There is little debate as to whether or not SEO should play a major role in a brand's long-term digital strategy. With so many brands and publishers creating content, and websites competing for attention, it's imperative to make sure your business appears close to the top of relevant searches. Nearly every business knows it's not if they are going to spend on SEO, its how much?
How Much Should I Budget Monthly?
The first step is determining your overall digital marketing budget, and from there what percentage should be dedicated to SEO should be based on how important it is to your business. If you are a newer business you may need to spend more to ramp up your online presence, while older businesses with great rankings may only need a level of maintenance. If your site has technical issues that are causing SEO problems you may want to devote a larger share of your marketing budget to SEO.
Remember, because Google values quality and usefulness when considering page rank, content creation should be part of your SEO budget to really see results. If you include content marketing with SEO spend, it can make up as much as 50% of a digital marketing budget. And the more you devote to SEO and content creation, the faster you should be able to expect results.
Once you have an overall SEO budget you can break it down into monthly spend, which can help determine if you need to hire someone in-house or outsource the work to an agency. If your monthly budget for SEO is a few thousand dollars a month, and you don't want to take on the costs of hiring and training, you may look to outsource to an agency. If your budgets are fairly large, you should consider taking the work on internally with dedicated resources to manage, particularly if you are targeting a larger audience whose interests change regularly.
In general, you should look to spend at least a few thousand dollars a month, even for a small business. This should get you a minimum threshold of quality content and allow you to stay competitive.
If you really don't have an SEO budget, or it's really small, say a few hundred dollars a month, consider doing the SEO work yourself because you won't be able to afford to pay someone. Luckily, there are many tools and resources online to get you started if you don't already have the expertise.
How Much Should I Budget for In-House Work?
According to online sources, the average search engine optimization manager working full time would run around $65k a year, varying based on experience. If you want to ensure you're bringing on someone with 5-8 years experience, you're looking at $75k plus, and if you're looking at someone at the director level, with around 10 years of experience, that could be upwards of $100k —and where the cost of living is higher, expect to pay more. Don't forget to include the costs of added benefits and potential for bonuses for these employees as well.
A big consideration when hiring in-house is to ensure the compensation reflects a combination of experience and company need. So a small retail store with a single location that hires a full time SEO resource with 10 years experience shouldn't expect to pay that person $100k, where a public company that hires a person with the same level of experience, but has multiple brands that need SEO management across corporate divisions, should expect to fork out a higher salary.
It's also important to note that hiring a single employee will likely not be enough to build a robust, long-term SEO program so your SEO investment should include a plan to develop alarge enough team to meet your needs. This usually requires a team of two to three individuals, who typically have differing skill sets; thus the cost of recruiting a quality in-house team can easily run from $200,000 per year to more than $300,000 per year for a more expert team.
How Much Should I Budget to Outsource Work?
If you've decided you can't take on the work in-house, look to outsource SEO to an agency or to independent consultants.
Independent SEO consultants typically charge between $80 - $190 per hour, based on experience. Only consider going with an independent SEO consultant if you have some level of marketing professionals on staff that can help manage long-term SEO strategies and understand results.
More often you'll look for an agency to outsource SEO and the amount that you pay depends on the size of your business and the extent of services provided by the agency. Local SEO agency contracts can range from $3,500-5,000/m over an initial nine to twelve month period, with a reduction expected after this initial term, as the workload to maintain and continuously grow rankings will reduce. Long-term local rates are usually in the $2,000-3,000/mo range. On a national level, SEO contracts range from $4,000 - $7,500/mo over the initial nine to twelve month period, with the reduced long-term rates to be expected at around $3,000-5,000/mo.
Keep in mind, one of the biggest variables in your SEO success isn't related to how much you spend, but rather, how you spend the money. A $1,000 budget that's wasted on low-quality content and obsolete strategies is worthless, but $1,000 spent on a single piece of valuable, quality content, can give your business the boost it needs. So regardless of who you are spending it with, make sure your SEO budget is spent with people who know what they're doing and are committed to giving you the best possible ROI.
About the Author: In 2008, Jack Ogilvie co-founded Techwood Consulting, where he currently manages technical services, business development, and special projects / strategic accounts from the company's Atlanta headquarters. Jack holds a BS in Electrical Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology.