How Much Should SEO Cost Your Nonprofit?

A good SEO program can transform your nonprofit. Google can turn into an endless pipeline sending readers, volunteers, and (most importantly) donors to your site. A strong SEO program can double or triple your online donations, given time; and give you a lot more room in your budget to pursue new ideas and new initiatives.

But there’s always the danger of overpaying for SEO. Especially when SEO pricing varies so dramatically, and anyone can call themselves an SEO ‘expert’. And as the marketing director for a nonprofit, you don’t have a dollar to waste. 

How do you know how much you should be paying for SEO?

My Pricing Philosophy: How Much Should SEO Cost?

I’ll dig deep into the numbers of how much SEO costs in a little bit, but first I wanted to offer a few rules of thumb as someone who a) has been doing SEO full-time for over 6 years and b) works almost exclusively with nonprofits.

1) SEO Shouldn’t Cost An Arm and A Leg

I worked at an SEO agency for 6 years, and the price for my labor went from $100/hr (when I was first starting out as a junior analyst) to $350/hour (when I left as SEO Manager). 

When I set up as a freelancer, I could have charged $150-$200 per hour. I have the experience, and I know I can deliver value at that price point. But I don’t want to just deliver value. I want to deliver so much value, at such an amazing price, that it becomes a no-brainer to work with me. I want your C-level team to not just be happy you hired me, but to be absolutely thrilled because donations are flooding in and the cost was easy to afford.

I charge $60/hour rather than $200/hour because it’s not just about making money; it’s about having a real impact on the world. I know that by lowering my rates, I can serve smaller nonprofits with tighter budgets, and do more of the work that God is calling me to do.

Agencies vs Freelancers

More broadly, I think this is a key area where it may be better to hire a freelancer than an agency. I like and respect the agency model, but it does have a lot of overhead. Agencies need to pay for HR personnel, salespeople, operations managers, and everyone else who keeps the business running but doesn’t actually do SEO. All of that overhead gets filtered down into their costs, which is why marketing and SEO agencies often charge $100-$300 per hour.

SEO costs more when it's done by agencies than by freelancers.

From an excellent ahrefs blog. Agencies on average charge more.

There’s nothing wrong with that when they’re serving the Comcasts and Amazons of the world. But a good freelancer with real credentials can often provide similar value for a fraction of the agency price.

2) SEO Is An Investment, But it Shouldn’t Be A Strain

SEO is an investment, no doubt about that. It’s an investment that can pay off dramatically in the long run, and flood your nonprofit with online donations; but it is an investment. It requires time and money to do right.

But you shouldn’t have to scrape every last dime in your marketing budget together to pay for an SEO provider. If you’re thinking, “maybe we can afford this if we cut our graphic designer, scale back on social media, and…” then that SEO provider probably isn’t for you.

SEO can work wonders, but it’s not guaranteed and it takes time to work well. If you can afford to invest in multiple marketing channels already, SEO might be for you. But if you’re thinking of sinking all your hopes (and dollars) into SEO, don’t.

3) SEO Should Deliver An ROI In 6 Months

The price of SEO should be low enough that it’s a wise investment. SEO is a marketing channel where the gains compound. At month 1, you might not be seeing a return. By month 3, you should be seeing some movement. By month 6, you might be seeing a 100% return. By month 12, you might see a 150% return. And so on.

Your SEO program should be affordable enough that it’s generating a real return within 6 months. SEO needs to pay for itself, and in the nonprofit sector it needs to pay for itself quickly.

That said, SEO can be an incredible channel that can pay for itself many times over, when it’s done right. At my old SEO agency, one of my clients generated a 100:1 return on investment; he paid us $1, and we generated $100 back. His surgical practice had more patients than they knew what to do with by the end, so many that he was considering hiring another surgeon to help with the load.

SEO can flood your nonprofit with qualified visitors who engage, volunteer, and donate. It can open the floodgates, and the importance of a great SEO program cannot be overstated.

But never lose sight of the fact that it needs to justify itself. If you’re looking at hiring an SEO agency for $400/hour, then they need to provide a roadmap to explain how they’re going to make at least $401/hour for your nonprofit within 6-12 months.

Next up, we’ll dive deep into the SEO pricing models.

SEO Pricing Models

There are 4 primary SEO pricing models:

  • Price per hour
  • Price per month
  • Price per project
  • Fixed price
ModelPricing Example
Price Per Hour$150/hr for SEO work of any type
Price Per Month$1500/month for XYZ deliverables
Price Per Project$500 for a technical audit
Fixed Price$0.50/word for copywriting, $250 per link

Price Per Hour

This is the most intuitive pricing structure, because it very clearly ties inputs to outputs. If your SEO provider charges $100/hour and spends 10 hours on (for instance) writing content, you’ll pay $1,000.

Pros: This structure is simple and transparent. You know exactly what you’re paying for.

Cons: You’re paying for inputs, not outputs; which means you need to make sure you’re hiring an ethical SEO provider who’s using your time well. Setting up Google Analytics shouldn’t take 10 hours.

Price Per Month

This is the most common pricing structure, and it’s generally price per hour in different clothes. For instance, I offer SEO packages of $600/month, $1200/month, and $1800/month. And I’m very transparent that each package buys a different number of hours per month of my services, priced at $60/hour.

Pros: The costs are predictable and transparent, which helps with budget forecasting.

Cons: Again you’re often paying for inputs not outputs.

Price Per Project

Some SEOs charge per project; for instance, $500 for a technical audit or $2,000 to help you recover from an algorithmic penalty.

This pricing is more common with technical SEOs, because they clean up the biggest issues on your site and then they’re done.

Pros: You know exactly what you’re paying for. A one-off project also lets you get a feel for the SEO you’ve hired and how you work together, without having to sign a long-term contract. I offer a 2-week SEO content marketing project so I can prove myself to new clients right away, and then once I’ve proved myself we often discuss a month-to-month plan. 

Cons: SEO isn’t one-off, and you’ll generally see the best return on investment from an ongoing SEO campaign rather than one-off projects.

A website with hundreds of thousands of SEO errors. Depending on the severity of these errors, it might cost a lot for an SEO to fix them all.

If your site crawl has 168,562 warnings, a one-off technical audit might be helpful.

Fixed Price

This is essentially price per project, but for multiple/ongoing projects. For example, an SEO could charge $0.50 per word for copywriting, $250 per link built, and $1,500 for a content strategy.

Pros: You know exactly what you’re paying for, and this structure doesn’t require that the SEO work be one-off.

Cons: This can lead to fluctuating budgets; your SEO may cost $2,500 one month and $3,350 next month. That can make budget forecasting difficult. Some SEO providers may cut corners here, too; if you’re paying $250 per link, some links may be less valuable than others as the SEO tries to deliver whatever will get him or her paid.

So, How Much Does SEO Cost?

Ahrefs, an SEO software provider, put together a fantastic blog with data on exactly how much SEO costs, broken down by factors like agencies vs freelancers vs consultancies, time the SEO has been in business, and lots more.

If you want a deep dive into the data, here’s the blog. I’ll leave you with what I see as the key takeaways, so you can get an accurate sense of how much SEO should cost.

– SEO providers who have been in business 2+ years (don’t ever hire an SEO with less than 2 years of experience) charge an average of $2,563.20 per month for their services.

– If you want to pay per hour, SEOs with 2+ years of experience charge over $100/hour on average. SEOs with 2-4 years of experience charge $110.69 per hour on average; that jumps to $118.85 for SEOs with 5–10 years of experience (I fall into this category, though I charge substantially less), and $142.50 for SEOs with 10+ years of experience.

SEO costs more when the person you're hiring has more experience.

– If you want to pay per project, SEOs with 2+ years of experience charge an average of $4,629.59 per project. Take this with a grain of salt, though; because a project can be anything from fixing 404 errors to overseeing a complex site redesign with dozens of moving parts.

In Conclusion: Hiring the Right SEO Provider

What’s more important than how much your SEO provider costs? How much value they provide. A college intern who charges $15/hour is likely to waste your money. On the other hand, if Neil Patel (one of the top SEOs in the world) offered to do SEO for $150 per hour that would be a steal.

A great SEO provider can flood your website with engaged users who read, volunteer, and donate to your cause. SEO can be the best investment your nonprofit has ever made, and can thrill your c-suite by generating so much money that your team can explore new initiatives and expand operations.

Imagine an SEO provider who brought in so many donations that your marketing budget was no longer tighter than an 80-year-old drum, and you could start to invest in “nice-to-haves” like a website redesign and Facebook ads.

I’ve been doing SEO full-time for 6 years, and I’ve racked up a lot of wins for clients. I’ve helped small organizations to generate so much money they planned to hire more senior staff to handle all their new leads. I’m a true believer and I care about helping you succeed.

If you’d like to work together, reach out today.

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