Creating a Budget For SEO
SEO Marketing Insights from Agency Partner
One thing we hear all the time is: How much does SEO cost? How much should I budget for SEO Marketing Services?
As digital marketers, we hear that question and our brains start to think about SEO strategy and everything that goes into getting more organic searches for business owners. Immediately, our SEO specialists consider everything from potential website performance needs, competitor research, on-page SEO optimization, link-building strategies, local SEO, and more as it relates to your goals.
Oh, and let’s not leave out considerations for the fact that there are different SEO pricing models, depending on whether you are looking for a one-time optimization or if you’re truly looking to play the long game and dominate your industry. Depending on what you need, you will likely consider fixed pricing versus monthly retainers that support technical SEO efforts, the cost of content marketing that helps you rank on Page 1 for new keywords, and routine analytics meetings with your SEO consultant.
Those are just a few things we think about. Other questions may include:
- How long has your web domain been around? What about other websites that compete for the same keywords?
- How much organic traffic are we currently seeing in Google Analytics and what are the referral sources?
- Is the site ranking just for branded keywords, or are more competitive keywords resulting in impressions and clicks?
- What does the Google Search Console say of impressions and clicks to your website over time? Is growth stagnant?
- Is your website currently holding a first page rank for any relevant search terms either locally or nationally?
- How healthy is your backlink profile relative to the top ranked sites?
- Are we competing with big brands, local businesses, or personalities?
- How often do your biggest competitors publish blogs, news articles, and/or new web pages?
- Can the business support a SEO campaign right now? …or do immediate needs require that this budget be allocated toward a more immediate, albeit less permanent marketing tactic?
- In Google Analytics, what does the website’s bounce rate look like relative to keywords resulting in clicks to the site?
While these questions are fairly common, the answers to them will vary significantly from one business website to another. Competitiveness and your desire to dominate will factor into what your monthly SEO budget should look like. To generalize, most SEO experts will charge a monthly recurring investment of $2,000 to $10,000+ per month. Yes, that’s a big range!
A national or international SEO budget in a competitive online market should never be less than $5000 per month. For SEO that seeks to attract local buyers in a not so competitive market, it is possible to kick-off a local SEO campaign in the $500 to $2500 range. Again, depending on competitiveness, your budget will vary significantly.
To learn more about where that money goes, some things to watch out for when selecting a SEO partner, and when you can expect some ROI from SEO, keep on reading!
What to Expect From An Appropriate SEO Budget
Notably, the value from search engine optimization compounds over time… So unlike PPC on Google Ads, SEO is not how you make a quick buck. SEO is how you build wealth through a business website.
SEO is also kind of like caring for a plant. It requires consistent attention over time and when you stop, your SEO value slowly begins to diminish relative to other competing sites on the web. This is because Google’s search algorithm changes constantly. So as you consider your SEO budget, be mindful of the fact that an adequate SEO effort is something that should be a monthly recurring undertaking for the life of your business or website.
SEO, when content driven, ensures that whenever someone is searching for answers to any question that is relevant to your business, your brand is front and center every time. Businesses love SEO because of how the economics of it play out relative to other sales and marketing activities. If you consider an investment over 12 months, notice how the monthly expense stays mostly flat in the graph below. Also take note of what the additional revenue line is doing… strong revenue growth.
In this example, we are looking at a Texas based, B2B medical supplies company with a monthly SEO budget of $8,500. At the 7th month of this campaign, things started to get exciting because this company’s website began to rank on Page 1 of Google for some its most commercially valuable keywords. At the close of the year and following a 12 month SEO investment of $102,000, this family business counted just under $1 million in additional revenue and a massive ROI. The break-down is as follows:
- Total SEO Budget: $102,000
- Total New Revenue: $992,742
- 12 month SEO ROI: $890,742
Unlike this company’s SEO campaign, if you look at their Google Ads marketing performance, new revenue is positively correlated to their monthly ad budget. So as logic would have it, more budget equates to more revenue just as less budget equates to less sales. In this case, the client was competing in a market with a fairly expensive cost per click and PPC was never their most desired source of new business. PPC helped them serve some immediate needs while they worked to establish their SEO game.
To reiterate, this is a big reason that business owners love the economics of an expertly crafted SEO campaign versus other marketing channels. SEO is part of a long-term, industry dominating digital marketing strategy. A basic SEO campaign typically takes anywhere from 8 to 16 months before a mostly static, consistent monthly investment begins to generate a noticeable ROI. For some industries and markets, like SEO for family law, return on investment may feel exponential once your average page rank starts to hold search engine positions 1 through 3.
Ways to Allocate Your SEO Marketing Budget
There are different ways to allocate your SEO budget and get the work done. You may consider augmenting your existing marketing team to fill any gaps in expertise, hiring an outside agency that happens to be an expert, or you may try the DIY route. Generally speaking, these are the various ways to allocate your SEO marketing dollars:
- Hiring an in-house SEO team of 4 to 8 people
- Hiring a team of SEO freelancers with a budget of $70 to $190 per hour, per person
- Hiring an in-house marketing manager or marketing project manager that can manage a team of SEO freelancers.
- Depending on experience, expect to budget anywhere from $50,000 to $125,000 per year for this person. You get what you pay for!
- Don’t forget to add the cost of your freelancers to this. They will most likely charge a price per word or a flat monthly fee for a set amount of deliverables.
- Depending on experience, expect to budget anywhere from $50,000 to $125,000 per year for this person. You get what you pay for!
- Hiring a SEO agency at $90 to $250 per hour depending on the agency’s bill rate
Small consultancies and startups may easily feel overwhelmed by all of this and most will never have a starting SEO budget of $8500 per month…. but the fact is that there is a way to start small and grow your SEO strength in an effective, strategic way.
Many small to medium sized companies, including law firms and health practices, tend to hire marketing agencies because they are able to gain access to certified, experienced experts that would otherwise be out of reach. Most agencies will offer a full suite, white glove service that functions much like an outside marketing and technology department. Enterprises will almost always utilize their in-house teams for SEO however it is common for them to hire agencies for occasional marketing tests or simply to get some fresh ideas on the whiteboard.
Across all budgets, the common key to success is a commitment to consistent, scheduled content production over an indefinite period of time.
Why $100 Per Month Is NOT The Real Cost of Cheap SEO
Affordable SEO does exist, however there is such a thing as “cheap” or bad SEO… Bad SEO is exactly what it sounds like. It’s wholly inadequate and far too many companies fall into this trap. A lot of this stems down to the fact that less than half of small businesses have a SEO budget of any kind. Of the businesses that do have a SEO budget, a survey indicates that 71% of small businesses budget for only $1 to $99 per month for their SEO. I mean… you get what pay for. $99 is literally nothing and you will almost certainly measure some negative ROI from this.
Most often, this is due to a lack of education wherein business owners are sold by the agency with the cheapest proposal rather than the one with the highest value. This happens ALL the time. Don’t be a sucker.
Unfortunately, SEO spammers know that most business owners have no idea how SEO works.
This is why they exploit businesses every day by sending spam email with promises that you can get on Page One of Google for only $99. Because most business owners assume that SEO is a basic commodity, similar to getting gas at the pump, many opt to invest in the cheapest option. After several months, they may realize that there is “no strategy” and/or no ROI and will opt to end the campaign to either find another vendor or do nothing at all.
The way this often plays out is like this:
- Company contacts 2 to 4 agencies for SEO quotes
- Some agencies respond with general, templates proposals, almost immediately. Others may ask some basic business questions.
- Company considers several proposals. Often, these are reviewed by several stakeholders that really do not understand what SEO is.
- Company may reach out to the final 1-2 agencies with follow up questions.
- Company opts for the cheapest or second to cheapest SEO marketing proposal.
- Company cancels SEO arrangement after several months.
- Either immediately or several months later, Company may opt to work with a different SEO Agency or does not invest in any SEO.
This scenario plays out daily. In the end, a lot of time has been wasted, a little money has been burned, and the business hasn’t really achieved its goals. But worse can happen….
Some of the collateral damage from cheap SEO may far outweigh any money that may have been (under) invested to begin with.
There are a ton of LinkedIn and Facebook groups for digital marketers. In some of these forums, you’ll observe extremely elementary questions from people posing as experts. Some of these questions may be so basic as: “I just scored a SEO client and he wants to rank for ‘keyword X’ so how do I do that?”
There are also a ton of online resources that provide free or low cost SEO tools for rookies that want to pose as SEO experts. In most cases, rookie marketers will rely on their personality and salesmanship to “score a client” and then figure out the SEO part after the sale. This is something to fear as the effects of black hat SEO may be permanent in some cases and in others, they may be very difficult to bounce back from. Things to watch out for include:
- Utilization of link schemes such a private blog networks (PBNs)
- Unnatural, purchased backlinks that may or may not be relevant to your industry
- Keyword stuffing and hidden text on your web pages.
- Zero requests for a content calendar and weekly recurring blog posts
The single most damaging thing a SEO rookie may lead you toward is a Google penalty. The effects of a penalty from Google can be absolutely devastating and you should expect a huge loss of organic search visibility, clicks to your website, and revenue. There are ways to bounce back from this, but it takes a lot of investment to do so.
DIY Stuff: Start Your SEO Budget By Collecting Some Basic Information
To truly understand where you need to go, it is important that you fully understand where you are today. There are a few ways to do this and the most simple is to ensure that your technology team has been instructed to check your website for some technical best practices. Once you have ensured that some foundational things have been fully accounted for, you also will want to glance at your competitors and see what things look like on their side of the fence. We have found that some of the most powerful SEO strategies start with a basic SWOT analysis.
Compare Your Website’s SEO Grade versus Your Competitor’s
Use comparative data to create your roadmap for success.
This is something that your in-house digital marketer should be doing already: Take 90 seconds and get your Competitive SEO Report Card score to see where you stand. When doing so, be sure to enter the domain of your single biggest competitor, and enter a super common, non-branded word that a customer would search for when looking for the product/services you sell.
- Competitive SEO Report Card (scroll down to “Begin Your Free SEO Analysis”)
Ensure That These 3 Fundamental Elements are In Place
Does your site adequately address demands around Mobile Friendliness and Site Speed?
As a best practice, your marketing team should be demanding a routine weekly or monthly audit of your website’s mobile friendliness and site speed. Because a majority of web searches start with a mobile browser, Google wants to ensure a fantastic mobile experience in its search results. So know where you stand and ensure that your site is up to the mark by leveraging these two free tools.
Make certain that your site is defaulting to HTTPS when opening pages.
Google has adopted a strict position on information security. Whether or not a website leverages HTTP versus HTTPS is a Google ranking signal. This means that Google will view a domain that opens in HTTPS more favorably than one that opens in HTTP. To open your website securely you must have an active SSL certificate associated with your web host. To see whether or not your site has an active SSL certificate in place, simply open your website and see what the browser bar tells you. Do you see HTTP or HTTPS next to your web address?
By leveraging HTTPS, you are telling your visitors that you value their privacy and taking a step to help prevent third parties from eavesdropping on a conversation between your website and your web visitor. This is especially important for any web forms that may ask for personal, financial, or other information. If you choose not to have your website default to loading secured HTTPS sessions, Chrome and other browsers will go so far as to inform users that your site may be compromised and unsafe to access.
So before any actual SEO work begins, consult with your technology team and ensure that you have your bases covered as things pertain to Speed, Mobile Friendliness, and Site Security.
If you are starting from scratch and have never optimized your site for speed, security, and mobility, expect to pay anywhere from $300 to $3000 for the first effort.
Once you have covered those three essentials, you are almost ready to call in your SEO experts. Be sure to discuss maintenance of these items with your technology team and inquire about a monthly and annual budget for this routine work effort. Once you get past the first big optimization, your monthly maintenance budget should be fairly minuscule. If you have any questions about that, please feel free to contact us directly by clicking here: Ask Us About Speed, Security, or Mobile Friendliness.
Have a Clear Understanding of Your Business Goals
Now that we have accounted for the basic technological leg work that goes into creating a solid SEO foundation, we can start building. But just what exactly are we needing to build? To answer this question, start by writing down what your business goals and objectives are.
- On paper, define what sort of ROI you expect and need from your SEO campaign. Is it leads, sales, retention?
- Discuss your goals with other stakeholders and create a realistic, “rigidly flexible” SEO budget as a conversation starter.
Put On Your “Spy vs. Spy” Hat
In a nutshell, it is time to compare your website against your industry’s top ranking sites. This helps you understand what tactics your biggest competitors are employing. In many ways, it should be your goal to match, and then one up whatever it is they are doing. To put this as simply as possible, do the following:
- Compare your blog versus their’s — how regularly do they publish new content?
- Does their content add value?
- What is the approximate word count of their average post?
- Does your competitor seem to leverage press releases?
- Are there any special sections on their site like FAQs or location specific landing pages?
- Does their site have a landing page that is uniquely tailored to each product/service line?
Take note of your findings and be prepared to discuss all of this information with your internal stakeholders. Also, be ready to share this with your agency partner and know that the more candid you are, the more able your SEO expert will be to devise a competition crushing strategy.
Sum It All Up And Share Your New SEO Budget
By now, you know that you need to allocate some of your marketing budget to the following, tangible deliverables:
- Site Speed Optimization performed by your web team
- Mobile Friendliness update performed by your web team
- SSL certificate performed by your web team
At a range of $300 to $3000 for this first overhaul, these are fairly inexpensive optimizations. Once you’re past the first optimization, you should make a plan to revisit these items at least once a month.
With the foundational tech needs accounted for, you also know that you need to allocate part of your monthly SEO budget toward:
- On-page optimization performed by your digital marketing team
- Off-page optimization performed by your digital marketing team
Expect to pay your in-house team or agency partner anywhere from $1500 to $2500 per month for really good, US based SEO optimization. This should include the cost of monthly analytics and reporting, keyword targeting, strategy, and updates to your meta-titles, tags, and descriptions. Also, know that this alone is not enough to help you grow and dominate your market.
The next big variable, and often the most costly, is the key ingredient that actually helps you retain your favorable position and rank for new, relevant keywords:
- Weekly, recurring SEO Content production performed by your digital marketing team
To determine what your content needs are, this is where you refer back to your marketing intelligence. If your competitor is posting a new blog every day at 500 words each, at a bare minimum you should be doing that as well. It is best to curate a writer that is a subject matter expert on your topic or at least familiar with your industry.
To help you do the math on this one, assume that your content will cost anywhere from $0.15 to $1.50 per word. The range is fairly expansive because some writers are much more valuable than others. There are a lot of people that will claim to be content writers but there is a huge difference in style, expertise, and process. Super cheap writing tends to be spun content and it is not suitable for 99% of business websites. If your subject matter requires unique expertise, it is possible to pay as much as $1 to $2 per word.
If it’s super specialized content that you’re after, well… yes, you guessed it: that price per word just keeps going up. Remember, you get what you pay for!
Know that the perfect SEO strategy may or may not conform to your early budget expectations but even a small SEO scope can prove to be valuable… so start with Local SEO and the basics of on-page SEO services! If in fact your site requires a lot more investment than anticipated, discuss what can be done to stretch every investment dollar and whether or not some tactics may be phased into your SEO campaign over time.
As a Leader, Educate Yourself and Make an Informed Decision
Combined with our own data, this information has been aggregated by surveying top SEO agencies and world renowned SEO authorities. If you’re looking to firmly control your market and aggressively grow your market share, a content driven, expertly crafted SEO strategy may be for you. As long as you understand that this is not about making a quick buck, with some patience and equal commitment to a full campaign, SEO can be one of your most reliable performers when it comes to lead generation.
Additionally, the best SEO tends to positively impact your other marketing channels so don’t take this budget decision lightly. For example, if you are running a Google Ads campaign, it will lower your cost per click by improving your Google relevancy score. This means that for the same PPC budget, you end up winning more clicks and impressions.
Also, effective SEO allows you to build a valuable content library that will establish your brand as a thought leader. This content helps your customers make purchase decisions and it gives your sales team a more valuable reason for reaching out to sales prospects. No one likes the “check-in” or “follow-up” email so lead with value and share a new blog with your prospect.
By now, hopefully you understand that search engine optimization is a process of improving the visibility and ranking of a website on search engines. Proper SEO can help a website attract more organic traffic, which can lead to increased sales and brand awareness. While there is no set cost for SEO services, most businesses should expect to budget between $500 and $5,000 per month for SEO. The actual SEO cost will depend on factors such as the size of the business, the competitiveness of the industry, and the desired results. Businesses that commit to a long-term SEO strategy and invest in the full suite of SEO services are more likely to see a return on their investment. For this reason, it is important to partner with an experienced SEO company that can develop a custom SEO plan for your business.
If You Made It This Far Through The Blog…
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