I read your newsletter regularly and I have also read many of your SEO articles
in various places on the web. I have a great respect for your knowledge and
expertise and wondered if you would mind taking a little time to answer a
couple of questions.
I have 25 years experience in I.T. working for various UK and international
finance companies as an employee. 3 years ago I decided to go it alone and
set up my own business as an SEO consultant. Currently I work from home and
am in partnership with another colleague.
One of my biggest headaches is working out how to charge and how much to
charge my clients for my services.
Do I charge an upfront fee?
Do I charge monthly rates?
Do I use standing orders? Not sure if you have those in USA but they are a
bit like Direct Debit.
Most of my work is involved in promoting my clients’ websites (mostly on
Google). I use mostly natural optimisation techniques and PPC (don’t like
I would be grateful for any advice.
Thanks for your time.
This is a tricky question as it really depends on the types of services you
offer. There is such a variety of SEO services and thus payment options
that you have to choose from.
At High Rankings, we’re always experimenting with different SEO service
offerings and different ways of charging for those services. For the most
part, we’ve found that it’s good to be flexible, because every client has
different needs. Here’s a little info on how we do it, which might help you
better sort out how you could do it.
Much of our SEO work is done in the form of site reviews and
recommendations. Our years of experience in the field make it easy for us
to look at any website and know right away what its major challenges are in
terms of it gaining more targeted search engine traffic. We’ve found that,
depending on a client’s budget and the severity of the problems inherent in
their website, offering different levels of review seems to be helpful.
Right now we offer a type of review that comes with our recommendations
provided solely by phone, and it’s charged in one up-front payment.
However, we’ve found that many clients like to have some written information
about what’s wrong with their site and what they need to do to fix it, so we
provide info in writing as well, for an additional fee.
Then for those who have more complicated sites and want a complete copywriting review, plus a full usability review, we offer a full site audit report package. This is
our premium offering. Our fees are generally paid up-front, but I know of
some companies who will charge half up-front and half upon delivery of the
recommendations, especially if it’s an expensive service.
For full-service SEO campaigns it’s slightly different and really depends on
what you offer. I’m not sure that any 2 SEO companies offer exactly the
same services, which certainly must make it confusing to potential clients.
We’ve tried a number of different ways of offering full-service SEO, and
have found a bundle of different deliverables that nearly every client can
put to good use. Nearly all of our full-service SEO campaigns start out
with the full site audit report because we’ve found that this helps us to
gather enough information about the site to create a complete SEO strategy
from there. The client will generally have to pay for the audit when
signing the contract.
After the audit is completed, we decide upon the exact deliverables that are
necessary to gain the targeted traffic the client is looking for, and we
work on them in sequential order. For instance, in-depth keyword research
is usually one of the first deliverables, and payment for that would be due
before we get started. We have a number of other deliverables that follow
in the same manner.
For most clients we’ve gotten away from charging monthly rates, as our
deliverable method seems to be more appropriate. However, there are some
exceptions, mostly for brand-new companies that don’t have an existing
website. In those cases, it’s a different story as we can’t “audit” what
doesn’t exist! So for those clients we work as SEO consultants on a monthly
retainer fee and basically work with the developers as they program the
site, making sure they do it in a crawler-friendly manner. Much of our SEO
work involves strategizing the SEO plan, and then implementing it
incrementally over time. We’d generally ask for at least a year’s
commitment for this type of work, but that can also be adjusted as
You’ll notice that we charge for everything in advance and this is for a
very good reason — basically, we’ve been burned when we didn’t do this! No
matter how big a company is, nor how much you trust them, and even if you
have an airtight contract — stuff happens and sometimes they simply don’t
pay. I used to not mind doing the work in advance if we had a purchase
order and contract set up with the client, but recently got burned on one of
those as well, when the company got embroiled in a hostile takeover! You
just never know what can happen, unfortunately. We’re still trying to
recover what they owe us for the work we completed, but I’m not holding out
a whole lot of hope.
All that said, many clients may not be prepared (or trust you enough) to pay
in advance, so you’ll need to play that one by ear and use your own
judgment. If you have a good reputation in the industry you should at least
be able to get a good portion paid up-front; if nothing else, you should
certainly shoot for this and back down only if absolutely necessary when the
company has good reason not to pay in advance.
Hope this provides you with some ideas of how to charge for your own SEO