SEO Pricing Model Guide: How to Price Your SEO Services
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For many SEOs, pricing their services can take some trial and error.
Charging too much can be risky for closing deals and managing client expectations while charging too little can lead you to stretch resources too far.
Using the wrong pricing model can be detrimental to your client retention and the scalability of your business.
Ultimately, your client wants a clear understanding of what is being delivered, at a price that is suitable to their budget.
So, where do you start?
This post will take you through the ins and outs of SEO pricing in 2023.
We’ll cover a selection of pricing models and include up-to-date examples of typical service pricing to give you the best idea of what you should be charging or paying for SEO services in 2023.
An Introduction To SEO Pricing in 2023
SEO pricing can differ drastically.
Typical expenditure can run anywhere between $100p/m to $50,000p/m – it really is a wide-open market with potential for every budget, both on the agency and client side.
SEO pricing is changing rapidly in the face of growing demand across all digital marketing and SEO services.
The global SEO (Search Engine Optimization) market size is expected to reach USD 122.11 billion in 2028 and register a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 9.6% over the forecast period.
When it comes to determining your SEO pricing you need to first understand your client’s motivation in looking for SEO services.
Typical client motivations in the sales stage tend to be:
- Interested in increasing their rankings
- Understands the benefit of generating more traffic
- Focused solely on revenue ROI
- Concerned or scared they are missing out
Understanding what your ideal client is looking to achieve will help you determine your deliverables and then price your services accordingly.
A client with very high or specific expectations should be charged more than a client with comparatively relaxed goals.
The former will take a lot of bespoke work, even within a defined framework, to achieve those specific objectives while the latter will likely be happy with the results gained from a more standardised or holistic approach.
Take the time to understand your client’s motivations to adjust your pricing accordingly and, in the case of those simply concerned they are missing out, provide plenty of reassurance as they move into the world of SEO.
You also need to understand your own motivation in setting or revisiting your SEO pricing, whether you are:
- A startup looking for your first clients
- An established agency looking to grow
- In high demand and refining the quality of your leads
As a startup just getting going you might want to charge less to help build up your client base. Starting with a simple minimum viable product you might be able to afford to cut it very close with costs as your overheads haven’t fully kicked in yet.
As you grow your pricing might increase to reflect this as you take on more overheads with a growing staff and a higher standard of work.
Finally, pricing can actually be used to help refine your client base if you are instead looking to work only with a manageable selection of clients.
@thejamiebrindle This is how you win the game of freelancing. #freelancer #talktoclients ♬ original sound – Jamie
Bumping your pricing up can ensure you work with only those who are the most committed to getting your service and who truly see the value of your SEO products.
3 Important Steps to Pricing Your SEO Services
1. Understand Your Scalability
Calculate your overheads
The first port of call for an SEO agency (and for all business owners really) is to understand your overheads. Calculating your overheads will give you a baseline idea of how much you need to cover with your pricing as a bare minimum.
Consider your ongoing costs such as software subscriptions, office equipment, rent, salaries, and even your own hourly rate. This last point is particularly important if you’re a solo entrepreneur; remember to factor in your own time as a cost within your overheads. It’s not enough to look at a link you paid $100 to secure and decide to charge $200 if it took you hours and hours to conduct the appropriate research and outreach to secure said link.
Another point to factor into your scalability assessment and overheads is your customer acquisition cost (CAC). This is the total cost of sales and marketing required to get the customer in the first place. You might be able to place a high markup on link building, for example, but if you’re hemorrhaging money chasing prospective clients in the first place this can eat up any profit you’d otherwise make. Always factor in your CAC when considering your overheads.
Consider how you monitor efficiency
This leads to the point of considering your own, or your team’s, efficiency.
Data is invaluable and it’s highly worth going through a few trial runs of your basic standard operating procedures with a timer. This will give you a real insight into how efficient your processes are, any possible timesinks, and areas that might pile up with manhour costs (and therefore real-world financial costs!)
Assess your current and projected turnover and quantify your profit margin
Consider your current and projected turnover as part of your scalability assessment along with your current and projected profit margins. These can help you determine how much you have to reinvest into new services or client acquisition for continued growth.
Understanding your scalability will help you determine your pricing strategy as you assess whether you want to be an off-the-shelf solution for the masses or a more bespoke boutique consultancy for select clients.
Identify how much you need to charge on an hourly or daily basis
Finally, as you combine the above you should have an idea of how much your time should be worth to a client. The next part is figuring out how to be prudent with your time, and factor the value you offer into your pricing.
2. Consider Your Pricing Models
Once you’ve assessed your scalability (and made any necessary changes to potential roadblocks) you need to decide on your overall pricing model.
We’ve identified six of the most common SEO pricing models that you can choose from.
- Deliverables only
Hourly and Daily
Hourly and Daily rates tend to be used by individuals, with daily rates being particularly popular for consultants.
These models fit consultants as they don’t typically allow for enough time to actually implement the suggestions made. Instead over an hourly or daily session, the consultant lays out actions that the site owner can then take under their own steam.
✔️ A single consultant can manage a large client base with shortened interaction points
❌ Dependent on the client to implement the changes, they might feel a little abandoned
Monthly rates are used by those looking to set up a retainer model and can be very popular for scalable agencies.
The reliability of an ongoing monthly retainer provides peace of mind for the agency that has bankable revenue, particularly if you offer discounts or other retention incentives for those signing on for a longer monthly term.
For the client, the monthly retainer model gives peace of mind that the agency/consultant will be available whenever they need it. It can also allow a rapport to be built and for larger-scale actions to be handled by the agency, rather than the client just being told what they then need to implement.
✔️ Reliable monthly revenue for the agency and consistency for the client
❌ Not very flexible and client demands can stack up if their package isn’t crystal clear
The top 3 things killing your agency:
・Lack of communication with your customers
Make sure to avoid these at all costs.
What am I missing?
— Gauthier Radouan (@gauthierdouan) March 16, 2023
Project-based pricing provides a defined endpoint for the services and a specific deliverable for the client which can easily be tracked as the project progresses. This can allow for both quick projects and more in-depth consultations.
Do bear in mind though that it can be a little tricky to price individual projects if you’re taking a bespoke approach. Your understanding of your own costs and timesinks really needs to be nailed down to appropriately price and timeline a per-project pricing model.
✔️ Clear endpoint with bespoke package/project creation for the client’s specific needs
❌ Difficult to price and can suffer from overrun and setbacks like all projects
Following on from project-based pricing you have deliverables only, or productized pricing.
This is the model FATJOE uses as we have productized all of our services into deliverable-only pricing. Links are offered on a per-placement basis, content writing is available in 250 word chunks, and so on.
The advantage of this model is that it is super scalable. Our particular model doesn’t include reporting which keeps it even simpler, but even with reporting you are selling set units making your deliverables easily repeatable. This helps scalability as you can easily implement SOPs to scale your team as-and-when you need them.
The downside is that this model doesn’t tend to allow for much flexibility or bespoke options. Some modification can be offered within your products but if you allow for too much you’ll lose sight of the scalability the model thrives on.
✔️ Consistent and easy pricing for both the client and the agency
❌ No bespoke options and can be difficult to forecast if demand fluctuates without any retainers/contracts
Finally, we have performance-based pricing.
This can be both the most enticing and the most alarming of the available pricing packages. For the client, they have the absolute win of a no-win no-fee style pricing point which should give them absolute confidence.
The downside for the agency is that SEO is damn hard and wildly unpredictable. Setting your pricing on results opens you up to potential failure, even with your best efforts. Secondly, it can be tough to properly assess the value of any given rank increase – handily though tools like our SEO Value Calculator exist to help with this.
✔️ Ultimate peace of mind for the client and shows confidence from the agency
❌ Very difficult to guarantee results with any longevity
3. Determine What You Are Providing
To understand what you should charge your client within your chosen pricing model you also need to fully understand what you are capable of providing.
SEO projects can encompass project management, auditing, strategy creation, training, mentoring, and a wide range of deliverables and implementation.
We’ve paired each service type with a suggested pricing model, but you can of course pair any deliverable with any pricing model if it works within your framework.
How To Build Your SEO Packages
Regardless of the pricing model chosen, SEO tends to be presented and delivered in a package style.
You should build your SEO packages and SEO pricing based on the level of service you can provide in each of the key areas we’ve identified below. This handy graphic includes typical pricing breakdowns across cheap, standard, and high-end SEO packages.
We’ve separated typical SEO services into six key areas with a breakdown of typical expectations across low-end, mid-range, and high-end tiers for each.
Low-End – Exporting a crawl report from an SEO tool and carrying out basic fixes i.e adding missing H1s and 301 redirecting broken links.
Mid-Range – Advanced auditing methods and significant changes implemented by a developer i.e restructuring the site navigation or improving core web vitals metrics.
High-End – Analyzing user behavior, creating a CRO strategy, and implementing UX/UI improvements.
Low-End – Minimal strategic work. Keywords are targeted and a task sheet is used to record activity.
Mid-Range – Consideration of business goals, strategic workflows, and competitor analysis.
High-End – Long-term strategies tailored to generating ROI, will also factor in brand and reputation monitoring.
Low-End – Basic keyword optimization. Simple reports and internal linking.
Mid-Range – Offers topic clustering to cover related entities across multiple content pieces. Includes auditing of existing pages plus refinement and optimization for older pages.
High-End – Provides E-E-A-T optimization across pages. Also includes various SERP feature optimization for the best ranking opportunities. It can also include persona generation and tailored intent targeting as part of the content strategy.
Low-End – Short articles with average quality. They may be able to handle quantity but there may be a lack of research.
Mid-Range – Offers longer-form articles with higher quality. Can offer higher volume orders while keeping quality reasonable. May also offer promotion or syndication for the content.
High-End – Written by expert writers, either from their own staff or sourced from relevant industries. Can provide detailed briefs for scalability and synergize the content with other channels by helping to repurpose for social media, email, or video.
Low-End – Low frequency/volume of links generated. Links tend to be acquired from lower authority sites.
Mid-Range – High volume of links created. Links will often come from medium authority sites, often with decent metrics but not industry leaders. A basic outreach strategy will typically be offered including some tailored outreach.
High-End – In-depth outreach strategy from a range of sources including high-authority sites. Link sources will include high-end digital PR and editorial links from quality sources. Will typically work in conjunction with on-page optimization and creative copywriting to create linkable assets.
Reporting & Communication
Low-End – Summary of keyword rankings and overall traffic. Basic task summaries are provided with occasional calls and/or meetings to discuss progress and plans.
Mid-Range – Typically includes conversion tracking with performance segmentation for more detailed analysis. Regular calls and meetings will be offered via a dedicated account manager.
High-End – Bespoke reports using custom templating for optimal relevance to each client. ROI-focused KPIs to track client performance. Competitor performance analysis will be used in conjunction with this. Ongoing communication throughout including training/mentoring opportunities for the client’s in-house writers or marketing staff.
Other Important Pricing Factors
Is The Package Appropriate For Your Customer’s Budget?
Consider your target market when pricing your SEO packages, not just the quality of services you want to offer them.
Typical low-budget targets will be local-scale clients such as tradespeople and smaller-scale local companies. These companies won’t have tens of thousands to throw at marketing campaigns but, equally, they could see good results for a relatively small investment. These clients can represent quick wins for you as they become big fish in small ponds without taking up too many resources.
Medium-budget clients tend to come from national companies that might be competing across several locations. The campaigns might still resemble local SEO but with more of them to consider they’ll tie up more of your resources. They might have a few high-competition keywords to work on and a mid-range budget to put towards it.
Finally, high-budget clients will be enterprise-level companies. These might be international companies operating across several countries, or large-scale businesses competing across several different operational niches. Keyword and SERP competition for these clients will be very high but they should have the budget to match it.
It is worth noting, however, that some companies will go for the cheapest option regardless, while some bigger companies will be deterred if your price is too small!
What Is The Scope Of The Project?
Assuming you have adopted a flexible pricing scheme you’ll also need to consider the scope of the project when pricing your SEO packages.
Consider these factors when determining the scope of your SEO package:
- Local, National, or International
- Startup or Established
- E-commerce or Lead Generation
Is it local, national or international? The wider the scope the greater the difficulty and therefore the more you will likely need to charge.
A startup will likely have a limited budget to invest so you’ll need to be keenly aware of quick wins and low competition opportunities to pounce on. If they’re a startup with a bit of financial heft behind them they may have the budget for more ambitious projects, but bear in mind they might not be a long-term client if their bubble bursts!
Most projects will fall into one of two camps. E-commerce or lead generation.
With direct e-commerce SEO it can be easier to understand the value of the project as you use the client’s product pricing and average order values in conjunction with your own pricing to demonstrate your potential value add via your services.
Lead generation, however, can be harder to quantify. Confident lead gen attribution is an increasingly difficult prospect with privacy concerns, cookie opt-outs, lead source crossover, and more. Undoubtedly generating more leads for your client is an excellent proposition, but it can be tough to properly quantify that those leads came as a result of your work without additional focus on attribution.
Both e-commerce and lead generation can vary greatly in difficulty depending on the competitive landscape of the client’s niche which leads to the final point.
Thanks to those who attended my talk at @re_signal‘s #Recommerce conference today in London.
Below are my slides on the role of E-E-A-T in ecommerce, including examples of sites doing a great job leveraging expert content for increased SEO visibility. https://t.co/xJNp5ous9E
— Lily Ray 😏 (@lilyraynyc) March 10, 2023
The niche your prospective client operates in will make a world of difference when it comes to the difficulty, and therefore scope, of the project.
A client operating in an obscure sector, or just one happy to chase longtail opportunities, will be much easier than one operating in a competitive industry.
A niche might be difficult due to its popularity, like widely-used e-commerce products or digital services/software which are notoriously tricky spaces.
It might also be tough due to the reputation of the niche such as taboo topics like adult, pharmaceuticals, or law. Clients in gray areas like these will often pose a much trickier challenge meaning you’ll likely need to charge them more.
How Much Does SEO Cost?
The ultimate question is how much does SEO cost?
Ahrefs’ excellent recent survey provided some revealing insights around SEO pricing. The key takeaways were:
- 78.2% of SEOs charge monthly retainers for some or all of their services.
- 54.5% of SEOs only offer one pricing model (i.e., hourly, retainer, or per-project).
- $501–$1,000 is the most popular monthly retainer.
- $75–$100 is the most popular hourly rate.
- $2,501–$5,000 is the most popular per-project rate.
This study similarly found that the most popular hourly rate fell between $75 and $150 dollars per hour with 62% of respondents charging somewhere between these figures.
Fundamentally your pricing should be determined by your own analysis, both of your competitors and your own costs incurred in delivering your services.
Understanding these typical costs, however, can help you understand if your own pricing structure is in the right ballpark.
If you are instead looking at purchasing SEO services, or just want an idea of what customers might expect to pay, check out an SEO Cost Calculator like this one. This can really help set expectations accordingly for the prices you then choose to charge.
Pair this information with your own decision about which pricing model suits you and the clients you are targeting to ensure you’re delivering the best possible SEO pricing model for both you and your clients.
Use Outsourcing To Scale Your Services, Not Your Costs
Above all else, what your clients want from your pricing is consistency.
Outsourcing your deliverables can help scale your services while making your pricing less variable, and your service less ambiguous.
Handing over project tasks to experts can leave you with more time not only to generate new leads but also more time to nurture your existing client relationships.
Less ambiguous pricing and clear deliverables help to close deals with clients and set clear expectations from the start.
Outsourcing also helps your own internal scalability, insulating you from both unexpected demand and potential client drop-off as you simply scale your outsourced orders accordingly.
With a clear pricing structure in mind and quality deliverables at the ready, you’ll be prepared to help your clients grow while scaling your own business – all at a fair price.