How to Charge For SEO – A Bullshit Free Guide

One of the very first questions I asked myself when I started my own SEO business was, “How much do I charge?”

If you’re just getting started you might be asking yourself similar questions.

What’s a fair rate?

What’s everyone else charging?

Do I charge fixed pricing monthly, per hour, or per project?

Do I just do what everyone else is doing?

Should I start out cheap?

What If I’m too expensive?

Look, if you’re not sure, you’re bound to have plenty of questions, which I’ll answer in just a moment, but before getting into it, I want to touch on a few things because there’s quite a bit to consider.

SEO pricing is a sensitive subject

For whatever reason, when it comes to pricing and how to charge for SEO, arguments within the SEO community are pretty common.

I’ve seen it plenty of times in various groups and forums over the years, with heated discussions and disagreements around how best to charge. As if we didn’t have enough to argue about already, pricing simply adds to it.

Unfortunately however, it’s pretty common, and each time I see someone asking the question, I can’t help but think “Here we go again”.

I think the reason for this is because, it seems everyone charges differently. I’ve seen people charging a monthly retainer, hourly, per project, commission based – even comparitively against what it might cost for PPC. I’ve seen it done plenty of ways, some I’ve tried, most I haven’t.

It gets messy because everyone seems to do it their own way, and of course that way (when challenged) is when the arguments start.

  • “Fuck off, you don’t know what you’re talking about”
  • “Your way makes no sense whatsoever”
  • “I’m not charging that way, that’s for losers”
  • “The way I charge is the best way to do it”
  • “Hourly? I may as well get a job”

…and so on.

So before you ask this question in a public group, be sure to put your gloves on.

Bullshit sound bites and other silly catch phrases

One thing that shits me no end, are people that like to throw around sound bites and silly catch phrases in order to sound clever.

I’m talking about people working in this industry that run around the internet saying “Sell value man”, or “Don’t exchange time for money”, and all of this sort of nonsense.

It might sound intriguing, but it usually lacks any form of substance, and in most cases can’t be backed up with context.

Look, I’m all for having an open mind and learning new methods, but what I’m not for is meaningless advice.

Here’s a just a few to demonstrate.

Don’t exchange time for money

This is one that gets thrown around a lot, and whilst it sounds wonderful, for most of us that are providing a done for you service, it’s nothing more than a fanciful ideology that attracts a certain thinking around passive income.

Now before you throw eggs, I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with this approach – infact I’m all for it, and to be honest, I work this model a LOT within my own business, as well as other projects that I’m involved in. All I’m saying is that there needs to be some caution around how this advice is given – especially for newcomers to the industry.

I see a lot of SEO consultants take on the approach of, “Get client, charge a lot, then just outsource everything while you lay on the beach all day”

This often turns into a shit show, with lazy SEO, negative reviews, and a constant churn and burn of low end clients.

Again, just to clarify – I’m all for leveraging your time and maximizing your earnings, but for the vast majority of SEO consultants this isn’t how it works at all. Most that I know of, work their faces off.

Whether it’s you doing the work, or your team, managing an SEO campaign takes time.

I’ll touch on this more in just a moment.

Sell value

Look, I get it – focus on the value you’re offering. Not the price.

I get it.

But it doesn’t really answer the question does it?

How much do you charge ….”Don’t worry about that, I have so much value!”

If you’re providing a done for you service like SEO, then of course you should be providing value. If you aren’t then somethings wrong, and you should probably be doing something else.

Sure, sell value, but don’t fuck prospects around when they ask – “How much do you charge?”

As John McEnroe once said ….”Answer the question, Jerk!”

Charging hourly limits your income

I might be showing my hand somewhat here, but this is another argument put forth around pricing for SEO, and it’s simply not true.

Of course if you’re the only one in your business doing all the work, then yes of course, charging hourly will limit your income – but that won’t be the only limitation.

You’ll have limitations everywhere, in every area of your business.

Resources, time, income, money, client capacity etc etc.

I talk about this in great detail within the training – hiring, building a team, project managing etc.

Charging hourly isn’t the limitation, YOU are the limitation.

More on this in a moment.

Be transparent with your pricing

One thing that kind of annoys me in this industry is the lack of transparency around pricing. I understand why a lot of agencies do it, but is it the right approach?

I don’t know, I’m still undecided on this one.

For me, I show my rates openly on my site.

I do this because I don’t want to be fucking around on the phone all day every day with time wasters. If someone calls me, then I’m pretty certain that I won’t be asked the usual bullshit….”How much do you charge?”

Those conversations do my head in, and it was the very reason why I opted to put my prices up on my website. Needless to say, it stopped that crap immediately, and for those that might be thinking “Well, you’ve just lost out on a potential customer because they know what your rates are without being able to demonstrate value”, then those people probably aren’t my ideal clients anyway – especially if their entire decision is based upon price alone.

Having said that, I understand that most SEO agencies, freelancers and consultants are completely opposed to this idea.

I think its simply because at the very least want to start a discussion.

They want to demonstrate expertise, show results, answer potential concerns, build trust and work prospects through their sales process.

Totally get it.

I want to do those things too – I just don’t want to do it after I’ve had to justify my prices.

Again, I think this is a personal decision, but I still get great clients, and I’ve certainly saved myself a shit load of time on wasted calls with idiots wanting SEO for $300 a month.

TIP – A good work around if you’re not keen on showing your prices is to provide a drop down that captures a range within your enquiry forms. ($1,000-$2,000 / $2,500-$4,000) etc. I’ve seen this method work well for a number of other SEO consultants.

You’re too expensive

Being told you’re too expensive can be worrying. And it might even trigger a reactionary response – “Shit, I need to drop my prices”

But before you do that, don’t – because you may not need to.

Let me share a quick story with you.

When I first started out, I decided to set my prices at $1,000 a month.

I figured that was a nice, even number that I was comfortable with. It was also a figure that would allow me to get a fair amount of work done each month and make a reasonable amount of profit – so I went for it.

Here’s where it almost came undone.

As I’d just started out, I was keen to get myself some clients. Everywhere I turned I had people giving me that advice you seem to see everywhere – “Go to some meetups, network with other business owners, get out there amongst the people”.

Seemed harmless enough, so I did.

I printed out some business cards, put on my lucky socks and starting attending as many business networking groups and meetups as I could. Again, I figured this would be the best way to get my foot in the door, network, meet some people and land some paying clients.

As it turned out, I did actually land a couple of clients which was great, but it wasn’t without some uncertainty and frustration.

Almost every person that I spoke to told me that I was too expensive.

I was told –

  • “John, no one can afford $1,000 a month”
  • “Yeah good luck with those rates, I think you’ll need it”
  • “I’d love to get your help but I just can’t afford you”
  • “$1,000? Mate, you’re dreaming”

That was depressing, because it put a lot of doubt in my mind, and when you’re just starting out, doubt is the last fucking thing you need.

So what did I do?

I put my fucking prices up.

That’s right.

I got back to the office and said “Fuck this, I’m putting my prices up to $1,500 a month”

And guess what happened?

I got a client. Then another client, then another, and before I knew it I had 10 clients, all paying me $1,500 a month.

So what happened?

I was attending small business networking events. My pricing was fine – but my audience was wrong.

That’s something you need to be very mindful of.

You probably won’t sell a $300,000 Bentley to someone running a hot dog stand, but you certainly can to a CEO running a $50M a year business.

Know who your target audience is because that will have a tremendous impact on what you charge.

Common mistakes I see when it comes to pricing

Before I show you what I do, I want to cover a few pricing strategies that I’ve seen and why most of them just don’t work.

Let’s start with the most obvious one.

Not charging enough

This is definitely the biggest problem I find most freelancers and consultants are making in this space and it’s usually always for the same reasons –

  • They don’t know what the fuck they’re doing
  • They’re desperate for money
  • They’re scared of losing prospects, so they drop their price

I can tell you right now that if you’re only charging a small fee (a few hundred dollars a month) then you don’t stand a fucking chance. You’re going to be jumping from one client to the next, constantly trying to pay the rent, OR you’re going to be running some churn and burn operation – breaking websites and ruining businesses in the process.

Or worse still, dealing with crazy clients that spend the least amount of money, but make the most amount of noise.

I talk in great detail within the training about pricing, rates and how to charge – so consider registering for that before you sign another “client” up at $300 a month.

Charging too much

I don’t usually complain when I see freelancers being confident with their pricing – but what I do have a problem with are inexperienced consultants throwing around big numbers.

I’ve seen people with absolutely no experience at all who are completely new to the SEO industry, slap up a website, then list ludicrous pricing such as $5,000, or $10,000 a month.

This might make sense for established large scale agencies with a team of experts, who might be targeting large brands or working in incredibly competitive markets, but for some kid working from home on a $600 laptop its just ridiculous.

I’ve seen SEO’s charge amounts like this, only to ask “What do I do now” in Facebook groups once the client has signed up.

Horrible.

Working for a discounted rate or free

You’d be surprised how many coaching calls I’ve had where my students have said something like “Yeah, I don’t normally factor that in to my rates”, or “I just do that quickly because it doesn’t take long”, or “I probably shouldn’t but I don’t charge my clients for that”.

What you need to be mindful of is that while you’re doing all these “favors” your bank account is going backwards.

You’ll eventually destroy your own business while you’re saving everyone elses.

There may be the odd exception, but in most cases, you should never be working for free, and you should always avoid giving discounts, “Out of being nice”.

That shit never ends well.

Doing what everyone else is doing

This is definitely what I see most.

SEO consultants simply doing what every one else is doing – because that what everyone else does.

They set their rates the same as everyone else without actually thinking about why.

“I charge $2,000 a month”, but don’t know why.

Worse still, they don’t know how to quantify that, outline deliverables or explain it to the client.

Inability to explain to the client what they’re actually getting

This is, without a doubt, the biggest problem I see SEO’s having in terms of pricing and rates.

There’s a complete inability to explain to the client what they’re paying for, and what they’re actually getting out of their monthly investment. I’ve asked plenty of my students this question, and the responses are always vague, confusing and empty.

  • “We might build some backlinks”
  • “We might do some keyword research”
  • “We tweak title tags, and so some onpage”

Who gives a shit.

It’s not structured, and it makes no sense at all.

If you can’t answer this question clearly then how the fuck is the client going to make any sense of it?

How I charge

Alright, enough of that nonsense, let me show you how I charge for SEO.

I want to preface this by saying I’ve tried lots of different methods over the years, and this is one that I have settled on.

It’s simple, it works, and it’s allowed me to make more than half a million dollars in revenue, year after year, working from home in my underpants.

You ready?

I charge hourly, but I tie it in with the monthly retainer model.

In other words, I charge an hourly rate of $175 an hour for a minimum of 20 hours per month, which equates to $3,500 per month.

Let me break it down for you and show you why this works so well.

Clients can fucking understand it

Lets face it, a large number of businesses charge an hourly rate. Plumbers, electricians, lawyers, furniture removalists.

The list goes on and on.

Breaking down my fees into an hourly rate is something that business owners can understand, without me rambling on for an hour trying to explain it.

Charging hourly, frames my time

This reason in particular is fantastic, because unlike most SEO’s, I know that once I do my 20 hours, I stop. I’m not just working randomly. A bit here, 2 hours there, a day here, another few hours there. It’s structured. I know exactly how many hours to put in, and once I’ve reached those hours – I stop.

A large number of SEO consultants don’t do this and in one case, when questioning a student, we calculated that for the time he had spent on one of his clients campaigns, he’d been working for $8 an hour.

It’s quantifiable

Unlike throwing a random number at a client and hoping they don’t ask me what they’re paying for, I can easily demonstrate what I’ve done each month. I do this by presenting the client with a complete breakdown of work performed for those hours in a work summary sheet.

Yes, that’s right. A complete break down.

Too many SEO consultants in this industry want to charge $5,000 a month and do 20 minutes of work.

I think that’s unethical, so I make a point of itemizing tasks within the work summary sheet so clients can see exactly what we’ve done, and where their money is being spent.

PS – I don’t break it down into micro tasks, and I don’t add a timestamp against each task either. I just present the client with something meaningful that helps them understand what we’ve done within the allocated timeframe.

I can upsell the shit out of it

Guess what one of the most frequently asked questions is when onboarding a new client?

“How can we get faster results?”

My response to this is easy.

“I can do the minimum 20 hours per month, or I can do more. The more hours you invest, the more work my team can get done. The more work we get done, the faster you’ll see results”

I’ve had plenty of clients come onboard then double down on their hours.

It’s perfect.

It will help your retention rates

Just about every client I’ve picked up over the years has said to me –

“John we’ve been paying this other company $2,000 a month, and we had no idea what they were doing”

When clients can see what they’re actually getting. What they’re paying for, they’ll be over the moon.

I’ve sent work summary sheets to clients and they’ve said “Shit John, this is a lot of work, thank you”, or “I wish we had of found you 5 years ago”.

This helps you in so many ways –

  • They’ll keep throwing money at you
  • They’ll stick around long term
  • They’ll send you great referrals
  • They’ll up the hours

But most importantly of all, they’ll have confidence in knowing that they’re not wasting money, and work is actually being done and you’re not just fucking around.

Before you post an angry comment

Now this is the part where other SEO consultants scroll down the page and post angry comments.

Before you do that, let me just say this…

I might be charging an hourly rate, but I’m not the one doing the work.

I’m not sitting here for hours on end doing everything.

I have a team.

I know that while I’m sitting at the cafe that I might be making $1,500 an hour.

It’s not rocket science, its business sense 101.

The only way this method fails is if you’re the one sitting there doing all the work.

Don’t do that.

So what should you charge?

The way you charge, and how much you charge is entirely up to you.

By no means am I saying “It’s my way or the highway”, all I’m saying is put some thought into the way you’re pricing your services, and see if it actually makes sense.

It’s easy to just do what everyone else does without thinking it through.

Have a think about how you’re charging now and perhaps ask yourself –

  • How many hours are we spending on our campaigns each month?
  • Do new prospects understand our pricing when we pitch?
  • Can we clearly explain to them what they’re getting and what we’ll be doing?
  • Do our clients have any idea what they’re paying for?

If you’re not sure then it might be time to review how you charge.

Final say

I understand that people work in different ways and there’s nothing wrong with using a different pricing strategy so long as you’re providing value and not doing shit work. One thing that does annoy me though are people that carry on in forums and business networking events that will say “Oh, you’re selling time for money, that’s stupid”

Well guess what? That’s how most service based businesses work.

As usual, if you think I’m wrong and you want to punch me in the face, then let’s get it on in the comments. Otherwise, please share this with your mum on social media and tell her how wonderful I am.

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We respect your privacy.