The Small Business Hiring & Cost Guide for SEO Experts and Agency

The Small Business Hiring & Cost Guide for SEO Experts and Agency

How to hire SEO experts, consultant or agency for the right cost


Search engines heavily influence our buying decisions as we tend go online first when researching for products and services. You’d be silly to ignore Google searches, even if your business is fully offline. Potential clients or customers tend to rely on online reviews and testimonials to help them decide whether they want to do business with you.

As this is a highly technical area, most small businesses choose to consult and hire SEO experts or SEO agencies.


What is the difference between SEO and SEM?

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the technique to attract online visitors to your website or content by appearing in the top 10 results of a search engine’s query. You don’t pay for this, as search engines’ algorithm will rank your content organically.

Meanwhile, search engine marketing (SEM) covers search engine ads. You pay to appear on the first few pages of a search engine’s result page (SERP). These ads are also called pay-per-click (PPC) ads because you pay only when someone clicks on your ad.

The biggest advertising platform is Google Ads, formerly known as Google AdWords.


SEO: free, long-term results

SEM: paid, short-term results


Should you use SEO for your business?

SEO isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It is for you if:

  • Enough people search for your products and services

The first question you need to answer is:

“How many people are searching for my category or product?”

Use Google Ads’ keyword planner tool to see how many are searching for keywords related to your product or service. If there are over 1,000 people searching annually, then SEO may be a viable marketing investment.  Otherwise, you’re better off with other forms of marketing.


  • You can commit for the long term

SEO requires ongoing commitment to keep up with changes in search algorithms and emerging competitors. It is not a set and forget exercise.


  • You can afford the SEO costs

The benefits are great in the long run, but you still need to invest in hiring experts or buying appropriate tools.


Which type of business is perfect for SEO?

SEO is particularly useful for local businesses such as:

  • exercise studios
  • beauty services
  • trades
  • and other local service providers or retailers

With just a few hours of work on Google My Business and other online listings, it can significantly boost your ranking.


Which type of business is not suited for SEO?

For startups looking to carve a new niche, SEO may not be useful until you’ve created organic demand for your product or service. Until then, your budget is better spent by placing your brand directly in front of your target audience using Google network banner ads, social media influencer and ads, traditional ads and PR.


What are popular SEO services for businesses?

1. SEO strategy

A good SEO plan must be holistic, covering technical, on-site, off-site and content SEO. Use white hat SEO strategies as they don’t break any search engine rules. Black hat SEO uses questionable tactics that may result in a search engine ban or downgrade such as keyword stuffing, cloaking and buying backlinks.


2. SEO Audit

A regular SEO audit should cover on-site and off-site SEO. On-site SEO focuses on how SEO friendly your site is while off-site focuses on how credible your site is viewed by others.


3. Keyword Research

This identifies search trends and keywords that are relevant to your products, services and brand. It could be geo, brand, or product and service targeted.


4. Website optimisation

This involves improving the overall user experience, loading time, content, metadata, keywords, etc.


5. On-page SEO

On-page SEO is the tactic of improving a webpage’s relevancy, authority and ranking by using proper headlines, metadata and other options.


6. Backlinking and local listings

A backlink is an external link to your content or site. The more high-quality backlinks you get, the more it helps your SEO.


7. SEO Content Writing & Guest Blogging

Having SEO friendly content that’s relevant and useful to readers is a sure-fire way to improve your ranking.


8. SEO and SEM Analytics

There are plenty of free and paid SEO analytics software such as Google Analytics, SEMRush, and Moz.


9. Search engine ads

This will give you instant results by putting you on the first page but may often cost more than SEO.


How much do SEO services cost in Australia?


Service Provider SEO Services Cost or Price Range (AUD)
SEO Content Writer

Content creation

 $100 - $500 per content

SEO Agency or Company Hourly Rate

$100+ per hour


General on-site SEO

$1000+ per month

General off-site SEO 

$2000+ per month


30% - 50% commission of ad spend

SEO Expert or Consultant Hourly Rate

$70 - $200+ per hour

  General on-site SEO

$700+ per month

General off-site SEO 

$1000+ per month


30% - 50% commission of ad spend

SEO services hourly rate and costs in Australia

*These costs vary depending on your current SEO state, scale and depth of the SEO project


As with any form of marketing, the sky’s the limit with SEO. It’s up to you to monitor your costs to ensure your investment is fruitful. It can start from as little as a $99 affiliate marketing with SEO to tens of thousands of dollars per month for hiring SEO agencies.

However, proceed with a $99 investment at your own peril!

SEO results aren’t instant. It requires time and money. If you want quicker and better results, you either put in more hours or increase your budget.


On-site SEO Costs

Engaging an external agency can be an expensive affair if your website is huge. The fees are usually on a retainer basis, costing a few thousand dollars a month. Many businesses choose to hire people in-house because this is a full-time commitment.

An alternative would be to hire a contractor to come in house for a couple of months to optimise your website and train your staff. This can take anywhere between 3 and 12 months, so make sure you’ve got a good $20,000 minimum in hand.

  • SEO Writers:

Content and SEO go hand in hand. A SEO-friendly content ideally has between 800 and 2,000 words and includes a range of popular and highly targeted keywords. Expect to get good quality content from freelancers for around $200-$500 per blog post.


Off-site SEO Costs

  • SEO Agency or Company:

It will generally cost between $2,000 - $5,000 for a one-off service.  Some maintenance may be required over time, but you may be able to get away with a biannual or annual review rather than a monthly retainer. Get a quote for achieving a top 3 local Google listings ranking, as they attract around a third of all users.

For ongoing back linking service, you’re looking at a commitment of between $2,000 to $10,000 a month over a 12-month contract period.

  • DIY Option:

If you’re a local business, optimising your off-site SEO through business listings and some minor on-site SEO tweaks is a great starting point. You can teach yourself SEO but proceed with caution if you lack time or are a beginner.


SEM Costs

If you’re in a hurry and prefer to invest in tangible leads, SEM is your answer. Some industries can get very competitive and you need to identify niche keywords that ensure you’re still getting leads at an affordable price.

Agencies and experts will generally charge between 30% and 50% commission of your advertising spend. Alternatively, you can find fixed management fees of a few thousand dollars per year.


What questions should you ask when hiring a SEO agency or expert?

This is a sample of questions you should ask, and the answers you should expect, before making a final decision:

1. How many search engines can help improve my ranking?

Inexperienced agencies looking to make a quick buck will promise improvement on hundreds of search engines. But there are only two search engines that matter. Google and Bing make up more than 95% of all searches on the internet. The right agency will focus on these engines only.


2. How long will it take to see improvement?

This is a trick question. Anyone who guarantees an improved ranking in X number of weeks or months is lying. The very nature of SEO is uncertainty. Google and Bing have secret algorithms that determine ranking and they can change at any time. An honest expert will answer this question by saying, “I can’t make any promises about the timeline. I can give you an estimate, if I have time to conduct a thorough research.”


3. What is your backlinking strategy?

Many SEO experts focus solely on content. While your content is important, your ranking will improve more quickly and effectively if you have new links pointing to your website. This is how Google measures your authority. The right expert will have a clear backlink strategy for legitimate links.


4. Can you show me three websites whose rankings you’ve improved?

When it comes to SEO, experienced agencies are often more effective. Visit the websites of past clients, ask questions about their strategies, and conduct searches. Finally, and most importantly, talk to business owners. The results could look great, but the experience itself might have been terrible.

How do you choose the best SEO agency or consultant to hire for your business?

It’s easy to fall for the lure of cheap rates and unrealistic promises of success when hiring an expert. Whether you choose to hire a freelancer, a SEO expert, an agency or company, see past the hype and consider these factors:

1. SEO Costs

Don’t just look at the total price. Look at their clauses too. Do you have to pay if you exit the contract prematurely? What about extra work or variation costs? How often and when do you need to pay?


2. SEO project scope and depth

Consider the scope and depth of the project based on your goals. Which SEO services are covered, and will they help achieve your goals? Is there room for feedback and improvement? What happens if you don’t get the result you want?


3. Past successes and referrals

Snoop around and investigate whether they are worth their price or whether their claims are untrue. Read testimonials and reviews, get in touch with past clients, and study their portfolio.


4. Vibe

You need to work with someone you trust, feel comfortable and can communicate with. This is usually a vibe that you get when talking or dealing with someone. Only hire people you like and trust.

Partly Contributed By: Steph Barr, Founder and Managing Director at Barr None Group and Tabitha Naylor, Owner of


Further Reading:

SavvySME Official

Official Account

SavvySME is Australia’s B2B community marketplace designed for small and medium businesses. SavvySME helps entrepreneurs and small business owners do their jobs better, faster and with more satisfaction by drawing on a support network of trusted advisors and influencers while learning best practices from industry experts and each other. It combines the collaborative aspects of business networking with a marketplace in an online community setting exclusively for Australian business owners.


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