Several times a week we get asked, "How much per month does SEO cost?". Despite providing lots of content (blogs, videos etc) educating people about SEO, it seems the message is not getting through. So, the time has come for some simple no-nonsense advice about what SEO costs.
Some Quick Context
Clearly, anyone looking to hire a company to help them rank better in Google™ wants to understand what that might cost. However, in the same way as the cost of a motor car varies depending on the type and make, so it goes with search marketing. Outsource to a low-cost economy and the cost goes down, hire a shiny agency in London's Shoreditch area and the cost goes up.
So, to make this blog post as useful as possible, I'm going to concentrate on the effort required rather than the cost. For clarity, I've provided some sample costs at the end based on a range of providers.
So let's take a look at what a typical SEO engagement might look like, done properly.
SEO Takes Time, Lots of Time
A recent enquirer who was looking for hosting for their Wordpress website, along with Search Engine Optimisation, asked if the £300 annual website hosting cost also included the SEO. She was, according to her signature, a Marketing Analyst. As an Aberdeen SEO agency we're used to people expecting value for money, but this seemed to be taking things to the extreme.
It seems she expected us to host her company's website, keep the software up to date, back the site up and do the SEO for £300/year. Perhaps she was an extreme example of the lack of understanding that's out there. I'm hoping so, but in any case, I'm going to lay it all bare in this post.
The Kickstart Phase of The SEO Project
Once you've recognised that your website's letting you down, and you've come to terms with the fact that the fab web design agency you employed put all their effort into a site that looks good, ignoring the SEO and lead generation aspect of it, the work can begin. If this is you, you're not alone, far from it, lots of businesses find themselves in exactly the same situation.
Using tools like SEM Rush, you can establish what your website currently ranks for, what your competitors rank for, phrases you might want to rank for and a whole host of other useful data. It's a great place to start when you are putting together the pieces of your search engine marketing success story.
Now's also a good time to look at developing your buyer personas. These are detailed descriptions of your best customers. When this work is done you'll know who they are, their typical job titles and the problems they have that your products and services solve. Importantly you'll know where they look for information and what type of information they prefer (videos, blogs, ebooks, white papers etc).
This phase of work is vital and can easily take a week to 10 days. We'll allow 7 days.
Time for this work: 7 days.
Running total: 7 days.
The Strategy Development Phase of Work
Knowing what your customers search for and the problems they are trying to solve is just the start. Having established this you now need to develop a content plan to chase the keywords you want to rank for and provide your customers with the content they want. This is because your content is at the heart of all SEO work. This content plan will need to cover the different types of content they need at the different stages of the buying journey.
Near the start of their journey, they are in research mode. Your content should help them, not sell to them. You can focus on engaging and selling later.
Time for this work: 3 days.
Running total: 10 days.
Website Improvements & Technical Fixes
It's 100% certain that any work to improve rankings and generate leads is going to require changes and improvements to your website. The site will require a full technical audit to establish and fix any SEO "leaks". It will need best in class on-page optimisation, CTA's etc. In some instances, the site may need a complete rebuild but the for the purposes of this post let's just assume it needs some improvement.
Time for this work: 10 days.
Running total: 20 days.
The First Six Months of Work
With a strategy in place, buyer personas established, the buyers' journeys understood, a content plan sorted and the site knocked into shape the monthly activities can start. This is the ongoing relentless pursuit of the sweet spot that's going to attract the right people and turn them into fans and customers. It will almost certainly involve blogging, creating videos, white papers, ebooks and a whole host of other content all designed to give your potential customers what they need, which is HELP.
The strategy you created will dictate the required effort. At the lower end, it might be 1 day per month, 4 or 5 is more likely, and in some cases more, much more is needed.
For the purposes of this post let's make it a nice round 4 days per month.
Time for this work: 4 days x 6 months = 24 days.
Running total: 44 days.
So What Should This Cost?
In simple terms, it depends on your appetite for risk and who you hire. 44 days is about 352 hours.
352 x £10/hr = £3520.00 (outsourced to a low cost economy)
352 x £40/hr = £14,080.00 (A decent UK/USA based freelancer)
352 x £90/hr = £31,680.00 (A mid priced UK/USA based agency)
352 x £130/hr = £45,760.00 (A high end UK/USA based agency)
Use this to see what that looks like in your currency.
The important thing is to understand the effort required, and remember the example above is simplified. No curve balls, no aggressive competition and no reason not to achieve great things. In some markets, you're going to need way more effort than this.
So What Next?
We've blogged before about doing inbound marketing without using an agency and what that looks like. If you want to build your own team we reckon you're going to need a budget of between £100k and £150k to cover salaries and overheads. It's an option.
At the other end of the scale, you could outsource everything to a low-cost economy. Like most businesses you probably receive daily emails from these guys offering bargain basement services. If that fits with your brand values and you're not averse to risk, crack on, give it a go.
Freelancers are a great option and so long as you can cope with then not returning your calls, being on holiday when you really need them and disappearing off to get a permanent job when the going gets tough, perhaps try that.
Alternatively, take a deep breath, hire an agency you like and trust, who know what they are doing, and will be there for you every step of the way.