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What SEO costs vs other advertising

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Pretty much everyone has heard of SEO, but with such a wild variation of charges for SEO services, how do you know if you are getting value for money, and what are you paying for?

Here we look at the comparisons between traditional forms of advertising and what SEO, which results in you being seen, may cost your business.

It seems like you can pay anywhere from £5 to over £10,000 a month for SEO services, but what you get for your money is generally tied to what you invest.

In order to understand why SEO costs what it does, it’s first best to identify what it is, and that is essentially advertising.

  1. What is SEO advertising?
  2. So what used to happen with traditional forms of advertising, and why are search results different?
  3. Some examples of potential costs for these types of advertising (in today’s money)
  4. So are these advertising methods value for money?
  5. What are the advantages of SEO over some of the more traditional forms of advertising?
  6. Your audience is out there
  7. SEO advertising is important, even for the smallest of businesses
  8. So to conclude, what does SEO cost versus other types of advertising?
  9. Get started with SEO

What is SEO advertising?

When your advert appears in the organic search results, it’s no different to the sponsored links that sit above it, and these are Google Ads or Bing Ads, so your listing is no different other than the fact that organic listings are free.

You pay no money to Google when it lists your organic result at the number one spot, but you pay (in kind) for the time and skills required to get you there.

So Google is essentially the most complicated and dynamic advertising system ever conceived, but your listing is still an advert.

Note that we are specifically excluding talking about sponsors adverts, Google Ads and Bing ads in this article as they are not traditional forms of advertising nor are they organic SEO.

So what used to happen with traditional forms of advertising, and why are search results different?

If you are above a certain age, you will remember a time when there was no online advertising and no internet.

During this (some would say simpler) time, if you had a product or service to sell, you used other methods:

You would not get much change from £500 from any of these, and others would have (and still do) cost tens of thousands.

Some examples of potential costs for these types of advertising (in today’s money):

Print advertising in magazines, average costs

Print adverts can be anywhere from £300 for a quarter page in a low circulation magazine to over £20,000 in more widely distributed options. There’s also an old rule of thumb for newspaper and print adverts, you have to run them seven times before anyone even notices them.

One of the other issues with print and pretty much all traditional forms of advertising is that they cannot really be tracked, the only way you know if they have been effective is a long time after you have spent your money.

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Directory adverts average cost (where they still exist)

These can come in quite expensive, even for a small advert at around £200 to £400 points. To be honest, the days of the printed directory for things other than niche or very specific sectors are long gone.

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National press advert costs

A full-page advert in the Guardian newspaper costs £18,000 for one issue. This is a significant cost, but the reach is potentially huge, but again, this is just for one page in one issue and repetition is the key to all print adverting, so it can cost a small fortune.

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Local Press advertising costs

These are less expensive than the nationals due to lower circulation but can still cost between an estimated £2000 and up for full-page adverts.

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Television advert costs

Advertising on television is certainly not right for all products and services. Charges for these adverts as two-fold as you have to buy the air time and incur the production costs for the advert itself.

TV spots vary from £50 for a spot on a very small digital channel to over £4,000 for primetime spots. You then have to add in the costs for production, which can run anywhere from £50,000 to over £250,000. You need a budget of at least £100K for advertising on television.

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Radio advert costs

Advertising on the radio costs approximately £2 per thousand listeners at one time. If a show has 100,000 listeners at a given point in time, a 30-second advert will cost £200. A general rule of thumb is that costs range from £250 to £1,000 per week depending on the station and broadcast frequency. Again this type of advertising is not really trackable.

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Mobile advertising costs

Advertising on things like taxis can mean that a lot of people can see your advert, even if it’s for a fleeting moment. This sort of advertising can start at around £2,500 for a single campaign, and you also need to add in the design costs for the creative.

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This can be a very inexpensive method of advertising, but with GDPR you have to be careful. The real cost here is building the list rather than sending the emails, and to build the list you need visitors to your website which means you need to rank in the search. Effective SEO campaigns are required for this to work.

Once you have the subscribers (which can cost between 3p and 12p per contact if you buy them) and then anywhere from an average of 14p per contact.

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Direct mail costs

Direct mail is apparently more effective than email, 30 times more effective, and can cost anything from 3op to £5 per item. Costs obviously depend on the size of the campaign, what you send and the cost of the design and production.

One great thing about direct mail is that you can implement some tracking, like including a unique URL for people to visit or a specific discount code.

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Telemarketing example costs

Telemarketing is charged at different rates for different things, so the costs vary a lot. As a benchmark you would be looking at around £250 to set up the campaign and £50 per month to manage it, then you have to pay between £10 to £30 per hour for the staff making the calls. You also have to then buy the data for who to actually call.

Again, this is not right for all products and services.

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Billboard advertising average costs

Anywhere from £160 to £250 per week, plus production costs for a two-week booking. You will also need to pay for someone to design the advert and this would start at around £300.

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So are these advertising methods value for money?

There’s no straight answer to that question because every product and service is different and different methods of advertising using the above examples would be more or less suited to different companies.

The right form of advertising for your business should generate more than you spend on it, but this can be tricky to get data on – you know half of your advertising works, but you don’t know which half.

Get started with SEO basics for your site

What are the advantages of SEO over some of the more traditional forms of advertising?

SEO is different to most traditional forms of advertising because, if done well, it can be persistent.

Most of the advert campaigns listed on this page have a start and an end date or a fixed number of people you are going to reach. This means you pay and the campaign runs and then you pay again for it to run again. There is nothing wrong with this, but it’s a never-ending cycle, and one in which return on investment can be hard to pinpoint.

SEO is not really much different in terms of it being an ongoing campaign, but if you manage to get content that ranks and stays ranking, it will continue to deliver traffic and leads when you move on to optimising the next keyword or phrase.

SEO keeps giving.

If you manage to get a landing page of your website ranking for your most important keyword it is going to bring you business – this is 100% fact.

If your content is sticky and performs well, it’s going to stay ranking and just keep delivering leads.

You don’t stop SEO at this point, but you do move on to the next important keyword – this could be a completely different product or service you offer, but you invest in this new one whilst the previous one is delivering new customers.

This way you build a wide range of content and keywords that make you money.

On top of this, you can track the effectiveness of your SEO in a very detailed manner, so it’s easy to see what works and what doesn’t without investing thousands of pounds on expensive mistakes.

You can be confident in your investment in SEO.

If SEO is done properly, there is no hiding from these results.

A WordPress SEO company that only sends you a Google Analytics report is not doing its job properly as all campaign keywords should be tracked individually.

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Tracking keywords individually means that your SEO partner can demonstrate their effectiveness. There are not many traditional forms of advertising that can give you this much detail.

Your audience is out there.

Unless you are targeting a very specific demographic, your audience is on the internet.

We hear from a lot of clients that are considering SEO over more traditional advertising channels but are not sure SEO is right for them.

We don’t think our target market will search for what we offer.

Again, if you are targeting people where this is no internet connection or possibly a significantly older age range, this may be true, but:

94.8% of the UK’s population use the internet.


Compare this to some other types of advertising:

  • 89.6% listen to the radio at least once a week (source)
  • 95% of people in the UK have a TV (source)
  • Newspaper circulation has decreased 52.5% since 2010

So other than TV, the internet, and your website is very, very findable by one of the biggest audiences possible, you’ve just got to get your SEO right.

SEO advertising is important, even for the smallest of businesses.

It doesn’t matter what your business does or how small it is, if you have a website (which only 45% of UK businesses do) SEO can work for you.

In fact, the smaller your business, the chances are the more niche it is, so SEO can be an even more cost-effective way of advertising your products and services.

You don’t have to do everything at once with SEO.

It’s a common myth that you have to dive in headfirst with SEO and spend a fortune; in fact, the opposite is true.

As SEO is a combination of lots of small things, it’s possible to improve your SEO advertising by addressing these things individually over a longer period of time.

You could try the following to start improving your WordPress SEO.

These types of activities can be done as one-off projects with a fixed cost and objective so you can start with the basics of SEO first and see what the improvements are.

A good SEO team will understand how your business works and this includes your budget, so they should work with you to accommodate what can be done into the budget you have to invest.

So to conclude, what does SEO cost versus other types of advertising?

A lot of traditional forms of advertising are fixed cost so you have to spend the money on what you assume to be the best option and see what happens.

There is a saying in SEO:

Don’t publish and pray.

Which related to publishing content without planning and researching it, but this is effectively what most people are doing with more traditional methods of advertising.

  • You advertise in the local newspaper as your customers might read it
  • Place adverts in local magazines hoping that a potential customer might see it
  • Advertise in the national press simply because your competitors are doing so

Most of this is complete guesswork, but a lot of companies do it because that’s just what you do – you market your business otherwise no one will know about it.

The truth with SEO is that it can be equally as expensive as traditional forms of advertising if you choose to spend the money on it.

The absolute key difference between SEO and traditional forms of advertising is that you can:

  • Start with a smaller investment
  • Prove what is working and delivering a return on investment
  • Invest more as ROI is demonstrated
  • Get content ranking and deliver consistent new business leads
  • Move on to the next keyword and repeat the process (this is paid for by the increase in revenue created by the previous campaign)

Most businesses that use traditional forms of adverts don’t even know if they are working, SEO done properly can prove what is working, so in that respect, it demonstrates significantly more value for money than other forms of advertising.

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