If you’re a freelancer breaking into the world of digital marketing, you may be wondering how to charge for freelance SEO work and stand out to future clients. Heck, I’ve been freelancing for over three years and still regularly ask myself how much to scope and propose for SEO projects!
There’s a lot to learn before setting your freelance rates: What do clients expect in the market? How much do agencies, consultancies, and SEO freelancers make?
Deciding how much to charge clients has always been one of the trickier parts of freelance life, but knowing where you stand in the market can help you feel more confident in pricing your SEO work.
What do your SEO services include?
Before you price your SEO work, determine what services you’re offering.
“SEO services” is a broad term. One of the reasons that it’s difficult to pinpoint how much SEO freelancers make is that service offerings tend to differ from person to person. This trend actually works to a freelancer’s advantage; by highlighting the individual components of your approach to SEO, you can clearly illustrate to your clients why your services are valuable, even before you begin to drive results.
Here are some of the most popular SEO services in the market right now. Before you decide how to price your SEO work, you’ll want to have a firm grasp on which services you offer:
Keyword research is the bread and butter of any freelance SEO package. It can be done as a one-off service, or as part of ongoing site maintenance. SEO freelancers who are advising on strategy will need to perform new research every 3-6 months to fully evaluate their performance.
Clients newly embarking with SEO need to have context for their own performance as well as their competitors. Competitive analysis uncovers what keywords, content strategies, and links are serving the leaders in your client’s market, leaving you better equipped to define their opportunities.
Google’s Mobile First Indexing first launched in 2018, rewarding sites that follow best practices for mobile users. Earlier this year, Google announced that all sites will be shifted over to mobile-first indexing as of September 2020.
Brands without an airtight mobile user experience risk losing their foothold on certain keywords, so this is an especially valuable service for SEO freelancers to offer.
On-page SEO involves optimizing individual pages to increase ranking and generate more traffic. On-page characterizes everything you can control on a website, like HTML source code and keyword density in your content.
Most commonly, “on-page SEO elements” refer to optimizing page content, like title tags, meta descriptions and heading tags. If a brand hasn’t engaged in SEO before, they likely will need help here.
Since search engines validate sites by their traffic, link building is a fundamental skill for any SEO freelancer. Your approach can draw on PR, testimonials, guest articles, email strategy, and/or addressing broken links.
Link building or link development is typically part of “off-page SEO,” which aims to make an impact on external signals.
Content marketing involves applying SEO best practices — hierarchy, keywords, image metadata, and links — to hosted content like a blog to generate backlinks.
Some freelancers specialize in writing SEO content only; others offer keyword research and SEO content strategy to in-house teams. In a digital world where content is king, SEO freelancers with content chops can charge at a premium.
For any of these services, you have two paths: strategy and execution. If you’re going to be designing a strategy for your client and also implementing your recommendations, keep in mind that you can charge separately for each service. It all depends on how you want to approach your packages and service offerings.
What are market prices for freelance SEO work?
Details on what clients are paying freelancers, agencies, and consultancies for SEO.
Freelancers aren’t the only ones offering SEO work, and the disparity in prices and services between providers can be pretty stark.
In Ahrefs’ 2019 study on 350 SEO agencies, consultants, and freelancers, they found that SEO agencies charge more than freelancers and consultants – often more than double. The prices only go up for monthly retainers and project fees; clients can expect to pay 2-4x more to work with an agency than a freelancer.
Hourly rates, projects, and retainers
How does this break down, when it comes to different pricing models? What kinds of contracts are clients already seeing in the SEO market? What’s a typical SEO freelancer’s hourly rate? Let’s dive in.
- Hourly: Hourly rates are just what they sound like – clients are billed by the hour. Typically, billable hours are scoped to provide the client an estimate of what their monthly costs will be. Some clients won’t be comfortable signing a contract without an outline of how hours will be allocated to tasks. The Ahrefs study indicates that more than a third of all SEO providers (36.7%) charge an hourly rate, with the overwhelming majority charging less than $150/hour. Freelancers on average charge $68/hour for SEO services.
- Projects: Project rates involve a set price for a scoped amount of work. Anything outside of the outlined project plan is considered an extra charge. About 43% of SEO providers charge a per-project fee, with the most commonly cited range being between $500 to $1,000. Ahrefs estimates freelance rates around $1,530 per project (again, about a third of what agencies charge).
- Monthly retainer: For almost 75% of respondents to the Ahrefs study, monthly retainers factor in heavily to their pricing model. Monthly retainers ensure that a provider will perform a defined set of tasks on a recurring basis. You can think of monthly retainers like a subscription – the client pays monthly to get a certain amount of value in return. SEO freelancers typically charge around $1,300 for monthly retainers, but this can jump closer to $2,000 for SEOs with over two years of experience.
How to price your SEO work
The not-so-scientific formula to setting your rates as an SEO freelancer.
When determining how to price your freelance SEO work, you’ll need to consider three things: how much you want to make, how much clients are willing to pay for the services you offer, and how valuable the work is that you’ll be doing. Like SEO itself, there are best practices to follow, but it’s not an exact science.
Your SEO experience is also another contributing factor when it comes to setting your freelance rates. More experienced SEO professionals can charge upwards of $300-400 per hour for their work (yes, that’s true but you likely need 10+ years experience!).
Determine your salary
For many freelancers, this feels like an uncomfortable place to start, but consider this: if you were interviewing for a salaried position at a 9-5 company, you’d consider compensation before accepting a job offer, right? You can repeat this exercise as many times as you like until you get a number that feels right, so don’t be shy.
- Think of what you’d like your annual salary to be, after taxes.
- Add 30% to accommodate for federal taxes and any additional local taxes.
- Add a rough estimate of how much you spend on office space, supplies, and software.
- Now, how many hours would you like to work out of the year? Don’t forget to subtract sick days and vacation time from your total.
- Divide your lump sum of salary, taxes, and office expenses by the number of hours.
What you have left is an hourly rate to reach an ideal salary, and you can use market trends and anticipated demand for your services as a counterbalance to ensure you’ve hit an appropriate number.
Once you hit your sweet spot, think of your salaried “hourly rate” as a flexible tool to help give context to your personal pricing model. Once you’re scoping larger bodies of work like projects or monthly retainers, it can be helpful to have an hourly range as a point of reference.
Psst! Use our helpful freelance hourly rate calculator to set your income goals and factor expenses (including taxes) to easily determine your goal rates.
Take note of market trends
As you’re calculating your ideal salary for freelance SEO work, keep market trends in mind, too. Knowing what your clients are expecting to spend on SEO services gives you the upper hand in defining the scope of your work.
Staying on top of data on other types of providers – consultancies and agencies – will help you in the long run, as well.
After all, if you know a dream client of yours has been spending upwards of $4,000/month to work with an agency, and you approach them with similar resources, experience, and a smaller price tag, you may be able to sway them and still land a sizable contract. The more data you have at your fingertips, the more nimble you’ll be able to be in your negotiations.
Factor in your value and experience
Value is an underrated part of setting your rates. Your personal value as a freelancer combines your past experience, current knowledge, and impact on any particular client.
If your freelance SEO efforts grow a client’s site by 200% and yield six figures worth of profit, take note: you should give yourself a raise, because you’ve proven ROI.
Similarly, don’t be afraid to reduce to your ideal salary a few times a year to factor in new experience and skills. If you take a course or bootcamp and gain expertise, that value will be conveyed through your work – your rates should reflect that, too. As your experience grows, so does your value.
Bottom line – pricing your SEO freelance work may come down to whether or not you want the business. If you’re new to freelancing, you may want to take projects below your goal rates just to get started.
The important thing to keep in mind is that your pricing can (and likely will) change over time. The longer you are freelancing, the higher your SEO freelancing fees will likely be – even one year, two years or more when freelancing.