The Cheap SEO Pricing Epidemic: How Much Does SEO Really Cost?

People’s SEO pricing expectations

Recently, Higher Visibility performed a much-needed study. They surveyed 500 people who help small businesses with their marketing efforts. This study was very revealing. A whopping 75 percent of respondents believe that SEO should cost under $500/mo. What’s even worse is that 38 percent believe SEO should cost under $100/mo! Why do people think that? If done properly, SEO makes companies money. Why do people think that SEO should cost as much as some people spend on Starbucks in a month? Let’s discuss some of the reasons why.

Where’d they get an idea like that?

Well, we can thank huge companies like GoDaddy. They offer SEO starting at $6.99/mo. Hmm, so you mean for about $84/yr I can outrank my competitors and get more sales? Sure, sign me up!

Unfortunately, services like these give people unrealistic expectations. It leads people to believe they can get great SEO services at a low, low price. Although many people know the saying “you get what you pay for”, they tend to ignore it in the SEO world. What typically happens is customers will sign up for a cheap SEO service. A few months down the road, they won’t see any SEO results. When nothing happens, they end up saying, “SEO is a waste of money”. There’s an epidemic of people that don’t want to pay for real SEO because they’ve been burned in the past and they don’t think SEO works. Still, there are others that are blinded by unbelievably low prices and impossible SEO promises.

Network Solutions has more reasonable SEO prices but they still don’t seem credible. Their SEO services start at $300/mo and this includes link building! Sorry, but I don’t know any legit white-hat link builders that would charge only $300/mo. So something’s not adding up here.

Ad headlines show cheap prices

Doing a simple Google search for something like “seo company” or “affordable seo services” will show a slew of low cost SEO companies that are paying money to show up in Google ads. Here are a couple of examples.


Did you notice that MainStreetHost.com has an A+ rating on BBB.org? Wow, let’s take a look.

Hmm, seven out of eight reviews are negative and they have 20 complaints that are all about their SEO services. I wonder why they have so many unhappy customers? Could it be that they only charge $99/mo and their clients are getting what they pay for?

Update: At the time of writing this post, Main Street Host had 20 complaints and seven out of eight reviews were negative. Since then their listing has been changed. Now they have 10 complaints and five of seven reviews are negative.

How are companies able to get away with such low prices?

I’d liken it to how large corporations like fast food chains and huge retailers are able to sell items at insanely cheap prices. One way is they hire cheap laborers. Many SEO companies that charge very low prices outsource their SEO work to contractors who are willing to work for a lower wage. Let’s say $5/hr. You can see this by looking at sites like upwork.com that display link builders who are willing to work for as low as $5/hr. The main issue is that low-cost workers may not be well acquainted with SEO best practices or care to abide by them.

So what are they doing with my money?

Often times, shady SEO companies will build spammy links to your website. Some ways they build spammy links are by using private blog networks, also called PBNs. Basically, they have built a bunch of websites and since they own them all, they can link to your website from each one of these spammy websites. While this can give you an initial ranking boost, once Google finds out your site can be penalized or taken out of Google’s index completely. And Google will. find. out. If this happens, then you’ll have to spend money to get your backlinks assessed and possibly disavowed.

However, this is less common now since Google tends to ignore bad links and only penalizes extreme cases. If your site doesn’t end up getting penalized or deindexed, most likely Google is ignoring many of your spammy backlinks. This means that you have just wasted money on building links that don’t provide your website with any value.

These cheap SEO companies could even make a few initial SEO tweaks to your website, and then sit back and relax. They may do nothing more than give you a rankings report every month. But these reports don’t show how their SEO services are actually making you money. I had a client that was previously with a shady SEO company. Each month they received a rankings report for about seven of their target keywords. Guess what, most of their target keywords only had a search volume of about 10 searches a month. Typically, ranking for a keyword shouldn’t be your main focus, especially when no one is even using those keywords to search on the internet. Plus, they didn’t have content on their site that would even allow them to rank for some of their target keywords. That shady SEO company hadn’t helped them create any of the necessary content that was needed to reach their goals. But, they got a keyword rankings report every month so they must have been doing some work each month, right? Nope.

How much do SEOs really charge per hour?

Each SEO company can choose how they want to bill their clients. Some charge by the hour and some charge by the project. Many SEO companies charge a monthly fee to manage your SEO. This usually covers a monthly retainer of hours. Quality SEOs are going to charge quality prices. If you are looking for a range, most SEOs charge $150-$300/hr. Worldwide, SEOs charge an average of $167.59/hr. This isn’t absolute and can fluctuate but it can give you an idea of how much you should be paying for SEO. So if you are paying a company $200/mo to do your SEO, if they were in fact doing quality work, you would only get maybe two hours of work from them each month. This isn’t going to move the needle at all. The reason the company is only charging you $200/mo is because: 1) They may have little experience and charge a lower rate per hour or 2) they are just taking your money and not doing much for you.

Why do SEOs charge so much?

Think of a skilled cabinet maker. You are getting very specialized service coupled with experience. SEO takes time, research, expertise, technical knowledge, patience and requires local SEO software and tools, etc.

Would you hire a cabinet maker to build and install cabinets in your kitchen or would you try to do it yourself? Most likely, you would hire a professional because you want the work to be done right and you want the finished product to be amazing. What if a cabinet maker offered to do it for $500 but other companies quoted you $5,000? You would know something is not quite right.

Sure, you could always do it yourself if you had a knack for it. But you would not get the same results as an expert would get. An expert is very familiar with the ins-and-outs and has a routine down. Believe it or not, good SEOs are like cabinet makers in that regard. Generally, they do good work and get good results. That’s why SEO can be so expensive.

What if I don’t have enough money for SEO yet?

You can try to learn some SEO basics at sites like Moz.com. However, you run the risk of hurting your site if you don’t know exactly what you are doing. For example, you could hire someone on Fiverr to build links to your website for $5 not knowing that those links are spammy links. Because of this, you could be wasting money, your site could get penalized or it could be completely removed from Google’s index.

If you don’t have much money for a marketing budget you could invest in Facebook Ads or Google AdWords. You might be able to get away with spending around $300/mo on ads if you’re a very small business. Keep in mind you will also have to pay a management fee for someone to set up, run and monitor the ads for you. They should also give you a campaign report showing how many clicks and conversions you received.

Where can I find good SEOs if I have a decent budget?

As John Doherty said: “SEO services and strategy are not cheap, and if someone is offering you cheap services then remember that you get what you pay for. Cheap services get you cheap results.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could have someone vet SEO companies for you? Well, Credo is a free service that can do that for you. If you have a budget of at least $1,000/mo, check them out. They vet SEO companies by doing the following:

  • They ask them deep questions about the tactics and strategies they use to confirm they are knowledgeable.
  • They view their metrics to make sure they actually help businesses.
  • They speak with all of them on the phone to make sure they pass the personality test.

I am happy to say that Pigzilla was vetted by Credo and I made the cut! So if you need a local SEO consultant or ongoing SEO services, let’s talk.

In addition to Credo, there are other experts out there that have specialized SEO skills. Here are a few that I trust:

Google My Business ranking issues and spam fighting – Joy Hawkins
Website traffic drop assessments and recovery – Marie Haynes
Structured data and Schema.org – David Deering
Local Search – Phil Rozek

Conclusion

The lesson here is, don’t give up! It’s easy to be scammed so make sure to take the following steps:

  • Educate yourself on SEO basics; I offer a free beginners SEO course if you’re interested
  • Create a list of questions you need to ask when looking for an SEO company
  • Shop around and get more than one quote
  • Look to spend at least $1,000/mo in order to get quality SEO services
  • If you don’t have enough of a budget yet, look into Google AdWords

About Dani Owens

Dani Owens, the owner of Pigzilla, has been in the digital marketing field since 2011. Her resources have been mentioned and shared by local SEO experts such as Eric Ward, Darren Shaw, Phil Rozek, Marie Haynes, David Mihm and Local U. From small, independent Mom-and-Pop shops, to enterprises with thousands of locations, Dani Owens has years of experience strategizing and implementing reliable local SEO tactics that lead to increased organic traffic and conversions.