I often get messages from business owners looking to hire an SEO. While I no longer do SEO as a service (I teach SEO through my courses), I used to offer this as a service. This is a good question to ask, and it’s a good idea to have an understanding of how much you should reasonably be paying for search engine optimization.
Here is how much it costs per hour.
The Short Answer
The average cost of SEO for a small business runs around approximately $142.50 per hour. Monthly SEO runs around $1,000 – $3,000. This price is calculated based on the average of the top 3 ranking agencies in the United States and what they charge. Keep in mind this number may vary depending on the cost of living of your area, and the size/reputation of the agency you are hiring.
The Long Answer (It Depends)
Let’s keep it real: there are a lot of factors that can influence this estimate. Here are just a few things that need to be taken into account:
- Do you have a basic website or an e-commerce site? (Ecommerce costs more…)
- How many pieces of content is the SEO going to be publishing?
- Are you required to be involved in the SEO process? (Adds more time to total bill, but can be a good thing)
- Do you live in a big city where the cost of services is generally higher?
- Does this SEO have a reputation for being the best at what they do?
Each of these things can affect how much this is going to cost. While this can seem overwhelming, the good news is that potential SEOs should be able to sit down and talk about this with you. Make sure to properly communicate your needs and what your budget is to these people.
Cheapest Isn’t Always Best
Remember that you are paying an expert for their time. SEO is a very technical, in-depth skill set that requires years of research, trial and error, and practice to perfect. Good SEOs know their worth and will charge $200+ per hour on the high end. You need to respect that these people’s time is worth money, and this is an invaluable skill you are paying for.
If an SEO is offering a “too good to be true” price, I would personally avoid that individual. Most likely they are either new to the space (and won’t have any idea what they are doing), or you’re being taken for a ride. Be careful and always do your due diligence.
That being said, search engine optimization is one of the best skills to outsource or hire to grow your company. If done right, SEO is a solid investment that can pay off tenfold in the years to come for your business. Effort and time put in today can continue to drive clicks, leads, and sales to your website for months and even years in the future.
Look For Someone With A Proven Track Record
This one is big. Besides price you want to find someone who is reputable and who, more importantly is going to do a good job. This is where proof of previous projects comes into play. Truly legitimate SEOs can showcase businesses they’ve actually ranked in Google in your area.
If you are considering an SEO, and they can’t show you this – avoid them like the plague. That is a MASSIVE red flag that you are dealing with either someone incompetent or a sleazy scam artist. Always look at reviews and see what previous clients have to say.
Also: see if they themselves are ranking. Remember, this is what they do. If you can’t find them on page 1 of the Google search results they most likely aren’t who you want to go with either.
Know What To Look Out For
Here are some checklists to help you make an informed decision about hiring or working with a SEO professional. I’ve included both green flags and red flags to look out for. Green flags are a good sign, and you should consider the person. Red flags mean you really need to meet with another expert and give this person a pass.
Green Flags (Go For It)
These are things you want in an SEO.
- Has a portfolio or examples of websites ranked
- Is able to explain in simple terms what they are going to do
- They take the time to look at your website and to really gauge what your needs are
- Will allow you to do pay as you go, or month to month
- Is primarily focused on publishing content for your business
- Has positive reviews online from previous customers or clients
- You found them on Google (they didn’t find you)
- They give you an estimate (but don’t guarantee results)
Red Flags (Next The Person)
Here are some red flags to avoid when looking for an SEO.
- Can’t show examples of websites ranked #1
- Are too technical/you can’t understand what they say they’re going to do
- They don’t look at your website and lump you into a bucket with other clients
- They want you to pay for a year in advance or get you on a subscription
- Their focus is on technical aspects and not content
- Mixed reviews on their Google My Business listing
- They found you (cold called or emailed)
- They guarantee you’ll rank #1 in a month
It goes without saying, but a good SEO will be found by you – not the other way around. I’ve run into a lot of business owners who were taken advantage of because they were cold called or emailed out of the blue. You need to use common sense here.
Remember: If they’re good at SEO, they shouldn’t have to reach out to random businesses! Additionally, true SEOs don’t guarantee results. They understand that Google still controls their own search engine at the end of the day, and there is no way for them to “for sure” get you to #1 at a specific time.
(Don’t let this discourage you, though. 99% of the time a good SEO can get you to that #1 spot…sometimes it just takes longer or shorter than expected.)
Umbrella SEO Plans Should Be Avoided
If an agency is trying to get you on a “standard plan” they have, you need to be on alert. Especially if they don’t look in-depth at your website and what your needs are beforehand. Remember: Good SEOs do their due diligence!
You want to make sure the SEO you hire is going to be focusing on the most important things that will move the needle for your business. And these things can change depending on the type of business you run, your website functionality, if you sell products online, etc.
As a caveat to this, if your business is a small local one, and you have a very standard website then an umbrella plan may work for you.
(When I say standard small business website I am talking about a site that only has Home, Blog, Services, About, and Contact for pages.) In this example your business wouldn’t be doing ecommerce or any additional functionality on your website.
Offshoring Your SEO
I have very mixed feelings on this, but I want to address it while we’re on the topic. Some business owners will want to hire SEO agencies in other countries to try and save money. Sometimes the cost of living can be cheaper in other countries, like the Philippines for example. Because of this, money there goes a long way compared to living in the United States. $5 might be worth $10 – $50 for them.
In other words, you can pay around half of the cost for the same SEO service.
If you dig deep enough, you can find SEO agencies in the Philippines that charge around $500 – $700 a month for SEO.
In my opinion you can go this route, but you need to be especially careful hiring an agency from another country. If something goes wrong, or you are taken for a loop you can kiss that money goodbye you invested with them. I recommend hiring locally if you don’t have a lot of knowledge about SEO to avoid being taken advantage of.
Now that being said, there are excellent agencies overseas that I’ve heard nothing but excellent things about. But like with anything, do your due diligence. The checklists I mentioned above still apply here. You want to make sure these companies have actually ranked businesses #1 before. Never be afraid to ask to see proof of previous work!
Hiring A SEO In-House
Sometimes business owners will want to consider hiring a dedicated SEO for their company. There are actually a lot of advantages to doing this. Having a SEO just for your business means their focus will be there. SEO Agencies have to jungle many clients, and sometimes that means you aren’t the #1 focus for a given month or project period.
While this may cost more, you will far be making up for it in the total hours of SEO done for your business website. An in-house SEO can also publish weekly content for you and do more than an agency could with their time. Remember: The more time that’s put into SEO, the better your results are going to be.
If you are a small business you may not have the budget for this or hiring an agency, however.
Do It Yourself (Sometimes The Better Option)
Okay, let’s say this is out of your budget or you have a spare hour a day to put into SEO. Sometimes this is actually the right path for people, and although SEO can be technical it can be broken down into simple steps that anyone can do. Especially as a startup, this may be the best thing for your company.
SEO primarily takes a lot of time as opposed to a monetary investment. Most likely you’re either paying someone else for their time, or investing time yourself. That being said, the time you invest in SEO is paid back tenfold over time.
The downside to this besides spending your time is that you are going to have a steep learning curve ahead of you. SEO has many moving parts and processes, and it’s way too easy to get caught up in technical “busywork” for lack of a better word that doesn’t actually get you results.
This is why I recommend following a proven process or system that has ranked other websites and businesses in search. I teach effective, powerful, and next level SEO strategies in Local SEO Shuriken. If you want to easily learn and master SEO, this course is for you.
This post has hopefully given you a lot to think about. If you are a business owner, and are considering hiring an SEO take the time to carefully weigh your options. Remember to do your own research and find an SEO that works for you. If you want to do it yourself, that’s totally okay. SEO is an insanely valuable skill that is 100% worth picking up.
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