Is SEO free? Yes, no, and why

SEO is free. Or is it?

SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is often described as a “way to generate your traffic for free.”

But is SEO truly free?

Let’s find out.


SEO might be free if you do it yourself using available free SEO tools. It’s an option for small businesses in less competitive niches.

If you work in a competitive niche and/or own a big website – SEO will cost money.

Why do people say that SEO is free?

SEO is free in a way that you don’t have to pay for clicks to your pages from Google (or another search engine) results. As opposed to PPC, where advertisers pay for each click on their ad (leading to a visit to their website, landing page, or app).

But the trick is, to get those “free” SEO clicks, you have to be on page one in the SERP. And not just anywhere, but at the top.

Organic positions 1 to 3 tend to get the most clicks. Here’s an estimate of what the CTR (click-through rates) by SERP position will look like in 2023, according to the FirstPageSage. Note how it decreases from 39.8% for position 1 to mere 7.4% for position 4:

click through rate by serp position for the year 2023 including top ads and organic results 1 through 4

And this data is not the same across different industries.

Some SERP results are even more competitive. Check out this page for the “party dress” query:

There are 4 ads at the top, taking up almost all the space above the fold (part of the content the user sees before scrolling down).

The more Sponsored Ads take up real estate on SERP, the more it descreases the CTR of the top organic result, studies show (although doesn’t change much the click-through rate of lower positions).

So you see, that in some cases being even in the second or third position is not enough.

And to be the #1 organic result in such a competitive space, you need to invest in SEO either your time or your money.

Can you do SEO yourself?

Yes, you absolutely can do SEO yourself. If your website is small, your business niche – not too competitive, and you have the knowledge and enough time – search engine optimization is something you can do.

And if your website is built on WordPress or with the help of a known website builder like Shopify or Wix, you can find some native or free third-party tools (plugins and apps) to help you with SEO.

Otherwise, a better option is to look for an affordable SEO service expert or agency.

Where to learn SEO for free

If you want to learn SEO, you don’t really need expensive courses. What you mostly pay there for is time saved on researching the topic.

If you want to study at your pace and without spending a dime, I recommend this resource:

Google itself has free SEO fundamentals for site owners and a Google Search Central YouTube channel, where you can find answers to many questions.

You can also follow SEO professionals on social media, especially on LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube. Many of them have podcasts and newsletters you can sign up for to get SEO advice regularly right to your inbox.

Are SEO tools free?

Not all, but there are plenty of free SEO tools, or ones with a limited free version. Here’s my top-10 shortlist:

  1. Google Search Console. Number one tool for website owners – and it’s absolutely free. You can see how your website is performing in organic search, how users are finding you website pages, as well as indexing information and much more. You can also share your Google Search Console access if needed.
  2. Google Analytics. Also free tool for SEO and Marketing specialists. It has a bit of a learning curve, but you’ll get more information about your website visitors and their behaviour on the website.
  3. Google Trends. If you’re working with seasonal products or services, or want to hop on emerging trend – this tool might have interesting insights.
  4. Page Speed Insights. Another great free tool from Google itself to check the speed of your website and see what might be slowing it down.
  5. Screaming frog website crawler. Free to crawl up to 500 pages, so a perfect tool to check for common SEO issues on a smaller website.
  6. Keywords Everywhere. Great extension to see related keywords, long-tail keywords, questions and other information right on the search result page. With paid version you’ll also get search volume and more.
  7. Answer The Public. Great way to discover what people are asking about certain topic. Free version gives you two searches per day.
  8. SEO Minion Chrome extension. So many things you can check with it, from on-page SEO to multi-location SERP comparison.
  9. SEO Pro Extension. Another great extension to check your page’s SEO optimization and Web Vitals
  10. Nightwatch Search Simulator. Excellent tool if you want to check rankings in another country (and language)

If you need more data and/or functionality, you’ll have to turn to paid tools. The most popular among SEO professionals are Ahrefs and SEMRush.

Cost of SEO tools differ. Most of them are subsciption-based and their pricing might be fixed or depend on the number and/or size of the projects (websites) you need to monitor and analyse.

For example, Ahrefs and SEMRush basic plans start at around 100 USD per month on their basic plans.

But SEO tools, free or paid, are no more than tools. They can give you the data, but not the strategy.

If you don’t know how to analyse the information, prioritize and act on it – you might end up wasting your time on things that are not important and won’t help improve your SEO performance.

So, is SEO free or paid?

SEO is not something you can just learn once. You need to keep up with all the search algorithm updates, SERP and search intention changes, and also understand how it works together with other marketing activities and UI/UX to achieve overall business goals.

Using tools can get you only that far.

Good SEO professionals and agencies invest their time and money into tools and knowledge to be able to prioritize issues and analyse and act on data.

So, if we summarize everything we’ve talked and answer the question if SEO is free or not:

  1. Website search engine optimization is free if you’re doing it yourself using free SEO tools. In this case, all you need to invest is your time.
  2. If you don’t have time, operate a big website or the competition in your niche where is high, the better option is to invest in SEO and hire a professional.

Need an SEO specialist for your project? Let’s see how I can help