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The real cost of SEO

We always say SEO is free compared to SEA, because you don’t directly have to pay Google, but that doesn’t mean it comes cheap. We’ve often deal with clients that are reluctant to “pay the price” for SEO. After all: “how can I invest such a sum if you can’t guarantee results?”. Well, here’s the thing.

You pay for long-term results for your website

One thing people need to understand is that paying an expert or an agency to do their SEO is investing in the success of their business in the long-term. Unfortunately, I’ve often had to deal with people who want to do SEO, but who are not ready to pay the price. They want the best results but don’t want to spend a dime. 

To me, it’s like trying to replicate a cooking recipe from a chef at home:

  • A chef has that something extra that makes the dish amazing. It’s a combination of choosing the best ingredients, having all the right cooking tools and a shit-ton of experience in the kitchen.
  • Even if you follow the same recipe, the ingredients you buy at the supermarket won’t be top-notch, you don’t have all the right tools in your kitchen (dehydrator, press, blender, dicer…), and maybe you might not even like cooking!

Well, it’s exactly the same thing for SEO. Investing in an expert team to help you deal with your SEO will get you results, because this team will take the time to create a strategy crafted to your needs, and adjust it over time. It is a budget, but the results will be worth it if you have the diligence to stick to it for a few months.

And you know what: even if you think you want to do it yourself, well, you’ll have to pay.

The true cost of SEO

Let’s play with numbers here. Let’s say you think you’re totally capable of running your SEO by yourself, without the help of an expert.

The first thing you might want to do is buy some tools to help you navigate your stats and metrics. Trust me: you’re gonna need them.

Google Search Console and Google Analytics are free, and can give you a large amount of data about your website to use, but they are still limited in the way:

  • They can’t help you do keyword research
  • They can’t help you benchmark your competitors
  • They don’t give you visual graphs and infographics that help you get a better grasp on your SEO reports
  • And obviously, they can’t write SEO content for you, nor fix bugs, nor do external links!

So first, you’ll have to invest in some tools to create your SEO strategy and report.

How much does SEO tools cost?

Here are some of the best tools of the market according to me (I’ve used them all). 

The following tools are used for analyzing your own website and market, doing benchmarks of your competitors and searching for new keywords. 

For the sake of it, let’s say you buy them for a year (you wouldn’t want to do SEO for less than a year anyway):

  • Ahrefs: from 890€ to 8990€/year for their advanced package
  • Semrush: from 1200€ to 4500€/year
  • SEranking: from 372€ to 1812€/ year 

With one of the 3 SEO tools above, you might have a lot of data and features.

But I can also tell you this: one tool is not enough. You usually need to combine 2 or 3 SEO tools to be able to cross-check data and expand your SEO toolbox.

So another tool I use for SEO is Screaming Frog, a fast and advanced crawler tool, used to crawl both small and very large websites. It’s necessary to keep a track of the health of your website. There is a free version, but you’ll find the limits pretty quickly. We pay 200€/year to use it. 

When checking your website’s authority, I like to use Moz or Majestic. It gives good insights about your ranking, your domain authority, backlinks, etc. Here are the prices of those additional tools: 

  • Majestic SEO: from 47€/month to 379€/month
  • Moz: from 99€/month to 600€/month

If we sum up the most affordable options above, you have to pay 1654€/year, and that is really just for basic options from those SEO tools. If you want the best of the best, you’ll have to invest at least 16390€/year!

Of course, we are just talking about tools…You still need to get the job done!

Now, let’s hire some writers…

Content is a huge part of SEO success. To see some results, you’ll have to produce a lot of content, in the shape of blog posts, landing pages, etc. You can choose to do it yourself, but you’ll have to stick to a rhythm and a quality standard to see some progress! And if you’re a business owner, you probably don’t have this time.

So the best option for you is to hire SEO writers.

Please, don’t do what you know dip down will not work: DO NOT work with cheap overseas writers that promise you a lot of content for 0.001$ the word. The content won’t be good anyway, the research will be very poor, and you’ll probably spend more time proofreading their work than writing the piece yourself.

Good SEO writers may charge between 40€ to 150€ per piece of content. Of course, you need a lot of content to rank and for your website to gain keywords. So let’s say you’ll have to spend between 200€ to 1000€ per month to make sure your SEO is running well. Yep, it’s a budget! 

But hey, either you invest in this and have time to run your company, or you decide to do it yourself, but lose a lot of time doing keyword research, background checks on your topic, writing, proofreading, publishing… And as we all know, in business, time is money. 

What about SEO plugins? 

It’s always good to have some SEO plugins directly on your website. Yoast SEO is the plugin we use the most at Wise Creative Agency, because it offers a quite complete SEO overview. We use their free version, but let’s say you want to have the full features.

Cost of SEO plugins (for WordPress):

  • Yoast SEO: 99€/year
  • Rankmath (a competitor which is gaining traction): from 59€ to 500€/year

And I haven’t even talked about link building…

Already sweating seeing all the budget you have to invest to do SEO just by yourself? Wait! I haven’t talked about link building yet.

Even though it might be optional, link building is a great SEO strategy that reinforces your content and technical SEO signals. 

The best link building strategy is to get organic external links, that you don’t pay for. Blogs or media simply give credit to your site by quoting you and placing a link to one of your page. That’s obviously the ultimate goal of every SEO out there, but unfortunately, that doesn’t happen a lot. And most of the time, those links are “no-follow”.

To have “do-follow” links, you usually have to pay the blog owners or media to appear in a sponsored post. And as with all SEO work, there is a lot of work to do before finding the right link: niche search, website verifications, contacts, negotiations… I do this all the time, and link building is probably the SEO strategy that takes the most time, effort, and budget. But the rewards are definitely worth it.

So, what’s the difference between doing SEO by yourself and paying an agency?

Well first, I think that by now, you’ve gotten the point. Even if you want to do SEO by yourself, you’ll still have the pay a lot of different tools and parties to run your SEO strategy and content properly.

With an agency on the other hand, the cost of the tools and link building is included in their monthly fee (at least with us they are!). Not only do they bring the tools, but they also bring their expertise, guidance and of course workforce, to help you have a successful SEO without you spending too much time on it.

I can’t be really objective on this topic, as I run my own SEO agency. But I’ll tell you this secret: running my own SEO projects has always been super hard. They have been hard, time-consuming, and I definitely lost my patience more than once. Every time it went smoother is when I hired people to help me. And I’ve seen the exact same situation with my clients.

In the end, it’s not all about money here. It’s about mindset. Or you get to be picky with your spending, but lose lots of time and probably have a lot of failures before seeing some success, or you choose to dedicate a budget to SEO, and partner with a team that does most of the work for you, has far fewer miss-shots and already has a track record of SEO successes. It’s up to you!