Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of improving a website’s visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs) by making it more appealing to search engines like Google. Unlike paid search advertising, SEO aims to earn organic traffic by having pages and content rank higher in results for relevant searches.
When first adopting an SEO strategy, a common question that arises is whether SEO requires an ongoing monthly fee, or if it can be a one-time cost for initial optimization. The answer depends on the exact services being provided by an SEO agency or consultant.
SEO pricing and fee structures
There are several common SEO pricing models:
- One-time fees – For auditing a site’s existing content and technical SEO issues, making recommendations for improvements, and performing initial on-page optimization. However, SEO is an ongoing process as search algorithms and best practices change over time.
- Monthly retainer fees – The most popular model where an agency charges a monthly fee to continually monitor and improve a website’s SEO. Retainer services commonly include ongoing content optimization, technical site updates, reporting/analytics, and responding to Google algorithm updates.
- Hourly consulting fees – Some SEO consultants offer hourly rates for à la carte services like content writing, site migrations, or technical troubleshooting. This offers more flexibility but usually at a higher rate.
- Value-based pricing – Less common, but some agencies charge prices based on the amount of business value they deliver through increased traffic and conversions. This aligns incentives but can be riskier for the company.
So while one-time SEO services are possible for smaller needs, most brands work with an SEO agency or consultant on a monthly retainer basis to ensure their site remains fully optimized over time.
What’s included in monthly SEO services
Typical ongoing SEO services that are covered by monthly fees include:
Identifying new relevant keyword opportunities to target to support growth. Ongoing keyword research is crucial because search intent and behavior changes over time.
Creating new content like blog posts that target researched keywords, and updating existing content for better optimization. This also includes optimizing content for voice search queries.
Ensuring site architecture, internal linking, page speed, metadata, etc. adhere to Google’s technical requirements for crawled, indexed, and ranked pages.
Securing backlinks from third-party websites to improve domain authority and organic traffic. This may include outreach for guest posting opportunities.
Benefits of ongoing monthly SEO
Compared to ad hoc or one-time SEO work, paying a monthly retainer fee offers several advantages:
- Continually optimized content – Fresh blog posts and page updates focused on ranking for the best keywords
- Quick reaction to updates – Algorithm changes are immediately addressed to protect traffic/rankings
- Ongoing revisions – Refining on-page elements like meta data and content over time
- Scalable growth - Adding new content and optimization for more keywords/pages
- Account management – Dedicated contact for questions, reporting, and strategy reviews
- Proactive maintenance – Site migrations, link rot prevention, speed optimizations
For most brands other than very small companies, an ongoing investment in SEO is recommended because it takes consistent effort over time to build organic search visibility and traffic. One-time services can only scratched the surface.
SEO costs and service levels
Monthly SEO fees will vary based on the level of service and deliverables included:
|Typical Monthly Cost
|$500 – $1,500
|Content optimization for 10-15 pages per month Technical site health monitoring Basic reporting
|$1,500 – $5,000
|Content optimization for up to 30 pages per month Expanded technical SEO services Keyword research Link building outreach/management Prioritized support Response to Google updates
|Everything in Standard plus: Content for 100+ pages monthly Custom reporting/dashboards International SEO Ecommerce SEO Ads and SEO integration Dedicated account manager Team of SEO experts Assigned technical SEO specialist
The main factors that influence monthly SEO pricing are:
- Number of pages serviced
- Amount of new content created
- Site complexity and customization needs
- Link building methods
- Level of reporting detail
While basic SEO can start around $500 per month, most established brands invest between $2,500 to $5,000 monthly for robust organic growth from a qualified SEO agency.
Getting started with the right SEO provider
Not all SEO agencies or consultants provide the same value. When researching providers, look for:
✔️Proven results for similar sites – Ask for client examples and verify their actual SEO results achieved.
✔️Ethical link building approaches – Ensure they follow Google’s quality guidelines and avoid shady tactics.
✔️Responsive ongoing support – Do they provide timely, customizable reporting and optimization suggestions?
✔️Experience optimizing for voice/mobile – Modern capabilities beyond just desktop keyword ranking.
✔️Reasonable ongoing content needs – Do their content recommendations align with your business capacity?
An SEO provider asking clients to publish poor quality or deceptive content should raise red flags. Work with agencies that demonstrate expertise across technical, content, and trust/safety disciplines.
Alternatives to monthly SEO services
If an ongoing financial commitment doesn’t align with your budget or needs, alternatives to explore include:
- In-house SEO – Have someone on staff trained in optimization to save on agency fees over time. The main limitation is lack of outsider perspective and bandwidth to cover all areas that require optimization.
- One-time auditing/consulting – Paying an SEO expert for an initial website review and roadmap can provide tremendous value at a lower cost. However, you or your staff will be responsible for acting on recommendations over time.
- DIY SEO learning – Self-education from reputable SEO resources like Moz, Ahrefs, and Google. However, a deep time commitment is required to truly grasp and apply these learnings. Most SMBs cannot dedicate the required time and struggle with ongoing self-optimization.
- Software tools – SEO suites like Moz, SEMRush, and Ahrefs provide robust data, but require expertise for analysis and execution. They complement human guidance but don’t replace it.
For most mid-market and enterprise companies who need serious SEO at scale, partnering with an expert SEO agency on a monthly basis tends to deliver the best long term ROI through sustainable organic growth.
- SEO can be a one-time fixed fee engagement focused solely on initial website audits and recommendations. However, for dynamic, ongoing search optimization a monthly retainer model is more common.
- Typical monthly SEO services include content optimization, keyword research, technical site enhancements, reporting, and responding to Google updates over time.
- Monthly costs range from $500 for basic SEO to $5,000+ for premium enterprise-grade services, based primarily on the breadth and level of optimization included.
- To maximize value, partner with an ethical, experienced SEO firm that demonstrates expertise across all facets of organic growth.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What should be included in monthly SEO services?
Typical ongoing SEO deliverables include new optimized content creation, keyword research, technical site enhancements, link building outreach, detailed reporting and analytics, account management, and quick reactions to Google algorithm updates.
- How much does basic SEO cost per month?
Basic SEO services typically start between $500 – $1,500 per month. This usually includes optimization of 10-20 existing pages per month along with some technical site monitoring.
- What is the average cost of SEO services?
Most established mid-market companies invest between $2,500 – $5,000 per month for standard SEO that supports consistent organic growth through content, keywords, links, and responding to Google updates.
- Should SEO be a one-time or ongoing cost?
Due to frequent Google algorithm changes and the dynamic nature of ranking for relevant organic searches, SEO is rarely effective as just a one-time initiative. While audits can provide initial direction, search optimization is an persistent process.
- What factors affect monthly SEO pricing?
Key factors that influence monthly SEO costs include the number of site pages serviced, amount of new content needed, site customization complexity, breadth of keyword targeting, and depth of reporting detail required.
- How can I evaluate an SEO agency or consultant?
When researching SEO providers, validate their actual results achieved for similar clients. Also ensure they follow ethical practices, provide responsive support, and demonstrate expertise in both website technical factors as well as content quality and trust principles.
- Should I hire an in-house SEO or agency?
While an in-house SEO builds optimized knowledge over time, the tradeoff is less expansive perspective and bandwidth to master all areas of organic search. Most companies benefit more from a dedicated team of SEO experts.
- Is DIY SEO or software tools enough?
Self-education and tools provide directional guidance but rarely achieve the same ROI as partnering with an expert SEO practitioner. The depth of knowledge and ability to execute technically and creatively is challenging to replicate on your own.
- What are signs of risky SEO providers or tactics?
Ethical warning signs include guarantees of #1 rankings, lack of examples from past clients, reliance on manipulative link schemes, or pressure to publish low-quality content just for keywords. Ensure your SEO aligns with Google’s quality guidelines.
- Should I start with an SEO audit before monthly services?
Yes, audits provide a helpful baseline content and technical analysis. They surface site pain points and roadmaps to focus initial optimization efforts in a cost-efficient manner before investing in ongoing retainers.