How Much Does SEO Cost?


As is the case with every product or service that you purchase or consider purchasing, it is important and crucial that you find out what it costs on average from a number of different dealers and stores. If you only get one proposal or talk to one company, your chance of getting taken advantage of are extremely high. When talking about pricing and offers it is always a good idea to trust the majority. That isn’t necessarily the case with every decision you make in your life, in fact in a lot of cases you want to do what the majority is not doing. This is one of those rare cases where it is a good idea to trust the masses. If you get proposals from five marketing agencies and all the quotes are similar except for one, it’s usually the case that that particular company is a scam or offer that low of a price because they don’t have any other business and can justify doing so.

SEO Hourly Rate

From California to New York, all the way to India and even the Philippines, you are going to be getting a wide variety of people, skillsets, and hourly rates. For the purpose of this article, let’s toss out the overseas contractors and just talk about companies here in the states. On average, a good company will typically bill you anywhere from $60-$100 per hour. You may be thinking that sounds high, or you may think that sounds low. If you compare that hourly rate against a minimum wage job, yes it is extremely high and absurd. If you are used to dealing with an attorney or doctor that has a billable rate of $250-$500 per hour then SEO companies aren’t charging near enough. With 12 years of experience, we have come to realize that companies that aren’t in this range are usually somebody you don’t want to mess with.

Just knowing the hourly rate alone does not tell you what it is going to cost you personally to get your site up and ranking for the number one spot in Google. Here at Cotton Tree Media, when we sit down to put together a proposal, we are trying to figure out how many hours of our time each month it is going to take to get the job done as quickly as possible. If you don’t know how Google works or are new to the business or the online space it may seem like the best idea would be to put forth as many hours as possible in the first month and hurry and rank. Theoretically, this is how it should be done. Google and Google’s algorithm does not agree and will actually penalize you for trying to game the system. There is definitely a sweet spot between getting things done quickly and being way too aggressive.

Generally speaking, when we put together a marketing strategy for how we are going to take down an industry and help a company rank in the top spot in Google, we are looking at three aspects:

  • Backlinks
  • Content
  • Time

For the most part, this is what Google is looking at when their robots decide which sites should show up first in the SERPS.

We make it a point to look at the competitors online that are ranking on page one for the terms you want to be ranking for. We then look at those same competitors backlink profiles and how many pages of content have been produced on their website. Lastly, we will take a look at how long the said company has been online and live and determine how difficult or job is going to be. That means we will make an educated guess as to how many backlinks we will need to acquire, how many pages of content we will need to produce, and what type of an uphill battle we will be fighting.

With this information, we can accurately estimate how many hours it will take us per month and how many months it will take to start seeing results. As you can probably see by now, this process isn’t just turnkey and requires quite a bit of time and resources. If you can’t get a straight answer from a company on what it will cost and how quickly you will be ranking, it’s definitely a good thing. It just means they are taking time to actually give you an accurate proposal.

Again, as always we encourage you to shop around and get a feel for the SEO and internet marketing industry. Getting your feet wet is the best way to ensure you aren’t going to get taken advantage of.

Don’t Make Enemies With Your Developer


The older you get, the more you begin to realize how much you don’t know.  At a certain point in life, most of us come to realize that there are some fights that are not worth picking.  For those of you reading this that are married, one of those individuals is your spouse.  The consequences and repercussions of picking a fight with the wrong person are as painful as they are time-consuming.  Your spouse is someone that holds too many keys and cards for it to be worth your time.  The person that is equally if not more dangerous to start a fight with is your developer.  If you want to talk about someone that holds all the keys to your business, that’s the one.

Time and time again you will hear us stress the importance of taking your time and vetting out your development company.  When you give someone your username and password to your site, you are essentially giving them the ability to momentarily end your business if something goes sideways.  Regardless of the business, having your site down for any amount of time means money lost.  There are certain businesses that are affected more than others.  Can you imagine an E-Commerce company that’s spent thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars on development, on SEO, and other forms of paid traffic?  Every single dollar that is generated by these companies comes from their website and hundreds and thousands of dollars can be lost even if that site is only down for a few moments.


How To Protect Yourself From Website Disaster

Without beating a dead horse and droning on and on about how important it is that you take caution when selecting your developer, let’s talk about a couple of other actions that can be taken to truly protect and guarantee that you don’t give you developer full access to take down the kingdom.

  • Clone everything
  • Give access to another developer you trust
  • Learn enough to get by


Clone Your Website

We won’t go into the technical instructions on how to clone your website at this time, but we will talk about why it is important to have a clone of your site stored somewhere.  Remember that time back in high school or college when you spent days and nights writing that paper just in time to turn it in before it was late?  Did you ever experience the heartbreak of having your computer stop working or die before you saved the document or before auto-save was ever invented?

Always, always keep a copy of your work.  Yes your website, but everything is better in two’s!

With a clone of your site, you can take more risk and even try some things you normally wouldn’t, knowing that at the very worst you are going to be able to start from you originally began instead of from scratch.


Find Another Developer

This is the toughest of all of the precautions you can take.  Finding a good developer these days is almost impossible, much less finding two that you trust.  If you know someone that is in the software industry or that has had a software product built, ask for a referral.


Learn Your Stuff

We are continually coming back to the concept of knowing at least enough to get by and not get walked all over.  If you know enough to sound like you know your stuff, the chance of you getting stepped on and taken advantage of is a lot slimmer.  There is so much information available right now on the internet for free that there is simply no excuse for you to not know answers.

Carve out an hour each week at the very least and dedicate yourself to building up your skill set and knowledge base so that when you do decide to make enemies with your developer, you are stuck in a bad spot.

Hire an SEO or an Agency?


Have you ever been asked to wash someone else’s car? Maybe your dad, your friend, or even just a co-worker’s? If you really did perform that service for them, compare that wash with the wash you consistently give your own car. Undoubtedly there are a very small portion of individuals out there that are selfless enough to truly care more about others things than their own. For those of you that fit that bill, we commend you and assure you that you are among an elite group. For the rest of us with a selfish tendency or two, the car wash that you give your own vehicle is far superior. There’s no judgment behind cast here, it’s simply human nature. We give more thought and care to those things that we can call ours than we do to the things we cannot.

Instead of saving the punchline for the end, let’s get it over with.

If you have the money to hire an experienced SEO with an excellent track record, that is the right move without question. You are always going to get more attention and a better long-term result by bringing things in-house. We have no data in front of us that proves that at this very moment but we are certain that assumption and statement are backed by data. There are no comparisons for bringing things in-house.

Why would an SEO agency that is always on the hunt for new business, admit that? We are in this for the long haul. We know that short-term money is never exciting and it surely is temporary. It’s more interesting to us to give you correct and truthful information all the time than it is to tell you things that ultimately only benefit us. We believe that what you send out always comes back to you. If our advice means you go and hire someone in-house and we lose the business we were potentially going to get, we are more than okay with that. Ultimately we are going to go down in history as the SEO company that put their own interests and motives aside and truly brought value to their followers and customers.

Hiring an SEO

This topic could and will be a post of its own, but let’s go over a couple of exceptions to the advice we just gave.

Simply hiring someone to do SEO and all your online marketing is not enough. If you make the mistake of hiring the wrong person, even though it’s in-house, you still would have been better off finding an agency. The perks of an agency are you don’t have to provide them with benefits and Christmas bonuses, and firing them isn’t near as personal or painful. The caveat to the advice we’ve given is that you need to know what you are looking for in an SEO. Here at Cotton Tree Media, we stick to hiring young, malleable, and hungry people that show a lot of potential. Due to the fact that we know our stuff and we know what we are looking for, this works for us. We’ve successfully mined some amazing individuals off of college campuses that have paid off tenfold.

One idea you may want to consider when looking to hire an SEO is to hire an agency to find one for you. You will likely be committing to giving the agency a chunk of money for making the arrangement happen, but you greatly mitigate your risk.

Take your time, be humble and ask for second and third opinions on this new hire, and don’t be afraid to spend a little bit of money to get the right person for the job.