How Much Does SEO Cost for a New Website?

It can be hard to gauge how much you should pay for SEO services, and harder still to determine whether or not you’re paying a fair price. SEO is anything but an instant process, and it’s often difficult to reconcile traditional standards of ROI with the ongoing, dynamic process that SEO is.

While prices can vary from vendor to vendor, we’ve put together some different options you have when shopping around for SEO.

On-page SEO elements involved in the designing of your website

SEO works best when it has a strong foundation to stand on. Future SEO efforts will often be underwhelming unless your website is optimized with SEO in mind from the start. Many different factors go into on-page SEO, and we’ve described a few big ones below. Keep in mind this is not a comprehensive list!

Search engine-indexable content

This one is pretty straightforward. Search engines can best crawl and index your web pages if they’re in HTML text format. Search engines will often have a hard time parsing content like flash files and java applets, and might outright ignore them.

From a design standpoint, the easiest way to apply this information is to ensure the content of your website is primarily in HTML. For things like images, video, and other non-HTML content, good web design means including features like alt text, supplemental text alongside non-text content, transcriptions for video or audio files, and other such elements that will result in optimal crawling from search engine spiders.

SEO-friendly link and URL structures

If search engines use robot “spiders” to index content, then you can think of your website as an actual spider’s web. Everything needs to be properly connected in order for search engines to index a complete version of your website. If it has a page on it that’s not directly linked to by any other pages, then search engines will have a very hard time finding it.

As for proper URL structures, best practice dictates URLs that are shorter, clean, and intuitive. You should be able to guess the content of a page based on its URL. This means static URLs such as “http://www.example.com/category1/content.html” work much better than dynamic URLs like “http://www.example.com/blog?id=244521” that contain variables and non-descriptive elements.

Lastly, hyphens should be used to separate words within a URL whenever possible, as they can be parsed by all browsers and web applications. Speaking of words…

Keywords

While search engine algorithms have been shifting away from determining relevancy based solely on keywords, they’re still very important for your overall SEO strategy. It’s nearly always a good idea to include targeted keywords in navigational elements like URLs, page titles, file/folder names, and links, as well as in actual content like page headers and the main page copy. However

However, keyword placement should seem natural. The practice of “keyword stuffing,” or cramming as many keywords as possible into the elements of a page, is frowned upon by most major search engines and will actually detract from your SEO efforts.

How much does it cost?

The price of initial, on-page SEO can vary depending on the specific needs of your business. In general, the more complex your website is, and the more keywords you want to rank for, the more expensive initial optimization will be. To give you a point of reference, placing in search results for 30 keywords will run you $2,000 - $4,000, depending on the agency, firm, or service you use to do so.

The good news is that this initial optimization is a one-time deal. Once you have the design and architecture of your website in place, it can be easy to establish an ongoing SEO strategy moving forward.

In-house SEO specialist/team

While more expensive upfront, hiring an internal SEO specialist can definitely be worth it in the long run. This option best suits established businesses with the revenue for expansion, and businesses that are in or are joining the SEO game for the long haul.

Benefits of an in-house SEO specialist

First and foremost, you’ll have more control over the whole process. Outsourcing SEO work to an agency is often just resigning your fate to their competence (or lack thereof), and can unfortunately be plagued with communication issues, delays, and other obstacles in general.

Hiring an internal employee to take over your SEO efforts, however, means that reporting to you on a daily or weekly basis is literally part of their job. An in-house solution will be much more committed to your success as a company because you’re his or her only “client.” If the business sinks, so does his or her job.

Centralizing your SEO efforts can be very beneficial as well. After the initial training and the first few months – a year of working for you, your in-house specialist will have a thorough understand of your company’s goals, long-term plans, and marketing strategies as a whole. This means no more wasting time acclimating third party agencies to your industry, or familiarizing them with specific best practices.

Drawbacks of an in-house SEO specialist

The primary drawback of an internal solution is cost. New employee training is always a hefty money-sink. Quality internal SEO specialists can easily pull in $100,000+/year as well, which is definitely something to keep in mind when considering potential candidates.

Another drawback is the time investment. If you’re ready to hit the ground running with SEO right now, a new hire may not be your best option. Crafting and promoting job listings, screening candidates through multiple interview levels, and finally new hire training are all big time sinks. You likely won’t get any appreciable SEO work done for several months to a year after deciding to accept applications.

How much does it cost?

Like we mentioned earlier, internal SEO specialists can make anywhere from $30,000 - $100,000+ / year, depending on experience. Make sure you factor in new hire training as well as any other costs associated with hiring a new employee as well.

Freelancers and smaller agencies (~20 employees or less)

This category can be extremely competitive and is where you run the highest risk of getting the short end of the stick as a result. There are plenty of high-quality SEO specialists in this tier as well, but you need to do your research well and go into consultations with some foundational knowledge to ensure you’re not being misled.

Benefits of a freelancer or small agency

These options can be more affordable than an internal hire or a specialized agency. A veteran freelancer or experienced agency will deliver you quality results in a reasonable timeframe.

The vetting process can be simple and accurate, if approached correctly. Asking the right questions will quickly demonstrate whether or not a particular freelancer/agency deserves your business, saving you time and getting your SEO efforts started fast. Asking for references, for example, will cut through any ambiguity in quality of service right away.

If you do end up finding the perfect fit for your SEO efforts, you could end up with a long-term solution comparable to an internal employee, at a more reasonable price and with less initial investment.

Drawbacks of a freelancer or small agency

While the competition between smaller vendors means more affordable services, it also means you need to be extra careful. Races to the bottom as far as pricing goes are frequent in this tier of SEO, and those willing to do SEO work for a pittance should raise an instant red flag for you.

Many freelancers and smaller agencies are based internationally. This is something you should take into serious account, as language barriers, time zone differences, and payment complications will really put a damper on your SEO efforts.

Lastly, these options usually need more oversight on your part. If you’re not interested in micromanaging an SEO campaign, it might be best to steer clear of this tier.

How much does it cost?

Most freelancers and smaller agencies will subscribe to a monthly retainer pricing scheme or to an hourly rate. For this level of SEO, monthly retainers will be in the $500 - $5,000 range. Hourly rates will run you between $80 and $300/hour, depending on experience.

Dedicated SEO agencies

These are agencies and firms that deal solely in digital marketing. They’ll have a specialized team on hand to deal with all aspects of SEO, and should have a proven track record of success. You’ll get quality work and results, although the cost can be higher as well.

Benefits of a dedicated SEO agency

Quality agencies within this category will be industry-leaders when it comes to SEO. As long as you check their references and past results, and you can be confident knowing your SEO is in good hands.

Dedicated agencies usually have years of experience, and will be well-versed in the nuances of your specific industry (or proactive about researching it if not). Because the SEO industry is so reputation-driven, dedicated firms care strongly about their clients.

A good working relationship is more important to them than milking you for as much as possible. Top-notch agencies provide you with consistent, clear communication, and are more than happy to answer questions throughout the process.

Most dedicated agencies will have streamlined their SEO process as well. While results still won’t be instantaneous, you’ll start seeing them as quickly as possible.

Drawbacks of a dedicated SEO agency

As with most industries, there are dedicated SEO agencies that will meet you with vague promises, ambiguous pricing, and subpar results. It’s very important to do your research thoroughly before partnering up with a dedicated agency, especially because they frequently require longer-term commitments.

When you do find the right agency for you, pricing can be an obstacle too. While dedicated agencies provide quick, great work, it can sometimes cost a premium.

How much does it cost?

Monthly retainers for dedicated SEO agencies usually run in the $1,000 - $15,000+ range. These agencies are also more likely to have a range of flexible, customized SEO packages you can pick from. They know the importance of meeting a business’s needs and have services ready to go for any situation.

In conclusion...

You do have a number of different paths you can follow to the end goal of SEO dominance. We do recommend first looking at dedicated agencies in most situations, although internal hires and other methods of outsourcing have their places.

No matter the path you choose, do your research well and you’ll end up with quality work and measureable results rather than unfulfilled promises and wasted capital.

Try out our free website cost calculator

SEO services are only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to establishing a web presence. Dealing with your own website can be a daunting task, but we’ve got you covered.

We put together a free website cost estimate calculator that’s meant to help you gain a better understanding of what goes into the website creation process, and to provide you with an overall cost estimate based on your personal needs. Go get your estimate now!