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We get asked all the time by potential clients, "What should we expect to spend on SEO?" We know how we price out our SEO services here at Uproer and we've been told that we're "competitive" in pitches. But, we haven't been able to answer this question on behalf of the local market with anything better than an educated guess.
So, we decided to survey Minnesota-based SEO agencies and freelancers to better understand how they price their services. There have been similar surveys at the national and global levels, but nothing (to our knowledge) focused just on Minnesota.
Here are our main takeaways from the responses
- The monthly retainer is the most popular way to structure SEO engagements. Agencies most frequently reported that these make up 90-100% of their SEO work.
- In contrast, hourly pricing arrangements are the least popular. Two-thirds of respondents reported that none of their SEO engagements are structured with hourly pricing.
- Agencies charge roughly $1,000 more per month than freelancers for monthly retainers and about $2,400 more per project.
- Comparing our results against a similar survey that polled US agencies, Minnesota-based agencies are priced higher on average for hourly, project-based and monthly retainer arrangements.
Read on to view the data and more findings from our survey.
How are SEO Engagements Structured?
By far the most popular pricing model is the monthly retainer. SEO requires consistent, long-term effort to see success so it's no surprise that ongoing engagements are so common.
What is interesting is how rare hourly engagements are among the agency respondents:
Only 8 of the 23 agencies surveyed offer hourly-based SEO work. 96% of agency respondents said that hourly work makes up less than 30% of their client engagements.
Hourly engagements are the "traditional" agency pricing model in the marketing & advertising world and are still popular to this day. SEO doesn't often fit with short-run campaigns so it could be that costs don't fluctuate in SEO like they might with other marketing disciplines. This would make hourly engagements less necessary for SEO. Or, the simpler explanation could be that monthly retainers are easier to implement and manage than hourly engagements.
Monthly Retainer Pricing
We already pointed out that the monthly retainer was the most popular pricing model reported in our survey. The largest bucket of agency respondents said that monthly retainers make up 90%-100% of their SEO engagements.
There was a fairly strong consensus around pricing for monthly SEO retainers.
We used the top end of each range to calculate the average monthly retainer price for agencies and freelancers:
- Agency: $3,977/month
- Freelancer: $2,833/month
Projects are the most common type of SEO engagement for freelancers. From my past experience, this is especially true if freelancing is not a full-time gig. It's easier to commit to projects with a fixed scope and timeline than to take on anything ongoing.
For the agency crowd, SEO projects are far less common relative to monthly retainers. Agencies most frequently reported that project-based engagements make up 10-20% of their work.
Project-based work is less common for agencies than for freelancers. 78% of agency respondents said that SEO projects make up less than 30% of their client engagements
Pricing for SEO projects was more varied than monthly retainers:
Using the same methodology as the previous section, we took the top-end of each price range to calculate averages for agencies and freelancers.
- Agency: $6,750 per project
- Freelancer: $4,333 per project
Whereas we saw a $1,000 difference between agencies and freelancers for monthly retainers, agencies are pricing out projects at a greater premium. This could reflect that agencies are able to take on more complex projects given their larger pool of resources.
Of the three, hourly pricing was the least common pricing structure among our respondents. However, most of our respondents offered up an hourly rate for our survey.
Two-thirds of respondents reported that none of their SEO engagements are structured with hourly pricing.
It's not surprising to see that agencies are more often commanding a higher hourly rate for SEO work.
Using the top-end of each range to calculate the average, here's how agencies and freelancers compare:
- Agency: $176/hr
- Freelancer: $150/hr
Comparing MN Agency Pricing vs. US Agency Pricing
We drew inspiration for our survey from a similar survey conducted by Ahrefs in 2019. We were interested to compare how our results from Minnesota-based agencies differed from Ahrefs' results from the broader US. We present these comparisons with a couple of big caveats:
- Our surveys did not have the same methodology. It appears that Ahrefs distributed their survey to a large pool of agencies, whereas most of our respondents came directly from our network. It's worth noting that our questions had slightly different wording.
- Some of the price ranges used as options in our survey differed slightly from Ahrefs. We did our best to adjust the data accordingly.
The popularity of the three engagement types fell in the same order as the Ahrefs survey. However, MN-based agencies appear more willing to take on project-based work. One theory we have as to why is that the Uproer survey was conducted in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Agencies today may be more willing to take on non-retainer work than they were in 2019.
Minnesota-based agencies have higher average pricing in all of the categories as compared to the US. Besides having a smaller sample size, we have a couple of thoughts as to why:
- Our MN-based respondents reported more years of experience. 31% of MN respondents had fewer than 5 years of experience, whereas 41% of respondents to the Ahrefs survey fell into the same category.
- The vast majority of agencies surveyed by Uproer were based in the Twin Cities. It's possible that the Ahrefs survey had a higher concentration of respondents located outside of a major metropolitan area.
It'd be interesting to compare against other regional SEO pricing surveys. I'd suspect that if we were to compare against New York or southern California, Minnesota agencies would look more affordable.
Methodology & Data
We distributed the survey via Google Forms through our network to other MN-based SEO agencies and freelancers. In total, we received 29 responses - 23 identified themselves as agencies and 6 as freelancers.
We've made the data available in a Google Sheet. To edit it, you'll need to make yourself a copy (File > Make a Copy).