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Hourly, Monthly, or Per Project?—The Best Payment Scheme for SEO

If you are running a business today, then you probably cannot escape the need to do online marketing, and when we talk about online marketing, a discussion on search engine optimization (SEO) is never far behind. There’s no question about it: You need to do online marketing to truly grow your business these days, and you need to do SEO to succeed in online marketing. Note that where SEO is concerned, one of the most important things you should ask yourself is not only how much you should spend, but also how you should pay for SEO services.

The discussion on the various payment models for SEO has been going on for years and just when things seem to have quieted down, Clutch.co released a review of the world’s top SEO companies, which reflected that many of the companies had hourly rates. The review caused the SEO payment model debate to be ignited once again, and many businesses are now asking whether it would be best to pay for SEO services on an hourly, monthly, or per-project basis. You may even have the same questions running through your mind right now.

Of course, each of these payment models has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, and what may be the perfect payment model for one business could be the worst model for another business to adopt. For you to determine which of the three payment models is right for your business, it pays to learn more about what each option has to offer. But first, let’s take a quick look at some relevant information:

  • In a survey recently ran by SEOmoz, it was found that monthly retainer pricing was mostly widely distributed.
  • The most common price ranges in the monthly retainer model are $251-$500 a month and $2,501-$5,000 a month.
  • The most popular payment model is the per-project model, with 70.1% of survey respondents saying they offer this payment model.
  • The most common per-project price range is $1,000-$7,500.
  • The most common hourly rate is $76-$200, although rates tend to vary widely from one country to another.
  • There are now more web design agencies that also offer SEO services.
  • Although the per-project payment model is the most popular, many SEO companies offer all three payment models.
 

While keeping the above data in mind, let us now take a closer at the three payment models as well as their respective pros and cons.

Hourly Payment

Looking at both the review by Clutch.co and the survey by SEOmoz, you’ll notice that hourly SEO rates can vary widely from one company to the next. Some companies charge as little as $50/hour whereas others charge as much as $300/hour or more. The specific rate depends on a variety of factors, including the specific services provided, the firm’s location, the firm’s experience, and more. Now, try to weigh the positive and negative aspects of this payment model to see if it’s the right one for you.

Hourly Rates for SEO

Hourly SEO rates tend to vary widely from company to company. You could pay as little as $50/hour or as much as $300/hour.

The Pros

Perhaps the best thing about this payment model is that it comes with a high level of transparency and accountability. You get to keep track of just how much time the SEO specialist you hired is spending on specific aspects of your campaign. This model also gives you more control over how the time spent on your SEO campaign is allocated. For example, there may be times when you’d want the SEO practitioner to give more time to improving your site structure than to streamlining your website design. An hourly rate also makes it easier for you to break down the services you’re receiving and determine how much you’re paying for each.

The Cons

Most businesses that pay by the hour set a limit as to how many hours per day the SEO company will work on their campaign; this helps them keep track of their expenses. The problem is that you could become a bit frustrated when you don’t see the results you expect and you realize it’s going to take more time than the limit you’ve set to get your expected results. And if you don’t set a limit, your SEO costs could quickly pile up without you noticing.

Another disadvantage is that SEO campaigns typically require group effort. When you limit the number of hours the SEO company can work on your campaign, you might also end up limiting them in terms of manpower. The reason for this is that even when SEO specialists work as a team, they typically log their hours individually. Additionally, the focus on limited hours could keep you from being able to build a solid, long-term relationship with your SEO team.

Monthly Payment

As the term implies, this payment model requires you to pay a set fee on a monthly basis for services previously agreed upon and stated in the contract between you and the SEO company. This kind of arrangement usually includes the submission of regular analytics reports, general website maintenance, and continued oversight services. Just like the two other payment models, this has its share of pros and cons.

The Pros

Since the SEO team you hired isn’t restricted by an hourly structure, there’s a good chance they’ll be working extended hours on your SEO campaign whenever they feel that it’s necessary to do so. This means they get to devote more time on your campaign without you having to pay more for the extra hours. A monthly payment scheme also leaves the SEO team little room for excuses, since they can’t claim to have too little time to complete certain tasks.

A monthly payment term also often leads to establishing a better relationship with your SEO team because they’re not keeping a close watch on their hours, giving you ample opportunity to get to know them better. This payment model also helps you avoid the contentious discussion on how to determine exactly how many hours were spent on your SEO campaign. And even when you don’t have an hourly breakdown of the tasks the team has accomplished for you, the regular reports will still show you how much effort they exerted on your campaign.

Hours Spent Doing SEO

Monthly payment terms does away with contentious discussions how to determine the exact number of hours spent on the SEO campaign.

The Cons

There will be months when your SEO team will have to work long hours to ensure the success of your SEO campaign, but there will also be months when they won’t have that much to do. During such months, you just might feel that you’re paying too much for too little service given. Of course, how you feel about lean months will depend on how much progress the team has made on your campaign.

There may also be times when your business experiences a reduction in sales, especially if you run a seasonal kind of business. During these slow months, you could face some difficulty meeting the agreed monthly payment, but you won’t be able to do anything much about it because you’re locked into an annual contract. You’re lucky if you can get the SEO company to agree to a month-to-month contract.

Project-based Payment

In this set-up, an SEO project is designed specifically for you, according to your specific needs. For example, the SEO company could set up social media accounts for you on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. They could then work on those accounts until each of them gets a certain number of followers, at which point the project is deemed complete. Pricing, in this case, varies according to the specific services required.

The Pros

Perhaps the biggest advantage of this payment model is that it only requires you to pay once. If your budget is limited, then a one-time payment will definitely be more attractive than either monthly or hourly payments. Another huge advantage is that this scheme helps you avoid unpleasant surprises. The contract clearly states what services the SEO agency will provide and what constitutes the completion of the project. This kind of arrangement also often involves a clear timeline and enables you to focus on specific aspects of your SEO.

The Cons

The biggest drawback of this payment scheme is the lack of flexibility. Since you’ve already set parameters in your contract, it can be a bit difficult to change anything in case you get hold of new information that may affect the project. The agency could charge more for any changes made. Even without changes, you also run the risk of being overcharged by an unscrupulous agency. Worse, you could get shortchanged unless you make sure the expectations and parameters of the project are very clearly defined.

Whatever payment model you choose to go with, remember to be wary of SEO agencies that give you guarantees such as instant results and the top spot on Google SERPs. Because of the constantly-evolving nature of SEO, no one can truly guarantee these things. Anyone who promises the top spot and/or instant results probably uses black-hat tactics search engines frown upon. Don’t fall victim to such unscrupulous practices. Remember, all payment models can work to your advantage. What’s more important is for you to make sure the SEO agency you hire is worth every penny you spend.

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