Search engine optimisation (SEO) is a bit like renovating your house – it’s an investment that can pay dividends, but the costs can quickly spiral if you’re not careful.

So, answering the question ‘How much does SEO cost?’ is not simple.

Get the strategy right and you could be sitting pretty with a website that ranks highly and generates a steady stream of leads. Get it wrong and you might as well have burned your marketing budget.


As a company looking to drive inbound leads through Google, understanding how much to budget for SEO is crucial.

In this guide, we’ll break it all down.

How much should you spend on SEO?

Before diving into specific pricing, let’s ask the question a slightly different way – how much should you spend on SEO?

It’s important to think about your goals, audience and current situation. This will help you figure out how much to invest.

Here are a few specific questions to ask:

  1. What are your goals for SEO? Are you looking to build brand awareness, drive lead generation, increase sales of a particular product line, or something else? Getting clear on your objectives from the outset is critical for measuring return on investment down the line.
  2. Who is your target audience? Is your business aimed at other companies (B2B) or consumers (B2C)? Are you operating locally, nationally or even internationally? Audience and industry demographics can have a big impact on the competitiveness of keywords and the scope of any SEO project.
  3. What is your current situation? Are you starting from scratch with a brand-new website? Or have you been around for a while and want to optimise what you’ve got? If it’s the latter, an SEO audit will most likely be needed to identify strengths, weaknesses and ways to improve.
  4. What is your overall marketing budget? Like any investment, you’ll want to spend on SEO proportionally vs the returns it could generate for your business. As a rough benchmark, Deloitte reckons the average company allocates 13% of its total budget to marketing activities.
  5. Do you have in-house capabilities or need agency support? Hiring an internal team and providing ongoing SEO training can be steep, especially for smaller businesses. In many cases, it makes sense to outsource to a specialist SEO agency, at least initially.

Breaking down the factors impacting SEO cost

Even once you’ve considered those questions, there are some key things that will impact how much you’ll need to budget for SEO:

Project scope and complexity

Like any service, the size of the job will make the biggest difference to cost. An e-commerce site with thousands of pages and products will require far more work than a simpler service website. You’ll need to think about for:

  • Number of pages/services to optimise.
  • Technical SEO requirements (e.g. site migrations, redirects, etc.).
  • Content needs (new pages, updates, multimedia, etc.) to build and sustain your organic performance.
  • The number of countries/markets you need to cover.
  • How quickly you want to do everything (For more: How long does SEO take?)

The more complex and extensive the scope, the higher the investment required. For example, a large-scale website rebuild and migration project could easily run into six figures for comprehensive SEO support.

Industry competitiveness

Some industries are just more competitive when it comes to SEO.

If you’re in a niche field like industrial valve manufacturing, you’ll likely face less competition for keywords than a consumer product like ‘running shoes’, or common search terms in sectors like finance, insurance, law and travel.

The more competitive, the more time, effort and investment will be required to outperform rivals in the search results.

In-house team vs agency

Are you building an in-house SEO team or hiring an agency?

Depending on your choice, the costs can vary significantly.

If you’re taking everything in-house, SEO costs include:

  • Salaries for SEO specialists, content writers, web developers etc.
  • Hiring and recruitment expenses
  • Ongoing training and professional development
  • Employee benefits and overhead
  • SEO software, tools and technology subscriptions

Building a full-time in-house SEO team requires heaps of upfront investment and ongoing overhead costs. However, it allows you to have dedicated resources fully immersed in your business goals and operations. For larger organisations, this can be a worthwhile long-term investment.

Working with an agency will involve:

  • Monthly retainers or project fees
  • Pricing tiers based on service and experience level
  • Additional fees for specialised services like SEO content production, link building, etc.
  • Potential travel and adhoc costs

Hiring an SEO agency eliminates the need for major internal hiring. Agencies can provide specialised expertise and ramp up activity quickly, though you’ll pay more for their time and resources. Pricing models like monthly retainers or project fees provide more flexibility.

For many companies, a blended approach makes the most sense – building a lean in-house team over time while using agency support for additional horsepower, skill sets and objectivity. This balanced model optimises costs and capabilities.

No matter which route you choose, be sure to carefully think about the full costs, expected results and potential return on investment. Finding the right mix of in-house and agency resources is key to sustainable SEO success.

SEO software and tools

Speaking of tools, there are plenty of paid platforms for keyword research, tracking, reporting, auditing, and more. While not essential, they can provide valuable data and streamline many processes.

Expect to budget £100 – 500+ per month for popular tools like Ahrefs, SEMrush, Moz, etc.

Your potential ROI

Ultimately, you’ll want to forecast the potential return on investment (ROI) from SEO to determine an appropriate budget.

After all, what’s the point in ranking highly if it doesn’t translate to new business?

As a very rough guide, businesses typically underestimate their first-year SEO revenue by 100%.

In other words, if you expect SEO to generate £50,000 in new sales during year one based on your projections, the actual figure is more likely to be around £100,000.

Of course, this will change based on your business model, transaction values, sales cycles and other bits.

The key is to be conservative in your estimates and ensure you have the flexibility to scale SEO efforts up or down based on how you get on. Nothing is more frustrating than having to slam the brakes on a successful campaign due to cash.

How much do SEO services cost?

With that in mind, let’s look at some typical pricing for common SEO services:

One-off SEO audit – how much does an SEO audit cost?

The term “SEO audit” can mean very different things depending on who you ask.

On one end of the spectrum, you have automated crawling tools that can surface basic technical issues for a small fee. A tenner could get you a robot telling you your images need alt text (congratulations, you’ve reinvented the wheel).


On the other end, a comprehensive manual SEO audit conducted by seasoned professionals could set you back £5,000 to £10,000+. But for that pretty penny, you get a full 360-degree analysis and strategic roadmap to the promised land of page 1 rankings.

A proper SEO audit is likely to include:

  • An in-depth technical evaluation (indexing, crawlability, Core Web Vitals, etc.)
  • A content audit and production plan
  • A competitive backlink analysis
  • Keyword research to identify new opportunities
  • Conversion rate optimisation (CRO)
  • A detailed findings report and prioritised recommendations
  • A customised, long-term SEO strategy and roadmap (an actual plan, not just observations)

The pricing really depends on how turnkey of a solution you need. A basic audit can uncover some low-hanging fruit, while a premium audit provides a comprehensive, data-driven game plan for driving sustainable organic growth over the long haul.

So before signing up for an “SEO audit”, make sure you understand exactly what level of analysis and strategic output is included. A true audit should go far beyond just listing issues – it should provide a clear, ROI-focused roadmap for improvement.

Ongoing monthly retainer – how much does it cost to hire an SEO company?

For continuous help with SEO, most businesses go for a monthly retainer from an agency. But how much does it cost to hire an SEO company? And how much does SEO cost per month?

Pricing changes a lot based on the agency’s experience level and the scope of services included. In other words, you could pay £1,000 a month at the very lower end, or £10,000+ per month for a more premium service.

Common services in retainers include:

  • Keyword research
  • On-page optimisation
  • Content creation
  • Technical SEO and site architecture
  • Link building and digital PR
  • Reporting and analysis

Monthly retainers provide ongoing support, strategic guidance and accountability. They also offer flexibility to scale resources up or down as needed, with transparent pricing and deliverables outlined upfront.

An experienced agency should work as an extension of your team, proactively providing recommendations, analysis and campaign management on a consistent basis.

Link building campaigns – how much do backlinks cost?

While high-quality backlinks from authoritative sites still carry weight in Google’s algorithm, the search engine has deemphasised the singular importance of links in recent years. An effective SEO strategy today requires a more holistic approach, way beyond just link building.

Some agencies offer link building as an add-on service, with pricing starting around £1,000 per month depending on your industry’s competitiveness. Common tactics include:

  • Guest posting on respected websites
  • Digital PR and content promotion
  • Fixing broken link opportunities
  • Branded partnerships

However, investing exclusively in link building campaigns can be risky if not done properly and within Google’s guidelines. Low-quality “link schemes” meant solely to manipulate rankings could even result in a penalty.

The better approach is to make link acquisition one part of an SEO strategy that also prioritises:

  • Creating high-quality, search-intent satisfying content
  • Optimising for core web vitals and technical best practices
  • Aligning with Google’s broader signals like EEAT and entity understanding
  • Focusing on metrics that drive real business value

Let’s be clear: link building is still valuable. But it works best when integrated into a strategy that follows Google’s guidelines and focuses on delivering the best possible content and user experience.

An SEO agency should provide guidance on link building through best-practice white hat methods, as one piece of a larger organic growth engine.

Anything promising “guaranteed links” as a silver bullet for success should be seen sceptically.

Project-based pricing

For clients that prefer more flexibility and defined scopes of work, many SEO providers also offer project-based pricing like:

  • Website migrations and URL restructuring could range from £2,000 to £10,000+
  • Content production (per 1,000 words) could set you back £100 to £500 (depending on the quality)
  • Local SEO optimisation: £500 – £3,000
  • International SEO expansion: £5,000+

Project fees are typically easier to budget for upfront but can become expensive for extensive or open-ended projects. A blended approach using both project fees and monthly retainers is common.

Why do SEO service quotes vary wildly?

If you’ve already started researching potential agencies and consultants, you’ve probably noticed wildly differing quotes for seemingly comparable services.

There are a few reasons for these pricing differences:

Pricing models

Some agencies charge monthly retainers, others bill hourly or per project. Monthly retainers provide more certainty but can be inflexible, while hourly/project rates are more flexible but make budgeting harder.

Agency experience and reputation

As with most services, you typically get what you pay for in SEO. Industry veterans and agencies with extensive SEO case studies tend to charge premium prices compared to smaller, less established firms.

Specific deliverables and KPIs

The more services, deliverables and stringent KPIs included in the scope, the higher the costs. An agency simply providing keyword research and basic technical SEO will be cheaper than one also handling link building, content creation, digital PR, CRO, and more.

Economies of scale

Full-service digital marketing agencies can sometimes bundle SEO more cost-effectively via economies of scale across services like PPC, social media, web design, etc.

Boutique SEO consultants may be more specialised, but also provide better value.

How to know if you’re getting value for money

Considering the wide range of costs and service providers out there, how can you ensure you’re getting value for money?

Here are some key tips:

  • Check processes and methodologies: Any reputable SEO provider should follow a data-driven, best-practice approach that aligns with Google’s guidelines. If their strategies seem spammy or overcomplicated, be careful.
  • Ask for SEO case studies and testimonials: A proven track record of achieving meaningful results for other clients in your industry is crucial. Watch out for providers without solid case studies or references to share.
  • Be clear about expectations: Ensure you have complete clarity around what specific services, deliverables and KPIs are included in the pricing before signing on the dotted line. No surprises down the line!
  • Focus on ROI, not just rankings: While ranking highly for target keywords is great, the real measure of success is the return those rankings generate for your business. Insist on tying SEO performance to commercial metrics like organically-generated leads and sales.
  • Get frequent reporting and communication: You’re making a significant investment, so you deserve complete transparency. Request detailed monthly reports along with regular calls/meetings to discuss progress, pivots and next steps.
  • Negotiate on value, not price: While budget is obviously a factor, try to avoid making pricing the only criteria. An expensive provider that drives 5x the ROI is far more valuable than a cheap one that underperforms.
  • Build a true partnership: SEO is most effective when the provider integrates deeply with your internal marketing and business goals. Look for partners willing to go the extra mile, not just check boxes.

Find the sweet spot for your SEO spend

At the end of the day, there’s no one-size-fits-all cost for SEO.

It depends entirely on your specific business requirements and goals. But by considering the factors above and partnering with a reputable, results-driven SEO agency, you can ensure your spend translates into a worthwhile return.

Still unsure what a reasonable SEO budget looks like for your company? Get in touch with our experts we’ll be happy to chat through your requirements.

Matthew Robinson, Senior PR and Digital Strategist

Written by Matthew Robinson, Senior PR and Digital Strategist at Definition

Updated on 10/06/2024.