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Hourly Consulting Pricing in SEO: Flexibility Comes at a Price

April 14th, 2009 | | Pricing Models for SEO, SEO Management

How many times have you opened a drawer or a closet to grab something and ended up spending 45 minutes cleaning just to find what you’re looking for? Or, have you hopped in your car to make a quick trip to the store and ended up twisting and turning around town in a seemingly endless string of construction detours? Not every task is always as simple or quick as you think—sometimes flexibility is necessary.

Just like your quick trip to the store or search for a pen, not every SEO project is exactly what it seems to be in the planning phases. Unforeseen problems, additional work, changes and necessary testing and tweaking can make your simple project a little more complicated if you want to get things done right. Hourly consulting pricing for your SEO project can give SEOs the freedom to use their expertise to complete all the work necessary without complicating things with separate estimates, proposals and pricing for unforeseen work and small details. Clients, you will know when you get started that your pricing includes all of these little surprises; you’ll save time and resources, and devote less time and fewer resources to managing your SEO project.

What is hourly consulting pricing?

It’s just what it sounds like—a price per hour of work. These prices vary greatly based on a professional’s experience and type of work and can range anywhere from a low of $50.00 an hour to a high end of $500.00 or more. In my experience, a typical, well-qualified professional SEO firm or independent consultant will charge somewhere between $300.00 and $400.00 per hour.

Hourly consulting pricing seems simple, but it does require a little more work than simply naming a price. Clients need a little more certainty in pricing than just a project and an hourly price. In the planning phases, the SEO and client must agree not only on a price per hour, but also the specific items that need to be completed, an estimate of the hours required to finish those items, and a procedure for approval for additional hours over the estimate or a set number. Especially in this economy where every dollar needs to work harder, it’s important to clearly set maximum hours and respect arrangements for approving additional hours over your specified limit.

What does hourly consulting mean to SEOs?

This type of pricing offers flexibility and freedom to work when and how it’s best for you. Many SEOs feel that this allows them to take on more clients because it forces them to manage time well and assures that they are being paid for time they spend on a project—no more long nights handling unforeseen issues that you’re not being compensated for. And, hourly pricing does force you to truly evaluate what your time is worth—maybe you were undercharging on project basis because you never took stock of all the time spent on minor problems or additional requests from clients.

What does hourly consulting mean to SEO clients?

With a properly created hourly consulting arrangement, you don’t have to micro-manage a bunch of different projects involved in an overall SEO project. With hourly pricing, you can hire an SEO professional to handle website copy optimization, work on a blog, do local search optimization and even develop and optimize a blog—all in one agreement, no separate contracts and agreements to manage and monitor. All you need to do is agree on an hourly price, what work needs to be completed and agree on a maximum number of hours to complete the work. And, if somewhere along the way you decide you’d like to add something—maybe some social media work—you know what that will cost you and you don’t have to go through the process of another proposal and contract. The flexibility saves you time and resources and, by setting specifics such as maximum hours and communications requirements for additional hours, you still have the comfort of knowing your maximum investment.

The upside…

Hourly consulting pricing allows a project to grow and evolve easily, without going through the arduous process of new project proposals every time a client wants to expand or modify their SEO project. Hourly pricing works is a great way to handle additional work added to existing projects—whatever pricing structure you use for the original agreement, you can always use hourly to price add-ons and expansions. Hourly is most often used is tandem with other pricing structures to offer that additional flexibility, and you’ll find that both the client and SEO professionals will benefit from the flexibility and simplicity.

The downside…

Hourly pricing does require more than just setting a price, so details such as an estimate of hours required, maximum hours allowed, and approvals for additional hours are vital to any hourly consulting pricing agreement. Also, watch that you don’t scare away clients with an hourly price. If you’ve been using other pricing structures, moving to an hourly pricing structure can come with sticker shock—clients don’t, or can’t, calculate what they are paying per hour when they use a project based price structure or pay-for-performance. You’ll need to explain your hourly rates briefly, let clients know how you’ve arrived at that magic number, to show them that it’s an equitable price. Make sure you ease into this, use hourly pricing for add-ons at first and always give existing clients the option to remain with their traditional pricing structure.

What to remember if you use hourly consulting…

  • SEOs, set your hourly consulting rate based on your past experience and work. Look at the projects you’ve done, what they required and what time you put into them. Use this to determine your hourly rate and make sure it fits with your experience and knowledge. You can use different rates for different work. For example, if you have more experience with blog development than copy writing, use different hourly rates for different work—just don’t over-complicate things.
  • It’s not all about the price. Work out the details and make sure hourly consulting agreements are clear and include all the necessary details; price per hour, estimated hours for project, maximum hours, approval process for additional hourly charges above the set limits.
  • As always, Clients need to be specific about the projects being done and the work going into it. You want to make sure your total hours estimate includes everything you think it does.
  • For SEOs, your estimate is just that, an estimate. If you can work efficiently and finish in fewer hours, do it. You’d be amazed at how much credibility you will build with clients when they know you are under-promising and over-delivering. The word of mouth advertising will be great, too.
  • Clients, don’t shop for the lowest hourly price. You may think you’re getting a deal but you’ll get what you pay for—less experience and more hours.

Whatever price structure you’re using, make sure you tune in next week when we look at project-based consulting pricing and how that works for SEOs and for Clients. And, if you have experience with any of these pricing structures, or know of others that work for you as a client or SEO, leave a comment and let me know!

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