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The Business Guide to SEO Services: Projects, Costs, and Providers

Cost of SEO services, along with pricing structure, types of services, and service providers, are factors for businesses to consider before partnering with an SEO firm. 

Increasingly, gathering information and buying decisions boil down to a single action: Google search.

The expanding role of search engines in business transactions have driven businesses to invest more in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) services to appear among the top results for target search terms. 

However, the process of partnering an SEO firm that offers the services your business needs and that fits your budget is difficult. 

A recent business guide from Clutch breaks down the process of choosing an SEO services provider into five major factors of consideration: 
  • Cost and Pricing Information
  • Types of SEO Services
  • The Best SEO Services for Your Company 
  • Recommendations for Evaluating for Partnering an SEO Firm 
I. Cost and Pricing of SEO Services

The cost of SEO services depends on the factors of complexity for a particular campaign, such as the number of pages on a site, the company's existing SEO and digital marketing, and the structure of the structure.

The cost of SEO services is best explained in ranges according whether a campaign consists of basic, agency, or enterprise level services. 

Basic SEO Services 

Approximate Monthly Cost: $300-$500

Basic-level SEO services are low-cost and low-risk investments. They offer the most value for smaller businesses and local contractors or companies with few SEO services demands.

Services provided in this price range are usually limited to local organic optimization efforts, such as local directory and online NAP (name, address, phone number) listings.

Agency Level SEO Services 

Agency level SEO services are best for organizations that want to rank in search engines both locally and nationally. The cost of SEO services at the agency level usually falls within two price ranges. 

Approximate Monthly Cost: $1,000-$3,000; $3,000-$10,000 


In this price range, an SEO services firm provides:
  • High-level (top 5 results) local rankings for noncompetitive terms
  • Page one placement for high volume local keywords 
  • National SEO for terms with low competition or search volume


Expectations for premium agency level services include:
  • Greater visibility for searches nationally
  • High-level local rankings for moderately competitive terms
  • Page-one placement for highly competitive local key terms

Enterprise Level SEO Services 

Approximate Monthly Cost: $10,000+

Enterprise level SEO services apply best to large companies and websites and companies competing for high level national keywords. Firms that require enterprise level SEO services often maintain websites with of thousands of pages that require regular, high-level SEO services.

Pricing Information and Structure

Most SEO firms charge clients monthly (a monthly retainer) which varies based on project size and service demands. 

Firms also charge using performance and package-based models for SEO services, costs which are usually tacked on to monthly retainer fees.

Performance pricing uses key performance indicators (KPIs)-search ranking targets, traffic increases or leads generated-to determine price. Performance-based agreements are low-risk investments for clients since charges only accrue if your campaign reaches agreed KPI targets. However, the rates for performance-based agreements are generally higher. 

Package-based agreements provide a fixed rate for SEO services. Single or short-term services, like an audit or social media marketing are priced using this arrangement. SEO firms sometimes provide full-service packages in which they provide all the service offerings in their repertoire. packages resemble a traditional transaction (payment for an immediate deliverable) but do not produce ongoing results like SEO efforts covered under monthly retainer fees.

Full-service packages include all of a firm's SEO offerings at a fixed rate.

II. Types of SEO Service Providers Offer Different Degrees of Control and Support

There are four main types of SEO service providers: SEO agencies, SEO consultants, SEO software, and digital marketing agencies. The biggest differences between the types of providers is the amount of control allowed over your SEO strategy and the level of guidance received entailed from a services partner. 

SEO Agencies control every component of a company's SEO strategy. Agencies specialize only in SEO services and many times feature proprietary optimization techniques and tools. Companies without much background with SEO benefit from the hands-on, leading role of SEO agencies.

SEO Consultants act in more of a support role than an agency. Consultants are still SEO experts that specialize in SEO services, but they are "more mentors than doers.", according to Bruce Clay, who runs the consultancy, Bruce Clay Inc. Consultants work with a company to develop an SEO strategy, and teach them how to maintain SEO efforts over time.

SEO software allows companies the ability to formulate and carry out an SEO strategy on their own. Many companies wary of partnering with an expert firm use software to support their SEO. SEO software automates optimization efforts, such as link auditing and keyword research.

Popular examples of software are Moz and Ahrefs

Digital marketing agencies offer services that impact SEO, such as content strategy (blogs, content marketing), social media marketing, and paid advertising (pay-per-click). 

III. SEO Services: Value Depends on Company Needs

SEO services produce value for a company based on individual company demands. 

SEO firms offer five different types of SEO services: an SEO audit, on-site optimization, off-site optimization, digital marketing, and reporting and analytics. Companies that understand the services that they need helps them determine the best SEO provider.

Audit: Determining the SEO Services You Need 

SEO campaigns begin with an audit to identify areas of opportunity for SEO. A typical audit examines a site's:
  • Load speed
  • URL structure
  • Code
  • Design
  • Content (site copy, blog)
  • Information architecture (layout, hierarchy, taxonomy)
  • Link profile

The audit determines whether a company requires on-site, off-site, or digital marketing SEO services.

On-Site Optimization Indexes Sites for Target Terms

On-site optimization makes a website easier for search engines to index by improving a site's user experience and making sure that it is properly categorized for target search terms.

The three main forms of on-site optimization are keyword optimization, web design, and back-end structure. 

Keyword optimization is the primary form of on-site optimization and ensures that target phrases are included, where relevant, in the content of your site.

Web design services make it easier for search engines to process the content of a site. SEO firms optimize design elements like domain name (ensuring that the domain name is relevant to the service or value proposition of a firm) and site format (navigation functions, primary landing pages).  

SEO firms also optimize the back-end structure of a site: URL structure, properly labeling images using target keywords (alt image attributions), using title tags, and including meta descriptions for relevant pages.

Off-Site SEO Earns Backlinks To a Site

Offsite optimization services support on-site optimization efforts through garnering backlinks to a site. Links from other websites to your site are essentially endorsements, signaling to search engines that your site relates to a certain topic. The more authoritative the page that links to a site, the more an endorsement from them helps your search ranking.

Forms of off-site services include link building and monitoring, content marketing, and social media marketing. 

Link-building campaigns entail the leg work of acquiring links from external sources like industry websites, blogs, and forums, to build authority on a topic for a site. 

Link monitoring and disavowal supports a company's link profile by tracking and deleting "spammy" links, or phony endorsements, back to your site.

Content marketing, especially if it is comprehensive, user friendly, and aligns with user intent , resonates with target audiences and draws traffic to your site. High site traffic and low bounce rates from content marketing also signals authority to a site. 

Social media marketing also creates a potential for links back to your site. Some SEO experts disagree on the relationship between social media and SEO, but most acknowledge that social media engagement correlates with site traffic and certainly increases brand exposure. 

Other forms of off-site optimization include reputation management, influencer marketing, and public relations.

Digital Marketing Complements SEO

Digital marketing services improve a site's visibility but are distinct from SEO services. While an SEO agency or consultant uses on-site and off-site SEO strategies to improve a site's ranking, digital marketing agencies use SEO as part of a broader marketing strategy. 

For example, pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is a digital marketing service that requires businesses to bid on placement in search results based on target keywords. While PPC provides short-term returns, organic SEO improves a site's ranking over time. 

Analytics Reports Illustrate Progress of SEO Services

Analytics reports illustrate the results of SEO efforts: search term placement and changes in traffic, click-through, and engagement rates.

The frequency and specifics of analytics that a firm provides is outlined in service agreements. Typically, the larger the project, meaning the more you pay, the more frequent the communication and analytics updates. 

Look to Ratings and Reviews, Company Characteristics Before Choosing an SEO Services Firm 

Clutch's report provides companies with the basic components of choosing an SEO services firm based on cost and service offerings. It's also important to examine SEO firms beyond cost to find the best partner for your company. 

Start your evaluation process by learning about SEO firms. Use referrals and read ratings and reviews online to better understand the firms you are considering as partners. Reference case studies to see if firms have provided solutions for organizations with similar needs as you.

Key Takeaways

This guide informs businesses about SEO services and informs on the most important factors for consideration when partnering with an SEO firm. 

Project complexity and size determine the cost of SEO services. The price of SEO services is determined by the complexity of a campaign and the SEO demands of a particular company.  

Monthly retainers are the most common pricing structure for SEO services. Most SEO firms price their services using a monthly retainer. 

SEO service providers vary in the degree of control over SEO strategy they allow. SEO agencies maintain control over every aspect of your SEO strategy, while consultants provide a more supportive role and SEO software represents a do-it-yourself (DIY) option. 

SEO services provide value for a business according to its individual needs. The most effective type of SEO service for a company-whether it be on-site, off-site, or digital marketing-depends on their individual SEO "pain points". 

Evaluate SEO services beyond service offerings and cost. Conduct thorough research into SEO firms before partnering with an SEO service: search for reviews, examine company characteristics, and budget accordingly.

The above article is an abbreviated version of "The Business Guide to SEO Services: Projects, Costs, & Providers", published in August 2017 by Clutch.  

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