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Got a little sticker shock from researching SEO prices?! You’re not alone! In this article, we will talk about the true cost (and value) of SEO, what tools a professional typically uses and the costs associated with doing so.

Cheap vs. Expensive SEO

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty, let’s preface everything going forward with something extremely important.

Good SEO is almost never cheap.

Cheap SEO is almost never good.

Bad SEO can be cheap OR expensive, so watch out!

The SEO industry is a prime breeding ground for getting scammed and wasting money. There is nothing keeping any Jane or Joe from calling themselves an SEO professional. There are no certifications or licensing. And no one can guarantee results.

But we’ve got your back here! With a little due diligence and the knowledge gained from this article, you’ll be well equipped to spot a fly by night amateur and an actual professional.

Before we beat up on cheap SEO “pros”, let’s dig into what an expert agency does on a daily basis, the tools required to do so, and their respective costs. Then we will circle back around to the whole cheap bit to make some conclusions. Fair enough?!


SEO Tools of the trade

Perhaps the biggest eye-opener for the uninitiated is the cost of the tools required to do real search engine optimization.

While there is an almost endless supply of tools being marketed to SEO professionals, there are a “Big 3” that most full-scale agencies use daily to make the magic happen.

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1) AHREFS$999/mo

Simply put, Ahrefs helps you learn why your competitors rank so high and what you need to do to outrank them. It’s an incredibly powerful tool and in the right hands, provides a roadmap for what SEO efforts will be needed going forward to outrank the competition. It lets us clearly breakdown how your high ranking competitors are building their campaigns, where their backlinks are coming from, as well as their quality. 

And it’s not just current data, but includes historical data as well. On a scan we performed for a new client yesterday, we can see that 6 months ago their main competitor engaged in a crappy link buying SEO strategy. Earning themselves over 2500 backlinks to their website, and losing as many in 2 months time. How powerful is it to know a competitor’s actions, what they spend on, how often and its effectiveness? I’ll leave that rhetorical for now.


2) CORA – $250/mo

The Google algorithm for ranking webpages has AT LEAST 200 signals. Each of which carries a separate weight and all of which is kept confidential by Google. To make matters worse, Google constantly updates their algo to improve the user experience. Enter CORA.
Using scientific measurements and empirical data, CORA measures over 520 signals and SEO factors. Quite literally, they measure, track and analyze the effects any of 520 changes would make on the domains you track and give you suggestions on factors you’ll need to add or remove to rank and outrank a competitor.


3) SEMRush – $499.95/mo

 SEMRush is the go-to tool for inorganic SEO. It greatly helps improve the results of your Pay Per Click (PPC) campaigns by providing Ad strategy analysis, keyword grouping and management, cross-group negatives optimization and Ad keyword and creatives research – WITH competition analysis. It also provides instant insights into your social strategy and allows you to build a more effective one than your competitors. It is the ultimate for paid advertising research.

We are in nearly $2000/mo with just the 3 most popular tools an SEO professional needs to do their job properly. Let’s look at some other considerations that factor into the cost of hiring an SEO pro, then we’ll dive into the actual value this all brings and whether it’s actually ‘that‘ expensive when compared to traditional advertising avenues.

Staff Considerations & Professional Hourly Rate

As wonderful as all of these amazing tools are, they just don’t run themselves. Furthermore, each requires a certain amount of industry knowledge to quantify their respective results and develop a strategy or game plan to implement for the client to have positive results and return on investment. These are big business decisions that have consequences, decisions that shouldn’t be made by anyone less than educated professionals with a proven track record of success.

How much exactly do agencies and consultants charge you ask? Here is the breakdown.

And let’s not forget about content researchers/writers! One of the biggest SEO boosts a website can get is from CONTENT! On-site blog content doesn’t just give your site visitors more information, it fills your website with industry rich keywords that really boost organic rankings. The content writer is what really bridges the gap between the data insights those expensive tools provided and results. They’ll be targeting article length, what keywords to use, how many times it should appear and in what format (plain text, anchor link text, header text). They’ll rerun reports of the new content with that of the highest ranking on google and make any technical adjustments needed to beat it. And most importantly, they’ll write the content so it’s enjoyable to be read by humans and not just search engine computers. A tall task and a time consuming one at that.

The time it takes to SEO

Do You want a guarantee? I’ll give you one! I guarantee you nothing about SEO is fast. It takes time to analyze data and form a strategy, it takes time to write quality blog articles, syndicated content and make on-site optimizations. It takes time for Google to reindex your site and your new content as well as that of your competitors. Then it takes time to do it all over again after quantifying results and either staying on course or pivoting.

Depending on your particular domain and the authority is has, it’s a safe bet that tangible results from SEO happen in 4-6 months. Though there are plenty of cases where your competition has too great a head start and is actively campaigning to stay on top- out maneuvering and out spending you consistently.

Consistency is the name of the game here! No matter what your budget is, it is always more beneficial to spread it out over the course of a year instead of spending it all on one campaign. Google rewards you for this and conversely, penalizes you for stagnating. I’ll spare you from reading between the lines on this one: Even if you are successful today, if you stand still, you’re going to get beat. This is why having a trusted consultant is a great first step- they’ll be able to give you the 500 foot overview of your competition and advise on steps you’ll need to take, their cost, benefits of taking action and implications of inaction. This is valuable to know as early as possible considering the time it take to enact change. If you’re feeling compelled to, you can schedule a free 45 minute SEO phone consult here that will get your ship pointed in the right direction.

Is SEO really that expensive?

We do all Digital Marketing here and can speak intelligently on this. The answer is No. SEO is cheaper than traditional advertising and pay per click (Read: SEO delivers more value, for a longer period of time, it just takes longer to achieve it).

Let’s take this local Dental practice as an example. The single doctor practice had about 1200 patients and was losing about 120 per year. The volume of competition in the area gave patients many options to choose from and kept the cost of services from being increased. Over the past 3 years, they were only getting a handful of new patients per month, employees wanted raises and economic inflation was ever present at an average rate of 3%. This spells trouble for any business and it was time to do something about it. The practice outsourced their marketing and SEO to us and we got to work on getting more marketshare in the short term with paid inorganic advertising at the same time bolstering SEO organically with content and backlink building and syndicated content that we offer as part of our SEO packages. The results speak for themselves and gives us some good insight here. For our client to get 150 new patients in a year to overcome attrition, inflation and allow for growth, what was done for $17k in SEO would cost 5x as much to do inorganically.

Quantifying these decisions further: One new dental patient on average is worth $1,000/revenue in the first year, and $10,000 total over their lifetime as a customer (7-10 years). Even though the paid ad campaigns costed $588/new patient (a figure slightly above the ADA’s published average cost to acquire a customer) and ROI happens within the first year alone, it simply doesn’t make sense to continue with huge ad spend when the SEO organic Cost to Acquire a Customer is SO much less and has lasting effects.


So I ask you, compared to other methods, is SEO really that expensive?



I understand there can be some sticker shock if you’ve never taken part in a real SEO campaign. It’s not uncommon to see monthly SEO retainers from legitimate professional agencies in the $600-$2,000+ per month range.

It’s our experience that the fly by night amateurs and freelancers of the world pollute the waters with their snake oil promises and unreasonably low prices, while taking advantage of business owners who just don’t know better and are looking for solutions to their problems.

It’s my hope, business owner to business owner, that breaking real SEO work down into digestible segments and hard facts along with the cost it takes a legitimate firm to do operate and provide real results, will shine some light on how absolutely ridiculous “cheap seo” actually is.

The next step you should be taking is to reach out to several professionals, ask them how much on average SEO costs, ask them which tools they use, ask them how long results take and ask them for proof that they’ve provided positive ROI in a reasonable period before. Ask how they decide the best course of action for a client, who researches and writes content and how they acquire back links. With those answers, you should have a very reasonable idea of whether you’re working with a true professional, or an amateur and you’ll have reasonable expectations of what to expect out of an SEO campaign from an agency. Thanks for reading, cheers.

Looking for an SEO pro now? Use this link to schedule a free 45 minute consultation with us here.