How to Answer the Dreaded Question: How Much Does SEO Cost?

This question is the anathema of successful internet marketers. It is something commonly asked by novices, and the answer you are looking for is not so black and white. In fact, it’s much more complex, akin to how much does a house or car cost versus how much a plastic table costs. A home’s price is based on factors such as the location, building materials, lot size, interior decorations, and more. It can be as cheap as $25,000, and go all the way up to the $238 million if you’re Ken Griffin.

Search continues to evolve, and so does the approach on how to price out campaigns for potential clients asking how much they should spend. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, and outlying clear objectives and factors that need reviewing before giving an accurate quote is the bottom line.

Understanding that different industries are going to have additional costs and processes is important. Here are some common niches that you may be working a quote up for, as well as variables to consider.

How To Price Out an SEO Campaign For These Common Niches?

E-Commerce – This industry has seen a massive rise as a result of the pandemic. It’s important to note that with increased competition, costs associated with the job will go up as well. Learn about your client’s product and where you can sell it. Put together a checklist of the different sites you can list products on whether it’s Amazon, eBay, Etsy, Google Shopping, etc.

It’s important to measure the time it will take to upload all of these products for the client and to manage the listings to be as search-friendly as possible. If the client has ten products, that’s going to be less work than optimizing for 1,000 products.

Knowing how to write unique detailed product descriptions and building out supporting pages related to the brand is one strategy to calculate as well. When doing this, make the company a brand name that can attract its own traffic.

Law Firm – In the spirit of our late friend Eric Ward, it’s important to find niche link opportunities. Just about every law niche will have a directory and industry-specific site. If your goal is to help obtain inbound links, then researching in advance link opportunities would be beneficial to helping your potential future client.

Most law firms are looking for local SEO but may also have the ability to take on clients outside of their service area. It’s essential to make that distinction between discovering strategies that vary from a local SEO campaign versus a national one. Also creating in depth content while staying within compliance of what a law firm can and can’t say is important. Often times an overzealous SEO will want to come out with lots of content that the law firms’ partners may not be comfortable posting due to lawyer advertising services.

Local Services Site – Local services are unique campaigns to price out for clients because your focus is on the level of competition and how Google is displaying search results. Ranking for a catering company is different from ranking for a local cleaner or plumber. Organic rankings now have Google Guaranteed, Adwords, and a Local Pack before you get to see the first ranking organic result.

For clients who have to deal with this, figuring out the best way to rank in the local pack and optimizing for search on sites that tend to dominate the SERPs for local services is important. Think Yelp, Thumbtack, Angieslist, etc.

Cleaning up code

Cleaning up the code on a client’s site is a cost that you can get a general cost over to a client after a quick review. For example, a client whose site has been redone, revamped, and recoded over the years may have multiple front-facing segments and orphan pages that you will have to decide what to do with them. If you genuinely care about your client’s success, then these are all obstacles and optimization topics that need to be addressed when taking on a high-level SEO client. Finding a purpose and place for the content is as important as documenting it and letting the client know that you’ve found technical issues that need addressing.

Starting an SEO campaign with a fresh and brand new website gives you the option to code the site accordingly. However, more often than not, you’re working on a client’s website that has been worked on previously and will need structural changes. You’re the mechanic coming in and having to decide the best practice for cleaning up code issues. Knowing how to cost this out whether it’s yourself doing the coding or having to hire a coder is vital to managing the costs and being able to deliver a realistic quote.

Search engines teach themselves to understand website structures in search engine optimization. You will find that there is no forward-thinking code to clean up. You won’t be cleaning up the code of your client’s site based on what you think Google may change their preferences to. All site redesign and code clean up jobs are going to be reactive.

Digging in deep enough can also have benefits. Digging into the analytics can give you answers that will propel you to new heights and gratitude for some clients. An example here is a popular brand that was redirected to a new website. What happens when you Google the brand name is that it leads directly to their Facebook page. Now, Facebook is absorbing this traffic and only siphoning off a smaller % of that traffic back to the website.

Charts from Google Analytics summarize changes in traffic data when comparing different sources.

Charts from Google Analytics summarize changes in traffic data when comparing different sources.

Educating your clients on how to deploy code and the structure of their site for the benefit of SEO is usually an easy sale. Implementing it and working with their teams, however, can be time-consuming. Make sure to add this as another part of the equation that you will have to estimate based on interactions with their technical team. Mapping out navigation, how many menus, subdirectories, footer links, sidebars, how to embed images, videos, and the overall site architecture are some of the many crucial points you want to get right to be successful for clients.

Pricing Out Disavowing of Links for an SEO Client

Michael and I may disagree on this one, but I believe in the power of disavowing. Seeing first-hand sites that were littered with spam to only come back to their previous rankings after a disavow. Knowing how to price out the time it will take to go through the client’s links and determine which are to be deemed spammy and which are credible. If you come across a client with 900+ potentially toxic domains, a short cut you can consider is to export the file to Excel and use your favorite link research tool to find the lowest value and most spammy domains linking to your site. Upload those to be disavowed, but a full-service audit is exceptionally time-consuming. This is just another reason why you can’t only answer that dreaded question of how much SEO costs without proper research and due diligence for the project.

Illustrative red flag warning for 'toxic domains'.

Illustrative red flag warning for 'toxic domains'.

Content or Link Building Costs?

Think: Would You Take This Link if It Passes No SEO Value?

Doing an initial hunt to see where you can find relevant links for your client is essential. Figuring out the costs for acquiring links either from outbound research or from earning links from content is a decision you should map out. We’re seeing great success with in-depth, long-form content that earns its own links but the client needs to understand the long term investment in building and earning.

The issue with this is if the client doesn’t have a large budget for this. In that case, you may be on a prolonged trek and would potentially be better off advising your client to engage in paid media ads to help offset the delay in growing sales strictly from organic search results. This also opens another monetization option for setting up paid ad campaigns that are much easier to price out at 15% of spend and a flat fee for banner and landing page design.

The more thorough, built out, and concise your content is, the more difficult it should be for the competition to displace it. If your content isn’t backed by a lot of links or great content, it may eventually slide down in the search results. Instead, major news sites, Wikipedia, and other link-rich, authoritative sites that may be publishing content in that particular topic area will grab those spots.

The Ever-Changing Landscape of Search

Change is a constant, and educating SEO clients with a forward-looking strategy based on future signals that don’t exist yet is an exercise in futility. We don’t know what future search signals will entail. It will always be reactive instead of proactive. Changes that we’ve seen appear that need to be factored into your future clients niche should not be overlooked. While these implementations have improved search for the user but have made things more complicated from the agency standpoint such as Featured Snippets, Knowledge Graph, News Carousel, Media Carousel, and featured snippets. You will come across clients asking for integration or access to these. If you have a full service campaign I recommend structuring a bonus for milestones that are met. Corporations love reporting to C level executives on KPI’s that are met.

Managing Realistic Expectations

It’s important to manage expectations. We hate when a random email from a foreign country offers to rank you page 1 for $500 per month with no context or research about your needs. Education is the most important thing to do with a client (or that random cousin asking you during Thanksgiving what it costs for SEO services for that matter).

Don’t sell unrealistic dreams to potential clients. The idea of dominating a lucrative search term like “kitchen table” sounds great, but educate the client so that they can rank for more broad based long tail key terms and build from there.

In the end, a robust and in-depth digital strategy in 2021 with high-quality content, social media implementation, press outreach, and realistic expectations is a recipe for success.

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