How Much Should My SEO Plan Cost? - Boxtop Marketing

How Much Should My SEO Plan Cost?

seo plan cost
If you ask any business owner about their current SEO plan, there’s a wide range of answers you can expect to hear:

  • I have someone handling it for me, and I’m very happy!
  • I have someone handling it for me, but I’m not sure what they’re doing or whether it’s worth the price.
  • I don’t know why I would need an SEO plan or whether I’d benefit.
  • Absolutely not, I’ve been burned by an SEO provider before.
  • It’s way too expensive, and it’s a scam anyway.
  • What’s SEO?

Where do you fall on the spectrum?

There are countless reasons why small business owners are confused about SEO. It feels nebulous (“what is an SEO provider actually doing?”). Results can be hard for a layperson to understand or measure (“why should I care about whatever ‘CPA’ is?”). It sounds like a big, expensive commitment (“I’m spending $1k a month on my website and I’m tied to a 12 month contract?”).

The thing is, you owe it to yourself to gain some clarity. And we’re here to help!

As a business owner, you need to become familiar with what you’re paying for. Cheap SEO is simple to find – but it’s also ineffective, or often actively harmful for your traffic and rankings. There’s a vast ocean of SEO budgets and corresponding solutions – the trick is finding the one that’s appropriate for your business.

We want our clients – and small business owners everywhere – to understand every piece of the hard work their SEO agencies perform on their behalf. Because we offer comprehensive digital marketing plans, that means quite a few pieces.

Don’t let your eyes glaze over yet! I’ve broken down the components into sections below, with info on the monthly hourly commitment, why that piece matters, and the results we aim for with that piece of the process. There’s also information on determining your own SEO budget before you find a provider so that you can work with someone who’s the right fit.

If you’d like to have a conversation about your own marketing, I’d love to chat – just request a complimentary website evaluation and we can go through your website and online presence together.

SEO Pricing Options – Which is right for my business?

There’s quite a lot to consider when you’re embarking on hiring a digital marketing agency for the first time, so let’s start with a simple question: how do you want to pay for their services? While this is by no means the only thing you should consider before signing with an SEO provider, determining the pricing model you’re interested in can help  you answer other questions: the type of agency you’d like to be working with, the sort of results you’re seeking, and the complexity of your marketing plan, to name a few.

So, what are the typical SEO plan payment models?

  • Project-based – This is a more restricted option for a clearly defined project. Maybe you need help optimizing your website content for a new service, or need to put together an automated email campaign to follow up with website leads, or want an overhaul of your website’s testimonials page, or need to set up structured data on your site. If there are clear parameters that can be easily defined, and the length of the project is limited, a project-based fee model might be best. The tricky part of this pricing option is that many business owners aren’t sure of exactly what their site needs – and because good SEO takes time, it can be tricky to accomplish everything necessary upfront.
  • Performance-based – This model correlates campaign results with cost. In other words, if you don’t see the promised results (e.g. a certain keyword on page 1 of search results), you don’t pay. This is a newer option that isn’t widely available. While it sounds appealing upfront, rankings are impossible to guarantee, so more competitive keyword phrases likely won’t be included in the plan.
  • Monthly retainer – This model is appropriate for clients looking for a comprehensive, hands-off option. The client pays the agency a set monthly rate, and the agency performs a range of services to improve website optimization and online presence. Our agency operates on the monthly retainer model as it best suits our goal of holistic SEO – addressing all the pieces of your business’ digital presence to improve traffic, conversions, reputation and user experience.
  • Hourly rate – Similar to project-based pricing, but for instances where the amount of time involved is somewhat uncertain, hourly SEO pricing is appropriate for smaller projects that you’d like a professional to take care of. They track their time while working on the project, and invoice you regularly until it is completed. This is ideal for less involved projects as the typical hourly fee for an experienced SEO is quite high – high enough that you will likely have a better ROI with a more robust marketing plan.

Typical SEO Plan Components – What They Mean, How Much Time They Take & Why They Matter

Every agency is different, and develops their own SEO plans tailored to what they feel best suits their clients. We pride ourselves on offering comprehensive plans that take every component of your business’ online presence into account. I’ve listed each component below so that you can get an idea of just how much goes into every month of our services – similar agencies with monthly marketing plans will likely offer comparable services.

A note – while we do offer “set” SEO plans, what goes into every client’s optimization process can vary significantly. There isn’t a standard SEO process that we can plug into for every client; we offer these plans and range of services so that we have the budget, flexibility and creativity to adapt throughout the implementation process. That way, we’re able to best fit that business and website’s needs.

Our clients’ plans include most or all of the following services, depending on plan tier and client needs:

Onsite Optimization

What it means:

This needs to be square #1 for any new client. If your website’s design, content, speed and navigation aren’t up to par, no amount of link building, directory creation or paid ads are going to end up delivering new business. Onsite optimization includes all of the following:

  • Website design adjustments to improve navigation, calls to action, and site speed
  • Content rewrites and expansion, with optimization for target keyword phrases
  • Creating redirects for 404 pages and other errors
  • Internal linking / link siloing
  • Creating a robots.txt file and submitting a sitemap to Google Search Console
  • Ensuring all domains redirect to the canonical domain
  • Improving site caching and optimizing images
  • Implementing schema markup as is appropriate

To get an idea of how involved this process is, our client onboarding process includes 20+ tasks related to onsite optimization alone.

How much time it takes:

This is going to be the biggest workload upfront, but onsite optimization continues throughout your SEO plan – we’re constantly updating our clients’ websites to comply with best practices. SEO is always evolving, which makes it both compelling and frustrating!

The amount of time involved in the initial site optimization varies significantly from client to client, but can easily be upwards of 30 hours among multiple team members. On a monthly basis after the initial setup, website optimization takes anywhere from 2-10 hours.

Why it matters:

It’s simple: if your website doesn’t work well, nobody’s going to use it to contact you.

For some clients, we’ve recommended a full website redesign before we begin working on marketing. There isn’t a point in optimizing the site if it’s not easy to use and conversion-oriented. For others, we’ve been able to include the necessary site updates in the first few months of our regular SEO plan. It comes down to the amount of redesigning that’s going to be necessary – sometimes, it’s just easier to start from scratch than attempt to rework another developer’s code.

Link Building

What it means:

Link building is the process of adding links to a website on other websites. Simple enough, right? The thing is, these links should come from other websites with good domain authority and relevance – valuable websites within your niche. And building links on them takes time, concerted effort, and often money.

How much time it takes:

Link building needs to be performed gradually or you run the risk of Google labeling your actions as spammy, and possibly slapping you with a dreaded penalty. We build 1-2 offsite links per client per month. Some of these require a much bigger time commitment than others (like local sponsorships or guest posts), so the time commitment varies, but it’s anywhere from 2-8 hours per month.

We also perform internal linking updates as we create new content so that our clients’ sites can get a boost from their own linking strategy, which requires 1-2 hours per month.

Why it matters:

Offsite links communicate to search engines that your website is valuable. They also help connect your website to your industry and related sites. You want your website to be a part of an integrated network, not lost in an empty digital wasteland. Link building has evolved significantly since the heyday of SEO, and needs to be performed carefully and correctly to yield rewards – but it remains one of the most important ranking factors, and is crucial for your website’s improved visibility in search results.

Content Marketing (Blogging)

What it means:

Content marketing is the practice of creating onsite content that attracts traffic that ultimately converts into new business. For our agency, that means creating new blog posts for each of our clients every month. We research local competitors, trending topics, and keyword phrases to ensure that these posts will both inform readers and be relevant to search engines.

How much time it takes:

Our copywriters create 600+ word blog posts, select accompanying graphics and videos, and format and publish the posts with reader-friendly layouts. This typically requires 2-3 hours per post from the initial research phase to the moment the post goes live.

Why it matters:

Content is king! Creating in-depth, valuable blog posts has big returns for site traffic and relevance. Blog posts inform, entertain and educate your existing clients as well as prospects considering your business. For local businesses, non-local traffic can still have an impact on your SEO because that traffic shows search engines that your site is valuable. Some of our clients’ posts have received coveted featured snippets, meaning they get special real estate at the top of Google results, which yields a significant increase in site traffic.

Blog posts are also great fodder for link building and social media posts. And because the content is unique to your office, it gives you the opportunity to showcase a particular service, event, staff member, or anything else you’d like to share. Our agency has always been content-focused and that approach has served our long-term clients with evergreen results.

Social Media

What it means:

The process of posting to your business’ dedicated social media profiles. Social media platforms of note include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and Google Posts.

How much time it takes:

We provide a few options for the number of social posts per month depending on client preferences – some have more social media-driven followings than others and benefit from the additional posts. For the average client receiving 3 posts per week on 4 social media platforms, the time commitment is between 12-15 hours a month. We also offer additional posts during special periods like the holidays when businesses may be running dedicated promotional campaigns through social media.

Why it matters:

Social media technically does not impact your website rankings, as all links are nofollow (search engines don’t count them as valuable, like they do with back links). So why do it? There are still plenty of reasons, ranging from keeping your existing clientele updated and giving them an opportunity to easily communicate with your business to connecting with other local businesses, brands you work with and industry professionals. Social media is where your clients and prospects are spending a solid chunk of their time – you don’t want to miss out on that opportunity to get in front of them.

Email Marketing

What it means:

Pretty self-explanatory: creating email campaigns to send to a specific group of your database (or the entire database). Campaigns can be automated (follow-ups sent to new leads from your website), or one-time (announcement of a flash sale). There’s a wide range of email marketing platforms out there – depending on the business’ needs and the database size, there’s one that will fit.

How much time it takes:

We provide email marketing for our clients as needed. This can mean that they have monthly specials they promote, in which case we create a new email at the beginning of each month; or more sophisticated automation they’d like to set up to better communication with their existing clients, which takes significantly more time upfront but is then self-managing. Monthly commitment on our team’s part can be anywhere from 2-8 hours.

Why it matters:

Like social media, email marketing isn’t going to have an impact on your website rankings, but turns our efforts in another important direction. Instead of seeking out new leads, email marketing generates new business from your existing database. We love email marketing because it’s affordable and effective – for most of our clients, email campaigns provide a great monthly cushion of revenue and the effort of chasing down the lead is far less involved than with new prospects.

Pay Per Click Ad Management

What it means:

Pay per click (PPC) is a type of advertising in which you pay for each click that you receive. Google Search and Display campaigns are the most common type of PPC. Facebook also has an extremely popular ad platform that has a variety of pricing models – some pay per click, others pay per impression.

How much time it takes:

Google campaign management alone can be upwards of 15 hours a month, especially if landing page (the place you’re sending ad clicks) design and development is involved. Facebook campaign management is between 5-10 hours per month. We track form submissions and phone calls from ads so that we can see exactly where your ad spend is going, and which ads are top performers.

Why it matters:

Ads don’t impact SEO, but they drive new business right away. If you’re just launching an SEO plan, we may recommend that you try a conservative ad campaign to help get new leads immediately. SEO takes time (our clients typically see significant results around the 6 month mark of their plan), but ads can get you leads the same day they launch. Most of our clients run some kind of ad campaign long-term, to supplement their organic conversions.

Review Generation

What it means:

The process of requesting reviews on select directories from your happy clients. Review generation and reputation management can be performed with a variety of tools; we offer a review platform that wraps everything into one neat package that is easy for you and your staff to use. The system sends an email and text to a client following an appointment, requesting that they leave a review for you on the platform(s) of your choice.

How much time it takes:

Our review generation platform can be set up to automate review requests (depending on your CRM / EMR), or the office can trigger requests manually, or our team can assist with the request triggers. The amount of time our agency spends on this monthly will vary depending on the setup.

Why it matters:

Reviews establish you as an authority in your field, and a desirable provider. Social proof is one of the most powerful supports you can have for your business. And in the case of Google reviews, they can also influence your Google Local rankings – so they’re always the first review platform we recommend targeting.

Directory Listing Submission & Maintenance

What it means:

Creating listings on local business directories and controlling those listings so that incorrect information can’t be added. There are thousands of directories, and different experts have their own philosophies for which ones to target – the ones we cover have great domain authority and inform a wide range of prospects. We also submit to listing aggregators to get your correct business information spread throughout the directory networks.

How much time it takes:

Setup is the major commitment with directory listings, and can take 6+ hours per office location. We also monitor listings for duplicates and update them as needed on a monthly basis, which takes 1-2 hours per month.

Why it matters:

NAP stands for Name, Address and Phone, and is an important ranking factor. If your business information is consistent across the web, that sends a positive message to search engines and also cuts down on human confusion. If you’ve ever had a different business address, or if you’ve changed business names or phone numbers, getting into those directories and updating your information will make a difference.

Reporting, Analytics, and Plan Adjustments

What it means:

Analyzing website performance, providing you with relevant and readable reports on how your website is doing, and adjusting our SEO efforts as needed to capitalize on site strengths and weaknesses. We use a variety of tools ranging from Google Analytics and Search Console to Agency Analytics.

How much time it takes:

Time spent on this process per client per month varies widely depending on site performance, and can take anywhere from 5-20 hours. Sometimes we need to head in a new direction with our content marketing or onsite optimization, and that means an overhaul of our initial plan.

Why it matters:

An SEO plan is nothing without analysis. It’s this personalized, hands-on approach that makes our clients so appreciative of our services. We break down how the website is performing, and think critically about what may help encourage prospects to find the website more easily, spend more time on it, and ultimately covert into new business.

How do I come up with my business’ SEO budget?

If you’ve been keeping track of the time commitment per task, you can see that after initial onboarding, we can spend up to 100 hours per month on each of our clients’ digital marketing. When you take the cost of our most popular marketing plan into account, that comes out to only $10/hour – sounds more than reasonable, right?

But is that $999/month marketing plan a sensible one for your own business?

I want our clients to be comfortable with their plan costs, and get an ROI that makes sense for their bottom line. If you’re note sure what that means for you, there are a few resources that can help you decide on a digital marketing budget. Over on Search Engine Journal, Chuck Price has an awesome article that goes in-depth on what determines your budget, with this excerpt that I particularly appreciate –

That said, the right budget is one you can afford, without losing sleep, for a minimum of four (and ideally 12) months.

It takes time to properly plan, implement and tweak a campaign in order to evaluate its success.

Also, the lower the budget, the longer the journey.

This is something that I’m super upfront about with our clients – SEO takes time, and the more you invest now, the sooner you’ll be seeing a payoff. Cheap SEO plans are a dime a dozen, but they’re not actually going to make a difference to your website’s performance in the long term. We implement, test, track and adjust our efforts so that they make a difference for your site, rather than implementing a cookie cutter model.

Something especially important to consider when determining budget is the value of a website prospect that finds your website and converts because of your SEO efforts. What is your net profit from working with that new client? Now, how many leads are you receiving from SEO each month? Check the value of those leads against your SEO budget to get an idea of your return on investment.

Because the majority of our clients are healthcare professionals, ranging from dentists to med spa owners to physicians, new leads also have added lifetime value. They’re not just purchasing a product and moving on – they’re deciding to work with your practice in the long term. Once they’ve received excellent service from you, they’ll continue to work with your office for years to come. So that lifetime value makes the ROI far higher.

How much are other small business owners paying for SEO services?

Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz, ran a survey in 2015 asking US & Canada-based SEO consultants and agencies about their company structure, pricing and more. The survey includes the following findings for US-based agencies:

As you can see, the majority of clients pay between $2,501-$5,000 per month. This includes enterprise companies and is not exclusive to local businesses, so the budget may seem high – for our local business clients, between $500-$1000 is more reasonable and is in line with their budget.

Interested in learning more about whether an SEO plan is right for your business? Just request a website evaluation. It’s complimentary, our team will have it completed within 2 business days, and it’s a commitment-free way to learn more about where you’re currently at with your digital marketing.

I look forward to discussing this with you further!

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