Budgeting for SEO – Median Costs and Key Factors for Marketers

You’re a marketer planning your yearly marketing budget and one of the channels in there is search engine optimisation. Costing SEO is not easy and how much SEO costs in the UK depends on various factors. Let’s dive in and help you estimate the size of the investment needed…

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How much does SEO cost in the UK?

Before we go into all of the elements that bring in the complexity, let’s answer the question how much does SEO cost in the UK on average in general. We looked at several sources to get an idea of the costs: 

  1. Websites ranking in top results for the question
  2. The very extensive and useful Ahrefs research on the subject of SEO pricing

 

All of the sources provide some kind of average that ranges from as low as £500 (Ahrefs data) to as high as £8000 (one of the first positions in the SERP of the query). 

We looked at this data to first find the average cost across the sources. 

(500+2000+500+3000+750+3000+600+6000+750+8000) / 10 = £2,510 

However, calculating the simple average is not the most accurate way to approach this as the data has a wide range. So we looked at the Median cost with the help of our trusted AI assistant ChatGPT. 

Median cost ended up being  £1,375

Standard Deviation: £2,469.49

These measures gave us a clearer picture of the cost distribution.  The median is lower than the average, distribution is skewed by higher values. Indicating the presence of high-cost outliers. The standard deviation is quite high, reflecting significant variability in the data.

Using the median, rather than the average, is more representative of typical costs. 

Knowing the median can help you set a realistic benchmark for budgeting. Most costs of SEO will cluster around the median. Set your budget with what most services charge. This is where most of the market is positioned, according to this dataset. 

How much does SEO cost in the UK on average? It depends. But the median price is around £1,375.

For businesses looking to budget for SEO services in the UK, considering both the mean and median costs is important. While the average cost of £2,510 provides an overview, the median cost of £1,375 is likely more representative of what most businesses will pay.

What you will get for that median price of course differs and depends on many factors. This is why there is no actual straight answer to this question. You need to consider your specific SEO needs and goals and make sure to get detailed proposals from multiple agencies to understand what services are included in the pricing.

Factors to consider in an SEO budget

Generally speaking, how much you pay for SEO above or below that median price will depend on 3 broad factors:

  1. Category of supplier and their pricing model 
  2. Experience of the person or the team providing the SEO service
  3. Provider location 

Category of supplier

How much budget you need will depend on the type of supplier you want. SEO, unless delivered in-house, is offered by:

  • SEO Agencies
  • SEO Freelancers

There are also a few other options out there such as SEO consultants or SEO specialists but for the sake of argument and to simplify things, we’ll add them to the second category of freelancers.

SEO agency 

SEO agencies, as the name itself suggests, are companies that offer search engine optimisation services. Now you could have a specialised agency that only offers SEO or SEO could be part of a wider service offering, also known as a full-service agency. There are benefits and advantages to both and one of the differences can be in the price. 

Let’s take an example. You own an e-learning company and you want to outsource your PPC, paid social and SEO to an agency. You could hire 3 specialised agencies to take on this work or you could employ a full-service agency and keep it all under one roof. 

Before joining Vixen I spent my career in-house and hired both specialised agencies and full service ones. They have their pros and cons, and it also depends on the channels you want to target and the type of campaign and your internal needs. So yes, it’s complex. 

My personal preference, particularly in the last 5 or so years has been to lean towards full service agencies. Now, since I work for one, someone might say, well obviously you would say that. While that may be true, it’s grounded in a few things that for me make the choice obvious. Let’s look at the top two:

  • The buying journey is not and has never been linear – it’s more like one big mess of touch-points. If a company or an agency wants to be successful in today’s market they need to think holistically and find the right channel blend to succeed. 

This is now true even in industries such as ecommerce! For example, we attended the latest Google Retail Event: Peak 2023: Ready, Set, Go!’, and it’s reported that 85% of customers will use AT LEAST two channels before making a decision on which brand to purchase from’.  

  • Today’s marketing channels are blending – Organic search for example is moving more and more towards a multichannel search experience. Partially driven by the rise of AI content and the inauthenticity this creates. Just look at some of the new features Google is testing, such as perspectives, and the rise of user-generated content sites such as Reddit. 

Different agencies also have different pricing models. SemRush did a great post on digital marketing pricing and the models can be applied to SEO specifically as well. 

SemRush Digital Marketing SEO pricing

Unsurprisingly, the most popular ones are retainers and one-off projects. According to Ahrefs research, 54.5% of SEOs only offer one pricing model (i.e., hourly, retainer, or per-project). But we’ve seen a move towards productising services as well with SEO packages popping up continuously online. We’ve also packaged some of our offerings as well, for example, our Technical SEO Audits

One thing to remember is that monthly retainer pricing often comes with an estimate of days included. For example, our lower retainers start at two days per month with a £600 per day rate. On rare occasions, you might get an estimate based on deliverables. For example, for £1200 you get x,y,z. There are again advantages and disadvantages to both. Day pricing offers flexibility, transparency, and control over the budget and work process. Pricing on deliverables is a clear, outcome-focused approach, but can be less adaptable. For example, if requirements change you might end up paying more to squeeze in that extra deliverable you need as a priority. 

To get the best of both worlds, at Vixen we charge per day but provide an SEO roadmap with deliverables. This is a live document so if something changes we can easily swap the deliverable accordingly. 

SEO Freelancers

Unsurprisingly SEO freelancers will often charge less than an agency. After all, they have fewer overhead costs (think office space, staff costs…). This allows them to reduce the price further. For some businesses, particularly if they are only starting their SEO journey and have a limited budget, working with a freelancer is a great option. 

While in-house, I’ve worked with freelance marketplaces such as Fiveer and People Per Hour. It’s hit-and-miss. There are some excellent freelancers even on these platforms, the key is finding them. Let’s just say it can take a while! A better option is to get a recommendation from someone you trust. 

Obviously, what you don’t get with a freelancer is a team of experts which is also reflected in the price. An average freelancer price in the UK is about £52/hour, according to Ahrefs. 

Experience of the person or the team

The level of experience your agency or freelancer has will have a massive impact on the pricing as well. There is a difference between hiring someone with a track record in SEO and someone who is a newbie – just entering the industry. 

Unsurprisingly, Ahrefs found that the more experience an SEO has the more they charge. 

This is where hiring an agency also makes sense. With an agency you typically get a mix of experience, as you are working with a team. Depending on the size of the agency team, you’ll likely have a few senior people and a few juniors working on your account. Unless the agency is a total wash you will get access to senior people as well. As a Head of Digital Marketing I might not be doing your technical audit but I will be involved in reviewing it!

 If you want to ensure that your SEO has experience and you’d rather get a freelancer, then you will likely be looking at a rate that matches an agency anyway.

According to Daniel Foley, who’s been in the industry for ages, for a large corporation you are looking at £10k + for an SEO consultant with over 15 years of experience. Rightfully so I might add! 

SEO Consultant UK Monthly Rates (Retainer)

Provider Location

More often than not an agency or a freelancer will serve the local and the global market. And, how they price their services will be impacted by the location. The difference, according to Ahrefs is a staggering 123.1%

But what about the differences within the UK? After all, we all hear about the disparity between the South and the North of England for example. In 2023, the average annual salary in London was  £44,370, and in the North East it was £31,200 pounds. Does this mean that SEO services are cheaper in the North East? Likely not. 

That’s not really how the market works. Higher demand for SEO services in both regions will drive up the overall prices, maintaining a competitive market. 

The cost of SEO is more influenced by expertise than the location. Regardless of your location, if you have the experience and a track record you won’t sell yourself short. 

It may be true that prior to all this remote working, there might have been some regional cost variations on pricing. Today, SEOs can and do work from anywhere which further standardises prices. Plus, there is the whole question of the SEO tech stack. Let’s face it we pay the same (sometimes extortionate!) price for them regardless if we live in Barnsley or Brighton. 

What about discounts and negotiation?

We get asked often whether our prices are negotiable. Personally, as a big negotiator I don’t have a problem with the question. I mean, I regularly negotiate with SaaS tools. But asking for discounts for SEO services is less common and the chances of getting one are generally lower. 

Selling products is after all very different from selling expertise. Products are tangible and standardised. The costs are easier to compare and you can quickly find a way to make a clear comparison. 

Services such as SEO are intangible and variable. The price will depend on expertise, time, and effort. The negotiation risk is higher. If you drop the price of a tool by 30% you can rest easy that you’re still getting the same tool but for a lower price. If you pay your SEO provider 30% less than their asking price, how can you know you’re not getting a 30% lower quality of service? You can’t. 

Service pricing should be based on developing long-term relationships, with consistency and integrity as a priority rather than discounts. As a rule of thumb, we try to avoid any discounts or negotiations. But by all means, ask away. 

Does the type of SEO impact cost?

If experience is an important factor in costing SEO services, then it’s not a far stretch to wonder if the type of SEO you are looking for has an impact. Typically, in an SEO campaign, you expect to find some kind of combination of the following:

  • Technical SEO – this could include anything from basics such error codes to more advanced elements such as JavaScript and website architecture. SEO projects also often start with what’s called a Technical Audit. Depending on the provider, the audit will dive into the technical set up in varying details.
  • On-page SEO – as the name suggests, on-page (or on-site SEO) is all about optimising content for search. This is where elements such as keyword research, content mapping, content creation, internal linking and much more come into play.
  • Off-page SEO – again the clue is in the name, off-page SEO are all the activities that happen away from your website that help you rank better. The prime example of this is linkbuilding. Links are still a ranking factor.
  • Local SEO – local SEO is aimed at targeting your local audience. While local SEO is a wide area, usually it will contain elements such as managing your Google Business profile(s), focusing efforts on local keywords (for example, SEO agency in Brighton is one of ours) and possibly creating specific location pages (as long as it is needed and not a way to manipulate rankings!)

In my 10+ years of experience, I’ve also found that starting a retainer with a one-off technical SEO audit in particular is a wise move. It allows for a more accurate estimate of the retainer hours. For example, if the audit flags many technical issues we know that we will need to allocate a lot more hours to this in the retainer. The retainer will therefore need to be bigger or we will need to move slower with delivery. 

As an SEO you can also specialise in a particular type, for example, you’ll often see job openings for Technical SEO Managers. 

While I didn’t find any specific research on how this impacts price, anecdotally it can.  Each type of SEO—technical, on-page, off-page, and local—comes with complexities and demands. This can influence pricing. For example, detailed technical audits will usually be conducted by someone with more expertise and will take longer. The same can be applied to on-page SEO. Creating high-quality content can have a higher price tag, again simply because it takes more experience and time. 

Luckily, even a full-service agency should and often does have those skills in the team. You don’t need to hire a specialised agency to benefit from in-depth and quality services. You just need to ask the right questions when picking a provider. 

This leads us to the question: should you only be considering the price in the first place…

Is cost all that matters in SEO?

It matters, but it should never be all that matters. Even if you have a small budget you should be evaluating based on a number of criteria, not just cost. You just might give costs a bit more weighting. Alongside costs we recommend you evaluate based on:

  • How well the proposal fits your brief (what you are looking for, what are your goals…).
  • What the case studies and agency references say
  • The calibre of the proposed team
  • The cultural fit
  • The reporting cadence

Here’s a handy write up on evaluating a digital marketing agency that can be used for SEO as well. It has a template with a weighted score as well to help you move away from simply looking at costs. 

Closing Thoughts on SEO Pricing

Knowing the median price of SEO (as a reminder we placed it  £1,375) can be very helpful. It allows you to estimate the approximate budget you will need, based on what most of the market charges. However, it’s not the full story. 

The actual price of SEO, like many other things in SEO, depends on a number of different factors. We’ve seen the impact elements such as experience, type of provider and understanding the pricing model have on costs. Negotiating or asking for discounts might get you a better deal. But that’s always a risk with a service business. 

What you should definitely not do is ONLY base your decision on who comes in cheaper. 

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