You might be aware that many SEO (search engine optimization) companies are excessively expensive, using pushy sales staffs to lure you in with what appear to be low prices, only to lock you into ongoing, never-ending payments. If you're not familiar with what's involved in the SEO process and what types of questions to ask, how do you know what an appropriate price is for your specific SEO needs? And how do you know if the SEO company you hire correctly implements the elements of SEO that are most beneficial and appropriate for your website, your business, and your budget?
There are no consensus answers within the SEO industry for these perfectly reasonable and appropriate questions. As you can see in the examples below, SEO pricing and practices are all over the map. SEO companies charge whatever they choose, without regard to whether it's a good fit for your needs and your budget. They know that SEO and its costs are something of a mystery to most people, and ─ as such ─ they simply try convincing you that their company and their pricing are the best choice for you, your website, and your business.
The SEO industry is unregulated, and therefore notorious for its widespread use of unethical business practices. Why is it so easy for SEO companies to take advantage of countless unsuspecting customers?
The answer is that most of their clients don't know (1) what good SEO actually involves, (2) what it should really cost, and (3) how to tell whether an SEO company is honest, ethical, trustworthy, and puts you and your needs first.
It's fair to say that with SEO ─ as with many things ─ you don't necessarily get what you pay for. Good SEO isn't cheap, but it shouldn't be overpriced, either. Let's look at several typical examples of SEO companies using various tactics designed primarily to separate you from your money:
ARE YOU PAYING TOO MUCH?
This SEO company offers very expensive SEO price plans without much real substance, a common practice in the SEO industry:
Their figures range from almost $8,400 annually ($699 per month x 12) to nearly $41,000 annually ($3,399 per month x 12). Notice that one plan is highlighted to give the impression that it's their most popular plan, their best value, and/or the plan they recommend for most businesses. It's intended to look like a pretty good deal compared to their other plans, even at almost $17,000 annually ($1,399 per month x 12).
Sure, they're very expensive, but maybe they're also really good. Why shouldn't you at least consider an SEO company like theirs?
Here are some pretty good reasons:
There's very little useful information in their SEO Price Plans comparison chart, which might look impressive, but doesn't actually include much.
They're clearly trying to steer you into purchasing their $17,000 annual price plan, which isn't exactly the most honest, customer-focused way of doing business.
They use the same "we have a predefined size and price to fit your needs" approach with everyone. Among other things, their plans and prices don't reflect or consider (1) the size and complexity of your site, (2) the present state of your site's SEO and your business's online presence, (3) the SEO elements your site and business require, or (4) what's really right for you and your budget.
SEO companies like theirs are counting on you being impressed (or persuaded, and perhaps even intimidated) by their highly-commercial websites and their phone sales pitches, and not knowing enough about SEO to understand what you're actually paying for, whether it's right for you, or even what types of questions to ask them.
DOES THE PRICING SEEM TOO LOW?
Another common approach is used by SEO companies like this, whose advertised features and prices are so low they appear to be a real bargain:
The least expensive of these SEO plans is under $2,400 annually ($199 per month x 12). And even the most expensive is less than $6,000 annually ($499 per month x 12).
Compared to the previous SEO company, these figures are much more appealing, aren't they? Plus, their list of features looks far more comprehensive. So why shouldn't you save a bundle and choose an SEO company like this?
Here are just a few good reasons:
That comprehensive-looking list ─ as impressive as it might appear on the surface ─ is full of ambiguities and items that have minimal SEO benefit.
Although this might seem like a small point to you, it's very important for an SEO company: Their chart refers to title tags as meta tags. Title tags (<title>Page Title Here</title>) are HTML elements that are essential for effective SEO, and they're not meta tags. They should know that.
Their list also includes "Header Tags Optimization". There's no such thing as a header tag. Heading tags (<h1> through <h6>) are HTML elements that ─ if properly utilized within your site's content ─ can be beneficial to your SEO. Most sites have a header of course, which ─ even though they have similar names ─ is entirely separate from a heading. There are no "header tags". They should know that too─
They mention that they do a "Dmoz Submission" for you. That's not possible, because DMOZ (aka The Open Directory Project) has closed down. Yet another thing they should know.
And most importantly, just as with the previous example, (1) those monthly prices really add up, because you're paying them every month and every year, and (2) they don't take into consideration you and your specific tastes, needs, and goals.
SEO companies like theirs are all about trying to convince you that they offer the most features at the lowest prices. That might be tempting from a superficial standpoint, but if you do the math, you're actually paying them far more than it might appear.
ARE YOU BEING MISLED ABOUT PRICE?
Another common tactic, illustrated by this SEO company's price list, falls somewhere between the two described above:
This SEO company obviously has very low prices listed at the top of each column, although they don't provide much at any price point. And the wording near the bottom of the columns indicating "One Monthly Payment" can be interpreted in multiple ways. It's their way of "clarifying" that the prices shown represent the amount you have to pay them every month. And that might not seem so bad, considering they mention you can "Cancel Anytime". (I've added the red rectangle so you can identify their questionable wording more easily.)
But if you try canceling, the money you've spent is wasted, and most of the SEO you've paid for either doesn't get done or is actually removed by them.
So how much are you really paying an SEO company like this, and what are you really receiving in return? In truth, a small fortune for a small return. But good luck getting a straight answer from them.
COMMON SEO PLOYS TO BE AWARE OF
1️⃣ Most SEO companies would have you believe that SEO requires you to pay the same amount of money every month and every year.
Falling for that marketing tactic costs many people tens of thousands of wasted dollars.
The truth is that the bulk of SEO is performed within the first few months, and once it's properly in place, all that's necessary is occasional routine maintenance, primarily in the form of freshening up your site's content and ─ optionally ─ things like adding additional backlinks or more local citations. Local citations are your basic business information (specifically name, address, and phone, or NAP) on sites such as Facebook, Google My Business, LinkedIn, Manta, Yelp, and others.
(The only other important aspects of your online presence that can require ongoing attention are Google Ads PPC advertising, social media involvement, and blogging. You can choose to do these yourself, or have an SEO company handle them for you.)
Some of the most demanding work in SEO is comprised of writing effective title tags, meta description tags, and JSON-LD code for each of your website's pages; writing accurate alternate text for every image on your site; appropriately resizing and compressing your site's images to improve page load speeds; implementing a good number of high-quality backlinks pointing to your site; and significantly improving your site's content.
That's where most of your SEO dollars should be spent. Your site's content is something you and your SEO company can - and should - discuss in detail. High-quality content is one of the most important SEO ranking factors, and is simply glossed over by most web designers, SEO companies, and business owners alike.
2️⃣ Many SEO companies use fake reviews to make it appear that they have lots of satisfied customers. Here's how to identify them.
Millions of consumers rely upon reviews written by others to help them choose the best products, services, and prices for everything from accountants to restaurants to plumbers to vehicle repairs, and so much more ... including web designers, SEO companies, and businesses like yours.
If a business has customer reviews only on its website ─ and nowhere else ─ you can be certain the reviews are fake.
There are only a small handful of legitimate, unbiased review sources. The biggest and most popular is Yelp. The next best is Google. And - as you might be aware - even those two are far from perfect.
The biggest problem with Yelp reviews is that Yelp's algorithms filter many legitimate reviews, and fail to filter many fake reviews. Yelp calls its filtered reviews "not currently recommended". That's Yelp's way of saying the reviews are "filtered" because its algorithms detect something about them that might be considered fake or untrustworthy. Yelp's review algorithms make a lot of mistakes. Nonetheless, Yelp is the most popular ─ and for the most part a very good ─ review source.
Google doesn't filter its reviews (although it can completely remove them if they violate Google's policies prohibiting the use of profanity and other unacceptable content), so it can be especially easy for a business to load up on tons of fake Google reviews. Even so, it can also be pretty easy to distinguish the legitimate Google reviews from the fake ones.
WHICH BRINGS US TO MY SEO FEES
Unlike many others, I don't utilize one-size-fits-all prices, because every person's ─ and every business's ─ SEO needs, goals, and budget are unique. I discuss all of this ─ and more ─ in-depth with every client prior to providing an individualized proposal.
Here are some of the more significant variables I consider in determining my SEO fees:
The number of pages in your website. All other things being relatively equal, it's understandable that a larger, more complex site with more pages typically costs more to optimize than a smaller site.
On how many of your site's pages you want SEO implemented. Ideally, every page in your site should be optimized. But if some pages aren't as important as others for you and your business, you can reduce costs by excluding them from the SEO process, or by having less SEO done on them.
Which specific SEO elements you want implemented. Similar to the previous point, you can choose to include only certain SEO recommendations ─ and completely omit others ─ across your entire site for budgetary reasons.
The extent of quality backlinks (links pointing to your website from other sites) you want implemented. Backlinks (aka inbound links) play a uniquely powerful role in boosting your site's search ranking.
Whether you want SEO performed on your business listings (e.g., local listings and citations such as Google My Business and Yelp, among others). Utilized properly, these types of listings can be invaluable online assets for your business. And if optimized, they can appear higher in search results for your potential customers. (By the way, this brings up a good point to address with any SEO company you're considering: Ask if they can "manage" those listings for you, and if they answer in the affirmative (as they should), ask them to explain precisely what that means. And here's where you raise the bar even more: Ask if ─ more than just managing your listings ─ they can fully SEO them. Likewise, if they say yes, ask them to explain exactly how they do that. If they don't have a plausible answer that goes well beyond a discussion of keywords, you've gained some valuable insight into their credibility and SEO capabilities.)
Whether you want me to run your Google Ads PPC (pay-per-click) advertising account. If your business doesn't make use of Google Ads, I recommend you do so if your budget permits. Of all the PPC options, well-run Google Ads produce the best ROI (return on investment).
All of my fees are upfront, transparent, and personalized for your specific needs, goals, and budget.
My comprehensive Google-friendly on-site and off-site website SEO fees typically vary from about $3,500 to $5,500, depending upon the size and complexity of the work. (I also offer payment options and flexibility to help accommodate you and your budget, so feel free to openly discuss pricing with me.)
Here are the SEO elements I recommend implementing on every page of your site for optimal results. I can include them all, or we can discuss limiting or omitting some if your budget's a bit on the lighter side and you want as much SEO bang as you can get for fewer bucks:
Meta Description Tags
Content Optimization (increase and improve written content as necessary)
Image Optimization (compress and resize images, add image alt tags)
Create outbound links
Manually-placed, permanent, high-quality backlinks
Local citation listings (online mentions that include your business's name, address, and phone (NAP), especially on important business directories (such as Google My Business and Yelp) and popular social platforms (such as Facebook)
Google Ads PPC
Set up campaigns, ad groups, keywords, targeting, scheduling, and all other variables
Regularly monitor and improve performance
Please visit my "Fees" page for more information, and call for a free, in-depth consultation, with no sales pitch.