SEO cost guide – how much to spend on SEO budget? (2022 update)

Last checked and updated on February 1, 2022

SEO services cost

With the world of business moving very firmly into the online realm, any brand needs to maintain visibility on search engines. With almost two billion live websites on the internet right now, however, competition for attention online has never been fiercer. 

SEO is an often used, but equally often misunderstood, way to reach your audience. SEO helps your business stand apart when a user makes a query in Google and dramatically enhances your odds of completing a sale or conversion. The question is, though, how much should an SME be spending on an SEO strategy?


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What is SEO, and why pay for it?

SEO, or search engine optimisation, is arguably the most important and commonplace digital marketing technique open to businesses in the 21st Century. Almost any question in the modern world is answered through a search engine (most likely Google, who have an absolute stranglehold on this marketplace). As a result, any business that hopes to attract attention – and, by extension, business – must have a visible presence on these search engines.

Of course, one way to gain notice is by paying for a plum slot on a Google search. Pay-per-click advertising gives you a better chance of reaching the eyes of casual web browsers. Relying exclusively on PPC for your traffic is a costly way to do business, though. It’s much more cost-effective to redirect a sizable chunk of your digital marketing budget towards SEO.

An effective SEO strategy will improve your standing with Google (and other search engines), appealing to algorithms that decide whether a website or page should rank highly on an associated search. The more relevant, authoritative, and accurate Google considers your website, the higher you’ll rank. Given that 75% of Google users fail to scroll beyond the first page, this is hugely important – especially for an eCommerce website, where clicks are vital for conversions.

Why is SEO important to marketing?

As discussed, hardly anybody makes it past the first page of Google results (be honest with yourself – when did you last do so?), and even the tenth organic result is 10 times less likely to be clicked than the first. This is why SEO is so vital to marketing. The closer your website is to that coveted top spot on a Google search, the likelier you will attract new customers and optimise your conversion rate.

What are the different types of SEO?

Let’s divide SEO into three core categories. Each of these is as critical as the other.

  • On-page SEO means ensuring that your website contains relevant, compelling content that meets the needs of users
  • Off-page SEO revolves around building your website’s reputation as an authoritative and reliable resource 
  • Technical SEO looks under the hood of your website, ensuring that your pages load quickly, remain mobile-friendly and other procedural concerns

Once this is determined, you’ll need to decide if you’d like to approach SEO from an organic or PPC standpoint.

Organic SEO vs Pay-Per-Click advertising
Organic SEO encourages slow and steady growth for your business. This approach involves impressing Google enough to place your web page at the top of the first page of any search query results
PPC stands for pay-per-click. Look at the top of the page next time you conduct a Google search. You’ll find several links marked with Ad. Businesses purchase these spots and pay a fee whenever a user clicks on the link

Once you have decided what SEO practices will help your business improve its brand visibility and drive conversions, you can draw up an SEO strategy – and, just as pertinently, assign an SEO budget to your business.

Finally, you must learn the difference between Black Hat, White Hat and Grey Hat SEO.

Type of SEOWhat is it?
Black Hat SEOSeeking quick wins and outwitting Google’s algorithms to bolster a page ranking is called Black Hat SEO. Examples include plagiarising content from successful websites, spamming keywords, packing a website with irrelevant content to pad out a word count, and purchasing backlinks rather than earning them. Black Hat SEO may see immediate results, but Google will pick up on it. The offending website will then be heavily penalised and lose traffic. It can be very difficult for a website considered to indulge in Black Hat SEO tactics to regain its reputation
White Hat SEOObeying Google’s rules and regulations and building an organic audience is White Hat SEO. This approach takes time, but your website will work its way into Google’s good graces and be promoted accordingly. Key elements of White Hat SEO are a natural and restrained use of keywords, an active social media presence linked to your website, and most importantly, relevant and engaging content that helps an audience
Grey Hat SEOGrey Hat SEO sits somewhere between the above positions. Examples could include spinning content from other sites, setting up mutually back-scratching link exchanges with other websites, paying for reviews, and posting clickbait. None of these practices contravene Google’s rules, but they are frowned upon. Google is unlikely to promote a website that practices Grey Hat SEO, and penalising the site is always a possibility

Should a business pay for SEO?

Strictly speaking, no business must pay for SEO. On paper, it’s a skill that anybody can learn – if they have sufficient time, inclination, and understanding of the matter at hand. That’s a sizeable caveat, though. A successful SEO strategy takes time, along with trial and error, to master. The days of tricking Google into signal-boosting a website through shameless keyword-stuffing have long since passed. 

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Today, Google’s algorithms are intelligent, complex, and change at the drop of a hat. Attempting to outfox the Big G and second-guess their next move is a fool’s errand. Make one SEO error around algorithm update time, and your traffic numbers can tumble off a metaphorical cliff. Paying for the expertise of SEO masters – either an agency or through an SEO package – ensures your business is considerably less likely to suffer such a fate.

Do most businesses spend money on SEO?

You will struggle to find a successful business in the modern era that does not pay for SEO services. The one exception to this is an SEO agency. It stands to reason that a company that sells SEO services will know how to market their own services organically. If not, think very carefully before employing them. If this business can successfully drum up business for themselves, there’s no reason to believe they will be able to do so for you!

For a small business, though, it’s virtually a no-brainer to spend money on an SEO strategy. Traffic and website visits are pivotal to the success of an SME. SEO is, by far, the most effective and cost-effective way to gain this traffic. Unfortunately, many small business owners seem not to understand this. Spending a little bigger on SEO is much likelier to see satisfying results and give your business a competitive advantage over rivals that are not paying for the service.

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How much does SEO cost?

SEO is a fluid business model, and as a result, there is no hard and fast cost. SEO is not as simple as paying an agency an agreed amount and landing at the top of Google’s front page overnight. If a business tries to convince you otherwise, walk away from the negotiating table at once.

That is not a helpful answer when you’re attempting to set up a digital marketing budget, though. Let’s review what a typical business should spend on SEO if they hope to see a genuine ROI.

Average SEO costs

It’s tough to assign an average cost to SEO services, mainly because many different approaches exist. You’ll need to decide whether you’re going to use organic SEO tactics, adopt a pay-per-click model, or a combination of both. After that, you need to choose between handling your SEO needs yourself or bringing in professional help from outside your business.

Some businesses will claim that their SEO strategy does not cost them a penny, as they handle it in-house. All it will cost is the expense of any online training and the time it takes you to create your content. Whether that is actually free when we consider the time put in by salaried staff members is open for debate. Additionally, a lack of coherent SEO strategy can cost you dearly in terms of potential income left on the table over the longer term. 

Other companies, will spend thousands of pounds per month on external SEO packages and support from freelancers or agencies. Average SEO costs vary, depending on your strategy and who you hire to implement your plans. It’s easier to consider SEO costs as a monthly expense.

SEO cost per month

Let’s start with DIY SEO. This is a popular choice for sole traders and very small start-ups with no budget to speak of, as on paper, this approach does not incur external expenses. Think longer-term, though. While you’re learning and mastering SEO, you are using time that could be dedicated to other elements of your business. What’s more, growth may be slow if you are inexperienced in SEO – and mistakes will be made. It could be more cost-effective to bring in external support.

If you choose to do so, costs will vary. This table offers a guideline price summary for support from an SEO professional. You may be able to find freelancers that work cheaper, especially overseas. India, in particular, has numerous self-proclaimed SEO gurus seeking freelance work. Just be mindful of time differences, language barriers, and cultural misunderstandings in these instances.

As for agencies – expect to pay around:

SEO budgetHow much does it cost?
Low-end SEOUp to £2,000 ($2,700) per month. This will typically be an advisory service from a small SEO business with limited experience, and you may not be offered much hands-on content creation
Mid-end SEOAnywhere from £2,000 ($2,700) to £6,000 ($8,000) per month. Find the right provider in this price range, and you’ll have access to SEO advice and support, SEO audits, content creation and more
High-end SEOOver £6,000 ($8,000) per month. It’s unlikely that an SME will need this level of investment. High-end SEO is for major companies that require constant monitoring and regulation

Allow us to stress – this is just an estimate based on averages. Every freelancer and SEO agency will have its own rate card, and you’ll need to discuss financial remuneration with your supplier. 

Think long and hard about how much budget you can assign to SEO. Making the right decision can positively impact your bottom line, but the opposite is also true. If you’d like a no-obligation quote from Creative.onl for your SEO needs, feel free to get in touch.

SEO cost for small business

As a small business owner, you may be reluctant to commit too much money to SEO. The SME business model arguably relies upon organic growth more than any other, though. 

You will lack the brand awareness of a giant conglomerate. Convincing consumers to spend money with you through SEO is the next best thing. If the funding can be spared, an SME that spends at least £2,000 ($2,700) PCM on SEO – having partnered with the right agency – is likelier to results.

SEO audit cost – how much is an SEO audit?

An SEO audit should be conducted regularly as part of standard website maintenance. The purpose of this audit is to check how your SEO campaigns and performing, identifying any areas of improvement. This could be on-site SEO, such as your keyword identification and use, or more technical aspects like page loading speeds and server bandwidth.

If you have hired a reputable agency to provide SEO services on a monthly retainer, SEO audits should be covered as part of the package. Discuss this with your agency before agreeing to any contracts. If not, you will need to bring in external experts to conduct the audit. 

You will be provided with a quote once the website has been viewed. This could be anywhere from £250 ($340) to £25,000 ($340,000), though an SME site is likelier to be much closer to the former. SEO audit cost is usually defined by the number of pages on the website and the degree of work required by the auditor.

What about local SEO cost?

Local SEO is not something that we have discussed so far. You’ll find a detailed guide to local marketing here, but how much should you spend on local SEO as an SME? If your company is entirely online, you do not need to focus on local SEO. If your model involves selling SaaS licenses to businesses in Latin America, why does it matter if you are based in Doncaster?

However, local SEO should make up part of your budget if your business is attached to a brick-and-mortar location such as a retail shop. This division depends on how much emphasis you place on footfall vs online transactions. 

A major high street retailer, for example, will divide their budget almost equally. Local SEO lets people know that a shop is found in their area, while they can also purchase online if that is more convenient. A small, independent shop is likelier to prioritise local SEO, however, as most trade will come from residents in the vicinity.

SEO cost calculator – how to work out your own specific needs

No two businesses have identical SEO needs, so no two companies will have the same SEO cost. To make your money go further and assess how much you should spend on each SEO campaign, take the following equation under advisement. This is a theoretical example of the first month of a year-long SEO campaign, arranged and managed by an external agency.

Cost of external SEO agency£2,500 per month
SEO results over one month15 new conversions
Income from each conversion£100
Total outcome£1,500 from a £2,500 outlay, leaving you £1,000 in deficit

Based on this, organic SEO is a waste of effort that will leave your business in the red, not the black. The above example is oversimplifying the SEO calculation, though. As discussed, White Hat organic SEO involves playing the long game. If your strategy pays off, your conversions will steadily rise over time as you soar higher and higher in search engine rankings. Now, let’s reframe this calculation over a year.

Cost of external SEO agency£30,000 over 12 months
SEO results over one year 550 new conversions
Income from each conversion£100
Total outcome£55,000 from a £30,000 outlay, leaving you £20,000 in profit

To work out your SEO cost calculation, consider how many conversions you can realistically expect from the strategy and what profit margin each of these conversions will provide. This will reveal a fair and reasonable price that you should be prepared to spend on SEO. 

By all means, be ambitious and speculate to accumulate if you think it will yield results. Just be reminded that organic SEO growth does not bring overnight success, so ensure you have a financial safety net for at least a year.

What makes for cost-effective SEO?

The short answer to this is an appropriate return on investment. Spending nothing on SEO is not cost-effective if you are not seeing any increase in your profits because of your strategy. You’ve just wasted your time. Equally, though, if you gain £10,000 in earnings from a £3,000 SEO investment, that is cost-effective.

The first step toward creating a cost-effective SEO strategy is appealing to Google’s EAT or YMYL core algorithms. These are at the beating heart of many of Google’s page ranking decisions, and all websites will fall under one of these remits – if not both.

EAT stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness. These are the core characteristics that Google is looking for in general content marketing. If you are selling a product or service, for example, you’ll need to convince Google that your site is packed with helpful, accurate and unique information.

YMYL, meanwhile, stands for Your Money or Your Life. This is nothing to do with the exploits of dandy highwaymen. Instead, the algorithm protects users from content that may cause damage to a bank balance or mental or physical health, whether by accident or design. A website built around offering advice on finance, medicine, psychological wellbeing or career advice must be penned by a professional and backed up with evidence from high authority backlinks.

If you’re not meeting the needs of the EAT and YMYL algorithms, an SEO strategy is just throwing good money after bad. The most compellingly written and keyword-rich copy in the world will not be seen if Google deems the contents unfit for purpose. Always take this under advisement before committing to a financial outlay on SEO. Take the time to ensure your content ducks are in a row.

How do you know if the SEO you’re paying for is worth the money?

The value of SEO is judged the same way as any other business expense. You’ll have to review your return on investment and ensure that the results aligned with your expectations. Equally crucial, though, is ensuring that these expectations are realistic.

As we discussed previously, you get what you pay for when it comes to SEO. While there are no outright guarantees of success in this approach, the more money you throw at the problem, the likelier you are to see results. All the same, SEO is a science, not magic. Do not expect to see breathtaking results overnight. Your strategy needs to take time to sink in – and there will be peaks and troughs as Google undertakes periodic algorithm updates.

You also need to work out how you define SEO success. Is this an uptake in unique traffic to your website? A sharp increase in conversions? Greater awareness of your brand identity? Discuss what you are looking to achieve with your SEO provider before launching an SEO campaign, just to ensure that you’re all singing from the same hymn sheet.

Set targets for your SEO campaigns and strategies before you begin, so you can track results. This is especially important if you hire external support, as you’ll be paying for these services. You must ensure that your SEO supplier provides you with value for money. If this is not the case, it may be advisable to change agencies.

Meanwhile, if you’d like to discuss your SEO needs with Creative.onl, learning how we work within the parameters of these concerns, please just get in touch.

Low-cost SEO – what are the benefits and risks?

When preparing to pay for SEO, it’s best not to be guided exclusively by price. Naturally, you’ll need to stick within a budget that you’ve assigned internally. An agency that charges the earth may not consistently deliver the best results. On the other hand, cheaping out and paying for bargain basement SEO will almost certainly backfire on you.

There are exceptions to this rule. You may catch an agency just opening their doors, for example, and thus offer a lower price point to attract clients and make their name. Equally, you may be shopping overseas. As we mentioned previously, digital marketing services tend to be available at cheaper rates in India or Eastern Europe, though international outsourcing brings different challenges.

Overall, though, low-cost SEO tends to lead to a “buy cheap, pay twice” approach. Common issues you may encounter with an SEO provider that fails to charge the going rate include:

  • Black Hat tactics. Attempting to outwit Google’s algorithms with quick fixes will be flagged as black hat SEO. As we discussed earlier, this can result in a quick win and page ranking boost, but the moment Google discover the deception – and they will! – your website will suffer heavy penalties
  • Lack of expertise and experience. When you commit to professional SEO services, you are not just paying for the time spent with fingers on a keyboard. You’re also buying years spent with boots on the ground in the industry, learning from mistakes so they will not impact your website
  • Lack of reporting and follow-up. If you’re keen to understand how your SEO strategy is working out and what needs to be changed, you’ll need some detailed reports and insights. A low-cost SEO provider is unlikely to provide this in any detail

Overall, we strongly recommend following a simple rule when investigating SEO costs – if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. For a competitive SEO services quote from an agency that you can trust, get in touch with Creative.onl.

FAQ

How much does SEO cost?

SEO could cost anywhere from free, because you’re handling your needs in-house, to several thousand pounds per month. Unless you’re a genuine expert, it’s inadvisable to manage your own SEO. Set a budget that you can afford and enlist a professional within your price range.

How much should I spend on SEO?

As with all budgets, this depends on what you can afford. As a rule, it is advisable to channel 5% of all business profits back into marketing. Most of your clients will likely find you through search engines and social media if your business is online-centric. As a result, most of this marketing budget should be earmarked for SEO.

How much do companies spend on SEO?

Business SEO spend varies according to the company’s size and competitiveness of its trading niche. A major business may spend over £5,000 ($6,750) per month on SEO, ensuring their brand name remains at the forefront of consumer thinking. An established SME is likelier to spend around half this – maybe even less if they can handle it in-house and are not running a particular campaign.

How much does SEO cost for a small business?

A small business SEO cost depends on how much ROI you expect. Work out how much profit your business will make from organic conversions made through enhanced SEO and discover how much you’ll need to spend to make this happen.

How much does SEO cost per month?

There is no magic number assigned to how much SEO costs each month. It depends on what SEO practices you undertake and who you hire – if anybody – to complete them. Monthly costs could sit anywhere between £500 ($675) and £5,000 ($6,750).

How much does an SEO campaign cost?

A campaign will typically require at least one month of professional SEO services, so expect to pay at least £2,000 ($2,700) for a good service. SEO campaigns can take several months to see returns, so you may need to extend the promotion duration.

How much does SEO cost in the UK?

SEO expenses in the UK depend on who you hire to help. If you bring in a domestic freelancer or agency, expect to spend between £30 ($40) and £90 ($120) per hour, depending on experience and workload. You can seek remote help from overseas for a lower fee, but this will lead to different challenges such as time differences.

How much does SEO cost in Australia?

If you’re based in Australia, be prepared to spend at least AU$750 on SEO each month. Often, you can treble this rate, especially if you are working in a complicated or competitive niche. You’re unlikely to find quality SEO support for less than AU$120 per hour. Again, up to AU$250 is likelier.

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