Once the necessity is established, company owners will do inquiries reflexively based on price. I'm astounded that so few businessmen ask to see some samples of promoted sites and samples of writing. They never ask "How much return will I get? or "What will be the results if I'm patient and pay you properly for your work?" They only ask "How much?" This can sour the relationship right from the beginning because it tells the optimizer that no research or due diligence has been done beforehand; the site owner assumes that every SEO person is the same since the term is thrown around without much accuracy. If a site owner is realistic he'll believe the consultant who tells him that this form of marketing is a marathon not a sprint. The results are gradual but long-lasting. Most important is the fact that high quality work will inevitably produce quality results. This translates into a return that is thousands of times the amount of cash that was spent on the SEO campaign.
SEO programs are priced based on the estimated hours spent analyzing competitors, keyword research, hands-on editing of HTML on the site, creating article content, formatting, submitting material carrying links, site diagnostics, sitemap creation, communication, and reporting of rankings progress. Rates in SEO vary depending on the experience and scope of the campaign. Remember that web services firms have fees that must cover office overhead, sales commissions, salaries, and company profit. The number of hours will usually be sufficient to bring success, but at a high rate. A mid-size manufacturer can expect to be shown a quote of between $10K - $20K depending on the complexity of the site and the competitiveness of the market sector.
It is worthwhile approaching independent SEO consultants with lower overhead and who will give it his personal attention. Entry-level SEOs charge a rate of $40 to $50 per hour. Mid-tier consultants charge $100 - $200 per hour and proven and high-demand consultants can charge over $500 per hour. A good campaign should have about 90 - 120 hours of execution time but in many cases the misinformation factor combined with the bad economy hampers the ability of the SEO to charge the $4500 to $5000 that would inspire a truly successful campaign. It must be emphasized that Web 2.0 is ever more content-driven and search engines like to read quality content, just as we humans do. The search engine will find the multiple links to your pages within the published articles and associate that content with your site as the originating source. Each link is a "vote" for your site as an authority on the industry worthy of retrieval, and the rankings of your URLs are promoted as a result.
These are conservative figures but if 10 customers per month are generated by organic results and each customer represents a net profit of $300 over 5 years then the SEO has produced $180,000 profit. This figure can be considerably higher depending on the market sector. It is obvious that serious SEO research has to be centered on quality rather than who has the cheapest price. Creative people can be moody if they feel they have been shortchanged with an under-priced contract and this can make the difference between mediocrity and brilliance.