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How much should SMEs pay for SEO?

Meeting a wide array of SME business owners and marketing managers on a daily basis, I’ve come to realise there are ultimately a series of core questions everyone is asking when they meet a search marketing agency. In this article, I’d like to give an overview as to how we as an agency would come to that decision for your business.

You’re probably familiar with asking the following questions:

“How long does SEO take to be effective?”

“How many hours do I need to spend on SEO?”

“How much money should I spend on SEO?”

The answer you’re probably getting back is; “depends on what you’re trying to achieve.”

As a small business, we understand this answer can be really frustrating. You know your site needs SEO. But you don’t really understand it. You don’t want to. It’s less than 5% of your job. And you don’t have the time to learn it, let alone do it.

It’s important to remember there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ for SEO. Instead, it depends on a whole variety of factors, which I’ll chat you through now.

So, how much should you be spending on SEO?

You need to do your research, as you will find out and as with most professions and services, you pay for what you get. It stands to reason that if you are only willing to pay a few hundred pounds a month but want to compete against businesses that are spending thousands, then your impact on the industry would be less.

But what do you research and how do you get this information?

A good agency should be able to tell you how “strong” your site is for what you are trying to achieve and just how good you are versus the competition.

Let’s say you’re a small women’s clothing shop selling mid to high end branded labels. Your in store customer base is steady, your customer service is flawless and your comfortable. But your website is doing nothing.

You know your best lines in store. You know your strongest margin products. But they aren’t performing online. Imagine one of these lines is a “Ted Baker Maggyy Ottoman Blazer”. You are competitive on price and have some great photos of the product on the model and off.

ted baker

So this is going to be your target for a test. 

From an agencies point of view, they should be able to tell you, based on the technical structure and authority of your site, just how achievable this is.

Being realistic is key.

Ted Baker is a well-known brand sold by thousands of other big name stores. So is there an opportunity based on the target product and the “health” of your site versus the competition?

By making some assumptions, I’m going to take you through some avenues that would help answer that question.

Is there demand?

There has to be enough traffic available to justify your investment. Finding out the potential volume of traffic available based on your target search terms and related phrases will help justify “effort versus reward”.

Enter keywords variants and respective search volumes. This can be achieved in a manner of ways, but the most recognised and used (we use this method in conjunction with others) is Google’s Keyword Planner.

The next step is to find out how your site ranks for these search terms and what the competition looks like.

We’re lucky enough to have a wealth of tools at our disposal and one of our favourites for carrying out this type of task is Pi Datametrics. This is a great paid tool but there are free options including Rank Scanner, serps.com, and Rank Tank.

We can now start to determine what is achievable based on the information gathered.

search terms

If you don’t rank for any of the search terms in the top 100 results, then there is a lot of work to be done and your investment would need to reflect that.

If you ranked on average on page 4 (results 31-40), assuming that your site is technically sound, some relatively straightforward amends could be made to improve your rankings.

What else can you do?

Optimising title tags, header tags, product descriptions and schema markup would help. In addition to this, creating some relevant blog content will assist, as will reviews, videos and some PR.

But each part all requires time, as well as expertise. All of this will be reflected in the budget you would need available to tick off as many of these examples as you’d want. What an agency should be able to do is make some forecasts based on a few data points that will estimate what impact these changes could have and ultimately, what return you could expect.

NB: to be clear: there are no guarantees with SEO (or most other digital channels, due to changing algorithms (Google) and no control over what the competition are doing). But with careful logic and past experience, an estimated ROI is achievable.


How do you work it out?

  • Available traffic per month
  • Average site conversion (can take industry standard of 2%)
  • Average order value
  • Estimate either % traffic increase OR increase CTR based on achieving new average position

This will give you an indication of estimated traffic and revenue increases.The agency should then be able to tell you roughly how many hours they feel it would take to achieve those results.

It’s worth pointing out: Page one is where all the traffic is. If your website is ranking nowhere and you want to get to page one, there’s a lot involved, especially for such a competitive brand as Ted Baker.

If you’re ranked on page 2 or 3, sometimes it’s easier to get you on page one than it is to get from position 9 to 3.

Choosing the right agency

The possibilities of SEO are huge and taking into account all digital channels, the options are endless. A good agency will be able to guide you through what’s possible and what can be achieved for the investment you feel comfortable with.

Many agencies should be able to offer project based pricing, which comes with less commitment for you, the business owner. Sort of like a “try is first” method.

Being able to read reviews or testimonials on the agency will always help with making a decision.

Some things to consider:

  • Check out who the agency has worked with
  • Are there businesses similar to yours?
  • Can you get in touch with any of them to ask further questions?
  • Does the agency have case studies with results?

So if you have spoken to an agency before and asked them “How much will SEO cost me?” The answer will usually be “It depends….”

But hopefully, this little insight will give a better understanding of why the answer always begins that way!

If you do have any further questions or would like a free of charge proposal put together to provide some recommendations for you, simply get in touch and one of our search marketing experts will come back to you as soon as they can.

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