How Much Does SEO Cost in 2021?

In 2021, Google processed over 8.5 Billion—yes that’s “billion” with a “b”—searches a day on their search engine. With millions of people relying on search engines to give them answers and advice to their most important questions every day, search engine optimization has become a crucial component of digital marketing. But just how much does SEO cost? 

The truthful, most straightforward answer is: it depends. It depends on what kind of SEO services your business is undertaking and how many professionals it will take to get the work done.

There are many affordable options for individuals, businesses, and agencies when it comes to great SEO.

That being said, not everyone can afford some of the more aggressive SEO pricing on the market. There can be many different costs associated with your goals, from focusing on the cost of keyword research and implementation to assisting with technical recommendations and fixes, your SEO package prices are going to vary. Here are what aspects of SEO pricing I’ll cover:

SEO Services Costs and Pricing Plans

A recurring SEO plan for a well-established site might require less intensive work but will likely need more reporting and long-term adjustments. If you’re just getting started and launching a new website, you need to understand that you’re looking at a pricier SEO cost upfront, but then you have the possibility to move into a less expensive and more standard monthly plan as your site becomes established in the search engine results pages (SERPs). 

Or, if it fits your business model better, you can speak with a specialist about handling recurring work as you keep them on retainer. I’ll talk a bit more about the best plans (in my humble opinion) in just a bit. 

Mainly, most websites are looking at these key aspects of SEO. This is also what you’ll likely be paying for if you sign up for an SEO package:

  • Updating pages on your website
  • Monitoring and updating the internal linking structure
  • Backlink outreach and implementation 
  • Content creation
  • And much more

So, how much does SEO cost? That depends on how much you need to do to outrank your competition. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters. Oh, and also how much the tools and/or outsourcing will cost you.

As I mentioned before, your upfront SEO cost is likely going to be heftier than what you’re paying for when you move to monthly SEO pricing plans. It’s often the case that an SEO agency will take a deep look into your website and make a whole swath of changes and recommendations, and then they’ll move into more niche work and focus areas every month.

SEO Is Free – Or Is It?

Technically, SEO is free. You’re not paying money for SERP placement. Google ranks content based on a number of factors including the E-A-T trio: Expertise, Authority, and Trust. They’re going to highly rank those who are seen as valuable resources for users. 

However, was that SEO really free? In-house SEO specialist costs, or even freelancers, can be pretty spendy. And depending on the work your site needs, it could burn a sizable hole in your wallet over time. Not to mention, if you’re using an SEO tool, that will cost money as well. Or, if you’ve hired an SEO agency, you’ve got a different cost on your hands, too.

But who are we kidding? Time is money, and SEO is time-consuming. SEO also requires a certain amount of knowledge and expertise to ensure that you do the right things—particularly when you are looking to do highly technical updates to your site’s code or architecture. 

A specialist or company will know how to best boost your rankings, from creating high-quality content to optimizing your business for proper SERP listings. They’ll also know what tactics to avoid, such as black hat SEO techniques that could lead to penalties, which would make all the money you’ve invested into your SEO strategy, worthless. 

And you will probably want tools, like ours, to do some of the following functions:

  • Analytics on your own website
  • Analytics on competitor websites
  • Intelligence on your backlink sources
  • Intelligence on competitor backlink sources
  • Keyword research and keyword difficulty analysis
  • Search results tracking
  • Ongoing site audits
  • Social media campaign tools
  • Social media tracking
  • Brand and reputation monitoring

You don’t necessarily need to do all of these. In fact, you might not need to do any of these. You could spend zero on tools. But tools help you do more, do it more efficiently, and become more important with your website’s complexity and the complexity of your search market. You can put a price on tools. For example, here are some of the Semrush plans and the prices associated with them:


Accurate as of February 2022

Tools are the easy part of the price. Outsourcing is much harder.

What Are the Prices for SEO Packages?

Most SEO companies, and even many freelancers, have packages. That makes it easy to price them. But that assumes that a package meets your needs. When you have so many variables, SEO really becomes a customized process.

A custom plan is not so easy to price. More to the point, the plan will need to change as your analytics and intelligence keep you informed as to your changing SEO landscape. Add to the confusion the many ways SEO can be priced:

  • Keyword-based Pricing
  • One-time Fee
  • Hourly Payments
  • Variable Fee
  • Pay-for-Performance
  • Retainer
  • Packages

The best course of action is to speak with a few different SEO specialists or agencies and work with them about their SEO package prices and costs. There may be different options for you, from less intensive updates to working with someone on an as-needed basis. But getting a few different quotes, and seeing where their priorities are, may help you determine an SEO service plan that fits your budget.

Which SEO Pricing Model Is Best?

Pay-for-performance, in my view, is the best SEO pricing model. The company or specialist you hire will put forth their best effort to deliver results; this helps your website get up to speed faster, and you’ll be ready to roll. I’m not entirely keen on packages, either. I think that the retainer model offers the most flexibility to customize your needs. By having a retainer, you can shift focus or priorities without having to tack on additional costs. A set monthly retainer might mean that asking for additional work means additional money. 

If you have recurring income, you can afford the retainer model. If your income bounces around like a kangaroo on roller skates as mine does, it might be better to pay for specific actions. If that is the case, be prepared to be a little more involved in the process, at least enough to know what specific actions to ask for or approve.

There is no simple answer to “How much does SEO cost?” If you:

  • take the time to learn some basics about what is involved in SEO and about risk management
  • have some patience
  • hire knowledgeable people who know proper, white hat SEO techniques
  • set things up with an effective investment model

You should find that even if you’re paying what feels like a steep SEO price, you’ll enjoy a very profitable ROI if the strategy is done right.

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