Choosing the right keywords is crucial for a successful SEO strategy. But many business owners wonder – how much do you have to pay to rank for competitive keywords? The costs can vary greatly depending on the competition level, traffic potential, and more.

This article will break down the different factors that influence SEO keyword costs, strategies to earn rankings without paying for keywords, average costs for different competition tiers, tips for setting and managing keyword budgets, and answers to frequently asked questions.

How much do SEO keywords cost?

What Influences Keyword Difficulty and Costs?

There are a few main factors that determine competition and costs for ranking:

Search Volume and Commercial Intent

  • High search volume for buyers (commercial intent) = More expensive
  • Low search volume and informational queries = Less expensive

Existing Domain Authority Ranking

  • Sites like Wikipedia, Amazon, forums = Harder to outrank
  • More newcomer sites ranking = Easier to rank

Backlinks Profile of Top Rankings

  • Lots of high-quality backlinks = More expensive to outrank
  • Fewer backlinks from authoritative sites = Less expensive

So in summary – the more sites that want to rank for a keyword, the higher quality sites already ranking, and the more authority needed to rank, the more difficult and expensive it will be to rank.

Strategies to Rank Without Paying for Keywords

While some ultra competitive keywords will be impractical to try ranking without a paid advertising budget, there are still several strategies you can use to earn rankings without paying explicitly for that keyword:

Create Comprehensive, In-Depth Content

  • Target long-tail versions of the keyword in detailed content
  • Eventually can become an authority site even for competitive terms

Build High-Quality Backlink Profiles

  • Manual outreach for guest posting and linker opportunities
  • Create shareworthy content that sites want to link to
  • Pitch roundups and mentions to journalists

Optimize Technical SEO Factors

  • Site speed, security, structured data, Url optimization
  • Build authority and trust with search engines

If you commit to providing value and optimizing technical SEO factors over the long term through content and links, it is possible to rank for competitive keywords without paying explicitly for that term.

Average Costs Based on Competition Tier

Here are the average costs to rank per month based on the difficulty tier:

Non-Competitive Keywords

  • Cost Per Month: $0-$100
  • Can often rank with on-page optimization and some backlink building from non-commercial sites
  • Example: “soccer coach tips”, “local scrapbook events”, “jazz guitar scales”

Light Commercial Competition

  • Cost Per Month: $101-$500
  • Will need some domain authority and quality links
  • Example: “virtual assistant services”, “Rhode Island tax filing”, “sell used textbooks online”

Medium Commercial Competition

  • Cost Per Month: $501-$2,000
  • Need high-quality content and links to outrank local competitors
  • Example: “Minneapolis SEO company”, “San Antonio pressure washing”, “Austin wedding photographers”

High Commercial Competition

  • Cost Per Month: $2,001+
  • Very difficult to rank without significant budget for content and links
  • Example: “New York SEO”, “business consulting services”, “role-playing video games”

As you can see, the costs increase exponentially for commercial terms in major markets sought after by national brands. But informational keywords and local service keywords in less competitive cities can still be attained through organic efforts.

Tips for Setting and Managing Keyword Budgets

Here are some tips for budgeting and managing keywords across different competition tiers:

  • Prioritize niche long-tail keywords first – Build up site authority and backlinks to support additional keywords
  • Allocate budget based on potential ROI – Don’t overspend on business terms with lower conversion rates
  • Phase more competitive keywords over time – Easier keywords help fund more difficult keywords later
  • Always track keyword performance – Evaluate which terms deliver results to guide future budgets
  • Monitor ranking progress – If rankings plateau early, consider adjusting targeting

Budgeting for SEO keywords is an ongoing process as new terms emerge and markets change over time. Set aside 15-30 minutes per quarter to review reports and adjust targeting for the next phase.

Key Takeaways

  • SEO keyword difficulty and costs are determined by search volume, commercial intent, existing authority sites ranking, and backlink profiles.
  • It is possible to rank for competitive terms over time through comprehensive content strategies and technical SEO without paying explicitly per each keyword.
  • Average costs range from $100 per month for non-commercial keywords to over $2,000 monthly for nationally competitive commercial keywords.
  • Budget for keyword groups by potential ROI, start with long-tail keywords, and adjust targeting every quarter based on performance.


Determining accurate SEO keyword costs requires analyzing the competitive landscape and conversion potential for each term. While some keywords require significant investment to rank, businesses can still attain valuable organic traffic for niche keywords with buyer intent through effective content marketing and link building strategies over time.

By starting with less competitive targets, tracking performance, and optimizing technical SEO factors, companies can earn organic visibility and trust to support budget expansion for more difficult keywords down the road.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the cheapest SEO keywords to target?

The cheapest keywords to target are longer, hyper-specific long-tail keywords with lower search volume. These usually have much less competition, allowing new sites to rank with good on-page optimization and a few strong backlinks from other niche sites or local directories.

What makes an SEO keyword expensive to rank for?

High search volume, commercial buyer keywords that national brands want to advertise against make for expensive SEO keywords. These competitive terms require very authoritative content and trust signals like links from major publications to have a chance of ranking.

How much do SEO keywords cost on average?

For less competitive local keywords, average cost can range from $100-500 per month. For high commercial competition nationally, it can cost $2,000+ monthly to rank. Most small businesses target keywords in the $300-1,000 range.

Can I rank #1 on Google for free?

It is possible technically to rank #1 for non-commercial keywords without any advertising spend through effective content marketing, local citations and niche link building. However for any valuable commercial term, ranking will require some investment into content and links.

How many keywords should I target for SEO?

Most SEO experts recommend targeting at least 40-80 keywords initially grouped by topics and buyer stages. This allows you to track performance by topic and expand on groups that deliver results. Keywords can be added over time but need monitoring.

Can I rank for competitive keywords without backlinks?

It is highly unlikely to outrank authoritative sites ranking for competitive keywords without building some non-advertising based backlinks from other niche sites and publications to signal trust and authority around the keyword topic.

How fast can I rank for a new SEO keyword?

For non-competitive long-tail terms with little optimization from other sites yet, you can sometimes rank on the first page within 1-2 months. For competitive keywords against high authority sites, it usually takes 6-12+ months to move the rankings with consistent effort.

What is the average cost per click for SEO keywords?

Average cost per click varies greatly by industry from $1-2 for informational keywords to over $50 for legal and medical keywords. Overall across industries most purchased SEO keywords range $3 to $12 cost per click.

Does keyword difficulty change over time?

Yes, search keyword difficulty is always fluctuating as new sites enter spaces and invest in optimizing for terms, new informational queries emerge, and consumer search behavior evolves. Difficulty should be monitored every 2-3 months.

Can I rank a brand new site for competitive keywords?

It is extremely difficult to rank a completely new site for high competition, commercial SEO keywords in less than 12-18 months without a paid search budget. You would need a very aggressive content production and link building campaign from a domain authority 0 starting point.

What is the average number of keywords on the first page of Google?

The average number of keywords on Google’s first page results is around 3 to 5 closely related search terms. Each may have multiple supporting keywords throughout the content as well.

How often do SEO keyword rankings change?

On average, keyword rankings fluctuate moderately week to week and month to month depending on the latest Google algorithm updates. However overall keyword positions tend to stabilize around thresholds of 0-3 months for new keywords and over 12 months for established keyword history.

How do SEO costs compare to PPC costs?

On average, ranking organically long-term for valuable keywords that convert tends to be less expensive over 18+ months than continuously buying PPC ads indefinitely for those keywords as long as some website visits convert eventually from rankings.

Can I get listed on search engines without paying for SEO?

Yes, it is possible to rank organically without explicitly paying someone else separately for SEO services. Through effective on-page optimization, content marketing, backlink building, and technical enhancements over time, you can build site authority to rank without paid ads.

Is SEO essentially “free” organic traffic?

While SEO does drive “free” traffic not based on ads, there are significant costs involved related to content production, creative resources, tools/software, and manual promotional efforts behind delivering enough value to earn rankings – so the traffic is not entirely free, but it scales better long term than buying all of it.

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July 2024


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