How Much Does SEO Cost for a Small Business? A Guide

When did marketing become so complicated? What happened to the days of taking out a medium-sized ad in the local newspaper?

Even if you long for those halcyon days as a business owner, you can’t afford to ignore the growing importance of SEO for small businesses. Consider that 80% of major purchases start online, and 75% of internet users exclusively click websites on the first page of a Google search.

If you’re not there for your customers to see, so much potential business can pass by you. SEO is an essential tool to put you where customers are looking. Whether you’re selling sofas or cryptocurrency tips, embracing SEO is essential for growth.

But how much does SEO cost for a small business? Budgets are already tight — can you make room? In this post, we’ll cover SEO investments for small businesses and how you can maximize the costs for the ultimate return on investment.

What is SEO? A Brief Intro

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) has been around for almost as long as search engines, and in theory, it does what it says on the tin. It optimizes web content so that a search engine discovers it more efficiently and considers it more relevant when weighed against a search query. There are many factors when considering how search engine optimization works,  but the gist is that you want your website to appear as high as possible within organic search results for users.

The good thing about search engines prioritizing high-quality, easily accessible content is that it makes sense. It’s what you’d want from a website anyway.

For a small business, working with SEO professionals doesn’t just ‘achieve the goals of SEO.’ It actively makes your web presence more appealing and valuable to your customers.

How Much Do Companies Spend on SEO?

Suppose you understand the importance of SEO but aren’t ready to commit to the budget. In that case, you may be wondering: So how much do companies spend on SEO compared to other marketing strategies?

A survey by Search Engine Journal found that 46% of small businesses spend $0 on SEO marketing. That is a staggeringly high number of small businesses that aren’t taking advantage of one of the 21st century’s most valuable and life-changing marketing tools.

That figure also means that if you are taking advantage of SEO, you’re already several steps ahead of 46% of the small businesses that don’t use SEO.

Of the companies that had an SEO budget, nearly 20% spent less than $100 per month. However, while this might sound appealing, you shouldn’t take this figure as a baseline for what you can expect to pay.

The reason is that cheap SEO can be costly. For one, marketers offering such low prices are usually not legitimate SEO technicians. Many of them are scammers trying to lure in clients by low-balling their prices.

The other issue that can hurt a business’s finances is that bad SEO from an inexperienced SEO agency can lead to a Google penalty. With enough penalties, you can see your visibility tank, and then your small business will never be in front of customers.

Small Business SEO Costs: Monthly Retainers

One of the most common ways in which businesses pay for SEO services is through monthly services performed by an agency or freelancer. On average, companies spend between $750 to $2,000 per month for such search engine optimization services. There can be SEO companies that charge $500 per month or less, but you should be cautious when it comes to this type of agency because of the quality of work you may receive.

Small Business SEO Costs: Hourly Rates

The other common method of SEO pricing is through a flat fee for each hour of work performed by SEO experts. In general, prices range from $80 to $200 per hour for this due to the highly-specialized nature of the expertise that is required.

How Much Should Companies Spend on SEO?

Rather than asking, “how much do companies spend on SEO,” the question should be, “How much should companies spend on SEO?”

The answer to this is variable. The cost of SEO for small businesses should be a percentage of your marketing budget, but that percentage can change.

For businesses doing less than $5m in sales each year or new companies less than five years old, the marketing budget should be around 12-20% of gross revenue. Established companies should aim for the 6-12% range.

There’s an awful lot of variables, though, that can go into factoring how much your small business should spend on SEO. Before addressing the question, “How much does SEO cost for a small business,” let’s talk about why you’d want to pay for it.

Why Pay for SEO — What Does SEO Do?

The best way to calculate what percentage of your marketing budget goes on SEO is by estimating how much you stand to get back. If you can’t forecast a significant increase in sales compared to SEO expenditure, why pay for SEO? How does SEO increase sales anyway?

When asking how much do companies spend on SEO, it’s essential to consider the range of services provided by an SEO specialist. First, let’s break down a few things that Google’s algorithm looks for in a website:

  • Bounce rate: Do people look around the website or ‘bounce’ off right away?
  • Web design: How fast does the site load? Is the website easily navigable and well-designed for different browsers/mobile?
  • Time on page: How long do people stay on the webpage?
  • Keyword recognition: Does the page contain keywords relevant to a) the search inquiry and b) other high-ranking pages on the same subject?
  • Keyword density: Are keywords or phrases used at an insignificant or unnaturally high density in the webpage’s text?
  • Authority: Do other high-ranking web pages link to this page as a reputable source?

SEO services build your online presence around providing the best answers to these queries, and the amount of time each strategy requires may also affect the overall cost.

How Much Does SEO Cost for a Small Business: The Variables

So you know the general factors that go into building an SEO campaign. But how much does SEO cost for a small business? And is it worthwhile for small businesses to invest?

Using SEO for your small business is a good idea regardless of your industry. However, some businesses stand to gain more than others.

For example, highly competitive tech industries like software development need a strong SEO presence to stand a chance of being noticed. Furthermore, if your website doesn’t have good functionality as a tech business… what are you doing anyway?

Meanwhile, more traditional industries such as home repairs or decorators can benefit hugely from SEO marketing because:

  1. Competition tends to be more local and thus smaller in volume.
  2. Similar businesses may be slower to adopt an effective SEO strategy.

We’ll now detail how much SEO costs small businesses based on a few key variables.


Small businesses operating in industries where every business has a competitive online presence will need to devote more resources to their SEO campaigns. As we mentioned, the basics won’t cut it: a tech company with slow technical performance is likely to fail simply on that premise (unless it’s Microsoft!).

These businesses will generally have an excellent macro operation for SEO, with attractive websites that work at high speed. This is already costing money, but to get ahead, it’s the micro that needs attention. This means producing a high volume of relevant, keyword-optimized blog posts, constantly building backlinks to boost your site’s authority, and even using social media SEO strategies to boost engagement.

Selling Range

If you’re selling your product or service globally, you’re competing with far more businesses than if you’re only trying to sell locally. Businesses with a wide selling range may need to allocate more of their marketing budget to SEO to stand out for this reason.

However, this doesn’t mean that a small selling range means you don’t need SEO consulting services. It just changes the angle.

Your selling range is slightly different from location-based marketing (see below). This is because a business that sells tables but only ships to customers in Indiana still competes with large companies that sell tables across the entire U.S. or even globally.

An SEO campaign for a local business selling a widely available commodity needs to focus on the location and the product specifications. It may require a higher volume of SEO content than you expected but is an occupational hazard of competing in an industry full of big players.

Location-Based Services

Examples of location-based services include roof repairs, dental care, and automobile services. These are universal needs but less dominated by mega-vendors than many retail industries.

A 2019 study found that 46% of Google searches are users trying to find local information, while a whopping 97% of people looking for local businesses search online. SEO marketing is thus an incredibly effective tool for location-based services when it focuses heavily on the business’s location.

An effective SEO strategy for location-based services is to include all possible iterations of a location. These may include:

  • Neighborhood
  • Town
  • City
  • County
  • State
  • Nearby locations

The good news is that only a relatively small percentage of brick and mortar businesses use SEO strategies, making these services more affordable and more effective. Location-based services stand to gain a lot by becoming early adopters of SEO strategies, from relevant and keyword-optimized website content to a smooth user experience.

Target Audience

Knowing your audience is key to getting the most out of SEO services for your money. You need to specify who’s buying so that you can figure out where you need to direct your budget.

For example, suppose your company’s offering is for older people. You may think you won’t need SEO (or any sort of digital marketing for that matter) as older people use the internet less. However, older adults are online — the trends are changing in retail terms.

The point here is that your target audience is critical. A well-designed, accessible website may be especially appealing to older customers. On the other hand, younger audiences may be more likely to find your business through social media.

Your target audience determines the channels and platforms you need to focus on and how much you’ll end up paying. A one-time website design is going to have different costs than an ongoing social media campaign.

What Should You Pay For?

When calculating how much SEO costs for a small business, make sure you’re only paying for quality SEO services that actually benefit you.

The key is to think about the cost of the service and the benefits together. For example:

  • Website optimization: faster loading times and accessible pages provide a clear boost to customer engagement.
  • Link-building campaigns: you can check your website’s authority rating to project the long-term benefits to your visibility.
  • Relevant, well-researched content: regularly updated content that answers essential questions within your niche attracts attention and builds authority.

What Shouldn’t You Pay For?

There are a few dead giveaways that an ‘SEO service’ is more interested in your money than your business’s growth. Don’t trust anyone offering the following:

  • False expectations: if someone tells you that they’ll have you at the top of Google off the back of a couple of blog posts, run a mile. If you’re wondering how much do companies spend on SEO, ask the giants who dominate the listings.
  • Miracle links: a trustworthy SEO service will explain its link-building campaign. If it doesn’t, ask. If it sounds like the links are coming from a sketchy place, back away quickly.
  • Instant success: even modest gains take time and perseverance. If someone’s telling you that you’ll see the difference instantly, they’re probably about to put on a black hat. This could harm your rankings in the long run.

Verdict: How Much Does SEO Cost for a Small Business?

We can’t give you exact numbers, but we can tell you that if you’re planning to use SEO marketing, you should find room in your budget over a matter of years rather than weeks. It’s most effective when applied consistently.

As for the question of how much do companies spend on SEO? A working relationship with an SEO service can get you access to a range of services at a better price than launching random, isolated campaigns.

One thing is for sure: SEO deserves its place in your marketing budget. Assess how effective your current strategies are, see where you can make room, and find a trustworthy SEO service today.

You May Also Like