SEO Maintenance Cost: How Much Should You Budget?
Finding a standard SEO maintenance cost seems pretty much impossible.
They’re all over the place, and everyone is trying to convince you that their model is the right one.
Cheap companies say don’t overpay, expensive companies say don’t cheap out.
Meanwhile, anyone who knows the first thing about business advises companies not to move a finger before they have an estimated ROI.
How can you make sense of things if all you get is “depends?”
We’re not trying to lure you in like a clickbait-y History Channel documentary that wastes two hours of your life and ends with an infuriating “We may never know…”
Here’s a ballpark right away:
The average search optimization cost per month for smaller businesses is around $500.
Numbers in the introduction? Then why even write the article?
Because you need more than an out-of-context average to figure out the cost of the SEO service you need.
So let’s get you a more accurate estimate for your business.
SEO Maintenance Costs in a Nutshell
SEO maintenance costs range from $300-$30,000 per month depending on what comes into their scope, their frequency, the agency’s reputation, your business size and needs, etc.
We’ll talk more about the determining factors in a minute.
But first, here are some estimates of SEO service costs to give you a closer idea:
|SEO type||Cost per month||Best For||Pros||Cons|
|DIY||Free||Sole traders & solopreneurs||
|Premium||$15,000-$30,000||Large companies and websites with high traffic||
The major pricing models you’ll encounter might include:
- One-off packages – $5,000-$30,000+
- Monthly SEO – $1,500-$20,000+
- Hourly SEO – $100-$300 on average
Some services need to be done more frequently than others.
But no matter how you cut it, SEO maintenance is an ongoing process that takes time to pay off, so you’ll want to avoid companies offering one-time maintenance packages.
Especially if they promise #1 ranking or instant results.
Most good agencies will be working with monthly retainers or hourly fees for this type of work.
Now, we can’t guarantee what your quote will look like exactly.
(Well, we could if you wanted a custom quote from us?)
But we can tell you what the cost depends on and how you can gauge yours based on that.
What Determines SEO Maintenance Cost?
There are some pretty big ranges in those figures we mentioned, right?
Apart from the pricing model, these are the different factors that play a part in determining the costs:
- Experience and reputation
- Business type (freelancer vs. agency)
- Business size (startup, SME, MNE, etc.)
- SEO goals
- SEO strategy
- Current SEO status quo
We’ll elaborate how that all works piece by piece before we put it together into some realistic examples.
Or if you want, go straight there, we’ll see you in a second.
Experience and reputation
You want to be able to trust that your SEO expert really knows their stuff and has experience in your industry right?
Nothing is a better indicator of work well done than social proof.
Anyone can say they’re good on the internet. But when others confirm it, this claim gains more weight.
SEO companies know this.
Naturally, companies that have long-standing experience and are recognized experts charge more for their work because they’re able to show exactly how well they’ve done in the past.
SEO business type (freelancer vs. agency)
Freelancers and agencies charge differently and are suited for different types of jobs.
Freelancers can be a great option for smaller to medium sized businesses who don’t have a huge scope of work – just the technical SEO with retouches here and there.
Or highly specialized/niche work that costs more by default.
However, because freelancers can take on only a limited amount of work at a time and often don’t offer a wide range of services, they can’t cover the needs of larger businesses.
Agencies offer more scalable support because they have multiple people working on a project. They’re often able to offer various bundle deals and affordable service rates too.
Your business size
Generally speaking, smaller businesses can get by with less SEO work.
The more products and categories you have, the more SEO work it’s going to take to create and maintain your product pages, descriptions, links, stock, etc.
This is strictly about the baseline maintenance.
If you have a bunch of interlinked pages, you’ll naturally have to keep checking how they are performing and make sure you don’t have 404s or redirections.
This will take more time and cost more than if you had only five pages to track.
These are a few common SEO goals that may appeal to you:
- Getting more customers
- Becoming an authoritative source in your industry
- Standing out from competitors
- Converting more leads, etc.
They all sound great, right?
But you probably have some goals that make more sense for your company than others.
If you have a very specific set of services you’re offering, you’d need to build authority and show how you’re qualified to help to convert more leads.
You might want to focus on content to get you in front of an audience that needs them (and not just anyone), educate them on related topics, and convince them you’re the business to work with.
If you’re a giant eCommerce company, that might change.
You’d want to find ways to attract as many primed prospects as possible and make your UX and UI smooth so you never annoy them into clicking the X button.
You would also have a lot more pages, so this extra work would naturally cost more.
An SEO expert should consider these goals to decide on a suitable strategy.
An SEO strategy is just the recipe you follow to make your meal, based on what your company is looking to enjoy.
It might include fixing broken links, page speed optimization, regular website analytics, and that kind of standard stuff as a base-level service.
And you could stop at that.
Or you could have a fancier recipe with ten extra ingredients. Or just two extras but prepared in a specific way. This could refer to:
- Content creation and optimization
- Additional pages
- Link building
- Social site setup, etc.
Obviously, your strategy starts from your current situation, so we need to account for that as well.
Your current SEO status quo
Your SEO status quo just means where your website is currently at with SEO.
If your website is shiny and new, you’re probably starting from scratch and have to determine the best order of business.
So you’re looking at the cost of the initial setup as well as the monthly maintenance.
But if you’ve been around the block already, what were your past efforts and results? What’s your site infrastructure like? What about your ranking?
This defines part of the scope of your service.
Working Out SEO Maintenance Costs: Two Examples
Okay, we realize that’s a lot of variables and maybe math isn’t your favorite pastime.
So we’ll do it for you.
This is an exercise to show you what you can expect in two different (fictional!) scenarios with examples relevant to nonprofits and professional services.
We’re aiming for opposite examples:
- Larger business vs. smaller charity
- Different SEO needs
- Different industries
We won’t be able to provide exact costs – our crystal ball can only get us so far.
But the idea is to cut them to a more reasonable range and show you what factors drive SEO prices up and down.
You can compare our discussion to your own needs and reach a more informed conclusion.
Example 1: ConnectCPA (professional services)
Okay, first up, we’re looking at a modern, medium-sized accounting company based in Canada.
ConnectCPA deals with the numbers for a bunch of established brands including Vidday and Dooly – which they did well to highlight on the homepage.
For the purposes of this exercise, we’ve run their site through a couple of tools to help us get an overview of their current situation.
Their SEO status quo, website size, possible goals, things like that.
First, we ran their URL through XML sitemap – this tool does a quick site crawl and shows you some basic things like the number of pages, site performance, and links.
So here we can see they have just under 500 pages and a lot of broken links (404s):
Here are a couple more screenshots from GTmetrixGTmetrix, Moz, and SEMrushSEMrush just so you see what we’re going off – the example may be fictional, but the company and its current performance are real:
We can see from GTmetrix there are slight performance issues (above), and Moz tells us the domain authority and current keywords the site is ranking for (below).
Lastly we have SEMrush with some specific insight into traffic sources and the situation with the keywords – and by the way, don’t worry. We don’t expect you to make total sense of all that.
It is complicated.
But here’s what we can tell from our research:
- The technical maintenance will take more due to the website size/number of pages
- They have plenty of 404 messages. The initial audit + the ongoing maintenance needs to keep on top of this
- LinkedIn and Instagram are already setup and they have a blog, although it could be more consistent – they would benefit from more content creation
- They need more domain authority, so link building and content can help there
- They can really grow the list of keywords they dominate on SERPs
- Perhaps they could also target featured snippets to get more traffic
Based on all of that, ConnectCPA is in a position to really grow with a mid-range SEO package.
Their total SEO maintenance cost could range between $3,000-$5,000 per month for a solid set of services with content optimization and content creation at, say, $500 per blog (at 4-6 blogs per month).
Example 2: The Bee Initiative (small nonprofit)
The Bee Initiative is a small charity with a small digital footprint.
Here’s the nerdy stuff again – we used the same tools as in the previous example plus Pingdom. You can check out these tools if you’re curious about your site.
(Or just scroll a little if you just want the math done for you.)
So The Bee Initiative has a small number of pages and no broken links.
They don’t have a lot of content so there’s a lot of room for growth. And Moz couldn’t get a scan on them:
Lastly, Pingdom shows us their general performance is solid with a quick loading time.
So here’s the equation for The Bee Initiative:
- They need minimum work on the website – initial audit + tracking and making sure everything is okay with new content and technical optimization
- They have a “latest news” type blog but not much content – that’s room for growth
- There are only 26 pages total – their baseline SEO rate would be pretty cheap
Their goal should be to raise awareness and become the go-to charity for bees.
So they could start with some quality content talking about bees, why they matter, how to help the cause, etc. and also use it for link building.
This would educate their audience and help them rank well so more people can find them.
Based on that, we can estimate their SEO maintenance cost range to be on the lower end about $1,000-2,000/month including two blogs/month with plenty of internal and external links.
And yeah, a small organization like them could go the DIY route if they wanted.
But don’t think that means the work would be free.
They would need to be careful to budget how much that costs in terms of internal manpower and expertise, and charities are usually really stretched.
It would level out at best.
It’s smarter to focus on what they do best and outsource SEO to experts.
Now, with that in mind…
What Should You Look For in an SEO Maintenance Service?
General website maintenance and SEO go hand-in-hand, so there’s a bit of overlap between them – realistically, you need the entire package anyway.
SEO doesn’t work if your website isn’t safe, for example.
But for the sake of estimating the cost, we’ll keep the focus on the SEO side of things. The usual services include:
- Ranking and SEO performance analysis
- Content optimization and creation
- Link building/fixing
- Keyword research
- Page speed optimization
- Analytics and reporting
- Comparing to industry trends
Now, we won’t go too much into the details of each one since you won’t be doing them yourself anyway.
But you need to have an idea of what they even are so you can gauge what you might need and find the right provider to get it done for you.
Here’s an overview:
|SEO maintenance service||Explanation/why you need it|
|Ranking and SEO performance analysis||You want to rank high, but other businesses are doing their SEO too and Google is a fair judge. That’s why you need to keep checking where you stand and what to improve next.|
|Content optimization and creation||Another ongoing process since your content always needs to be current, relevant, and maintained on the technical side to be valuable to your audience.|
|Link building/fixing||Strategically placed links make your website stronger, help your audience find what they need, and rank you higher. Unless they’re broken, of course|
|Keyword research||Keyword research shows you what else your audience wants to know and gives you an opportunity to answer their questions. Any chance to stand out as helpful and on-the-pulse is great for business.|
|Page speed optimization||Optimizing your site ensures your visitors don’t leave before your site even loads, and makes it far more likely they’ll come back again.|
|Analytics and reporting||Analytics give you a detailed status report so you know what works, what doesn’t and how to adjust your efforts for better results.|
|Comparing to industry trends||Alongside progress reports, this insight helps you gauge how to stand out from competition and make sure your target audience picks you.|
Hopefully that helps narrow it down. But there are plenty of fake gurus out there waiting to take advantage of inexperienced/less informed companies, and we don’t want that to be you.
So let’s narrow it further down by going over the biggest SEO maintenance no-no’s.
What Are Some SEO Service Red Flags?
Here are the three biggest signs you need to avoid eye contact and speed up your pace:
- Link schemes or buying, and other blackhat SEO strategies
- Quantity over quality – of anything, including your links and content
- Promising instant or unrealistic results like #1 ranking on Google
Real SEO experts would never recommend these practices and are sick of cleaning up their aftermath.
SEO takes consistent, ongoing effort and time.
Time, as in, it will take months to show any results whatsoever.
If you see any of the signs above, consider it your cue to run away – far, far away, where they’ll never find you, like on page 3 of a Google SERP.
And… we’re almost done!
Was there anything you wanted to ask?
SEO Maintenance Cost FAQs
“Should you even bother with SEO maintenance?”
Yes, yes, yes!
SEO isn’t a one-off project. Don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise.
You might want to save some budget after having forked out on the initial optimization work, but don’t do it as you won’t get the long-term results you’re after.
This is money well spent.
“Is SEO maintenance expensive?”
It can easily range from $300-$30,000 – which can be a big investment considering the payoff starts slowly and compounds over time.
It usually takes months to give any returns.
Estimating your SEO maintenance cost more precisely takes knowing what you need and finding the right agency to take care of it for you.
We covered this earlier so if you missed it or just landed here (welcome!), jump back to the top to see why the cost “depends.”
Or go straight to Working Out SEO Maintenance Costs: Two Examples where we walk you through the exercises before your math test.
“How much does it cost to be at the top of a Google search?”
Being #1 on SERPs is about following a holistic SEO strategy – initial optimization followed by regular maintenance. That could be around $500 per month for a small business, and $10,000+ for a big eCommerce business with lots of website pages.
However, there are never any guarantees when it comes to ranking.
Did someone promise you they can get you to the top? Uh-oh! 🚩🚩🚩
Even Google warns against this.
You can scroll a bit up to read about the good and bad things to watch out for when picking your SEO maintenance service.
“Can you provide me with an ROI calculator for SEO?”
You can use this simple ROI calculator based on lifetime value to calculate the results of the long-term investment that is SEO.
On average, SEO ROI is about 317% for eCommerce, and up to 1,031% for financial services for instance.
But your best bet at calculating the maintenance cost and ROI? Simply asking an expert for a personalized one.
Looking for a More Precise Quote? Get in Touch!
It’s hard to estimate the SEO maintenance cost precisely.
Not like we know exactly what your company looks like and what your SEO needs and goals are to slap a number on the service.
Although, if we knew all that… we could put a number on it. 👀
State Creative has been building and maintaining websites with over a decade-worth of award-winning service under our belt.
Get in touch if you’d like us to review your current SEO efforts and prepare a custom quote for your business – that’s the only way you’ll know for sure.
Not quite ready yet? We get it.
To keep learning about holistic website maintenance, this blog on improving your site security could be a helpful read next.