What is it that you are really getting when you purchase cheap SEO? Well, that’s what we’ll talk about in this article. I’ve had quite a few friends ask for my advice on cheap SEO packages as digital marketing has changed during Covid-19. It got me thinking a lot about it.

NOTE this is specifically in regards to recurring SEO. This is not content marketing that’s SEO optimized. This is about contracts for regular monthly recurring efforts.

Cheap SEO

A friend of mine recently gave me advice about a squabble I was having with my wife. He said, “it’s better to ask for forgiveness than for permission.” I thought “wow, you really don’t know my wife.” We laughed. But that resonated with me. Because that’s awful advice and an awful saying. It’s better to ask for permission than to ask, or even beg, for forgiveness. I never want to put anyone in a position of compromise, especially with their money. So I wondered if people believe this saying, does it transfer over into business? And if so, how much of it is in the current state of business during the COVID times where people are more desperate?

So yeah, let’s talk about cheap SEO!

SEO Managers

The first thing I did was Google search some SEO Manager positions to get an idea of what businesses were paying FT SEO employees. The range is going to be based on experience in terms of years. Here are two examples from Central Florida.

So for easy math, we’re really consistent in the $50,000 – $75,000 range. These are FT jobs so they are either large companies or they are facilitating SEO for a variety of companies as a firm. Regardless we’re going to assume that’s a typical 40 hr FT position. With $63,000 being average we’ll use that number to translate to $30.25 an hour or roughly $1,200 a week. That’s $4,000 a month for 1 person’s SEO efforts. So these will be the numbers I use for comparison.

Now I used SEO manager here because they do a lot of the research and instruct the SEO specialists on what keyphrases and strategies to perform. If you were going to hire an SEO person or hire a 3rd party, they need this management experience and skill.

SEO Specialists

To give you perspective, very basic low-level SEO clients will take you 10+ hours a week. A busy SEO’er may have only 2-3 clients a month max and that’s “loaded” with work.

Depending on their level of experience, SEO Specialists are paid like so

That means an entry-level person new to SEO is going to be paid ~$15 – $17 an hour. Granted you’ll pay the company probably $50 – $100 an hour for the use of their SEO Manager and whatever other talent is working on it. That translates to more quality, even with a lower level provider.

So for this purpose, I guess we’ll use the ‘livable wage’ hourly rate of $15 an hour for an independent SEO professional. That’s $31,200 yearly, $2,600 monthly, $600 weekly. Let’s assume a spouse and no kids (rounding up for easy math). That’s $28,000 yearly, $2,300 monthly, $540 weekly.

There are tools you need for SEO that cost and options on the cheaper end here are $200 – $300 a month. So at $250 a month for easy math, that’s $28,200 / $2050 / $477.50 income. We’re not even touching on costs of internet, taxes, computer, and proofreader.

In a 40 hour workweek, about 20-30 hours is SEO and the rest is research and analytics review. This is for a decent, average-sized small business. There’s a lot of work involved in SEO. Keep in mind there’s no manager or team in place to assist or guide in the process.

So we’ll assume in this scenario, it’s one client paying $2,600 a month for SEO that’s worth $15 an hour (less than $13 if you factor in overhead.) That’s not likely a good return of investment since people tend to know their worth with SEO. And their worth, BTW, isn’t based on an hourly rate, rather the ROI for the client. So some of my partners who do SEO for lets say $5,000 a month will generate their clients an average of 3:1 return rate over time. It’s unlikely cheap SEO offerings can give you that because they’re likely inexperienced or aren’t as talented.

This is about 65% less costly than the average cost of SEO.

Cheap SEO Figures

Ok, so above we’ve established that one client at $2,600 a month is getting bare-bones SEO quality and the SEO’er is scraping by financially. This usually means the SEO professional is still building their business and isn’t able to charge you the rates the established pros charge. It’s not a bad thing here, just pointing out how little profit is available for an SEO professional at $2,600 monthly but it’s more likely that person will have 2-3 clients this size per month.

Now, what about all these $500 a month packages? You’re getting one of two things here.

Too little work. Meaning minimum reporting, minimum content generation. About 1/4 less than the minimum most SEO professionals would recommend you’d need. This could mean a good firm is overloading SEO’ers with cheap pricing thinking they’ll win with bulk but you’re still getting a fraction of the time you should. So if you do get results, imagine what you could get with greater effort.

Poor quality of work. Interns have SEO skills above $10 an hour which would be the cost of the work if you were actually getting the recommended amount of time mentioned above. So it’s either very low-quality work which means it probably won’t generate a profit, or it may be work done overseas where labor is so cheap. The issue this poses is language and communication. Will you have trouble communicating about your project. More importantly, will their translation in the content reflect poorly if the translations are not quality (which isn’t cheap, BTW.)

Recurring SEO should be about profit. It isn’t about as many steps of the customer experience, branding, or even bounce rates. It’s about leads and sales over time/cost of acquisition.

This is 125% less expensive than the average cost of SEO!

Beware of Black Hat

In some cases, the cheap SEO could be providing unethical SEO practices that will get you penalized on search engines.

What Does SEO ‘Normally’ Cost?

Depends on your size, your industry, your target audience, etc. but there are some good ballpark figures I can give you. The size of your town, the demographics there, and the saturation of your competitor’s matters. If you’re in NYC in a competitive industry you may need to spend $30,000 whereas a towing company in a small town can spend $2,500 and get the same results. Zillow spends millions a year on SEO and SEO salaries and SEO is an $80 billion dollar industry. It’s definitely very real but also valuable and expensive.

Small Business – 75 employees or less, mostly local targeting campaigns. Less experienced SEO provider $2,500 – $5,000 monthly with more experienced SEO providers charging $5,000 – $10,000 monthly.

Enterprise Businesses – Most businesses in that ‘mid-size’ range of 250 or fewer employees have more competitive markets. You’ll need more effort and a faster turnaround. Depending on your industry, location, and audience your ballpark is broader. Less experienced providers are likely to be $10,000 – $30,000 with more experienced providers being $30,000 – $75,000.

E-Commerce – Your SEO professionals can more easily predict your ROI overtime here. Since you’re selling a physical product it makes the strategy of the efforts and returns more clear. In a lot of cases, your campaigns are limited to an area so you have a higher chance of greater ROI and faster. But this also means it could cost you more. $2,500 – $5,000 on the low end and $10,000 – $30,000 on the higher end.

In Closing

You’re always going to get what you pay for but SEO isn’t a cookie-cutter industry. Don’t count out the young kid starting his hustle willing to do good work for less money. Don’t count out that big firms with big price points aren’t padding a bit. Use judgment, ask questions. Meet with as many SEO providers as you need to until you feel comfortable. But go in with reasonable expectations. You need a reasonable budget and a reasonable amount of time to let SEO work. Cheap or not.

If you want to get content like this and more, let’s connect on Twitter.  If you have more questions on recurring SEO I’m happy to do my best to help you answer them and help you find the right provider that will be best for your needs. Just send me a smoke signal and let’s chat!