An SEO budget includes costs for tools, services, and content creation. It can range $500-$10,000+ each month depending on your goals. Learn how to calculate and plan an optimal SEO budget for your site to drive real results.
Here, you’ll find:
- How to budget for SEO
- What are essential SEO costs?
- SEO budget calculator
- Can you do SEO on a small budget?
- How to measure the ROI of SEO
The average business spends $500 to $10,000+ per month on search engine optimization (SEO). Because this range is so massive, figuring out what’s best for your business isn’t always easy.
Should you budget tens of thousands of dollars per month? Or can you spend a few hundred dollars per month and still meet your business goals and stay ahead of the competition?
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about setting an SEO budget. By the end, you’ll get a list of non-negotiable SEO costs, know the downsides of underspending, and learn key steps to set SEO budgets.
How to budget for SEO
To create a realistic SEO budget plan, you can’t pull a number out of thin air. Follow the five steps below to create your own custom SEO budget calculator.
1. Consider your digital marketing budget
For most businesses, SEO is one of several channels that boost visibility and promote products and services. To decide how much to spend on SEO, look at your digital marketing budget.
For instance, your primary channels may include SEO, email marketing, social media marketing, search ads (i.e., PPC or Google ads), and paid social (i.e., Facebook ads and LinkedIn ads). Review how you distribute your budget across these marketing channels and compare how well they perform.
As an example, say you allocate half your marketing spend to social media. However, this channel drives only 10% of total revenue. In contrast, say 10% of the budget goes to organic search, which drives about 50% of revenue.
In that case, it would make sense to rebalance your budget and spend more on search engine marketing (SEM). With a smaller social media budget and a larger SEO or SEM budget, you could increase the results that matter (i.e., traffic and revenue) exponentially.
2. Set goals for your SEO strategy
There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all SEO strategy. The right amount to set aside for SEO depends a lot on what your team ultimately wants to accomplish and how close you are to reaching those goals.
For example, say your site gets about 1,000 organic clicks per month. To reach your lead generation and sales numbers, you need 5,000 organic clicks per month. That means you need to increase organic traffic by 5x.
In that case, consider allocating more SEO spend. In contrast, if you were only 500 clicks per month away from your traffic goals, you could plan to spend much less on organic search.
Also, remember your success with SEO depends on more than your efforts. Your industry and competitors affect your outcomes and the optimal amount to spend.
For example, if you’re in a highly competitive space with better-known brands, you may need a bigger budget. Creating the same amount of content or building a similar number of backlinks as a long-established brand tends to require more time and more budget.
“The biggest mistake companies make when budgeting for SEO is that they don’t do niche analysis and competitor analysis, and don’t fully understand what budget they need,” explains Dmytro Sokhach, CEO and co-founder of Admix Global and Editorial.Link.
“I recommend analyzing your competitors first. As an example, say your main competitor has one thousand backlinks. It seems like too many to compete with them,” continues Sokhach.
“But if you spend more time analyzing your competitors, you may find out that from 1,000 links, only 150-200 provide value. So, you can understand that you need about 200 quality backlinks to reach your top competitors.”
3. Create an SEO marketing timeline
After clarifying a goal to guide your SEO efforts, think about the timeline for your strategy. With a time frame, you can set deadlines, map out milestones, and allocate SEO budget more effectively.
For example, do you need to achieve key marketing goals by the end of this quarter? Or do you anticipate planning a yearlong SEO and content marketing push?
Keep in mind: short-term SEO campaigns can make a measurable impact. However, SEO typically requires a long-term investment to account for ongoing optimization and content production.
As a general rule, businesses serious about SEO work should plan to commit for at least six to 12 months. After this initial period, revisit both strategy and budget.
4. Know your SEO software costs
In most cases, you can split organic search costs into two categories: software and services. Compared to services, software is a much smaller portion of the typical SEO budget per month.
How much should you budget for software? On average, tools for managing SEO and content start around $150 to $600 per month. For a large marketing team, enterprise tools may start at $1,000 or more per month.
Below, we’ll cover specific types of SEO software to consider. But if you hire a search engine marketing agency like HawkSEM to manage organic search, you won’t need to spend as much on software.
Instead, your SEO company or provider will manage the software on your behalf. So if you opt for managed SEO, software may not be a line item in your budget.
5. Factor in service costs
SEO services are likely to be a major factor in any SEO budget proposal. From keyword research to content creation to link building, SEO requires a lot of manual work that isn’t possible with software alone.
How much should you budget for SEO services? If you outsource, plan to spend at least $500 and up to $10,000 per month. If you intend to manage SEO in-house, consider the time your employees will spend on training and tasks, then multiply by their hourly rate. And let’s not forget the benefits you’ll have to pay your workers.
“At Survicate, we take an all-hands-on-deck approach to SEO,” shares Kamil Rejent, CEO at Survicate. “Everyone, from front-end developers to content writers and marketers, is familiar with SEO practices and incorporates them into their daily work. We ensure there’s a budget for comprehensive SEO training for all relevant employees.”
In some cases, keeping your marketing in-house can be more affordable. However, contractors and agencies generally offer either project-based or hourly SEO pricing so costs are predictable.
What are essential SEO costs?
Successful SEO campaigns require a long list of software and services. But which line items are truly essential? Take the following software and service costs into account.
1. SEO software
Most software budgets include two categories: tools for SEO and content management.
2. SEO tools
You can purchase separate subscriptions for individual SEO tools. However, you’ll save time and money with an all-in-one SEO tool. These tools support keyword research, rank tracking, competitive research, and more:
As an all-in-one SEO toolset, Ahrefs has a site audit, a keyword explorer, a rank tracker, and a competitive research tool. Subscriptions start at $99 per month.
Moz has a similar toolset, with keyword research, backlink checker, and rank tracking tool. Moz also offers a dedicated tool for local SEO. Subscriptions for Moz Pro start at $99 per month.
Semrush is a complete SEO and content marketing platform. In addition to competitor research, keyword research, and backlink tools, it has a suite of writing and content optimization tools. Subscriptions start at $129.95 per month.
3. Content management tools
If you work with a limited SEO budget, you can manage content with free tools like Google Docs and Google Sheets. Paid content management tools allow you to manage content audits, plan content production, and handle internal linking more efficiently:
Letterdrop is a content marketing hub for B2B marketers that can optimize content for search and manage internal linking automatically. Contact sales for subscription pricing.
A content marketing suite, StoryChief helps teams create optimized content and track performance across channels. Subscriptions start at $80 per month.
4. SEO services
Unlike SEO software, SEO services aren’t one-size-fits-all. Several listed below are one-off services, while others require ongoing investments. See our SEO pricing breakdown for more details on package costs.
5. SEO or content audit
An SEO or content audit is often the first step when you invest in SEO. Before you do, establish a performance baseline, identify problems that need to be addressed, and set SEO goals.
6. Content strategy
Most SEO strategies focus on creating content that ranks at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs). But before you write and publish, create a roadmap. A content marketing strategy uses audience and competitive research to plan content.
7. Content creation
While the two SEO services above are one-time or annual line items, content creation requires an ongoing investment. In most cases, your content strategy dictates how often to publish — which affects the cost of content creation.
8. Link building
Backlinks signal high-quality content and increase site authority, making link building an essential line item. Like content, link building is a long-term investment that requires ongoing research and outreach.
9. On-page SEO
Most SEO professionals offer on-page SEO on a monthly basis. This process includes small changes — like optimizing title tags and adding internal links — that can make a big difference in your site’s rankings.
10. Technical SEO
Creating a good user experience on your website is essential for SEO. Technical SEO packages typically include page speed optimization, website structure updates, and addressing duplicate content issues.
11. Local SEO
For business owners and companies that serve specific regions, local SEO is essential. Most local SEO packages include local keyword research, content creation for your service area, optimizing your Google Business Profile, and navigating local citations.
SEO budget calculator template
Keeping track of your SEO costs doesn’t have to be difficult. Use this budget template for planning.
How to do SEO on a small budget?
Curious how much you could cut SEO costs without sacrificing results? Let’s look at how to prioritize costs and avoid potential downsides.
Prioritize SEO costs
To get the most out of SEO on a limited budget, prioritize without compromising your goals or business needs. Use these tips to get more out of your SEO campaigns.
Get an SEO audit
An SEO audit evaluates your website architecture, content marketing, keyword portfolio, and backlinks to assess the current status of your organic search efforts. For example, an audit may tell you that you have great content to work with and a solid backlink portfolio, but your site structure could use work.
If so, invest in technical SEO first to get the biggest impact. With your remaining budget, update your evergreen content to make it more competitive, improve keyword rankings, and attract more backlinks.
Explore free SEO tools
Most keyword research and rank tracking tools require a monthly subscription. But if want to cut costs, use free SEO tools.
Here are some to consider:
- With free SEO tools from Moz, you can conduct a basic domain analysis, do competitive research, and find link building opportunities. The free MozBar also analyzes the first page of SERPs as you search.
- With free SEO tools from Ahrefs, you can generate keyword ideas, check backlinks, and analyze keyword rankings. The free Ahrefs toolbar also provides on-page SEO reports.
Outsource instead of hiring
Staff can quickly become one of the biggest SEO costs for small businesses. Depending on your business needs, you may need an entire team to power your SEO campaigns and make progress toward key goals.
If you don’t have the budget to hire in-house, consider outsourcing instead. Reach out to learn how our SEO agency can help.
“Working with a senior-level, experienced team who knows about your business, target audience, and competition is essential when determining and sticking to an SEO budget,” advises Rambod Yadegar, President and co-founder at HawkSEM.
“The last thing you want is to be in an SEO campaign for six months only to learn that the allocated budget will not get the results you need,” he says. “It is essential to do research and your due diligence when budgeting for an SEO program.”
Downsides of cheap SEO
It’s possible to eliminate some SEO costs or prioritize certain aspects of search engine optimization, but avoid investing in SEO that’s so affordable it seems too good to be true (aka not getting the results you desired). Beware of these potential downsides of cheap SEO.
Generative AI content
If you pay bargain basement prices, you can expect to get content that’s either low quality or generated by AI. Currently, Google doesn’t penalize AI-driven content. But that doesn’t mean it’s a smart investment.
By nature, AI content repeats the same information that already exists, without saying anything new or unique. With primarily generative AI content, you’ll struggle to build a site that stands out against the competition. As a result, you could keep spending without seeing results.
Acquiring a strong backlink portfolio usually requires one of two things. You need either an experienced link building agency or high-quality content that acquires backlinks naturally. With cheap SEO, you won’t get either of these elements.
If you get backlinks, there’s a good chance they’ll be low-quality or downright spammy. Since search engines penalize link buying and other black hat techniques, your site authority and keyword rankings could decline, compromising your results.
Not every low-cost SEO provider will use black hat techniques or cost-saving tactics like AI content. But if you spend below market rate and much less than your competitors, you’ll probably get lackluster results.
If you need to meet marketing goals or outrank the competition, investing in cheap SEO will only waste time and money. You may not make much progress by the end of six or 12 months, but your competitors may get even tougher to beat.
How to measure the ROI of SEO
Whether you plan to budget for large- or small-scale SEO campaigns, you need a way to quantify the impact. By tracking SEO conversions and calculating return on investment (ROI), you can measure success objectively and ensure you spend your marketing budget wisely.
To measure SEO ROI, track your conversion rates, marketing costs, and total revenue from customers acquired via organic search. Use this simple formula to calculate ROI:
Ideally, your ROI will always be a positive metric. However, it’s possible to have negative ROI if sales from organic search efforts don’t outpace what you spend.
To ensure successful SEO campaigns, measure ROI over time and compare from weekly or monthly. If your ROI remains high or increases over time, you don’t necessarily need to take action.
But if you find that ROI remains either low or negative or notice it decreases over time, your campaigns may not be working. In that case, an updated SEO audit or a conversation with your SEO provider can help you understand the situation and take appropriate action.
At HawkSEM, our average clients see a 4.5x ROI. To run successful SEO campaigns while managing marketing costs, you need a carefully planned SEO budget. By allocating funds for both software and services, you can take a sustainable approach to SEO that drives positive ROI and benefits your business in the long run.
Considering hiring an agency to manage search marketing for your business? Contact us for a free digital marketing strategy and SEO consultation.