industry blogs. Her specialties include E-E-A-T best practices to build topical authority and the interplay between digital PR and organic search. She was commended as SEO Consultant of the Year in the 2021 MENA Search Awards.
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