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SEO Pricing – Should I Charge My Clients An Hourly Rate for SEO Services?
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SEO Pricing – Should I Charge My Clients An Hourly Rate for SEO Services?

Freelance SEO Consultant, Web Designer and Internet Marketer.

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I myself personally believe in setting monthly retainers as part of my SEO pricing and fee structure as I feel it works best, however, as a lot of SEO consultants still prefer the traditional way of charging hourly, I thought Id touch on this method a little more.

Unlike other services, SEO is more involved and less linear as it is compared to say, web or graphic design. The timeline with ranking a website can vary greatly depending upon a large number of contributing factors. Many of which may be beyond the consultants control. Search engine algorithms, changes in the field, competitor’s marketing efforts, and client delays are just a few.

Some charge less than others.

Its due to these factors that I choose not to charge hourly for my work, as I do with web design. There’s no way of knowing how long it will accurately take to rank a site, and I feel clients are certainly much less responsive when you cannot provide them with an idea of both time and cost.

However I do at times, work at an hourly rate, but this is usually for smaller tasks that take a lot less of my time. The key here is “tasks” and not ongoing projects or campaigns. These tasks would normally be if a client has requested a once off website audit, or just keyword research on its own. If the task isnt overly complicated and can be set out as a simple procedure with a definitive completion time, then I'll be more likely to consider working at an hourly rate. 

When should you charge hourly?

An example of when to apply hourly charging would be if an organisation or client has requested a ‘once off’ type task such as keyword research, a website audit report or similar. These are typically tasks that can be quantified in terms of a set timeline (ie, task duration can be estimated relatively accurately)

The most important part of charging hourly however is clarity and scope. Both of which should be agreed upon and addressed within what I call a work order, or work request. Typically this is a simple document that outlines the nature of the task, and itemizes everything in detail – including exclusions, or, what work isn’t to be done. Failing to setout a work order, usually always results in miscommunication, delays, scope creep, frustrations and often having to deduct hourly rates due to wasted time.

Be sure to clarify everything ahead of starting any work at an hourly rate. You cant charge a client 15 hours when you spent the first 10 hours working on something that wasn’t part of the request.

When you shouldn’t charge hourly.

Whilst charging hourly can seem quite easy and simplistic, there are areas of consulting that you should most definitely not charge hourly for. For me, that is the campaign itself, service level agreements, and anything else that involves complicated tasks.


Its pointless charging hourly especially for the campaign itself, as ranking a site will involve a process of which is ongoing, typically for weeks or months at a time. If a clients requirements are to perform a complete site audit, enhance both onsite and offsite optimization, and improve search placements, then I know right away that I will be implementing my monthly retainer fee structure, and not applying an hourly charge.

Don't forget, my SEO Business Startup Kit contains all the necessary documentation including work orders, invoice templates, and contracts that you can use when addressing your pricing and fee structures.

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Gary Ruplinger
Freelance SEO Consultant, Web Designer and Internet Marketer.

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