SEO cost guide – how much does SEO cost in 2021?

12 minutes to read • Published 16 August 2021 • Marketing, SEO

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      With the world of business moving very firmly into the online realm, any brand needs to maintain visibility on search engines. SEO is an often used, but equally often misunderstood, way to achieve these ambitions. It’s advisable to learn how much money a small business should sink into this practice to ensure a suitable ROI.

      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).

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      As a result, any business that hopes to attract attention – and, by extension, business – must have a visible presence on these search engines.

      What about PPC?
      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. 

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      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.

      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. 

      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 writing an agency a cheque for £5,000 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

      If you tackle your SEO in-house, it’s technically free. All it will cost is the expense of any online training and the time it takes you to create your content. However, in the longer term, a lack of coherent SEO strategy can cost you dearly in terms of potential income left on the table. 

      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

      Monthly SEO costs fall into one of three categories – low-cost, mid-range or high-end.

      SEO costGood to know…
      Low-cost SEOIs classed as anything to £2,000 per month. If you get lucky, you may enjoy some success at the upper range of low-cost SEO. As we’ll discuss shortly, though, this approach is fraught with risk.
      Mid-range SEOIs classed as anything to £2,000 per month. If you get lucky, you may enjoy some success at the upper range of low-cost SEO.
      High-end SEOWill cost anything from £6,000 upward. In all honesty, an SME will rarely need to spend this much. High-end SEO is typically the reserve of giant, multi-national brand names.
      SEO pricing

      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.

      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. 

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      You will lack the brand awareness of a giant conglomerate. Convincing consumers to spend money with you through SEO is the next best thing. We recommend that an SME spends at least £2,000 PCM on SEO once you find an agency that you trust.

      What makes for cost-effective SEO?

      For your SEO strategy to be cost-effective, you’ll need to appeal 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.

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      What does this mean?
      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.

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

      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 still 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.

      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. Any kind of digital marketing service tends 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 is known as Black Hat SEO. 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

      SEO cost calculator – how to work out what it should cost your business

      So, let’s return to the question that kickstarted this whole article. How much should your business be spending on SEO services in 2021? To answer this, we’re going to use a formula:

      Let’s imagine that you’re running an eCommerce website. The numbers of this could break down as follows:

      • Every conversion on your site is worth £35 of profit
      • Your marketing budget is currently £3,000 per month
      • You have assigned £2,000 of this budget to SEO, with the rest spent on inbound lead generation

      In this instance, you’ll need to attract over 60 new customers per month, exclusively through organic SEO. Take a look at your results. Are you achieving this? If you are clearing this target with ease, you can increase your SEO spend. This will, theoretically, bring in even more new customers.

      If not, you need to take a long think about what is going wrong. Is it the SEO strategy, and thus time to consider changing agency? Or are you not spending enough on your SEO and therefore need to offer up a little more of your budget? If you need further advice, are only ever a phone call away.


      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 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.

      What is the cost per month of SEO?

      SEO monthly prices fall into three core groups – low cost (below £2,000), mid-range (up to £5,000) and high-end (over £5,000). A small business should typically target a mid-range monthly SEO spend.

      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 for a good service. SEO campaigns can take several months to see returns, so you may need to extend the promotion duration.

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