There Are Different Ways To Pay For SEO – Which Is Best?

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Search engine optimization (SEO) services are now considered a requirement for online business success. More and more company owners and entrepreneurs are interested in using online marketing services like SEO to increase their online exposure, but many of them, especially those who will be hiring specialists for the first time, do not have an idea of how much they should pay for a specific service or what is entailed in the service itself.

It can seem quite difficult to understand how SEO services are charged for and even more difficult to understand what is involved with their execution. Depending on the expert or firm, charges may be astronomically different from one provider to another. You will find services at a seemingly cheap rate – $100 per month – and others at the opposite end of the spectrum – beginning at 5K+ monthly.

SEO Agencies and consultants also have different means of charging for their services, with some charging hourly, some on a monthly basis (usually as a retainer), others by the project, and some as a combination of these models.

When hiring an agency or specialist to do SEO work for your business, you should determine what kind of cost-pricing method you prefer, but not before understanding what you choose may have a direct impact on the quality and results of the work itself. Here are some of the possible benefits and drawbacks of different types of charging options for SEO services

Hourly Consulting

Paying for SEO on an hourly basis can be very appealing to some business owners due to its straightforward and quantifiable terms and flexibility. However, just like most things in life there are also disadvantages and reasons that this may not be the best option for you.

If you go to several websites offering SEO services or featuring SEO specialists who market the services they offer, you will immediately notice that the hourly rate of every specialist differ from one another. Some will ask for as low as $20 per hour while others might charge you as much as $300 per hour. Most often this is because of the quality of service and the reputation and experience of the provider. One provider may be specialized in a particular area of SEO and may be able to charge more, whereas another may be an entry level general worker. Another consultant may charge a lot because they have a great reputation and track record, but you will also find people charging high prices simply because they can. SEO is a hot commodity and is currently in high demand. As such, fees are bound to be high. Before pay too much or the wrong person, make sure you know what the hourly model can entail.

To know if this if paying for SEO by the hour is best for you and your business, get to know its advantages and disadvantages.


  • Flexibility in time allocation – If the work that you need to get done requires a deadline, you can allocate the specific time you want the specialist to spend on a particular project to be as little or as much as you are willing to pay. You also know when they are actively working on the project and when they are not – at least in terms of measurable time.
  • Fixed hourly rate – With hourly SEO payment, you will have knowledge on how much you will have to pay for the specialist for every hour they spend on your project. This will make it easier for you to predict the total cost you will have to spend, especially if it is a short-term project and you have a specific budget that must be adhered to.
  • High level of accountability and transparency – The SEO firm or specialist you will hire will be more transparent when it comes to their work as it will be easier for you to keep track of how much time they allocate in completing a certain task and the proportional effort they put into that task.
  • Easier cost breakdown – Since you will know how much time they spent on each specific task, you can easily breakdown the costs incurred for each specific service. Onsite optimization versus link building versus content marketing all have different time requirements and based on the eventual ROI, you will have a direct idea of your actual cost.



  • Cost can easily get bigger than expected – With no specific limits on total budget allotment, your bill can easily end up larger than what was anticipated. Make sure to set tight limits in communication and in writing to cap hours at an agreed upon number before the firm or consultant continues to work (and bill you).
  • Seeing results may not be as fast – Businesses get SEO services to see positive results. But in SEO, often times the results take time. If you only hire an SEO firm for a specific period of time, you may end up disappointed with the lack of results for the finite time you contracted them. Educate yourself and ask questions about a timeline. While no real SEO will guarantee results, they should be able to set reasonable expectations.
  • Cut-and-dry business relationship – The SEO specialist you contract as an hourly worker may not give you the same commitment as an employee or larger firm because they are only a contractor. While seemingly unprofessional, this can be a drawback of contractual workers. Make sure to do your due diligence to find a worker you trust and who has a good reputation.
  • Unproductive working hours – Some projects might require you to hire a team of SEO experts for hourly work. This usually occurs through an agency, billing by the hour. If your project requires multiple workers, make sure to have a project manager who manages all contractors, reports to you (and their own company) and keeps everything in budget and on time.

Monthly SEO Payment

The second type of pricing often used for SEO services is the monthly payment model. This can feel as if you have an employee and usually involves less mangagement of the asset, as they are set up to work in this capacity. This is among the most commonly used pricing models in SEO and online marketing services today.


  • Unlimited working hours – In most cases, the SEO expert might spend more hours than expected just to complete your task and produce the results you have hired them for.
  • Continuous work-related conversations – You can talk to your hired specialist about work-related matters almost anytime. This is not the same when you hire them on an hourly basis where you might no longer be able to have a conversation with them without being billed after the initial bucket of hours is used.   Firms may also charge for time past agreed upon services, but many times you’ll find that they are more than happy to communicate without charging.
  • No awkward hourly discussions – Because an agency isn’t accountable to you by the time they put in directly, you don’t have to manage or worry about this.
  • No excuses for lack of results – Since you are paying them on a monthly basis, they are expected to be in line with both the short-term and long-term goals of your business and agreed upon marketing plan.
  • Detailed accomplishment reports – As part of the monthly service, you can expect status update reports outlining the success and current standing of the work being conducted. While this can also occur with hourly workers, it is generally less common, as agencies expect to be held accountable, be transparent, and provide detailed reporting.
  • Better client-agency relationship With a successful client-agency relationship you often find more respect and commeraderie. Hourly workers – even if contractual – often feel like employees. A firm, while still accountable, can feel more like a peer or advocate for your business. A partner of sorts.



  • There are some months when no heavy work is required – When you hire an agency and pay them on a monthly basis, you will pay a fixed monthly rate. You cannot change it from time to time. Because of this, it is possible that there may be more work in one month than another. However, reputable agencies will not only be transparent, they will always give you value at the level of your investment.
  • Locked in a contract – Once you enter this kind of client-agency relationship, there are often contracts involved. A 3, 6, or 12 month contract may be a requirement for some agencies, but not for all. Only commit to a contract if you feel a strong connection with the agency or if they have a proven track record.
  • The challenge with monthly cost – Your business may make more money one month than another. Because of this, you might find paying an SEO agency the monthly amount you agreed on during those not-so-profitable months a little painful (or even impossible).

Project-Based SEO Payment

Another common type of SEO pricing model is the project-based SEO payment model. This gives you the benefit of knowing how much you will spend exactly for a specific project.


  • One lump sum payment – You will know the exact cost of a specific task. This is perfect for those who only have a limited budget and or specific goals. With this pricing model, you will never exceed budget without first agreeing to exceed the original number.
  • Straightforward timeline – One of the best things about this pricing model is that you will have a better outlook of how much time is needed for the project to be completed. A project is usually estimated based on time. As such, start and end dates should be clear.
  • Let you focus on particular SEO aspects – If you know the capabilities of your business in terms of what you can and can’t do with your online marketing, you can use that knowledge to specifically target what kind of service you need to contract for on a project basis.
  • Pricing structure is very clear – Since it is a fixed rate per project, we can say that the structure is clearer than the other models and usually entrails line-item descriptions of tasks to be completed.



  • Some firms might take advantage – Without specifically outlining all tasks and deliverables to be completed, an unscrupulous firm may context or possibly not deliver the what you feel was agreed upon. Make sure to have everything in writing and outlined at the beginning of the agreement.
  • Lack of flexibility – Once a contract is signed and the project has begun, if you have changes to the project, it may be hard to change in the middle. Agencies work on pre-defined parameters from the contract. Your changes may require a Change Request or a separate project order.

What To Spend on Your SEO Services

While SEO has changed considerably over the last few years with Google algorithm updates and consequent tactical shifts from SEOs, you still find a variety of prices and services out there.
Google “SEO Services” and you’ll find “SEO From $300 a month” ads filling the Adwords spots next to the organic results. Call the top ranked firm and you may be quoted $5000 per month or more.

Simply put, you get what you pay for. While there are definitely expensive services where the results may be lacking, it is nearly impossible to effect change in the organic search results for anything less then $1000 monthly.

For local SEO, it may be possible to achieve success with lower rates, but national terms, organic website rankings, and anything moderately competitive will require technical SEO expertise, ongoing content marketing, and an overall strategy to build assets and increase online rankings and traffic.

In 2010 and SEO could spam their way (and their clients) to the top of the search results and charge $300 monthly to #1 position rankings (seemed like a lot back then). Today, SEO can only be done effectively with real people and manual effort. SEO is now a piece of a total comprehensive strategy and execution for increasing your online exposure via multiple methods like Social Media Marketing, Pay Per Click Advertising, Content Marketing and others.

Real SEOs are specialists in technical SEO, experienced marketers, strong communicators, and effective business people. Because of this, paying someone a low rate for “SEO” will almost undoubtedly end with failure or worse, problems with Google.

Stay within your budget, but don’t believe (or expect) a total solution for less than $1000 monthly.