What is My SEO Charging Me For?

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Many webmasters don’t fully understand exactly what search engine optimization, or SEO services, are, or what their SEO specialist does, how he does it or how he charges for it. This should help answer many of those questions.

First comes some extensive research. This begins with you giving your SEO a crash-course on your business. That will include your products and services, your industry in general, your direct competition and any specific advantages or disadvantages you may have. It should also include your plans and desires for the future, in terms of what you hope to accomplish through his efforts.

Together, you’ll decide which market niche to concentrate on. That decision will be guided by your SEO’s specialized research into the keywords he’ll have identified from his initial familiarization with your operations. He will identify those keywords and keyword phrases most likely to be entered into search queries, particularly those encountering the least competition. These high-probability, low-competition keywords and keyphrases will be those that should be incorporated into your site’s pages, in several locations the SEO will specify.

There are two separate aspects to search engine optimization: on-page and off-page. On-page deals with the page and site structure and content, and pricing will typically be based upon your site’s size and intricacy. The SEO will usually price this work in accordance with the amount of time and the expertise level he’ll be putting forth, as well as competitive pricing. Off-page SEO addresses the awareness of your site’s existence in terms of visibility, and includes a number of facets.

Submitting of articles, blog posts, directory listings and news releases raise your site’s visibility, while acquiring links to you from other sites will increase your website’s popularity and authority, which is critical to your site’s placement in the SERPs. This is also the portion of the SEO’s work that will take the longest to show results.

At this point, your SEO will be able to prepare his plan of action, which will focus on the ultimate and intermediate goals, and should spell out exactly which tasks will be accomplished to get your site to the top of the search engine results pages (SERPs). The plan should identify the milestones by which progress can be measured, and billings will be issued.

Don’t be hesitant about asking for more detail or explanation at this point, as the milestones are essentially the only metric at your disposal to gauge your project’s progress. The tasks, milestones, responsibilities (of both parties) and the billing procedure should be clearly spelled out in a written agreement, and signed by both of you. Obviously, neither of you want or expect any conflicts, but it’s always better to answer questions beforehand, to avoid misunderstandings.

No responsible SEO will claim to be able to guarantee a particular result, as there are so many variables that are beyond their control. However, progress can be measured, and that should be a factor in the monthly (typical) billing process.

One very common approach you may see unfold, is that the SEO will divide the selected high-volume keywords and phrases into two groups of low and high competition. The first group will offer the quickest results, while the second group may offer the greatest overall benefit. Through the monthly reports you should receive, you’ll be able to monitor your site’s progress. Don’t expect massive changes overnight, however, as the various search engines may take anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of months to show the results.

Since off-page SEO costs depend much more upon keyword competition, that means that you may see additional costs as you seek higher ratings for competitive terms. Most SEO firms will price their off-page work by the piece, such as ten in-bound links per month, or five articles per month. This incremental billing will make it easier for you and your SEO to track progress, and adjust strategy as required. It also helps you to spread out over several months, this very important investment in your company’s success.

Your SEO will probably plan your project to be completed over a six or twelve month period. The pricing for any maintenance efforts after that should reflect the fact that if the optimization project was well done, maintenance efforts are minimal in comparison. Remember, however, that SEO is not something that is done once, and then forgotten… it’s an ongoing project. There are many ongoing tasks that can be of increasing benefit to your business.

You owe it to yourself to be sure you full understand what your costs and benefits will be, in order to receive full benefit of your SEO project. If you select your SEO wisely and heed his advice, you will likely be astounded at the vast improvement in your business.

John Britsios
Founder and Chief Information Officer (CIO) of SEO Workers and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Webnauts Net, a qualified UX & Semantic Search Consultant, specializing... Read Full Bio
John Britsios
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  • I've been wondering how SEOs structure their fees. For two reason, maybe one day this will be an addition to my services. Another is if I decide to hire a firm to do my promotions. I'll keep these points in mind. Matter fact I'll bookmark and reference for the future. Thanks

  • My seo guy outsources all of his backlinking and online optimisation to india & packistan, yet he still charges me $3000/month!

    • 3000 a month while outsourcing to india? You should pay much less than that.

      • but is it a good idea as you really get what you pay for to try and further cut costs, if he is getting decent results be happy.

        But a question is how much money are @SolarPower making on their Hubpages site?

    • I'd drop him and go straight to his source in India. Chances are he is inflating the price he is actually paying them so he gets a bigger slice.

  • Website Design Company

    Nice post

  • Excellent post. In addition, I believe any good inbound marketing professional will give you a high-level explanation of their pricing structure and a summary of their work upon request. I mean, don't expect your SEO to tell you how to go do it yourself, but a high-level overview is always helpful to get both parties on the same page and ensure a positive experience.

    – RC Lations, Social Media Strategist

  • @John could post but you should bold the part where you say “SEO will probably plan your project to be completed over a six or twelve month period.”

    You are paying for a consultant/agency to build your business over 6 to 12 months, if they keep growing your business why resist paying what they ask? If you had a star sales person would you stop paying them once they landed a few sales???

    Most decent agencies/consultants should offer a breakout of the work and hours spent on the tasks each month. The other point is that this is broken out to give you transparency on a project and 2 months later is not the time to disagree on charges.

    If the work was signed off and your budget (client) has changed its not time to try and cut your agencies head off over some task you didn't feel related exactly to the project. You don't complain if the doctor washed his hands twice before surgery, don't complain if a item was double checked.

    When tasks are not double checked that's when they create problems later because there were rushed!

  • Good article, I'm always curious what other SEO companies charge for their services. I usually charge a setup fee of $800 and then $500-$1000 a month as a retainer. Then, in the first few months the onus is on me to show some reasonable ROI and if they are making good profits, they always stay on.

    But not all SEO campaigns are hugely successful and some barely show any ROI. For some websites, you may be able to get them ranking in Google's Top 5, but they won't return any decent money because other websites in that niche are either more slick or offer a better deal. That is frustrating, but as with any marketing, you need a great product or service otherwise it can be a waste of time and money.

    • Your charges seem to be quite reasonable. We traditionally have gone the other way, charging a higher up-front fee for the keyword research and optimization and then a monthly fee according to their budget for building the website visibility. What we are finding, however, is that the visibility part is becoming more time consuming with all of the “social media” postings competing for attention.

    • Agreed. It all comes down to ROI, which has to be a know factor going when signing up with a new client. That is the only way to set and reach monthly and yearly goals.

      The downside is when the SEO campaigns are working, but the client is not completing and closing on their end. SEO campaigns are a partnership, because they fail if one or both sides do not do their jobs, for whatever reason.

  • Derrick

    Entrepreneur Magazine published an article called “What you don't know about SEO” and in there it says that 80% of all SEO companies are scams.

    Those odds aren't very good.