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Search Engine Optimization

Best SEO Services (2024 Rankings)

Best SEO Services (2024 Rankings)

Best SEO Services for Small Businesses

SEO Service Comparison

All of the providers on our list offer national and local SEO services. In terms of pricing, many of them require a custom quote. Here is a table going over some other points of comparison.

What Is SEO?

Search engine optimization, or SEO, refers to the techniques websites use to appear in search engine results pages (SERPs). The higher your website appears on a SERP and the more SERPs that feature you, the more visitors you’re likely to get, which can lead to more customers. Each search engine uses its own rules and algorithms to determine what searchers see when they type something. Seeing as Google is by far the most common search engine, most websites focus on optimizing for Google as opposed to Bing or Yahoo.

SEO is not the same as search engine marketing (SEM). SEO focuses on helping you appear organically on SERPs, while SEM uses paid advertising to help you appear. For example, on Google, you have websites labeled as “sponsored” at the top of the SERP and every 10 or so websites after that. Sponsored placements are SEM, and the websites between them are SEO.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Organic search traffic

Search Engine Marketing (SEM): Paid search traffic

Types of SEO

There are several types of SEO, each focusing on a different aspect of your website or online presence. Here is an overview of the main types so that you can determine which one(s) you need the most help with:

  • On-page SEO: On-page SEO is focused on optimizing the actual content and language of your pages. Improving readability and incorporating more target keywords are examples of on-page SEO efforts. 
  • Off-page SEO: Off-page SEO is mostly about link building. You want to show the search engine that you are the authority on a given subject by having other sites link to yours. 
  • Technical SEO: Accessibility, user experience, page speed and other technical aspects of your site can affect rankings. Technical SEO focuses on these factors to avoid critical issues that search engines can pick up on when they crawl your site. 
  • Local SEO: Local SEO is essential for businesses that have physical locations or local offerings that they want to rank for in a specific locale. The goal is to write locale-specific content and rank for that content so that searchers in that area see your business.
  • E-commerce SEO: As an e-commerce business, you will be competing with Amazon, Walmart, Target and other big names in the space. It takes a lot of SEO optimization to get your small website to rank against these big ones.

How Much Do SEO Services Cost?

Working with an SEO agency can be expensive, but it’s not always easy to know that because many don’t offer public pricing. Usually, you have to provide more information about your business and have an introductory call with a member of their team before they will provide a cost estimate. If pricing still isn’t transparent after that initial consultation, that may be a red flag.

That being said, there are a few agencies on our list that publicize a starting price. From these providers, we estimate SEO services to start at $2,000 to $3,000 per month. It can increase from there as you add on more services. There may also be an initial onboarding fee that costs a few thousand dollars.

Our team recently conducted a survey with small business owners who use an SEO agency currently or have used one in the past. They cited price as their biggest point of frustration. They wished that SEO services were more affordable or that they could get more for their money.

How To Choose the Best SEO Service Provider

Choosing the best SEO agency for your business depends on what you need. However, in our recent survey, here are the factors that most current and past users of SEO services recommended considering.

SEO Services

You can expect most SEO agencies to provide these services:

  • SEO audits: Running a website audit is a common starting point for any SEO agency. An audit tells the agency the current state of your on-page, off-page and technical SEO. 
  • Keyword research: An SEO agency can provide you with a list of keywords for your website to target. They can hand it off to you to write content yourself. Or, they can handle the content creation for you (see last bullet point). These keywords are phrases that a lot of search engine users are typing into the search bar. The agency has usually fine-tuned the list to select the keywords that relate most to your type of business. 
  • Link building: Link building is the key component of domain authority, which is if the search engine sees your website as an expert on the subject at hand. An agency can audit your current backlink portfolio, suggest opportunities for improving it and execute on those opportunities.
  • Competitive analysis: Part of ranking ahead of your competitors is understanding their performance. SEO agencies will have tools that they can use to analyze what your competitors are doing and what you can do to try to compete with them.
  • Brand management: How you appear online can affect how potential customers interpret your brand. Many SEO agencies can help you manage your website’s appearance to create a brand that customers want to interact with. 
  • Optimized content creation: If you don’t have existing articles or blog posts on your site or you want to write new pages, many agencies offer content writing services designed specifically for SEO. You can also use an agency to optimize existing content.

In our survey, respondents said the following services were most important in an SEO agency:

The most important SEO services ranked by respondents of a recent MarketWatch Guides survey
The most important SEO services ranked by respondents of a recent MarketWatch Guides survey

Track Record

Agencies should be able to show you proof of their success with past clients. Most share a portfolio of case studies on their website or upon request. When evaluating different SEO service providers, see what they offer you to demonstrate past performance, especially in similar industries to your business. 

Rankings are never guaranteed. Any agencies that offer guaranteed results may be promising more than they can deliver.

Potential Conflicts

If you opt for an SEO agency with experience in your industry, make sure that you won’t run into any issues with competitor overlap. For instance, if you’re a local ice cream business, you won’t want to work with an SEO agency that has competing ice cream businesses on their client list.

Reporting and Transparency

You’ll want to have scheduled check-ins with your account manager to go over how the strategies they are executing for you are performing. They should be open to sharing detailed results, such as how each page is ranking and how much traffic it is bringing in. In terms of cadence, monthly seems to be the industry norm, though there are some agencies that do weekly or quarterly.

In some cases, agencies might also offer a real-time reporting dashboard. You can use this dashboard to track performance between meetings. 

White Hat SEO vs. Black Hat SEO

White hat SEO refers to SEO best practices that abide by the rules of Google or your other search engine of choice. Black hat SEO refers to techniques that aren’t approved by search engines, even if they improve rankings. These tactics are risky and could result in your site being banned altogether. 

It may be difficult to know what tactics an agency uses, as agencies that use black hat SEO aren’t likely to advertise it. But, try your best to find a provider that only implements white hat SEO strategies. 

Client Experiences

Since SEO agencies are businesses themselves, most will have profiles on the Better Business Bureau (BBB), Trustpilot and other consumer review websites. Read through these reviews to see what past clients have thought of them. You can also turn to Reddit or reach out to members of your network who you know use these agencies. 

Additionally, you want to see how they treat you when you reach out to them about a potential partnership. They should be willing to provide some ballpark for pricing as well as a portfolio of client success stories. Many agencies, including the ones on our list, provide a free consultation, audit or review of some sort. Use that experience as a test run to see what it would be like to work with them in the future. 

The Bottom Line

Finding the best SEO company for your business will take some research and patience. There are a lot of agencies out there offering similar SEO services, so it’s key to first get a sense of what you’re looking for. For instance, if you’re a local business, you might want an agency that specializes in local SEO as opposed to one that does local, national, backlinking, content development and everything else that falls under the umbrella of SEO strategy.

Additionally, seeing as many SEO agencies are tight-lipped about pricing, you’ll want to narrow down your list by reaching out to them directly. They can hopefully give you a ballpark figure on how much they would charge for your needs, which you can then use to eliminate the ones that are over your budget.

Frequently Asked Questions About SEO Services

Hiring an agency for SEO services is usually more expensive than handling site optimization yourself. However, it can take a lot of work off your plate. It also gives your site a better chance of performing well because you’re using SEO experts who know what they’re doing. Many companies see a return on investment, meaning they get more back in business than they paid for the SEO services.

Yes, you can DIY your SEO strategy. You may see varying results depending on how familiar you are with SEO, how willing you are to learn and how complicated your needs are. However, it is the more cost-effective option.

SEO is expensive because it requires in-depth knowledge and a lot of time and effort. Many SEO agencies have employees with years of experience in the space who are diligent about staying up to date on the ever-changing world of digital marketing.

SEO is not a one-and-done deal. Even once you optimize your site, search engines continue to change their rules and other players continue to pop up on the market, affecting your ability to rank. However, let’s say you update your website based on current best practices in your industry. Google says it can take anywhere from hours to months for your changes to show up in search results.

No, SEO is not better than Google Ads; they each have their pros and cons. Google Ads guarantee placements on search engine results pages, but they require an advertising budget. There are no direct costs for Google to scan and rank your site organically — aside from paying for an SEO agency or software. However, you aren’t guaranteed to rank.


We at the MarketWatch Guides team spent over 100 hours testing almost 35 marketing software solutions, including Mailchimp, Constant Contact, Semrush and Google Analytics. These providers help with some or all of the following marketing disciplines:

  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Text/short message service (SMS)
  • Email marketing

We conducted a survey in 2024 of 200 professionals who were currently using marketing software or had marketing HR software within the past year. We analyzed the results of this survey to determine the following rating criteria:

  • User Experience (7%)
  • Pricing (8%)
  • Features (65%)
  • Customer Support (5%)
  • Reputation and Reviews (15%)

Visit the full marketing methodology page for more details on our rating system.

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