Most entrepreneurs have a shared attraction for online businesses. The potential to work from home, set your own hours, and grow into a genuine long-term business – it’s all there.
However, more service providers and software developers are transitioning to the web, which means competition is higher than ever. SaaS – the software as a service subscription model, is the norm now in software delivery. Even as an SEO service provider, you’re now competing with SEO software. Businesses have to make the decision of which tools are necessary for their development.
SEO has been a stable industry for years and for many, it’s an opportunity to build a service business with relatively low startup costs. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t changed over the years though. SEO is drastically different today than a decade ago, and that’s because it has transitioned to being more about providing great content, and how well a website serves its audience, which is a good direction to move in.
If you can overcome this higher barrier to entry and adapt to these changes, an SEO business could be your big break and give you the capital you need to expand into other markets.
SEO does require experience as an inbound marketer
I don’t recommend that anyone without prior experience in inbound marketing attempt to provide SEO services. You’d be doing a disservice to the businesses you work for, and creating a major quality concern in an industry where there is already an overwhelming amount of unqualified providers.
What is SEO?
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of optimizing a website to rank well in search engines. It breaks down into two fundamental components – on-page and off-page. Both are digital services that require tools, knowledge, and resources to provide successfully.
On-page SEO refers to the content on the actual page/website that you intend to rank higher in search engines. On-page is about how well that page has been optimized. Does it have the right title and description? Does it use the right keywords? Does it have internal links pointing to it from other pages on the same website? These are fundamental on-page requirements. On-page services include things like blog content, which grows a website’s search engine presence by expanding topic coverage and internally linking to key pages of the website.
Off-page SEO refers to the quality of links that point to the page/website that you intend to rank higher in search engines. By links, I mean links from other websites, hence the term “off-page.” Does it have links from respectable websites? Are these websites relevant with similar audiences and content? Is your link building contextual and authentic, such as links from outreach methods like guest posting. These are fundamental questions when it comes to your backlinks. One good link is worth more to your search engine rankings than one thousand bad ones.
Selling search engine optimization services can be a very appealing startup business if you’re limited on funding, are confident you have the skills to successfully provide the service, and you work well with clients. As with any business, the most challenging part is providing consistent and professional customer support.
This is just a brief guide on the basics to starting an SEO business and it won’t guarantee your success. SEO is a constantly evolving industry and you will have to stay ahead of the curve to succeed.
What you should not do
I debated whether I should write this post because I didn’t want to lead anyone who wasn’t qualified into this line of work. Sometimes it’s better to establish what you shouldn’t do before you discuss what you should. If you get caught up taking the wrong approach from the beginning, it will negatively affect your business and potentially ruin your brand. Not to mention all the businesses you’re not helping and potentially damaging with your service.
Don’t build spam links
Businesses have wised up to this and likely aren’t going to put up with an SEO provider that’s building spam links. It’s not a legitimate tactic and it won’t provide good long-term results. Focus on quality over quantity. One good link for your client can be better than a thousand spam links. Stick to this philosophy even if the results are telling you otherwise. Sometimes there’s a loophole here and there with rankings, but don’t make a living on trying to exploit it.
Don’t produce low quality content
If you’re outsourcing, expect to pay a premium for a good writer. Quality content is hard to come by and if you’re hiring the cheapest writers you can find, they’ll eventually seek better pay and you’ll be caught in a cycle of constantly looking for talent. Do everything you can to add enhancements to your website’s pages and blog content, including stock images, infographics, videos and other visual elements.
Don’t allow for unrealistic expectations
Make sure your clients have realistic expectations for their campaigns. SEO is a long-term process that’s more of a content marketing service today than it is a ranking service, it takes time to get results.
If you lose a client after a few months because they are unhappy with the results, then your client had unrealistic expectations. You probably could have avoided this by explaining things better or not taking on that client in the first place. There are many occasions with SEO where it’s better to let a client walk than to proceed down a path where you know they won’t be satisfied with the end result.
If you intend to build a long-term business that’s sustainable, you’ll have to be more upfront with them. Negative reviews can hurt your brand and your focus. If a client’s expectations are unrealistic, they are more likely to be dissatisfied and speak negatively about your service. Protecting your business is more important than the short-term income that client might provide.
Don’t neglect your clients
Your clients need to feel important. When you’re too focused on the services themselves and allow your interactions with customers to take a back-seat, the client begins to feel neglected. This is true regardless of what’s happening with their campaign and the results you’re providing. Running a business is more often about customer support than it is about the actual service. You could provide poor results and be more successful with good customer service, than with good results and poor customer service.
Should you outsource?
One of the most important things to consider is whether you will provide the services yourself or outsource. Outsourcing takes the workload off your shoulders, while providing the services yourself provides more profit per client, and better control over the quality of the work.
Understand that an SEO business will take a considerable amount of time even if you’re outsourcing.
Managing the website, doing your own SEO, promoting the website, managing freelancers, creating reports, emailing clients and managing other aspects of the business like customer service is a lot on its own. If you intend to provide the SEO services without outsourcing, you might be setting yourself up for failure.
What’s most likely to happen is your website and the growth of your business will get neglected. While you may have decent business and you’re successfully completing the work for your clients each month, it will be hard to sustain this and also continue to grow. There just won’t be enough hours in the day to make everything come together.
Instead, I recommend you utilize outsourcing and build yourself a reliable team that you can depend on to help provide your services.
You can use websites like Upwork, Fiverr, SEOClerks, Gigbucks, GrowthGeeks, Guru, EasyOutsource, or OnlineJobs.ph to find contracted employees and services. If you already know what you’re looking for, these websites can be an immense help for building your team.
Reach out to freelancers that can provide high quality services at a fair cost. Chances are, they’re far better and quicker at providing what you need than you would be on your own. Utilizing their expertise is a smart move and you don’t have to feel like it’s a disservice to clients.
The value in your business will still be present. By managing freelancers, you’re saving other businesses the time and hassle of having to do this themselves.
Start with on-page SEO
If you’re an off-page only type of business, which have been common in the past but have mostly fizzled out today, you’re leaving a lot of profit on the table and not following the direction the industry is moving.
On-page search engine optimization is incredibly important and without solid content it’s hard to provide results. If you jump straight into off-page work, your clients aren’t going to get the results they deserve and you’re really cutting them short.
Good quality content and blog management services are an excellent place to begin with your services. Most businesses recognize the value in adding new content to their website.
You can also analyze their website and provide them with suggestions and improvements that can be made to pre-existing content.
On-page needs that should be addressed:
- URL structure and keyword placement in URL’s
- Proper kyword density within content
- H1/H2/H3 tags
- Blog post tags and keyword optimized categories
- Use of images, videos and other multimedia (plus image alt text optimization)
- Unique and optimized titles and META descriptions for every post and page
- Internal links to relevant content
- External links to authoritative sources
I recommend you set your clients up with ongoing on-page SEO. This would primarily be adding new content to the website such as blog posts, which can be very important to building their brand, expanding topic coverage, and harnessing the power of internal links.
Quality over quantity
When providing SEO services for your clients, remember that maintaining high quality standards can make or break your business.
On-page services involve making direct changes to your client’s website and anytime you’re editing or adding content, the quality needs to be top notch.
Your work will be extensively evaluated and even the slightest mistakes could convey a negative image to your clients. Go above and beyond to satisfy your clients by editing and proofreading your work before it goes live. By taking a few extra minutes to carefully look over the on-page adjustments you’ve made, and the content, you can eliminate errors and ensure things are done right the first time.
The goal is to remove the possibility that your client will see something wrong with the work and raise a complaint. When the on-page work goes smoothly, it’s much easier to secure contracts for other types of work.
One quality link is better than thousands of spam links.
Don’t buy into the hype of thinking the “latest and greatest” link building tool will get your clients ranked in search engines. It may have worked years ago but it’s not a reliable strategy today. Link building tools are over-hyped software that don’t build credible backlinks. Stick to manual link building and legitimate outreach, such as guest posting.
It’s always better to take a quality first approach and secure links from relevant sites with authority and traffic. Quality backlinks are links where there’s exposure to new audiences – websites with traffic.
How do you gauge a quality link?
- Is the link contextual and surrounded by relevant content?
- Is the site the link comes from trusted and relevant?
- Does the site have an active audience and readership? Can it provide traffic?
- Does the site measure up well with metrics like Domain Authority, Page Authority, Trust Flow, and Citation Flow?
Establish your brand and website
Building your brand as an SEO business is very important.
There’s no telling what your prospects have already heard about SEO. You’ve seen it before – “SEO is dead” “On-page SEO is useless” “SEO is just a gimmick.” These are all things your potential clients could have heard, not to mention they are constantly bombarded by overseas SEO companies that are trying to pitch cheap services. I get those cold emails at least, so I’m sure you do too. Your prospects are probably clueless when it comes to which services are worth investing in and how they should grow their business online.
Your brand is a representation of what you provide
Having an established and reputable brand that demonstrates the potential of your own services, will do wonders for your SEO business. You won’t have to explain why you should be trusted because your website and brand will showcase the potential of the services you’re selling.
You can use WordPress or any other content management system for setting up your website. Remember that local business owners may not have a Paypal account, so offering an alternative payment method is highly recommended. Stripe is a solid choice because it provides credit card processing.
Referrals are Everything
Word of mouth can be your biggest contributor to your sales.
When you treat your clients good, referrals come quickly and your chance of securing long-term clients is very high.
Good results means your clients will mention you to family members, friends, and even other businesses. Anyone with a website can benefit from your work and your clients will be happy to refer them to you when they’re getting what they pay for.
Marketing channels are plentiful
There are plenty of ways to market an SEO business. If you want clients to come to you, then you need a marketing strategy. These promotional methods and marketing channels are not immediate but they do provide consistent growth.
Blogging and Guest Posting
Start a blog on your website and update it regularly. Pick topics that are relevant to SEO and could build an audience of prospects for your services. Strive to produce blog content that’s highly detailed and better than anything your competitors are publishing. After a few months of continuous blogging, your articles will start to rank organically on Google, without much promotion. This can provide highly targeted traffic and as your brand gets stronger and your backlink profile increases, that traffic will continue to grow. The better your content is, the more attractive your brand. Visitors will be much more likely to check out your services when your blog content provides enormous value.
Similarly, you can write articles and guest post on relevant blogs. Target blogs with authority and large audiences. When you can secure a guest post on a high traffic blog, there’s a chance to generate direct traffic. Guest posting is a great way to get links and build your brand simultaneously.
Guest posting is one way to increase your search engine rankings but you should be doing other promotional work as well. As an SEO business, your clients will expect you to have search engine rankings to demonstrate your ability.
Online outreach is fairly simple. You can use tools like BuzzBundle or even do it manually.
Respond to relevant questions on Q/A sites, be active on forums or reach out to your target audience on social networking sites. There are lots of communities and places for outreach. When you make an effort to contact your audience through legitimate outreach, you build a credible backlink profile in the process.
Don’t underestimated the power of cold email outreach. You can use tools like MailCold to ramp this up and be sending hundreds of cold emails per day. Take the time to personalize each email and address your prospects by name. That extra effort will pay dividends when it comes to closing sales. Remember, SEO and web design is the most commonly pitched service through cold email. You’re already starting from behind, so tread lightly and don’t irritate prospects by spamming their inbox with followups.
Meetups and Conferences
Attending meetups and speaking at conferences can help you build connections and become a better networker. Many SEO businesses have secured 5 figure and 6 figure deals by speaking at conferences. You never know who’s listening and what their level of interest is. You can give informational speeches that are geared toward SEO and internet marketing.
You can even attend small business meetups and hand out your business card to businesses that you come into contact with. If you’re using this approach, try not to be too pushy and focus on relationship building rather than sales.
Upwork and other freelance sites
Freelancing sites can be treasure troves of clients, but it isn’t an ideal platform. The clients you’ll find here tend to be more educated, with stricter demands and expectations, but freelance sites are still a great place to drum up business when you need sales.
Put together an appealing proposal, build your profile, and encourage your clients to leave positive reviews on your account. You can even take tests and verify your account to gain additional privileges on these sites. The more you do to standout from the crowd, the more success you’ll have.
You can find a lot businesses that are looking for SEO specialists and full-time help. If you can talk them into paying a set rate per month, rather than hiring you by-the-hour, these are good clients for growing your business and using your team to streamline orders. Maintain constant communication and keep them updated on a weekly basis and you shouldn’t have too much trouble doing business on freelance sites.
It’s not much fun and it’s certainly not a marketing channel where clients come to you, but cold calling businesses can still be effective. You may have to make a hundred calls just to find one or two interested prospects. It takes time and determination to make it work. You will get hung up on, employees at the business will refuse to refer you to the manager and you’ll have a hell of time convincing businesses that they need SEO off a cold call. However, if you’re a good salesman and you have an effective pitch, it can produce results.
Whether your plan is to provide SEO locally, across the country or across the globe, some of the best customers can be local businesses. You can contact local businesses by phone, email, or by simply walking in and asking to speak with the manager or business owner. Reaching out locally and marketing your business within the community can help you secure long-term clients. Local businesses know they need online marketing and it could be as simple as making the initial contact.
Webmaster forums can be great places to learn about SEO and find effective strategies but they generally aren’t the best places to pickup new clients. Instead, find niche specific forums where you might find small business owners or large online brands. You can build a presence on these forums and subtly advertise your services.
Create a business profile on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social networks. You may even want to consider Pinterest if you have a unique way to market your services through pictures. Social media can be a great way to find leads and build your brand. Getting involved in conversations will add a personal touch to your online presence.
Craft a unique pitch
Never forget that you’re running a business that’s pitching a service to other businesses. You’re in the B2B industry and you have to stand out and be unique.
What do businesses care about? It’s not rankings. It’s traffic, sales and profit.
When you’re crafting your proposal and pitch, focus on what matters. Businesses want to hear about the traffic you can generate and the impact that can have on their revenue. Telling them about how you can secure first page rankings is great but what they really want to hear about is the results that you can bring to the table.
This will help you attract clients with large budgets that are looking for more than just dirt cheap SEO services. These are businesses wanting more of a content marketing service, something with real substance and potential.
Don’t get greedy
When you take this approach, you tend to attract better quality clients and it can be tempting to stop accepting clients with low budgets. You have to be careful here because when times get rough, such as an economic recession, the biggest clients are generally the ones to cancel first. If you stop accepting low budget clients, you could find yourself with no clients left if the industry takes a turn for the worst.
Impress with your pitch
When you first make contact with a client, this is your opportunity to impress them with your pitch. There are lots of things you can do to provide top notch customer service and improve your chances of closing the deal and securing them as a client. The first contact you make is often the most important.
Check their rankings
Checking a potential client’s search engine rankings is a quick and easy thing you can do that’s massively impressive. When you can show them exactly where they rank and for what keywords, you’re doing more than what the majority of your competition is willing to do without getting paid first. Including their rankings as an attachment in your pitch is highly recommended. You can use SEMRush or the Google Keyword Planner for keyword ideas, then use your personal rank tracker for checking the rankings and generating a report.
Analyze their on-page
There are lots of tools that analyze on-page statistics and provide SEO suggestions. If you can run these tools in the background while working on your business, then it’s easy to provide this with your pitch. When a lead makes contact with you, respond with an on-page analysis report that details how you will improve their on-site features. Top tools include the Inspider Insite Reporter and Powersuite’s Website Auditor. This is a great way to take your pitch to the next level.
Use backlink analysis
Checking their backlink profile can be done relatively easily. Inspyder’s Backlink Monitor is very powerful and it’s quick. You can use AHrefs or MajesticSEO to export their backlinks, then evaluate the backlinks with Backlink Monitor. It’s a straightforward process that can elevate your pitch and catch the attention of your leads. Let them know what their backlink profile is missing and how your services will fix it.
There’s no need to include fluff or be exaggerated in your pitch but make sure it’s thorough. Explain your services, what you can do for their website and how you will accomplish it. Focus on numbers, potential traffic and the results that you can provide. Don’t craft your pitch around rankings but around the actual impact those rankings will have. Be sure to mention your background, how you became an SEO specialist and why you have passion for the industry. Your clients want to work with someone that’s a professional with a real desire to help them succeed.
Clients will leave; it’s inevitable
No matter how much effort you put into your services, you will inevitably have clients that leave. You can’t provide immediate profit to every client and some of them just won’t have the budget to continue until they see results. Understand that sooner or later, a client will leave. It might even be a high paying one. This is just the nature of SEO and it can’t be taken to heart.
Survey your clients
There are things you can do to greatly reduce how quickly your clients leave and it boils down to making them feel important. One method that I’ve found to be effective is to send out a survey and politely ask your clients to respond. Let them know that the survey is transparent and they should be as honest as possible.
Ask questions like how satisfied they are with the service and what could be done to make the service better.
This will help you identify issues in your business. Clients can be afraid to say things to you directly but then be eager to write a negative review when things don’t go perfectly. If you beat them to the punch and show that you’re actively working to improve your business, they are much less likely to reach this level of dissatisfaction.
You should survey your clients on a regular basis. As you make changes and address issues, you’ll notice the surveys getting better.
Communicate with clients
The more you communicate with your clients, the more likely they are to stay. Weekly calls or emails can be important to keeping your clients around.
It’s easy to send a quick followup email that details where you’re at this month, what progress has been made and what they can expect going forward.
It’s easier to keep a client than it is to obtain a new one. It’s worth the effort to maintain communication if it means keeping them around a few months or even years longer.
Whether you’re providing the services yourself, outsourcing, or hiring in-house employees, staying organized is essential. Having all your subscribers, orders, and client info all over the place leads to getting overwhelmed and feeling burnt out.
Use tools and resources to stay on top of things.
Client management software can be incredibly useful for accepting payments, staying in contact with clients, and managing orders. If you outgrow your client management software, you can upgrade to BaseCamp, Wrike, SmartSheet or another advanced project management tool.
Asana is a teamwork and outsourcing tool that’s highly effective as well. You can use it to eliminate having to collaborate through email. Instead, assign tasks to your outsourcers and freelancers through the system, and it will notify you when the work has been delivered.
If you prefer something simplistic, Trello is a digital whiteboard that you can use to keep track of notes, important information, deadlines and more. It’s a great organizational tool that has a visual focus.
Never let yourself become overwhelmed or frustrated. Running an SEO business can be complicated and disorganization can really take your business in the wrong direction.
SEO is a much harder business model to be successful with today than it was ten years ago. The industry has changed significantly and it’s more content based than ever.
This guide serves as a resource for starting your own SEO business and providing genuine search engine optimization services to clients, but it doesn’t give you the ins and outs of how those services work.
If SEO is a business you really want to get off the ground, research our products here at Empowermented and see how they are ran. It will be essential to your success. An SEO business has to have a content marketing styled approach to be competitive today and that’s why our blog content service is the tip of the spear in what we do.