How Much SEO Services Really Cost Your Small Business

This is without a doubt one of the most common questions among small business owners operating online in the digital era. After all, you’ve all been told how massively important it is to have a great online presence for your business, including a well designed and optimized website, and excellent social presence to get your site on the various search engine radars.

Influencer with megaphone
photo credit: Official Blackberry Images / Flickr

Without a proper SEO, prospective customers in your product or service area simply won’t find you, unless your lucky enough to have them stumble on to your business for one reason or another. This isn’t how business is done online though. If customers aren’t finding you via the search engines, you’re literally throwing away money on web development and hosting fees every month.

“So how much will this darned-tooting SEO really cost me then?” You ask.

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to your question. However, to give you an idea or two about search engine optimization prices, we’ve created a mini guide for you, as follow.

Prices and Payment Structure

SEO price tag

There are 4 very common ways to pay your SEO provider, once you’ve vetted their services and background to ensure they’re the right fit for your company:

1. Consultation Fee

It should come as no surprise that SEO professionals have to put a value on their time. Most professionals worth talking to will charge anywhere from $100 – $300 to prospective clients. However, some will offer to wave this fee if you decide to use their services.

Private freelancers may charge up to $50 to consult with them, but it’s important to be wary of the fact that they’ll be outsourcing much of the work, and may have limited communication ability with their outsourcers. Hence, quality of results could be an issue going this route.

While this fee might seem unreasonable, remember that you’re going to have an SEO professional going over everything you’re doing with a fine-toothed comb and coming up with a game plan, often right there on the spot, to get you where you want to go. Read Neil Patel’s 17 recommended interview questions to ask during the consultation before entrusting any firm with the keys to your online kingdom!

2. Monthly Retainer

On average, most companies will pay somewhere between $1500 – $5000 per month, some even more than that depending on their needs. Smaller businesses might find they can score a reputable monthly service for less than $1000. Just don’t sacrifice quality for cost savings – you get what you pay for!

A retainer is set up when the client wants the full service treatment, or multiple SEO-related services like: keyword research, onsite content improvements, link building services, press release distribution and weekly/monthly reports. This is by far the most popular type of payment setup, as most SMEs require multiple SEO services to get their sites ranking.

3. Fixed Price Contracts

Fixed price contracts are a great way to test the waters with the SEO firm before signing a monthly retainer contract with them. Small business owners can select the service or services that are most needed in their online presence, then contract the firm to accomplish those tasks.

Services that typically fall into a fixed price contract include SEO-geared copywriting and social, and also site and link profile audits to determine where your SEO game is at currently.

  • SEO Writing: $1.50 – $5.00 per 100 words (cost depends on the quality of writing needed for the content’s intended purpose).
  • Onsite Content Audit: $500 – $7,500 per audit (cost dependent on how much content you have onsite).
  • Link Profile Audit: $500 – $7,500 per audit (depending on the number of inbound and outbound links your site(s) have).
  • Social Media Services: $500 – $3,000 (cost factors include length of contract and which networks you require exposure on).

4. Per Project Pricing

There’s really no way to estimate what a project will cost your company, unless you know exactly what you need/want and can articulate that to the SEO agency during your initial consult. Knowmad’s Matt Wheeler suggests that SMEs prepare to spend at minimum $1000 per project, while larger businesses and those with specialized needs could pay upwards of $30,000 when everything’s all said and done.

Per project pricing is offered by SEO firms to attract SMEs and large businesses who aren’t ready or don’t want to take the plunge on a monthly retainer contract. Another reason why an agency and their customer may arrange a per project pricing arrangement is if the client needs a specialized service or work that isn’t listed in the agency’s list of services offered. A great example of a unique project would be if your company requires exposure on a big top 10 site like Forbes, HuffPost, or something more niche-targeted toward your business.

Buyer Beware!

Beware of snake oil salesman in SEO

SEO firms offering guarantees of any kind such as overnight results and top spot rankings on the first page should be avoided. There are a lot of search engine optimization experts out there, but it takes a true master to make such promises, and the only true masters are those who write the algorithms and parameters search engines ultimately decide upon for their SERPs.

Just as important, and perhaps far more common is the SME’s need to save money wherever possible. It’s tempting to take the bare minimum estimate of ~$1000 monthly to set up a monthly retainer with a reputable SEO firm and try to get an even better deal. If they were to answer honestly, most who’ve been ripped off by a firm would say they deserved at least half the blame for whatever happened to them – either because they were too thrifty, uneducated about average service costs, unaware of SEO best practices, and/or unable to see the obvious warning signs before it was too late.


SEO service pricing can vary greatly. However, the top firms and highly-ranked freelancers out there all follow the same price range and pricing structure for their services. Outside the true professionals in the business, there’s no telling how much you’ll pay and what SEO value you’ll get from those services in the end.

Education (such as that which you’ve gained by reading this brief cost outline) is essential before creating a shortlist and settling on the firm you’ll entrust the fate of your online rankings and reputation to.

Never make a decision based on who can offer the lowest prices or who can make the most outlandish promises. You’ll lose every time!