The Most Common Billing Types for Search Engine Optimization

Clifton Tolboe

There are basically only two types of work that can be classified as search engine optimization- onsite, meaning title tags and off-site, meaning links, press releases, social media, traditional media, and Google and Bing analytics. Despite the fairly simple nature of S.E.O. deliverables there seems to be an ever changing model for how the service is actually priced and more importantly what a businesses will pay into S.E.O. to actually achieve results! To combat this problem we conducted a little bit of research and pulled together statistics from across the Web- obviously these statistics are far from perfect as we are not on the business of data collection and analysis however, what they do provide is valuable insight to help determine if the S.E.O. services a business is paying for makes sense as far as deliverables and overall results. Below you will find a list of the most popular pricing structure for deliverables on worldwide S.E.O. Keep in mind that prices vary greatly from country to country with New Zealand topping the list.(The data was pulled from SurveyMonkey- a online data gathering search engine)

The breakdown of respondents per country surveyed is as follows:

United States - 287 respondents

United Kingdom - 76 respondents

Canada - 34 respondents

Australia/New Zealand - 28 respondents

Germany/France/Italy/Netherlands - 34 respondents

India - 31 respondents


1. Hourly SEO Costs Vary Across Countries, but $76-$200/hour(Most Common)

With the exception of India (the only developing region that was well-represented in our survey), hourly costs of $76-$200 (representing three responses) covered 50%+ of all firms. It was highest in Australia/New Zealand at 62%, followed by 58.1% in the US and 56% in Canada. Granted, this is a wide range, but it provides the answer to a frequently-asked question from those seeking SEO services for the first time.

2. By-the-Project Pricing is Popular and Most Commonly $1,000-$7,500

70.1% of respondents said they offer project-based pricing (the most common pricing system selected in the survey). 43% of consultancies were represented by the four price ranges: $1,001-$1,500, $1,501-$2,500, $2501-$5,000 and $5,001-$7,500. Obviously, there's a wide variety of prices here, not surprising given that the types of projects offered may be quite diverse.

3. Monthly Retainer Pricing Has the Widest Distribution

While both hourly and by-the-project rates do have a wide range of pricing, monthly retainers are certainly the most distributed of the price questions asked in our survey. The two most common were $251-$500/month (13.8%) and $2,501-$5,000/month (11.3%).

4. The Death of Hands-On SEO Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

There's been plenty of hand-wringing over the past few years from both bloggers and SEO clients complaining that consulting firms don't provide enough "hands-on" help. Yet, in the survey, 88.5% of respondents said they offer "hands-on SEO changes to sites" and 79.1% provide "hands-on link building." Clearly, hands-on help is still very popular.

5. Inbound/Organic > Pure SEO

Pure "SEO" consultants/agencies may be fading as broader "inbound marketing" services firms (offering SEO, social, content, conversion, analytics, etc) rise. The data showed 150 respondents (25%) saying they were primarily focused on SEO while a slightly greater number, 160 (26.7%), offered a broader range.

6. Web Design/Development Agencies do a Lot of SEO

The third most popular type of respondent was a web design/development agency offering SEO services. In the UK and U.S., these types of firms were better represented than either SEO-focused providers or broader inbound/organic firms.

7. Employees: Clients/Month Ratio is Between 1-2

The screenshot below takes advantage of SurveyMonkey's crosstab feature, which enables you to look at the number of monthly active clients broken down by the quantity of employees a consulting firm has (you can only choose 5 responses at once, but the data's still revealing).

graph representing active clients

8. Vast Majority of Consultants Service Small-Medium Businesses

This may seem mathematically obvious, but it's not always at the top of the agenda at many of the online marketing conferences. The blogosphere in general is also not always leaning toward the smaller to medium sized businesses out there.  Seemingly a  disproportionate amount of attention is often focused on top brands, but in the world of SEO consulting, most firms service relatively small businesses. Even those who do serve larger businesses (perhaps inspirationally) often offer services to small and medium businesses. 41% of respondents offer consulting to small, local businesses, e.g. the barber around the corner.

9. Though Project-Based Pricing is Popular, the Majority of Consultancies Also Offer Monthly Retainers and Hourly Rates

Early in S.E.O., project-based pricing seemed relatively rare (though quantifying this is hard since no formal surveys I'm aware of collected this info). Today, it was the top response, offered by 70% of the participating firms. Monthly retainer pricing was next, offered by 60%, followed closely by hourly rates (55%).