Why do SEO Pricing Rates Vary? a Freelance or VA versus an Agency versus a Company

Why do SEO rates vary? A company offered me a rate of $1000/monthly, while a freelancer offered me $200-300/Monthly. Is there a difference in SEO techniques, site promotions etc…?
I've seen and read some posts about SEO rates, and it scares me to just go ahead and hire them.
From the posts I read, it seems like:
Low rates = Bad/Mediocre SEO, Web 2.0, India or Pakistan
Higher than average Rates= Quality SEO
I do not want to spend money on endeavors with minimal Return of Investment (RoI). Help please.
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It also depends very much on the individual. I sometimes charge $200 a month and I provide good work for that. It's just I do a lot less for those clients than the ones who pay more. Quality is definitely more important than quantity when it comes to things like link building, social media marketing and content developement. The best thing to do is probably to ask them to say exactly what it is they do for the money and to ask to see a sample of their previous work. Look for high quality content and good connections and steer clear of link trading/directory submissions and broken English. Good luck!
I haven't seen any low rate SEO agency (that does link building) doing it properly. In the best cases, they use niche sites to link build (not the best idea). Worst case they outsource the link building (India, Pakistan, Latin America…)
I seen some good on site optimization, and content management done by low rate SEO agencies, that's why I think it might be a somewhat good option for local companies without much competition, nor budget. With a couple of hundred bucks, you can have your site optimize for all your keywords, and updated with a few optimize blog posts a month.
Depending how higher end SEO companies work, there are 2 ways I seen (and I worked with) that justifies the rates.
First Private Blog Network (PBN) (private blog networks), the SEO agency creates some sites, to link to the client's. These networks tend to work in mid-long term, and building it takes time and money (domain, server, content, etc).
The other option for expensive SEO agencies that promise short-mid term results, (not always), own really good domains, or have access to them. This way they can build really high quality links fast, and with ease.
In the end you have to decided what's better for your company/site. Try to get your site audit by several SEO users, and ask them what they'll do to rank your site (they might charge for this). I would stay clear from companies that promise a "pack" (200$ per keyword rank, or shit like that).

Quality content builds higher quality backlinks than the backlink building you're doing. In addition it creates them faster and many many more of them. Add to that the ability to promote through social and you're blowing your standard backlinking strategy out of the water.
With social moving up on search and possible to pass it in coming years for discovery, it can easily drive far more traffic without the need for all the time required to build silly backlinks.
I would love to see the results of your strategy, it sounds like you link bait and spam social networks hopping something goes viral…
Social? What's social? Facebook? Google +? Twitter? You know those things have 0 effect in Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
I'm doing nothing of the sort but I'm not looking at doing little niche stuff like you are. I'm in a position where SEO isn't a huge matter because we're so large that even with poor SEO anything we publish quickly becomes a top search result for most related searches.
And there's nothing link bait about the social we're doing. We post social messages to quality content we publish and people gobble it up. Even without the SEO part we'd still be driving millions of pageviews a week.


The biggest reason is there is no "tick, done one SEO!". optimisation comes in all different types of forms, and different lengths of time to complete, etc.
I've worked as a freelancer/consultant as well as at an agency, one of the main reasons agencies are more expensive, are because they have access to a wider talent/experience pool than one individual, and can put the resource for tasks towards the best person, not just that one freelancer.
I currently work for a web development company that includes SEO as one of the services they provide. Our company charges over $1000 usually, because there are usually 3-5 people who will work for the site.
As a freelancer though, I'm within the $200-300 bracket, but still depending on the website niche.

this is your answer OP.

You pay for what you get. Companies will often have tools and resources that allow them to get more done for the money. For $300 with a freelancer you might get 6 hours worth of work where with a company you might get 30 hours work for $1000.*
*You're not paying for 30 hours work outright, you'll probably get less than this, but companies will often have their own network of resources and expertise that takes years to build up. Freelancers won't have this.

I find the opposite actually. I'm an SEO freelancer and I have loads of resources – lots of my own sites, tons of contacts, a huge list of sites for links, etc. However, when I have met people at agencies, they all complain that they have zero budget and (typically, but not always) they are straight out of Uni and have no idea how to rank sites – they are just cheap – but appropriately qualified, labour.
All in all, selecting a good SEOer must be a nightmare for someone that doesn't know what they are listening to or reading about.

Hmm, that's a good point. I was a freelancer and now at an agency. We have tonnes of software that I could never have afforded on my own which makes me so much more efficient.
We don't hire grads for that very reason!
Agreed, selection must be a real headache. The worst thing is, because people know that making the right choice is important, they often have unrealistic goals when they know/think they've made a good decision. "They're transparent, honest, creative…We'll all be millionaires in no time!"
I don't have all the monthly software subscriptions, I just rely on a few. But I have built my own Private Blog Network (PBN) and I cannot imagine that many standard web agencies would be willing to let their teams just randomly buy and build websites with no billings attached. It makes SEO easy for me … you need links from 50 domains??? Bingo!
I went from an agency and later freelance role and used PBN's as part of my strategy in both places. Now I'm with another agency that's "premium" aka we charge a shit ton, and the work actually is higher quality in relation to what we charge. We don't use Private Blog Network (PBN)s we build less links a month but they are literally 200x more effective.
But a freelancer could definitely do what I do with less overhead.
In my experience with 2 agencies and freelancing you do get what you pay for.
But then again that's only comparing 2 agencies.
+1 for not using PBNs. They're naughty.

I'm a freelancer, with access to our company's tools and resources. So, pretty much, I do the same to my clients when doing freelance SEO.
The only difference is, I charge a fixed monthly rate(roughly 30-50 hours), at an affordable price.

Cost of SEO depends on many things. Because Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is not a turn-key solution which is always ready to give you results in few days.SEO isn't simple or easy. Google itself rates websites based on over different algorithm.So,everything depends upon your goals and targets, the nature of your business, your audience, and more.


Think about how much you're paying and that that's getting you. If you're paying a freelancer $200/month, how much time do you honestly think they're spending on you rather than their other clients? At that price he has to have dozens of clients to make a living. Now divide his 160 hours a month of work time (maybe he does more than the typical 40 hour work week but lets just use that as an average). Now how many of those hours is he going to be able to devote to working on your site? Not many at all. As others have said, good SEO takes time and at that low rate, they aren't going to be giving you lots of time. Instead they're likely just throwing your site into some generic tools and building crappy links to make it appear that you're getting some traction. Even if you're paying them a good amount, how many hours are they really giving you? They don't likely have less clients because they're charging more. They're just charging more and giving you the same amount of time.
With an agency you're likely going to pay a lot more but they're also likely to have more people on your project. They generally have access to better analytics tools to measure the success and identify opportunities for your site too.
Either way, ask what they're going to do for you. If they're unwilling to explain exactly what they do in detail (don't settle for vague explanations, it's your site they're f*cking with and bad SEO can kill you and cost a TON of money and time to dig yourself out of just to get back to 0 again). Make sure you really know what they'll be doing, how much time they'll be spending on it, and what you're getting for your money.
An agency will have access to analytics tools that a freelancer could not normally afford. And as the others mention, they have other specialists on staff who work on your account. Link building for example has now evolved into earned media from high domain authority sites, something a public relations specialist on staff can work on while your site's on-page optimization is in progress.

hit the nail on the head

Not unlike websites, there are a large number of factors that go into what you are buying.
A company might charge $4,000 for a custom designed website, and another company might charge $1,000 for a theme forest template configuration. These are both web design services, but they are not the same thing.
This is complicated, by the fact that there are companies who will charge $4,000 for a word-press theme customization, and neglect to mention it's a theme.
Same thing happens in Search Engine Optimization (SEO), it can just be harder to figure out what benefits (if any) are seen.
If you want to get from New York to LA, you can take a train, a bus, a car, an airplane, a limo, a boat if you wanted to go around the panama canal or you can walk.
All methods technically can get you there. Though risks are greater with some methods, lower with others, some are faster, some are slower, and some technically could work, most likely won't.
I hope that helped.

keenertech ✍️
So basically, how they do Search Engine Optimization (SEO)? as SEO is not just one technique?

Correct. Some are good, some are okay, some are bad, some could get you banned

Ask for case studies from past clients. Reach out to those clients yourself to confirm.
I have worked at both a "cheap" and now a "premium" agency. In my experience you get what you pay for.
But either way, results speak the loudest.

keenertech ✍️
When you started as cheap? Did your SEO techniques changed when you became premium?

yes 100% granted the "cheap" agency trained me their way…and that's just how I thought it was done. Huge scalable link ordering system with Private Blog Network (PBN)s and LInk farms, and basically trying to break the rules without getting caught…which we did, at one point 95% of the agencies clients all had massive ranking drops after a penguin update.
The premium agency builds way less links but it is white hat as it can be (I argue it's still paid links, because if we weren't getting paid these links wouldn't build themselves) but nothing is "ordered" it is all about building relationships, finding partnerships and creating good content for links.
I would say the research, strategy and service are night at day different. But then again, this is me only comparing two agencies…and there are a million out there.


Generally speaking, lower rates mean lower quality but don't be fooled into thinking large, expensive companies won't rip you off!
Its really a sad state of affairs and an image that our firm is working so hard to fix buts its a sad reality really.
As a company with a minimum cost of $1k /month and an absolute focus on quality work, results and communication, here are the reasons why we charge so much:
β€’ We have a very experienced and professional team with a collective wealth of knowledge you can't find with a single freelancer. We also have a manager (ie me) whose job is essentially making sure you get every cent of time and work that you pay for every month – every second of it. My job also involves QC with periodic audits to make sure the right work is being done to keep you moving forward.
β€’ We always quote and charge based on the time we know a successful campaign will take, now what we think you can afford. Theres no point in us charging you $300 /month and taking 12 months to produce results. We know what it takes and we make sure that you get there as soon as practical in the context of your industry and site. More time = more money.
β€’ We don't outsource a single task so everything is done in-house. This means that high quality literally comes at a cost – employess here in Australia cost several times what they do in India or the Phillipines.
β€’ We have and provide access to a number of handy, paid tools so you can more accurately track the success of your campaign.
β€’ We have a very effective process in place for great communication and reporting so you always feel like you're paying for an addition to your team rather than just outsourcing and task and wondering whats happening.
β€’ We have developers and designers in-house so we can provide a professional, polished, high-end end to end finish for all tasks, typically included in price.
β€’ Our designers are also well versed in conversion optimisation so you can maximise the number of leads/conversions that come from the traffic the SEO campaign is driving
β€’ Because we're a brand that is becoming more and more recognised in our area and our team is so experienced in talking to big, intimidating business entities, we typically have a better chance of establishing those difficult relationships with key people in your industry than the guy on a laptop in his bedroom.
All this is not to say that freelance or offshore SEO users are bad and will rip you off but generally speaking, the level of quality, communication, results and polish you'll get from a strong SEO firm is something the others simply can't match.
Sorting the good providers from the bad can feel overwhelmingly difficult but I did write a blog post about this exact topic recently that you might find helpful – 8 Tips to Choosing the Right SEO Company.

lol. sneaky sneaky


Agencies will typically take the time to understand your needs and expectations so they can price accordingly. They should have the experience to estimate a time frame and have an idea what work will need to be done, whereas the freelancer may just take your money until they get it right (or wrong!)
As others have said, an agency will have more resources (tools and personnel.) An agency can adjust who works on the project based on the needs of a client, where a freelancer just has to figure out everything. In some cases, because of tools, experience, and personnel, it may take the agency 5 minutes to do the same task it might take the freelancer a few hours to figure out. The freelancer is stuck with what he knows, whereas an agency probably has processes in place and has an environment where people can bounce ideas off each other and usually some kind of training in place as well to keep people up to date and constantly learning.
Even with reporting, a freelancer would probably send something that shows great growth in traffic, even if that growth was from spam referral traffic. This person may not even realize that the traffic is fake, whereas a good agency is having to constantly filter the new spam referrers every month now.
Even lower cost agencies can have some very bad practices. Link networks with their clients are somewhat common, not-so private blog networks, spammy link building practices (or just no link building at all,) creating a second website, call tracking with a different number that screws up Name, Address & Phone Number (NAP) consistency, indexing development sites, not doing proper redirects, etc. Really the list of bad practices could be a doctoral research paper.
The moral of the story is to find someone who you can trust and who has a plan. Ask for results, references, etc and see how their other clients feel about them. In the beginning, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is typically an investment but eventually that should turn into a return on investment. If they show a return on investment, and not just an immediate return that you will be paying to clean up later, then your budget should scale up with the company or individual at a pace that you are comfortable with growing your business.
Speaking of Return of Investment (RoI), a freelancer may or may not have the knowledge to setup conversion tracking or funnels or attribution models or even be able to offer call tracking services, or setup any other Key Performance Indicators (KPI)s which can be used to show how their work is driving you business.
I mean this list can go on and on with everything from conversion optimization techniques, split or multivariate testing, recapturing lost leads, marketing automation campaigns that take into account the sales cycle of a business, demographics of their target audience, and actions they have previously taken (or not taken.) These are things that a lot of agencies and freelancers may or may not offer, but certainly won't be offered with low cost services.


keenertech ✍️
Sorry guys if I don't reply much on your comments. I'm reading everything thoroughly and understanding each.
So far, I think it really depends on a company, or a freelancer's way to deliver the goods, and their quality as well.
Am I correct?
The "you get what you pay for" mentality is only partially true.
I work at an agency. We charge a ton. However, we also offer ALL (yes, all) advertising services. Some clients only purchase SEO with us, and they are the ones who are usually (and rightfully) disappointed. That is because SEO doesn't fulfill all advertising needs.
If all you would like is an SEO, then 9/10 I would recommend a freelancer or dedicated person. You will receive more dedicated and quality work, and more overall time spent working for you. If you want someone that really knows their shit, get a full service agency that knows how and when to optimize by different marketing channels. This is why you should pay more. If you're paying more for only SEO, make sure that it's for the quality of work and not the convenience factor.
I believe you get what you pay for in most cases. This is most evident when you take a look at their evaluation they give you for their potential profit margins compared to how much they charge you a month. If they are projecting a $5000-$6000 profit income from their services but are only charging $200 a month, that should raise an IMMEDIATE red flag in your head. Any competent SEO consultant wouldn't ask for 3% of your new profit unless they know very little about SEO and likely outsource all their work or they know they can't fulfill these promises and are looking to churn and burn you once they get your money. If the SEO company you are working with isn't asking for at least 15%-30% I would be a concerned. That is how I model my SEO business which I've learned from global leaders in SEO who make well over 200k a month by themselves or with a small team.
If you got any other questions feel free to Direct Message (DM) me, I'd be happy to help!


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