The Ultimate Guide to SEO Monthly Retainers in 2023

SEO Monthly Retainer

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between an SEO monthly retainer and project-based pricing? 

Or even performance-based pricing

Are you wondering if a monthly retainer is best for your business?

Or do you just want to know what the heck a retainer is?

Good news! You’re in the right place.

This guide will explain everything you need to know about monthly SEO retainers and how they can benefit you and your business. 


But first, let’s address the ultimate question.

What is an SEO monthly retainer?

An SEO monthly retainer is a pricing model used by SEO consultants and digital marketing agencies, in which a client pays a fixed amount of money each month for ongoing Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) services. 

The specific services offered each month may vary depending on the agreement between the client and the SEO provider. 

But, the foundations of what needs to be done each month generally stay the same.

For example, each month 4 pieces of content, such as blog posts may be created, along with 4 backlinks acquired. 

4 pieces of content and links

Yet, the topic of those blog posts and the authority of the backlinks may change from month to month.

So using a fixed pricing model such as a retainer ensures a steady income for the SEO professional.

This allows them to divide resources and time more without getting approval from the client.

And also adapt to the ever-changing search engine algorithms.

Need help with your SEO?

What is Included in an SEO retainer?

Most SEO retainers will include key services required to optimise a website to improve its search engine visibility such as:

  1. Keyword Research
  2. Competitive Analysis
  3. Content Creation
  4. On-page SEO
  5. Link Building
  6. Technical SEO
  7. Local SEO
  8. Reporting


Yet, the exact amount and type of services included will depend on your budget and what the service provider can offer.

For example, included in my managed SEO service (which is a retainer pricing model).

I offer my clients the option to have: 

  • More pieces of content
  • More links acquired
  • More hours allocated for technical SEO
  • More frequent reporting

It all depends on their monthly budget and at what speed they want to achieve their goals.

This highlights a great benefit of SEO retainers.

It allows flexibility for companies with varied budgets.

In my example above, I offer clients more or fewer deliverables depending on their budget.

This doesn’t mean they are getting worse service. 

It just means that if they choose a lower package with fewer deliverables.

It will take longer before results start to show and traffic to their site increases.

However, you must try to avoid cheap SEO packages at all costs!

Let’s look at these key services in more detail so we can understand what work is being done each month.

Keyword Research

This involves finding and qualifying relevant keywords that potential customers use to find you.  

Starting with a primary keyword (or seed keyword) you can then find similar words that are related to your product.

For example: 

For the primary keyword – Sausages, you can then find words such as:

  • Pork sausages
  • Chipolata sausages
  • Wabathwaite sausages
  • Hot dog sausages

You can then go even deeper and start to find words that imply that the user is ready to buy, such as:

  • Best pork sausages near me
  • Where to buy Wabathwaite sausages in Cumbria
  • Buy hot dog sausages online
  • Cheap chipolata sausages in Lancaster
SEO Keyword Research

Content creation and optimisation

Now you have a list of relevant keywords that you know customers are using to find you. 

You can develop high-quality content that is both user and search-engine friendly.

As well as optimise existing content to improve its position in the SERP (Search Engine Results Page).

Competitive analysis

Monitoring competitors’ SEO strategies is an important part of any campaign. 

It identifies areas where the client’s website can gain a competitive advantage, by using similar tactics.

On-page SEO

This involves optimising various on-page factors such as title tags, meta descriptions, anchor text, headings, Alt text, URL structure, and internal linking to make the website more search-engine friendly. Every time a new piece of content is created, on-page SEO must be applied. 

Off-page SEO (Link Building)

Building and managing the website’s backlink profile is vital for ranking in search engines such as Google. It involves outreaching out to website owners to earn high-quality links that refer back to your website, acting as a vote of trust.

Technical SEO

This addresses any technical issues that could impact search engine rankings, such as Page Speed Optimisation, mobile SEO and responsiveness, user experience (UK), site architecture, and Structured Data (Schema Markup) implementation. This is a constant process that should be allocated time every month.

Performance monitoring and reporting

Tracking and analysing key performance metrics, such as organic traffic, keyword rankings, and conversion rates, and providing regular reports to the client to demonstrate the effectiveness of the SEO strategy.

Is a monthly SEO retainer beneficial for a client?

Yes, a monthly SEO retainer can be beneficial for a client for many reasons. 

Keeps your campaign up-to-date

Firstly, it provides the SEO consultant or agency working on the campaign with a regular budget to work with.

This allows them to think more strategically, giving them the ability to adapt and build on previous successes, without constantly seeking approval from the client.

But how does this benefit the client?

Having the freedom to adjust the campaign when required is essential to keep up-to-date with search engine algorithms and updates that may affect the campaign.

Access to expertise

Having a professional on a retainer gives the client access to knowledge regularly.

It’s important that clients also understand what work is being done on their campaign and why.

Of course, they don’t need to know all of the technical details, but communication is key to building long-term relationships that provide long-term results.


A monthly retainer can be more cost-effective than hiring a full-time, in-house SEO specialist or paying for individual SEO projects. 

The retainer model often provides a better return on investment (ROI) as the SEO provider is incentivised to deliver lasting results and maintain a strong working relationship with the client.

Regular SEO Reporting and communication

Monthly retainers usually include regular SEO Reporting and communication, ensuring that clients stay informed about their SEO progress, challenges, and opportunities.

Customised services

As explained earlier, SEO retainers often involve a tailored approach.

After understanding the client’s business, goals, and target audience. 

The consultant can create a customised SEO strategy that caters to the client’s specific needs.

While all these benefits sound great and can be beneficial for many clients.

It’s also important to point out that choosing a reputable, experienced SEO company or consultant is vital to the success of a campaign.

This doesn’t need to come in the form of many years of experience.

But in the form of drive, ambition, understanding and the desire to get results for the client.

What kind of companies purchase monthly SEO services?

As we’ve learnt, a monthly SEO service has the potential to provide many benefits to a business.

So it won’t come as a surprise that companies of all sizes and across different industries may purchase monthly services to improve their online presence. 

But with that being said.

A monthly retainer requires a long-term investment.

Therefore the company must be in a financial position to invest in SEO in general. 

The types of businesses that can usually do this include:

Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs)

Many SMBs rely on SEO services to increase their visibility and attract new customers online, as they may not have the resources to hire in-house SEO specialists or dedicate significant time to managing their SEO efforts.

E-commerce businesses

Online retailers rely heavily on search engine visibility to drive sales, making SEO a crucial part of their marketing strategy. It can help e-commerce businesses maintain and improve their search rankings and attract more potential customers.

Local businesses

Local businesses, such as restaurants, dentists, and home service providers, often invest in monthly SEO services to improve their local search rankings, attract more customers from their targeted geographical area, and increase their online visibility. However, depending on your location their budget may be too small to offer realistic results from SEO.

B2B companies

Business-to-business (B2B) companies also benefit from monthly SEO services, as improved search engine visibility can help generate leads, increase brand awareness, and position the company as an industry leader.

Startups and emerging businesses

Startups and new businesses can benefit from monthly SEO services to establish a strong online presence, attract early customers, and build their brand reputation. However, usually, only new businesses that have had an initial investment tend to have a realistic budget for SEO.

Large enterprises

Even established companies with in-house marketing teams may purchase monthly services to access specialised expertise, scale their SEO efforts, and complement their existing marketing strategies. 

Niche industries

Companies operating in niche industries may invest in SEO services to target specific keywords and audiences, ensuring they remain competitive and visible within their specialised market.

In summary, any company that wants to improve its online presence and has the budget to do so can benefit from monthly SEO services. 

The key is to find an SEO provider that understands your business and has the skills to deliver an SEO campaign that meets the company’s unique needs.

Do you need SEO every month?

The short answer is Yes. Performing SEO tasks every month is something you should build into your strategy.

But, this doesn’t mean that you need to do every SEO task each month.

The key is being consistent.

For example:

It’s unlikely you will need to run an SEO Audit or check your site speed every month.

But delivering high-quality content, along with supporting backlinks every month sends ‘signals’ to search engines that your website is active and current.

Consistent SEO work also allows you to keep an eye on your competitors.

Understanding what they are doing right, can help you adjust your strategy and stay ahead of them in the search rankings.

So, while it’s not necessary to do certain SEO tasks every month.

It’s crucial to have a consistent and long-term approach to your SEO. 

What is a typical monthly retainer fee in the UK?

This is such a common question in the SEO world.

And like a true SEO, I’m going to answer with…

It depends.

No really, it does depend, this time!

The cost of an SEO monthly retainer in the UK can vary greatly depending on several factors, including: 

  • The size and complexity of the client’s website
  • The level of competition within their industry
  • The current health and position of the website
  • The scope of the services required 

It’s hard to provide a specific number that applies to all situations. 

But, I’m here to help, so here are some general price ranges to give you an idea:

For small businesses with relatively simple needs, a monthly SEO fee might range from £300 to £1,000.

Medium-sized businesses with more complex websites and competitive markets may see monthly SEO fees ranging from £1,000 to £2,500.

Large enterprises or businesses in highly competitive industries could have monthly SEO fees ranging from 2,500 to £6,000 or even higher.

But keep in mind that these figures are general estimates.

The actual cost may (and most certainly should) vary depending on the specific circumstances and requirements of each client. 

This image from Ahrefs shows the most popular monthly retainer fees based on their research.

SEO Monthly Retainer pricing

When looking for an SEO company or consultant, consider not just the cost but the quality and scope of the services offered.

It’s always best to ask for a detailed proposal outlining the services included in the monthly fee and ensure that they align with your business goals and expectations.

However, you (the client) must understand that SEO is a very rewarding, long-term process that should be seen as an investment in your business and not a quick purchase.

So, as you can see, it does depend.

How do you calculate monthly retainer fees?

If you are an SEO company, agency or consultant, calculating monthly retainer fees can be hard to work out.

However, if you break it down into what core tasks you will be delivering each month, it can help. 

Below are a few steps to help you work out an appropriate retainer fee for your SEO services:

Scope of services

Work out the specific services you’ll be providing each month.

Such as: 

  • Keyword research
  • Content creation
  • On-page
  • Off-page SEO
  • Technical SEO
  • Site audits
  • Reporting
  • Competitive analysis

Time and resources

Next, estimate the amount of time you will need to spend on each. If you are going to be outsourcing any of these, simply add the cost to you.

For example, if you are going to use FatJoe for your content, add their price next to ‘Content Creation’.

Hourly rate

Then work out if you haven’t already, your hourly rate or the hourly rate of your team members who will be working on the project. 

Projected monthly project cost

Next, multiply the estimated time for each service by the appropriate hourly rate to calculate the cost of each service. 

Then, add up all the costs to get the ‘projected monthly project cost’.

Overhead costs

Now, make a note of the monthly costs associated with delivering the campaign, such as SEO tools like Semrush, Ahrefs, SurferSEO, Screaming Frog etc.

Total monthly retainer fee

Finally, to calculate the total monthly retainer fee, add together the ‘projected monthly project cost’ and the cost of your overheads.

This sum is the estimated monthly retainer fee for your SEO campaign.

When working out your monthly retainer fee, the most important thing to consider is transparency.

It’s essential to be transparent and realistic about the value and scope of the services you’re providing. 

Also, consider the client’s budget, the level of competition in their industry, and the size and complexity of their website. 

Before you can attempt to work out a monthly retainer fee, you must fully understand the client’s business and its needs.

Without understanding what they need to achieve their goals, how can you determine a cost?

The answer is, you can’t!

What’s the alternative to a monthly retainer?

Whilst we talked mostly about monthly retainers in the article, it would be wrong not to mention the alternatives.

So, when it comes to offering SEO to businesses, there are a few different ways you deliver it.

Some of the most common alternatives include:

Project-based pricing

Instead of a regular monthly retainer, SEO providers can charge clients a one-off fee for specific tasks. 

This pricing model works great for businesses that have a clear objective in mind, such as:

  • SEO Copywriting
  • Optimising an existing piece of content 
  • Link Building
  • Technical SEO task
  • Setting up Google Analytics or Search Console

But one of the most common uses of this pricing model is for commissioning an SEO audit on a website.

An SEO audit is a one-off piece of work that analyses every aspect of a website’s Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) performance.

You can learn more about my SEO audit service and how it can help your business here.

Project-based pricing typically involves a fixed fee for the entire project or an hourly rate based on the time and resources required for that task.

Hourly rate

Speaking of hourly rates, another alternative is charging clients by the hour for the time spent on the SEO project. 

Like everything, there are pros and cons to this method.

It’s great for clients who prefer a more flexible arrangement and want to control their budget more closely. 

Or for consultants that are brought in to advise on the SEO strategy.

However, it makes it hard to estimate the total cost of a project upfront and may cause issues down the line when unexpected shifts happen in algorithms.

This image from Ahrefs shows the most popular monthly hourly rate charges based on their research.

SEO hourly pricing

Performance-based pricing

As the title suggests. In this model, the SEO company charge their clients based on the results they deliver.

For example.

They would agree on a fee based on hitting agreed performance goals, such as improved search rankings, percentage organic traffic increase, or target conversion rates. 

It can be an attractive option for clients who want to ensure they’re paying for tangible results. 

However, it can be risky for SEO suppliers, as search engine rankings and other metrics can be influenced by factors beyond their control.

Hybrid pricing

There’s no need to go into too much detail here, I’m sure you can work it out.

A hybrid pricing model combines elements of each, it’s as simple as that.

For example

A provider might charge a monthly fee for ongoing technical SEO and one-off fees for creating a blog post each month.

The main takeaway from this is that the pricing model must suit both the client and the SEO company. 

When choosing a pricing model, look at what will provide the biggest value for the client and allow the SEO freedom to deliver the very best results. 

SEO pricing differences between monthly retainer vs project-based 

Now we have explored the different types of pricing models available.

We can conclude that the two most used are monthly retainers and project-based ones. 

And we know how they differ in payment frequency and when each one should be used.

But does that mean one is more expensive than the other?

Well, it depends on how you want to look at it.

In a monthly retainer model, clients pay a fixed fee every month for a set of ongoing SEO services. 

And this usually includes a wide range of SEO processes, such as keyword research, on-page SEO, off-page SEO and more, on an ongoing basis.

So it makes sense that this would be more expensive in the long term than a one-off fee for a singular service such as keyword research.

Yet, if a business continues to pay for one-off tasks as and when they need them.

It will likely cost more than a monthly retainer over a long time.

That’s because monthly retainers are more cost-effective over longer timeframes due to them being more efficient. 

In summary, like most things, if a pricing model is not correctly utilised, it will be less effective and cost more in the long run.

But if used for the purpose it is meant for, it will have the potential to provide a good ROI for your SEO campaign.

SEO monthly retainer – Next Steps

When it comes to choosing a pricing model either for your business or one of your client’s projects.

This guide should hopefully give you an insight into the pros and cons of a monthly SEO retainer and the alternative options available. 

You should now be able to understand what a retainer is, what services they include and how to calculate a price. 

If you need help with your SEO, I offer an in-depth SEO Audit service (project-based), which looks at your whole website and delivers a comprehensive blueprint to increase traffic.

As well as a managed SEO service (which is an SEO monthly retainer by the way), which takes care of everything for you.

Why not book a FREE SEO consultation and we can discuss how I can help you and your business?

I work with clients all over the UK, including Manchester and London, so don’t worry if you’re not in Barrow or my second location in Lancaster.

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Andy Johnson
Andy Johnson
I am an SEO Consultant with over 16 years of experience in the digital marketing industry. I achieved 'SEO Expert' status from the globally recognised Gotch SEO Academy and gained further accreditation from the UK Insitute for Data & Marketing in SEO and PCC marketing. My knowledge and passion for Search Engine Optimisation drive me to get results for my clients.