the cost of SEO

Determining how much SEO services cost and how much to budget can be difficult if you haven’t worked with an SEO agency or consultant in the past. In this blog post, we will break down the typical pricing structure and costs for SEO services and how to determine whether your SEO spend was worth it.

  • What Does an SEO Agency Actually Do?
  • Typical SEO Pricing Structures
  • Determining Whether Your SEO Spend was Worth It
  • Options for Do-It-Yourself SEO

What Does an SEO Agency Actually do?

You may decide that you want to improve the SEO of your website. You want your webpages to rank highly in Search Engine Results Pages for keywords that your target audience is looking for, and you want more relevant visitors to visit your website.

But how do you do that? And what does an SEO agency actually do if you hire one?

An SEO agency does a variety of tasks to help improve your page ranking and site traffic.

A good SEO agency will start with understanding your business and website. Who is the target audience? Who are you trying to reach? What questions and pain points can you solve for those people? Is the current content on your website doing a good job or answering those questions and speaking to that audience?

After this initial review, the SEO agency usually will look at competition in your industry. Are you competing in a well-established industry with well-known industry language and competitors, or is your business more of a new idea you will need to educate people about?

What about your website mechanics? Is your website a small website just launched with only a few pages, or does it have hundreds of pages and lots of backlinks?

Yes, there are a lot of questions here, but they are all vital in crafting the best strategy for improving your website’s SEO. The answers to these questions will help inform your SEO company about what methods to use to improve your website’s SEO, how long the initial “core work” on the project will take, and how long ongoing maintenance to maintain the SEO work will take.

From there, you will learn the tactics the SEO agency plans to use to optimize your website’s SEO.

Some of these tactics could include:

  • Rewriting existing page content to make it more relevant to core topics
  • Writing content for new webpages specifically to target core keywords
  • Promoting content via press releases, social sharing, submitting to blogs, etc.
  • Updating the metadata of your webpages, including page titles and meta descriptions
  • Reorganizing your website structure
  • Linking pages internally
  • Enacting an external link building campaign
  • Focusing on website technicals such as improving page load speed and core web vitals
  • Managing directory listings
  • Managing user reviews

So, now that you understand what an SEO agency will actually do to help your SEO, let’s learn about the pricing involved.

Typical SEO Pricing Structures

SEO agencies typically structure their SEO billing as hourly, project-based or retainer-based.

Hourly: Hourly SEO rates in the United States typically range from $50 to $300 an hour, according to ahrefs blog. The average hourly rate for local SEO services in the United States is $128, according to BrightLocal.

Hourly billing can be useful if you want visibility into exactly how long each part of a project takes or if you are only hiring for a small part of a larger SEO project.

Hourly rates can also be a benefit if you are performing most of the SEO work in house but want an expert consultant to help guide you. In this case, you will pay specifically for the consultation hours and any hours the consultant puts in researching and preparing his or her recommendations. 

Project-Based: Project-based SEO includes a list of defined objectives and tasks along with a defined time period. These projects can last from one to 12 months, though we typically see them as 3- to 6-month engagements.

Project-based SEO projects typically focus on best practices/fundamentals and technical SEO to get a website in the best position possible at the end of the project. Ongoing maintenance may be offered at an hourly or ongoing rate after the initial project is complete.

According to ahrefs blog, the average project rate for SEO projects globally performed by agencies is $5,222. The average project rate charged by freelancers is $1,531.

Retainer-Based: Retainer-based SEO is charged at a set monthly rate for standard SEO deliverables on an ongoing or “as-needed” basis. This may include site audits on a defined time schedule, keyword rank position tracking, a number of new content pieces at regular intervals and more.

Rates for retainers depends on what is included, of course. However, most retainers in the United States are more than $1,000 per month, according to ahrefs blog.

Analyzing Your SEO Spend and Determining Whether the Cost Was Worth It

Before enacting an SEO project, whether inhouse or hiring an agency or consultant, you need to know what you hope to accomplish. If you are working with an agency, your Key Performance Indicators should be discussed with them, so you are both in agreement on what metrics will be tracked and measured.

Key Performance Indicators include:

  • Increasing Organic Sessions
  • Improving Rank of Specific, Target Keywords
  • Increasing Conversions
  • Decreasing Website Bounce Rate
  • Increasing Site Health – Site Health is a technical metric that determines how optimized your website is for search engines. At softserveSEO, we get our Site Health score from Semrush.
  • Number of new Backlinks Obtained (And number of new backlinks obtained from sites with a Domain Authority of at least x.)

Then at the completion of the project, you can determine whether you hit your objectives.

If you were targeting an increase in conversions, you could look at the number of conversions after the SEO project was completed compared to the number of conversions before the SEO project was completed. Then you can determine your actual ROI, or return on investment.

What About Do-It-Yourself SEO?

Do-It-Yourself SEO can be a great option if you have the expertise in house. Because your employees already know the ins and outs of your business, you often won’t have the ramp up time outsiders require to learn about a new industry.

You will need some tools to help you along in researching keywords, tracking your metrics and ensuring you optimize your website correctly. This is the exact reason softserveSEO was created.

Our tool was built to empower users with a simple, easy-to-follow process for Search Engine Optimization. softserveSEO offers three plan levels based on your needs at an affordable cost. Read more about softserveSEO here.


As you can see, SEO pricing can vary based on your needs, industry and timelines. There is no, one-size-fits all cost for SEO. However, we hope the information in this article gives you insight into the costs of SEO and helps make your budgeting and planning process a bit easier.