How Much Does SEO Cost? 3 Analogies To Help You Determine Its Value

How Much Does SEO Cost

“Why can’t you just give me a straight answer?”

Johanna’s voice showed a trace of irritation.  “All I’m asking is how much you charge for SEO services!”

I smiled. This was familiar terrain. As an SEO consultant, almost every client asks me a similar question. My answer is always the same.

“It depends. On many things. Because SEO is not a turn-key solution you plug in to play.”

“Wait.  You’re an expert – and you can’t tell me what you’ll charge?!”

That’s when I explain why and when SEO matters, and the dynamic process of fixing my price for SEO consulting.

Broadly speaking, here’s what I share – and 3 analogies I use to make it easier to understand – buying a car, an iceberg or a dam!

Why SEO Matters

Every client likes to save money while getting great results from search engine optimization. But by always looking to save money on SEO, you’ll take your eye off the more important issue of intelligently allocating your marketing budget across various tactics, of which, SEO is often the most cost effective.

SEO isn’t simple or easy. Google itself rates websites based on over 200 ranking criteria – and keeps tweaking the algorithm constantly, up to 600 times in a year.

So if an ‘expert’ takes one look at your site and quotes you a “complete price” for SEO, run for the hills (or at least exercise extreme caution). Sure, they may fix some glaring weaknesses, or help you pick the low hanging fruit – but deep and lasting SEO is about a lot more than that.

Simple ‘Gold’, ‘Silver’ and ‘Bronze’ packages don’t work for SEO. SEO isn’t something you install or plug in to your website. It’s not a ‘one-time’ operation. Good SEO is a process. Research and planning are critical components of it.

That’s why no SEO consultant can make an off-hand estimate, or set a ‘price per site’ for their services. Everything depends upon your goals and targets, the nature of your business, your audience, and more.

There’s good reason why, as a client, you shouldn’t focus on the cost alone. It’s better to concentrate on the key performance indicators (KPIs) of your business such as the cost per acquisition, profit per sale, conversion rate and others.

A cheap SEO service may save you a little cash, but you won’t earn a lot from it either. In fact, it’s more likely that you’ll “save yourself into the poor-house!”

So ask yourself these critical questions first:

  • Why are you even thinking about hiring an SEO consultant?
  • Is SEO merely going to be your alibi instead of your ‘secret weapon’?
  • Are you looking for SEO help just because everyone’s doing it, or your marketing department insists upon trying it?
  • Or are you developing an SEO strategy to skyrocket your rankings, and along with it your profit?

Then, depending on the type of client, I introduce one (or all) of the 3 analogies.

Analogy #1: SEO Is Like Buying a Car, Your Price Will Match Your Needs

Johanna kept nodding her head, listening attentively to all that I said… but she still wasn’t convinced.

“Well, that’s fine,” she continued. “But I still want to know what it will cost to get my site optimized for search engines. How much does SEO cost?”

I asked her, “How much does it cost to buy a car?”

Johanna was a little confused. “Why, that depends.”

“Exactly” I said.  “The price you’ll pay for a car will depend on the make and model, its size and purpose, where you’ll drive it, and with whom. A sturdy station wagon for your family will be priced differently from a sports car you want to show-off!”

SEO services also range in price depending on what you want from it. The best SEO strategy begins by evaluating needs and problems of your prospective clients. It then deploys SEO as a magnet to attract only the most relevant leads out of the vast ocean of online Web surfers.

Setting up your website to do this effectively and well isn’t easy. Building laser focused landing pages targeted at sub-segments of your audience can draw a flood of relevant traffic that converts nicely into customers. But getting this right takes time and resources.

Cheap SEO is like bargain hunting. You might save some money. But you won’t earn much either. The way I practice SEO is not qualified guesswork that endangers a client’s business. Research and analysis come first, often followed by a face to face meeting with clients to gather all relevant information.

There’s nothing “turnkey” or “standard” about this kind of SEO. You can’t buy it, install it, and sit back. It is dynamic and constantly evolving. The ranking signals are in constant flux, and are impacted by various external factors, not just on-site ones.

SEO is also not about “fixing” things. Viewing SEO as a quick fix for reduced sales or traffic is a big mistake. You’ll only end up leaving money on the table (a lot of it!)

Good SEO must deliver a huge ROI. It is not just about getting high rankings and more traffic, clicks and page views. It’s about converting those visitors into paying customers. What happens before the landing page has a major impact on conversion rates.

SEO consulting of high caliber will help you:

  • find your customers’ intent, needs and pressing problems
  • identify their expectations from your business or website
  • decide how you will deliver value (on the landing page)
  • uncover areas of profitability
  • pick triggers that convert visitors into customers
  • personalize the experience for each visitor

Getting all these elements of SEO right takes a lot of time. Knowing where to begin for the best, fastest results will takes tremendous research. But the investment is worthwhile, because it will earn you a high return.

That’s why SEO should never be viewed as a cost. It’s an investment. One that pays off for a long time.

Analogy #2: SEO Is Like An Iceberg, Mainly Hidden But With Massive Impact

How Much Does SEO CostIt is said 90% of the mass of an iceberg is under the water, hidden from view. SEO is just the same.

While you might see only the attractive top ranking on Google as the impact of your SEO, there are a hundred unseen elements at play, all working in concert to deliver the collective impact of intelligent optimization.

Like icebergs, SEO has some serious risks to balance the great opportunities it creates. Boats, ships, cruisers and even ocean liners have run aground on hidden rocks under the sea. And countless businesses have paid a steep price for wrongly executed SEO campaigns.

Mainly, such campaigns were put together by amateurs. Business owners wrongly assume that any Internet consultant is capable of “good enough” SEO, and hand it over to a Web designer or developer.

Just because they’re already in there coding or designing your website is not a reason to thrust SEO upon a Web designer or programmer. That’s like saying you’ll just get your plumber to do the wiring because he’s already working on the walls! Web developers are great at developing. SEO experts are best at SEO.

Sometimes, through sheer good luck (or even accident), you may own a great business with top search rankings and a steady flow of traffic coming in. That’s “good enough” – but with SEO, it can become so much more. And only a specialist can deliver great results.

SEO is well known to be one of the most cost-effective forms of marketing. For this reason, SEO should have a larger budget. Yet even after Web analytics data prove beyond doubt that SEO is the absolute winner at driving more traffic, many companies pay little attention to it.

In today’s competitive online arena, SEO cannot be relegated to the status of a secondhand job any longer.

It is not a trivial task to be handed over to a friend or distant cousin who knows how to “fix it”. It shouldn’t be put off until the site is ready to launch. SEO should be the first thing to focus on. And there’s a reason for this.

Not everyone will arrive at your website through the homepage. Search engines will not ask you which of your landing pages you wish to have listed in their directory.  Generic searches on business critical keywords will throw up different entry points into your website. Many visitors will enter through these back doors.

Knowing why they landed at your site, what they expect to find, and what motivates or drives them to seek your solution is critical information if you are to capture their attention, retain their interest and gain their trust.

How will you optimize every page on your large website later on?

It’s far easier to plan for it in advance. This is something I insist upon with SEO clients. After all, if your website (or any section of it) is not important enough for you to do this, why does it even exist in the first place?

Analogy #3:  SEO Is Like a Dam – Open Flood Gates & Traffic Just Keeps Flowing

How Much Does SEO CostDams across massive rivers store water. Think about search engines like Google as huge dams that store your targeted visitors, and your listing on SERPs (search engine results pages) as holes in the dam. Punch enough of them, and you’ll be drowned in a flood of traffic!

That’s a great reason to start optimizing your website right now – and not take it in small steps, but go for a massive overhaul.

No matter what niche you are involved in, there are ‘evergreen’ search phrases with the potential to drive a large amount of traffic to your website for years. And this traffic is free! It will continue without any dent in your ongoing or proposed marketing budget.

But optimizing just one page on your website will only deliver one extra traffic stream. What if you opened the flood gates?

Keyword research will reveal that many searches are carried out on business related and highly relevant ‘non-brand’ generic keywords. These are used by people who have never even heard about you, but are focused on their needs and problems, actively seeking out solutions. That’s the ‘water’ behind the ‘dam’ that you can tap into through SEO.

Or if you don’t like the idea of punching holes in a dam, think of your keyword research as finding a pinata, the decorated papier mache container full of candy, that you can break open to get a treat. SEO is the candy king!

Speaking of candy, a website without strategically planned design is little more than eye candy. If all it does is look nice without providing any value, then it’s like playing trick-or-treat with kids – but keeping all the sweets for yourself!

Elements other than SEO are important. You should use SEO as a way to convert and engage your visitors. Knowing the intent behind keywords that lead visitors to an individual page on your site will be valuable for your Web designer.

But don’t let your designer start outlining your site or your programmer begin coding your pages before you’ve finalized an SEO strategy and done your keyword analysis. That’s the platform upon which you can build your future success.

You may get everything else right. Your inbound marketing strategy may cover all the bases – heavy SEO, social search, local SEO, mobile optimization – and may integrate nicely with other parts of your offline and digital marketing. But without diligent keyword research underlying it all, you’re only building a superstructure upon quicksand. That’s just not smart or effective.

In 2012 or 2013, I’m guessing that search and social media will meld. Researching generic long tail keywords and merging them with local terms like cities, place names and more will become important. The growth of mobile search and the rising awareness and experience of search engine users in general will power this trend.

When you know what savvy searchers are looking for, identify the exact keywords and combinations they use, and map them to individual pages on your website, it will make the difference between a 1% and a 20% conversion rate.

Do you think it might be a good idea to raise earnings from an individual page by 20% or more? Definitely, yes!

Do you think it’s quick and easy work to do this for each page?  Absolutely not!

An extensive e-commerce website with thousands of products for sale will have prospective buyers with totally (or at least slightly) different tastes and needs. Optimizing your site for each of them is important.  The text on your site, the visual appearance, the products and services you present to them – all need to fit into the concept of an “ideal solution” that your visitor has in his or her mind.

If you add value to their lives based on uniquely individual needs, you will boost sales.

Who Should Be In Charge of Your SEO?

How Much Does SEO CostDefinitely not the information technologists.  The project should be owned by your marketing department.

At a local conference on SEM a few years ago, I heard the term “Business Prevention Unit” applied to the IT department! There was a brief stunned silence. A few seconds later, everyone burst out laughing.

During breaks and in other presentations, people talked about this remark. It’s especially appealing to me because so many of my clients start out thinking about SEO as a purely technical challenge. That’s so wrong!

SEO is about becoming a detective, a hunter, an explorer. You’re out looking for opportunities hidden inside the psychology of your prospects and customers.

This is a mindset that’s totally foreign to an IT manager, server administrator, programmer, Web designer or other technician. If you want to put food on the table, hire a hunter!

At the same time, it is wise to keep in mind that SEO is a team game. One of my clients runs a large website with over 10 million pages indexed in Google. Optimizing each one of them individually is simply not feasible. It would be too costly in time and money. Manually tweaking every page isn’t practical, even if it’s the ideal solution.

Therefore, an SEO strategy is critical.

Where is the highest profit lying hidden? Where should we focus to reach business goals set strategically for the long term?

The answers to those questions are important. And automation is important. So is optimizing the website structure and coding. A comprehensive plan to work on such a big site is mandatory. Having an expert programmer and great server administrator as part of the team is helpful. With literally millions of page views each day, it won’t help to hire just a great SEO strategist.

It also pays to keep in mind that your website is probably the best salesman in your company. But you’re locking him up in a closet! Release him right away.

Knowing that SEO is one of the most cost effective forms of marketing out there, it’s surprising that more companies don’t invest heavily into this. Is it because it “looks too good to be true”? Probably, because so many of my clients seem to think so.

Explaining to them that it’s real, and possible, is quite a challenge.

A part of the problem is technical language, jargon and lingo used by SEO specialists to outline the benefits of their craft to regular business owners.

So, What Does SEO Cost?

If you’ve been watching closely, you’ll notice that I still haven’t answered Johanna’s initial question…  What does SEO cost?

I’ll stick to the same response. It depends.

How high are you willing to jump? How fast are you going to run? I need to know this if I am to estimate how much energy and resources you’ll need.

Pricing SEO is equally difficult. It is complex. There are many rich opportunities. Several external factors and ranking signals skew the scenario further. And then, there’s the natural skepticism of a client to overcome.

Is SEO too good to be true?  Are SEO consultants snake oil salespeople who are out to trick and cheat you?

Yes, there are charlatans and cheats out there, and you ought to keep your eyes open and your feet firmly on the ground.

But any Internet marketing manager or business owner who is still not taking SEO seriously should consider stepping down. Because, let’s face it… the most dangerous person is yourself! Especially if you’re a frugal penny pincher looking for cheap results. Remember, in SEO as with life, you reap what you sow!

In the construction industry, there used to be people who dug with shovels. A company that invented and used the “digging machine” made results happen faster, easier and at lower cost.

Effective SEO is just like that. It can bring you better results faster and at a lower cost. That’s why you shouldn’t even consider letting anyone else handle your SEO tasks.

What does a rope cost?

Asking how much SEO will cost is like asking how much rope costs. It will depend upon how many meters you need, the quality of the rope, what you plan to use it for, or how long you want it to last. You can buy the cheapest rope you find, but will it be good enough?

Hiring an SEO consultant is similar. Just like rope has its per meter price, SEO has a price too – maybe a per hour rate. How many hours you will pay for depends upon all these factors we’ve discussed earlier.

And what you pay for is not what it costs you. That is defined by the return you get on your investment. If an SEO consultant delivers a boost in sales and profit that’s 5, 10 or 25 times what you paid, it didn’t cost you anything!

So that’s how I answer Johanna’s question – which is the same question many clients ask their SEO consultants.

I’m sure you’ve faced some frustrating challenges while trying to explain the value of what you do, to a client who can’t see it as any different from the dozen other marketing and designing tasks underway. Or when you’re called in as an SEO specialist to fix things after the entire website is built and running. Got any interesting stories that come to mind?  Go ahead and share it in a comment.

What do you do when you’re asked about pricing your SEO services? Do you have any personal experiences or favorite analogies you use?  What happens when you’re asked to give a ‘fixed price quote’ upfront? Tell us how you overcome price objections.

As a customer, what do you look for with SEO consulting? What parts do you wish your SEO consultant explained better or insisted upon more firmly? Please let us know, too.

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Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: All Things SEO Column | Channel: SEO | Google: SEO


About The Author: is Head Of SEO at MediaCom Norway. He has over 10 years of experience specializing in digital strategy, e-commerce and SEO. Trond is the author of the books "Importance of SEO for Your Online Business" and "Power Social Media Marketing". He can be found on Twitter @TrondLyngbo.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


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  • Peter Rigg

    Nice article Trond.

    I’m not an SEO, however I used to work in SEO and PPC sales, so I’ve got this exact experience on the front line up against the many challenges that you’ve listed. In my experience, the people that make the purchasing decisions will always opt for the lowest price unless there’s a compelling reason to go with someone else. It’s incredibly time consuming to educate every single client on what is probably the most complex marketing service that money can buy.

    In my opinion, SEOs spend far too much time convincing budget holders that SEO is a worthwhile investment. There’s no golden bullet, but it’s pretty obvious that in order to maximise your billable time, you have to minimise the time spent on educating and persuading prospective clients on the fundamental need for SEO, and its associated costs.

    I’m currently producing an animated video called ‘SEO explained in 90 seconds’ that sets out the basics concisely for potential clients of SEO. I’ll e-mail you a link once it’s ready if you’re interested in seeing the outcome :-)

  • lydiafabry

    Totally relate to your “it depends” choice of words. Our clients love and hate those words! The analogies are great too. Much of what we have to “price”, as IM/SEOs, is the value of our knowledge and experience. If I could, I would give away the information I have gathered over many years in the biz. I love what I do and wish the best, most success for all who offer good products/services online – big or small. But, since many of us can use our love of this business as a way to make a living too, we have to price it. And, as mentioned, each business is different because their price-points, products, services are different – and what they have on their websites, how long it’s been there, etc, etc. So, what we do is try to feel out what the business has and can have with added optimization efforts and price our projects based on that information – and turn away some when we have to. At the same time we have to recognize that the value of suggesting a similar optimizing factor for one business that sells a product for $1 verses one that sells at $100/ea and end up bring 1,000 new buyers in for both is great but maybe still not enough to pay for our services for the one. Ughhh! It is the hardest part of our job – to place a value on intellectual services and variable-based projects! Thanks for the writeup though!

  • M.S.

    Amen! I believe I’ve encountered this “Johanna” a hundred times.

    I feel the need to forward this post to everyone involved in customer relations and account management. Great job.

  • Kent Allen

    Awesome post, and at the most appropriate time. I just got off the phone with a potential client who has a quote from one of the “$99 to get your site ranked #1″ SEOs and wanted to see whatI would charge.

    My initial thought was to point him to the pages of miserable reviews for the SEO company. Then it was to tell him to use them and then call me back when the damage is done. Now, I think I’d like benignly to point him to this post. I think it spells it out greatly.

  • Lyena Solomon

    This is by far the best explanation of SEO value I have seen. Often the problem is that the customer does not have adequate goals. The most common goal is to rank. It is rare that they even think of tying SEO to the revenue. Businesses that do not use measurements like value per visitor and value per customer, do not know how much revenue their new traffic is going to generate. The people who are tracking such metrics are already doing SEO.

    I love the analogies you are using. And I am going to forward your article to every potential client who asks me how much they should spend on SEO. Thank you for such a valuable resource.

  • @jnugent

    Just as hard it is to get a person who sells or markets SEO services to quote a price beyond it depends, is to have them provide an explanation of their services.

    A menu or breakdown of your SEO services with associated case studies would certainly be helpful. Buying SEO services is like buying a used car from an unreputable dealership.

    I’ve encountered many firms whose business is to sell SEO services quote the same mantra of “it depends”, without the benefit of an explanation of services or associated measured results.

    The question I have for the organizations that provide SEO services is, “have you ever bought something if the sales person said, it might work, just give me your money”. It’s time for SEO service vendors to start jumping to the tune of their prospective clients or you’ll be out of business.

  • A.J.

    I can’t believe this guy wrote an article that describes exactly how I feel about this topic. I agree with EVERYTHING and I have struggled with this with prospects. This guy hit the nail on the head like no other! Genius! put me on your list!!!!

  • Zakary Venturo

    This is a really good explanation of SEO. It can be incredibly difficult to express the role of SEO to people because there are a variety of factors that make an impact, and not to mention each and every site and business has a unique niche which requires a lot of study to begin with.

    However, I don’t like the idea of that an IT guy isn’t part of the process or in charge in some cases. Not that I am exactly disagreeing with you here, but there is a great deal of impact on SEO just on the basis of correctly building a website and setting up a service to perform at the most optimum.

    In fact, that’s me in a nutshell. I start with the server and the build and deal with a variety of technical issues long before I start implementing content. I focus on working with small business on the local level and often I find my job is just to educate people. I can’t really be a world renown expert on every topic, so helping people produce there content and working from an editorial perspective helps.

  • Ashok kumar MBA

    Dear Trond Lyngbø,
    I really enjoyed your post about “How Much Does SEO Cost? 3 Analogies To Help You Determine Its Value” actually you explained the strength of SEO promotion and SEO experts. Most of the business owners thinking SEO is the plugin service, they should read your post.

    Ashok kumar.

  • Alisha Tannersby

    I still wanna know what SEO costs.

  • kate

    Wonderful post! Even though you’re absolutely correct, the issue of cost is a huge challenge for companies trying to budget for services. ‘It depends’ is not an answer that will get you budget allocation. More often than not, defining the exact services required is a very difficult task, especially when working with in-house marketers who are not SEO professionals. One of the main challenges I face (as an in-house marketer who is not an SEO professional) is that of measurable deliverables. On the one hand, I’m asking for a lot of money, on the other hand, it’s really hard for me to connect it to revenue.

  • M.D.

    Nice article, though there’s one part that I don’t quite agree with:
    “Who Should Be In Charge of Your SEO? Definitely not the information technologists. The project should be owned by your marketing department.”

    Though I find it logical that a person specializes him/herself in a specific profession (whether that be graphics design, development or marketing / SEO / SEA / SER / etc.) and can’t be an expert in all fields, I myself being a web developer that does both development and SEO find myself sometimes being at an advantage because of that. Why? Optimization begins at the very source code of a website. If, for example, your HTML output, website speed and proper keyword emphasizing is all properly put to use and semantically correct, you have a head start when it comes to performing SEO on the same website. Not to mention the control you have over the same (source code of) the website, being both the developer and person in charge of SEO. When doing only the SEO for a website that is developed by someone else, I often find myself running into a brick wall when it comes down to even the simplest HTML adjustments, because the concerning web developer is unable to or does not feel like making those adjustments.

    Just my € 0,02. :)

  • W.I.

    I agree, but also disagree.
    Just saying ‘it depends’ is evasive and in an open discussion I would consider it rude.

    Personally, I follow up with examples of successes and examples of investments other organisations have made. Make it real for them.
    If their budget doesn’t stretch far enough to do it right then expectations are understood at the beginning rather than wasting their time and your own on something that will not be good business for either party.
    Then a decision can be made to either scale back the scope to match the budget or they go look for additional budget.

    Either way there is no delusion or misrepresentation of the potential results or the investment required.

  • P.M.

    I promise you 2 things about SEO. I consider myself an expert/master at SEO.

    #1 If someone tells you they have to change 1 thing on your website to put you at number 1 in google, they are phonies. All one needs is Google. I can give you 40 spots.

    #2 If someone offers you SEO as a service, they fail at making money online. Anybody that manipulates traffic only does it for themselves. Offering it to you as a service is a nuisance.

    Aside. What happens is that we release to the SEO community what we believe will waste their time. While they are occupied; we aggressively take over. OR,. Someone along time ago said it was the method they use and people believe what you write on the web. Bad on their part. They should simply open up the google glossary and begin to read. OR yahoo OR bing. The answer will be there. I assure you #1 and #2 are true statements.

    The real struggle for “SEO” which I like to call “SEP” Search Engine Placement – why wait? – is how many sites is too many to own. I was around 350ish until I was overrun. Lessening it down to about the 70 range seems to work better.

    It is common to see the keywords combos destroyed by the same company in a particular city or genre. This is because there is not enough time in the day which is why some sites end up on top by default for the other keywords. Moreso by apparent interest created by the working professionals of a site then any positive impact created by a 3rd party. A waste of good money.

    Even better this craziness is reinforced by sales people or the need for work when simply if you knew what you were doing, you could easily generate thousands of dollars a day using your skills to make yourself rich. Bottom feeders and laziness is their life theme.

    I would show you my work but i have no ego to pet.

  • Iain Forrest

    I recognise the issue from my experience, but in the real world “it depends” will not normally get the business. Buyers need prices. Better to give a price and clearly set client expectations about what this might buy, and work honestly and passionately to link their investment to outcomes. I’m not saying you need to throw prices around the minute you walk through the door. Taking some time to assess what you’re letting yourself in for, and pricing accordingly is wise.

    The car analogy works up to a point but ultimately breaks down IMHO … all new cars will get me from A to B, so they will solve my fundamental transport problem. In business I would rather buy a cheaper car than say a BMW to achieve that. If I’m going to try and sell a BMW version of SEO, I better be able to spell out why it’s better, and be willing to be held to account on these things. If the cheaper version solves my traffic/conversion problems why buy the BMW?

  • Troy Goatley

    Great Post but I have to agree with winkleink on this one as having previous examples of work and what was charged will enable your potential client to not only understand what pricing they should look to expect to be charged, but also what overall results can be achieved in the short term and in the long term and they can then make the choice of how much work they want you to do.

    Provided of course that you have relevant campaigns that you have worked on and in relevant sectors/markets of your potential client to demonstrate.

    As always though, there are no guarantees and managing your potential clients expectations are very important, but not providing pricing because “it depends”, doesn’t work in the real world and will never help you to grow your business. With marketing budgets needing allocation there needs to be a form of structure.

    So not detracting from your post, as I say I agree with alot of what you have said and will take some of the points you have made with me … but you can provide pricing albeit based on prediction work and previous experience, but as long as you are not shooting yourself in the foot and the client is happy with the pricing and the fact that the pricing could change further down the line depending on what extra work is required, there should be no problem.

  • Gavin Sloan

    Great article – and I really enjoyed reading the comments also.
    I understand and agree with your point that it’s difficult to set a price for SEO – but what about looking at it from the clients view…
    How should a client value your services?
    What KPI’S would you set with the client to justify the invoice price?
    How often should these kpi’s be reviewed and updated?

  • Sean Gallagher

    You obviously are an expert at SEO but you did not come close to answering your prospective clients question and instead played the role of philosopher-cum-smarty pants. They just want a ball park figure. A car costs anywhere from $2,000 to $150,000 but most people manger to get by with a car that costs in the range of $18,000 – $35,000. Be very afraid of the consultant who cannot give you a straight answer.

  • Reuben Vassallo

    SEO is like a gorgeous woman. Everybody wants her, but nobody really understands her. When discussing SEO with my boss/ customers, I explain, without going into a lot of boring details, how SEO works. In doing that, I am automatically explaining to them what and how much work it entails to be ranked on page 1, let alone position 1.

    Back to my analogy. If SEO is a gorgeous woman, what are SEO consultants? Pimps? :)

  • C.G.

    So heres my thoughts. I service a whole bunch of SEO NJ clients and I find the following works.

    1. You have to give a price range. I do a Silver, Gold, Platinum package based on how many hours I am going to spend on a project and how many keyword phrases.. Why is this so hard to figure out , I’m on the clock working for a business to generate revenue? This article tries to complicate what labor costs.. results=rate..

    2. I have a heart to heart with the client with goals and the reasons behind those goals. Which makes my job more clear.. sometimes what clients want, is not what will be most profitable.

    3. I ALWAYS run a ppc campaign to collect and test data on real time analytics , which points the way for converting seo terms.. you must have fresh data to set up continued keyword discovery and trends, without it, you are not going to have that monthly dialog in try o increase revenues.

    4. Conversion testing for website.. maybe overlooked here and a little off course but you need to find out how the website is converting and improve bounce rates.. sometime the seo is not the main issue, but its the property or properties that have been just not doing well

    5. If you are good at SEO, your are good. You get the clients phone to ring, that sells itself. I don’t personally sell anyone on SEO.. its not what my clients care about in the end run. They want someone who can help them and that involves so much more that SEO, and thats the real industry.

  • James Ryan

    The solution can be simple, where the client understands and has an instant perceived value. Do you evaluation of the job at hand. What do you want t make? Determine two hourly rates. One is for your time and one is based on a single subordinate hourly rate. For example. $150 per hour for my time. $75 per hour for any and all labor provided by your employees or outside vendor (if you’re outsourcing). Provide estimate for each month because t should be different each month. Then determine a retainer (or not) – billable hours with supporting time sheets. If I am a client, this is the pricing I would prefer. Then I have a basis for evaluation and review if and when it’s needed. And it’s fair. Client either agrees that your firm is worth it or not over time and you can adjust if needed (or not). This model respects intellect and rids the package BS pricing model.

  • Steve Ollington

    Easily the best article I’ve read in a long time… maybe even ever!

    If I was still meeting with potential clients I’d be tempted to print it out, take it with me, and force them to read it before any discussion begins… I’d happily sit in silence sipping some tea while they go through it and come out educated about the whole thing at the end… not only would it save time and hassle in the meeting but possibly for the duration of the work afterwards!

    Top article, award-worthy!

  • L.C.

    Thanks for explaining (like a poet) and sharing this very useful information on how SEO works but plainly I still need to know how much I will be paying for it.

  • P.M.

    lol. SEO is a process.

    Never seen anybody crush a search engine?

    This whole article is so emotional. Look. Remove yourself from worrying about conversion. Tell them that your price is $68/hr plus a $23/hr markup for overhead. Quote them for 30 hrs per keyword. Guarantee each keyword for 30 days. Quote them 4hrs per keyword per month upkeep. The only thing you need to do is hit the top.

    You don’t need to adjust their website. You don’t need to do their forms. You dont need to install them into FB. You dont need to backlink them. No web 2.0 required. You dont need to do their colors. There is no PPC needed. The deliverable is walk into their office, turn on their machine, type in or whatever, and point. This is not rocket science. Don’t take their passwords. Don’t FTP in. Hand them a NDNC. Fill in a contract template. Done.

    You can do this with dogs, pets, lawyers, doctors, etc. It doesnt matter. I could take MacDonalds or WalMart in a week so its not that difficult. Quit whining about beating bushes. Just tell them the price. Retire from sales if you cant say a price.

    And I stand by what I commented earlier. If someone is looking to do SEO as a service, they are phonies. Anybody who can manipulate traffic is already making money and doesnt need any of yours.


  • MG

    I enjoyed the article, but the comments served well to read as well. Consultants have different approaches that will work for different customers. In my area if I don’t give them a ballpark figure I would be looked at as being sketchy and lose trust with my prospect.

    If I asked for a cost and the consultant replied, “How much a piece of rope cost?” I would answer them by saying, “I don’t know, but if this is your job and you don’t maybe I’m talking to the wrong person.” After you’ve done SEO for enough years you should have an idea of what it will cost to accomplish their goals. “I worked on x site and it was similar to yours and we did y for z. It’s safe to expect your charges to be similar, but we won’t know for sure until I can do more research.”

    On a side note I couldn’t disagree more with Perky Mom up there ^^ on SEO as a service. Many people are looking for more than 30 day results with their keywords and want to include social media into their strategy. Almost all of them need adjustments to their website – without improving their website what type of SEO service could you possibly be offering people? I suppose it depends what type of client you work with, but my clients have long term goals for their business growth and that usually means more than, “I want to rank well for this one or two keyword phrase.”

  • Satish Sharma

    “It depends” never work.

    We have developed a comprehensive SEO framework which involve milestones, deliverable & resources(with types like Project Manager, UI designer, Conversion Expert, SEO (Sr & Jr), Programmers. We present this framework to customer, get buy-in on deliverables (in turn resources). Customers normally debate allot on per unit resource cost. It can vary from 50$ per hour to 150$ per hour, they get what they pay for. At the end of it, little negotiation on the final (10% rebate on over-all value) number and you are good to go.

  • Jonathan Hochman

    This article unintentionally promotes SEO unprofessionalism. It’s very simple. Have on hand a few example statements of work (SOW). When a client asks how much, quote a SOW that is applicable to their situation and tell them the price. The most trust-building thing you can do is immediately quote a price. This shows the prospect that you know your business and suggests that you have fair, consistent pricing.

    “I will review your site, including (bullet points), for $750 and tell you what needs to be done and estimate how much those actions would cost.”

    “I will rebuild your site (up to 20 pages) for $2500.”

    “We will create a new design for your site and rewrite up to 6 pages for $1500.”

  • P.M.

    “The most trust-building thing you can do is immediately quote a price.” Yes I agree with this; however the rest is where you lose me.

    So I work my whole life to master a craft, then I will insult myself by saying I will do programming and design. Even worse now Im a professional marketer that does look and feel along with analytics.

    No Worries. Ive been down that route many times. But! You do not work for the company. They are not paying your health care. They are not paying your taxes. So you want to step in and take things off their shoulder. No Way. Period.

    The purpose for SEO is spots on search engines. Do NOT solicit to any form of additional work. $2500 bucks is a 100:1 long shot that you could get the whole site finished without revisions and try to turn over a profit. A good programmer is most of that cost alone. Then you’re praying for a template to avoid spending money on a designer. Hahaha. Never happen.

    So I will ask a programmer who’s hobby is playing magic and logical online games to be completely illogical open up photoshop and create something of aesthetic value. No. And just the same the other way around. You would never ask someone who clubs all day… wants to be the coolest dresser… knows designer clothes at an instant… to complete complex arrays in AJAX and make your Form work with multiple newsletters and an autoresponders.

    Designers are not Programmers. Programmers do not do Design. SEO pros do not do design nor programming nor would they want to. SEO is Placement for Traffic. Do not “do” Design. Do not “do” programming. Do not take passwords. The company wants traffic. Give them traffic first to determine whether or not their own style needs to be revised. Put them on top for their keyword, then say this is where you were – this is where you are now. Do you notice a difference in business? Then they say No or Yes. You say nothing. Your job is finished.

    Above. The answer is no. Everyone expects upkeep. They all know that they must spend money to get noticed. You be up front that you can provide results withing x weeks depending on your skill. Screenshots galor. Then you stop. Reminder of currently paused status. They say things have slowed down. They pay you for additional work. You need to stop when your hourly pay is finished.

    Once again, To put a site on the top of any search engine, all you need is the tools from the search engine you are working on. Yandex. Baidu, all the same. Since flash has become so apparent, SEO can be done straight from the individual search engine. Older methods have been replaced as of the present.

  • Luke Jamieson

    How do we get every business owner with a website to read this?!!

  • G.S.

    Great article and I especially liked the car analogy. You’re absolutely right to say “it depends” and there are so many variables but one thing you can do is quote them your hourly or daily rate. That gives them an idea of what your time is worth. Then its just down to their level of ambition for their website/business. BTW the FB comment made me laugh. FB traffic is nowhere near the value of SEO traffic. Good luck converting FB traffic – you’ll need it !

  • nicksharpe

    “speed costs money. how fast you want to go?” my seo web design clients are mostly automotive. they get it :-)

  • nicksharpe

    re-post it in every one of your socials – link to it frorn your blogs and/or websites. email links to prospects. this is how its done in the 21st century.. although after reading these comments, you might want to write your own blog about this… opinions abound – proven results are best!

  • Kim

    Thanks Trond for posting this very good article, I certainly agree with your post….

    “It depend’s” doesn’t mean you cant get a client, it’s a way you can communicate a client and educate them, than giving them a package plan like silver gold and platinum ….

  • Randi

    I think SEO is an asset not a cost. As your search rankings climb so does the dollar value of your website.

  • SEO Advocate

    “Who Should Be In Charge of Your SEO? Definitely not the information technologists.” Perfectly said. For some reason, it is popular to believe that someone who works on computers for a living know something about SEO and Marketing. In my business, Information Technologist who are trying to sound important are really wrecking their companies, especially with those who trust they know what they are talking about.

  • Wolfgang Bloomfield

    Thanks, a really good article, unfortunately it seams to upset some people, but it is hard to come up with a price without the customer knowing what he wants exactly.

    I have had people say build me a website with good SEO and if it works I will pay you, that’s when I leave to find someone else who does understand the value. 

  • Stan Byford

    I have worked in SEO for many years and felt I had to make it easier for those on here still wanting a price, FORGET the price the only thing you really need to know is ROI “Return on Investment” A good SEO can easily find an average price per visitor to your website, but good data is crucial, stats and analytic programs can provide enough data alongside your businesses financial records (as long as they are well kept) to produce the earnings per visitor.

    Generally then using similar data and data already available on-line he can propose a strategy that will increase the targeted visitors to your site by an average amount which of course will be worth x.

    Easy Example:

    Your site currently receives 100 visitors per day, on average your site earns £100 per day, so the value of each visitor is on average £1, so the SEO pro with his reports knows that he can increase your daily visitors to 1000 per day for the cost of £150 per day, you draw up an agreement and if he doesn’t deliver you don’t pay.

    If he is successful and his calculations have been correct your website is now generating an extra £750 per day, you’re happy, he’s happy and hopefully your clients are happy too.

    Of course this is very simplified as there are so many factors to consider, is their current website up to the challenge, do you have the right hosting for the extra traffic you will receive, is the sites content optimised, keyword value, man hours to put the technical side right.

    Any good SEO is a Hybrid Web Developer, Designer, Writer, Programmer, Marketing Specialist, Mathematician, Analyst and Magician.   

  • Mandy Cochrane

    I parted ways with a client earlier this year (my choice) because it was just getting too frustrating trying to explain why I was refusing to give a fixed price or an end date for SEO on his site. He was starting to think I was just out for all I could get. Another SEO who WAS prepared to give  the (unrealistic) promises he sought was whispering sweet nothings in his ear, so in the end I wished him luck and said goodbye.  I wish I’d been able to articulate my reasoning as well as this article does. Thanks, I’ll be rehearsing this for next time!

  • Ryan Bardo

    What a problem in our industry. Selling SEO is probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever attempted. After six years of countless pricing strategies and pitches, I’ve found that the unknown or “depends” answer never works and almost always leads to disaster. Even though the “depends” answer is absolutely correct, it just doesn’t fly with marketing execs and the like. An hourly strategy never really worked out because if you are truly skilled at SEO, overtime you can complete tasks quicker, which results in less money for better results. In essence you are getting a pay cut for better performance, and that is not a good business model. 

    So after all of the trials and tribulations we’ve concluded that a quarterly retainer is the best option. Experienced SEO’s can look at a project (after getting an idea of what the client is trying to accomplish) and gauge what it’s going to take to deliver a successful project. We use hours and resources to estimate a flat quarterly retainer to accomplish our goals. We let the client know that we will do a 360 review at the end of each quarter to determine the effectiveness of the budget, and see if budget increases will be necessary to achieve higher results. So far, we haven’t had to increase any budgets, but if we do and the client doesn’t agree, well then unfortunately we will have to let that client go. 

    We’ve had a lot of success with this model, and clients treat us as part of their company rather than an outside vendor, which makes it much easier to work with them on a budget that may fluctuate over time to meet their needs. 

  • Ryan Bardo

    And Stan, your reply is awesome! I couldn’t agree with you more. 

  • Santosh Jena

    Thanks Trond Lyngbø for this meaningful article. Really i did not know SEO is a rocket science or vast knowledge of SEO universe.

  • Jennifer Exoo

    Great info.  But from a client point of view, when I ask this question I’m generally looking for some kind of budgeting guideline.  I’m not trying to pin you down, but particularly as a nonprofit, I don’t have a budget I can optimize and re-optimize every quarter — I have to budget and stick to it.  So of COURSE I know “it depends”, but I find it difficult to believe you can’t throw out some parameters to help guide intelligent planning.

  • Ken Lewis

     I prefer to think of it as “how much gas do you want to add to your tank?”  which is effected by how far do you want to go, how efficient of a vehicle do you have, and how much do you have in your pockets?


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