I have a budget of $500. The work description detailed the specifics of what I needed which was a basic website and SEO. We agreed there would be 3 mile stones that would be created Webpage, On-site SEO, and Off-site SEO. Each Mile stone requested at $150. I have approved Webpage and On-site SEO payments via Escrow. Now there is $200 remaining. I have funded Off-site SEO for $150 which is in Escrow. The freelancer has now advised that it will take up to 5 months of monthly Off-page SEO work to rank the website on the first page of google. This was my number 1 priority request when I put the work description out for Bid. I thought that we had a contract of a fixed-price of $500. Do I have any protection to have the freelancer finish the project within the budget?
I'm sorry to know that you don't feel confident about how your project is running with your freelancer. I am unfamiliar with how long off-page SEO works, but if you feel that 5-months is too long, I would recommend that you discuss this with your freelancer, and get more details on why this part of the project may take this long. There may be some finer details in the back end that you may not be aware of that the freelancer may have failed to flesh out when they relayed "5-months" as a timeline.
Anyway, I would also like to share this help article about Upwork Payment Protection for more information on how you are payment protected on Upwork. This help article shares how to get an escrow refund in great detail. Let me know if you have other questions, and I'll try my best to assist you.
Chris: Upwork can not make any kind of guarantees about the results of work done by freelancers that you hire on the platform. That is not what "protection" means.
Upwork can not provide you with SEO result guarantees. Nor can any Upwork freelancers
You may benefit from learning more about how Upwork works.
You could also learn more about SEO. One of the best things you could do right now would be to hire some SEO experts for consulting. State in your job post that they will NOT be doing any hands-on work, but will be answering your questions over the phone or Skype. Hire four experts. Spend twenty to forty minutes with each consultant, asking them about ways to achieve your SEO goals.