Chapter 4

SEO Costs

Your SEO results influence the return half of ROI. The investment half is driven by your SEO costs. Some of these costs are direct and obvious. Others are indirect and hidden.
SEO Costs


The above is an overview of some of the most common costs associated to SEO, but they can still be nebulous and hard to track down.

In this chapter we'll go in depth on each primary SEO cost a typical SEO project will incur and how to track or even proactively plan against these costs to forecast your potential SEO ROI before starting.

Let’s break down some of the expense items which can figure into your SEO budget.

Cost of SEO Tools

Effective SEO depends on a technology investment in tools which enable you to evaluate keywords and track the performance of your campaigns. Some tools have freemium options, but these have limited value for SEO professionals. Doing SEO professionally at any scale requires an investment in suitable tools.

Ahrefs is our preferred tool for content ideation alongside keyword research, and even for link building estimates to figure out how best to compete against the current incumbents in the rankings you’re trying to outshine. There are many tools that actually can scratch this itch but our favorite is Ahrefs and it works well for our workflows. Most plans have a trial period you can test out - which we recommend - but the Standard plan on their pricing page at $179/month should work for most businesses to solve the need we have in this guide.

Cost of Content Creation

SEO campaigns depend on quality content containing target keywords. This can involve directly or indirectly paying a number of categories of content creators, including chief content officers, content managers, writers, editors, graphic designers, videographers, content promoters and other content team members. Content creation can be one of the most expensive parts of SEO campaigns but it is also one of the most vital. 

Generally writers that you would commission for content creation would also charge on a per word basis - so you can establish a good cost per word count cadence that you can apply to any new content goals you have - judging the word count needed based on what is currently ranking in the search engines for those keywords. For example if a writer charges $.25 cents per word (which would typically be a good price for a very solid top 75 percentile writer) and you know that the current content that is ranking for a keyword is 2000 words and you want to try to overshoot that by ~500 words you will have to produce a ~2500 word article which would make the base cost of that article be $625 before factoring in your team’s time ideating, targeting that content with proper keywords, outlining the content that needs to be written, editing the content after it has been produced to make sure it is aligned properly with your brand’s voice and tone - and then publishing that article and promoting it.

Cost of Link Building

To be effective for SEO, content creation must be followed up with link building. This involves paying for practices such as reaching out to business partners, guest blogging and link reclamation. All of this incurs additional expense. This is absolutely vital for larger pieces of content to rank especially in competitive industries. Luckily this is one of the easiest costs to track in association to the effect it has on the pages you’re building links to.

Generally this is a cost average of the manual effort it takes to have a link placed. So if you are building links via outreach to blogs to get editorial links placed or guest blogs published (which house links to your resources) you should average the total time, and cost of that time, to the amount of links built. For example if you have an employee or contractor who is performing this outreach and their hourly rate is $25/hour and it takes them 100 hours to get 5 links placed on quality sites you have an average cost per link of $500 - assuming you didn’t also have to get content produced to place on those sites in the instance of a guest blog contribution.

We prefer to focus on editorial content links because in our experience it’s the easiest to scale, the most straight-forward in the approach, allows additional context relevance behind the link (which is important to Google, and helps rankings even more). 

Cost of Development Resources for Site Updates

When you add content to your site, your web development team needs to update your site. As time goes on, ongoing maintenance may be required to keep your content up-to-date with changes to your site. For example, redirects may need to be deployed to avoid broken links. Updating templates for pillar content pieces, or other parts of our recommended 4-Part Framework are also things to consider when thinking of the cost of developmental resources. 

Costs associated with these types of development updates add to the initial cost of your SEO. This isn’t something that will play directly into our SEO ROI Calculator in the next chapter but it is something to consider for your overall larger SEO goals as time goes on. 

Cost of Time and Agency Retainers

Last but not least, SEO incurs costs for marketing labor. Whether this involves paying your in-house team, paying by time or paying an agency on retainer, the expense adds to the cost of your SEO investment. When we perform our own SEO ROI calculator for our own clients or prospective clients in our sales process we factor in our agency costs to their SEO ROI calculation, and use the content costs, link costs, and timelines that we know we’re able to operate against to plan out their SEO ROI as accurately as possible as it pertains to our processes. The difficult part of using our SEO ROI Calculator for yourself is that you will have to use the costs and time associated with the processes you’ve created, and we can’t really give you that information directly - only how to obtain it.

Simply effective marketing.