Here’s a look at the cost of optimizing a site for search engines, the value it drives, and the impact of not doing it.
The average salary for a search-engine-optimization specialist is $65,000, according to Glassdoor. That’s before benefits and other internal costs. The SEO industry does not have standardized job titles, so “specialist” can mean a lot of different skills. The low end of the salary range is about $45,000, with a high end at roughly $125,000. Managers and directors tend to cost more, as much as $200,000 or more.
On the agency side, 66.25 percent charge at least $1,001 per month, with the largest percentage in the U.S. charging between $2,501 and $5,000, according to by Ahrefs, the SEO platform. The high end was $50,000 per month.
The SEO industry does not have standardized job titles, so “specialist” can mean a lot of different skills.
The Ahrefs survey also addressed hourly SEO freelancers. Fifty percent of respondents charge between $75 and $200 per hour.
The SEO industry is filled with low-cost practitioners. It’s also filled with disillusioned executives who hired them. You might get lucky with a cheap freelancer. Experienced SEO professionals are more expensive, but typically they deliver better results — whether it’s an employee, an agency, or a freelancer.
Lastly, your SEO practitioner will likely have recommendations that impact other personnel, such as copywriting, user experience, and web development. If you don’t have those resources, internally or externally, the recommendations won’t make it past the planning stage. SEO success depends on multiple areas working together.
Thus if you have no resources to make copy or development changes, even quick ones, there’s not much point in hiring an SEO resource. She will make recommendations that you can’t implement.
ROI for SEO
If you aren’t sure if SEO is right for your business, a quick return-on-investment calculation puts costs into perspective.
ROI = (Monthly Revenue from Organic Search * Average Gross Profit %) / (Monthly SEO Cost)
For example, assume your business drives $50,000 per month in organic search revenue. Assume, too, that your average gross profit margin is 50 percent, and your total monthly SEO expense is $7,500.
ROI = ($50,000 * .5 ) / ($7,500) = 333.33%
This calculation tells you the rough ROI — 333.33% in this example.
However, the value of SEO tactics is rarely realized in the same month they are implemented. Months and even years later, SEO tactics can provide benefits without additional cost.
Lastly, SEO performance is often under-attributed. Organic search also tends to be the first touch in an extensive shopping journey — search, social, email — that eventually converts to a sale.
How Much Improvement?
The tricky bit is figuring out how much benefit SEO can bring to your bottom line.
If you’re not actively managing your organic search channel, traffic from that channel is almost always coming from branded queries — people who know your business and are searching for it.
Winning non-branded queries takes real effort because they’re more competitive. More people use non-branded queries, such as “auto parts,” versus a branded search, such as “Napa Auto Parts,” even when the brand is a household name.
No one can reliably predict the value of SEO. But the range of potential improvements is known.
Technical problems with a website can lower organic search results for every page and every keyword phrase. Thus correcting severe technical issues — internal linking, title tags, duplicate content — can generate the highest immediate SEO value.
Also, websites with little organic search traffic have more headroom for improvement.
Conversely, if you rank number one for most of your critical keyword themes, you don’t have much room to improve. It’s important to manage SEO defensively, but you shouldn’t expect large gains. If you rank on page two or three in the search results, you have a larger chance to grow organic traffic quickly.
And the size of overall keyword demand matters. If your target audience is small — you sell just one brand of spark plugs, for example — the amount of search demand for those keywords limits how much you can grow. If there are only 40,000 monthly searches for your keyword themes, you can’t drive 100,000 visits in a month.