Stevie Carpenter is an experienced writer and editor with over 10 years of experience. Passionate about marketing and developing profitable side hustles, Stevie specializes in writing about business and entrepreneur-related topics.
11 min. read
Updated November 13, 2023
There’s never been a better time to start an SEO business. In this day and age, SEO is all but essential to businesses. It’s crucial for helping brands get seen by the right customers at the right time.
Consequently, starting an SEO business can be a lucrative venture.
But with so much competition, it takes time and effort to successfully grow an SEO agency that stands out against your competitors. In this piece, we look at how you can start growing your SEO business, from business plans to lead generation.
As the name suggests, an SEO business is a company or agency that performs SEO services for and on behalf of a brand.
For those not in the know, SEO refers to search engine optimization. This is the practice of helping a website appear higher in search engine results pages (SERPs) for keywords related to their specific product, service, or niche. An SEO business, then, is one that offers this practice as a service.
With 81% of people looking to search engines to find a product or service and a further 74% of those people actually making a purchase, SEO is clearly essential to businesses.
However, the actual process of optimizing your website can be complex, requiring a degree of technical and niche knowledge in order to do so. SEO businesses provide the skills, experience, and tools to help their clients optimize their digital presence so they appear higher in the SERPs.
Naturally, with SEO so important to growing businesses, there are plenty of potential clients out there. But actually winning those clients is a different matter.
A business plan is essential for any growing SEO business. It’s what guides your SEO agency’s growth and trajectory, identifying where you want to go — and how to get there.
Here are a few key points you should bear in mind while writing your SEO business plan:
Who are you targeting your SEO business’ services towards? You might want to be an all-rounder SEO agency or, as we discuss later in this piece, you may want to specialize your verticals.
There are a lot of SEO businesses out there — what sets you apart from your competitors? Do you have a proprietary tool that you leverage? Expertise in a specific industry vertical or process? Work to set yourself apart early and showcase to both customers and investors why they should choose you over other agencies.
The executive summary is a general overview of your SEO business that covers all aspects of your business plan. Be sure to save this part of your plan for last, since it should function as a concise representation of your larger business plan.
Your financial plan will include your cash flow statements, estimated sales forecasts, profit and loss statements, and more. This is an essential component of your plan that will help you layout steps for growth and help prove that your SEO business is viable.
These are just a few points that your SEO business plan should include. For a full and comprehensive list (with business plan templates), check out our step-by-step guide to writing a business plan.
Part of the trouble with getting clients for your SEO business (or, indeed, retaining them) is that it is difficult to convince prospects that are not familiar with SEO of its value and necessary tactics.
SEO takes time to execute and take effect. Indeed, it is often in constant competition with PPC for budget. PPC is comparable to a speedboat — fast, agile, and quick to pivot but, as it requires constant refueling, it can soon get expensive.
SEO, on the other hand, is more like a sailboat. Sure, it’s slow, to begin with, and it can take a while to gain momentum. But once a sailboat gets going, it really comes into its own, spurred along by the wind — no expensive refueling required.
Due to this relative lack of speed on SEO’s part, it can be difficult to make the case for it, but leaning on data can help.
Prospects that are unfamiliar with the intricacies of SEO (and why it’s arguably better than PPC) might be reluctant to sign up as a client. Or if they do, they may be reluctant to stay on past their contact’s end date because they haven’t seen the instant results they desire.
That’s why it is essential that you thoroughly outline your forecasted results for your clients during your sales pitch, and back those predictions up with solid data.
This guide from SEOmonitor explains that you need to demonstrate the value of your targeted keywords and showcase where a brand stands against its competitors. Use this to create a forecast that showcases what really matters for the business: the link between clicks and conversions.
Convincing prospective clients of the benefits of SEO all comes down to one thing: the positive impact on their business. Clients that are familiar with how SEO works might be an easier sell, as they know that good SEO takes time and effort to implement and to see results. But for those clients that are new to SEO (and, indeed, for those that aren’t), it requires a solid, data-backed forecast of the expected results from your proposed optimizations.
By backing up your predictions with hard data — translating ranking increases into estimated clicks, conversions, traffic, and so on — you can convince even the most skeptical clients of the value of your SEO business.
In the same vein, you should also seek to educate your customers. Offer one or two real insights, relevant to your prospect’s niche, that they can use and that demonstrate your own expertise and authority.
Don’t share too much, of course — give too much away, and your prospect won’t need your help. But by providing a few nuggets of useful information at first, you then prime them for further collaboration, helping your sales pitch convince and convert as a result.
Many local businesses rely on word-of-mouth, local out-of-home (OOH) advertising, or high street footfall to get customers. But as consumers increasingly turn online to search for their desired products or services, these traditional marketing tactics fall short.
Now, in a post-COVID world, OOH advertising and customer footfall have become less valuable. With the rise of eCommerce during the course of the pandemic, these habits will likely remain long after the world returns to any semblance of normality.
Consequently, SEO businesses looking to grow should target local businesses with the offer of local SEO services.
Local SEO helps your clients reach new customers in the same area, customers who might otherwise have looked to national brands to buy a product. As consumers become increasingly conscious of the benefits of buying local, this is essential.
It also helps them appear ahead of their competitors in local searches. By ranking higher in the SERPs, local SEO gives them a slight (but valuable) edge.
Beyond this, local SEO can also help your clients expand into new (but still local) regions. Rather than limiting their reach to the strict geographical area, your clients can appeal to customers in the next town or district.
The essentials of SEO for local businesses include, but is not limited to:
These are just a few ways you can build local SEO for your clients — this Search Engine Journal guide to local SEO outlines them more in-depth.
But by targeting businesses with the offer of local SEO services (and clearly outlining the benefits of it to them), you can increase your roster of smaller (but paying) clients.
When you first start your SEO business, it can be tempting to take on clients from all industries. As long as they are willing to pay and take onboard your actions, they’re a worthy client.
While this is certainly a valid approach, you run the risk of overreaching. Trying to cater to every business under the sun can be done, but it is often more manageable (and, indeed, more lucrative) to go niche.
Often, the best way to increase your client base is to narrow the scope of industries your SEO business caters to — your verticals. Although most SEO techniques can be applied to any business, each industry has its own unique challenges and issues.
Take pharmaceutical clients, for instance.
If you are working with online pharmacies or drug manufacturers, they will be subject to strict and specific guidelines over what they can and can’t say on their websites.
Potentially misleading claims could result in strong penalties, both from industry regulators and from search engines themselves. This requires a working knowledge of the pharmaceutical industry from a digital point of view. An all-rounder SEO business might struggle to get to grips with these complex regulations.
But an SEO agency that specializes exclusively in pharmaceuticals would hit the ground running with any new client from that industry, leaning on tried-and-tested tactics that provably grow their business.
By specializing in one, two, or a few specific verticals, you can build up your knowledge of the challenges and requirements these industries face in SEO. Consequently, you can look to offer a broader skillset and depth of experience to potential clients. Your value as an SEO business grows considerably and will help grow your client roster as a result.
If you’re looking to grow your SEO business, you should first start by ensuring your own SEO is in order. Your prospective clients should be able to enter the keywords relating to your SEO business and see you appear in the first search engine results page, at least.
This starts with a modern-looking website that is well-designed, quick to load, and represents your brand and its SEO offerings. Build out your service pages so they clearly outline exactly what you do, and how potential clients can benefit from it.
Accompany this with plenty of relevant keyword-optimized content that demonstrates your value as an SEO business, both to potential clients and to search engines. As outlined by this Search Facts blog, building expertise, authority, and trust are essential for good SEO, and your website is where this begins.
Your website also includes the other basic elements of SEO: optimized metadata, good site structure, plenty of backlinks, and so on.
But alongside this, you should also improve your accompanying digital channels too. Your social media profiles, email newsletter, paid ads, and so on all create a comprehensive digital presence that, whether directly or indirectly, enhances your business’ SEO.
Every growing SEO business needs a solid lead generation strategy, and one of the best ways to grow your SEO business this way is by offering something free.
A contact form is a good way of building up your potential client base, creating an email recipient list that you can target with value-adding email marketing newsletters. But getting relevant, qualified leads to actually sign up for your newsletter isn’t always easy.
Convincing prospective clients to hand over their personal details requires a value exchange, and in order to incentivize potential customers to sign up, you need a way of encouraging them to provide their contact details.
Consequently, it is worth offering something free to achieve this.
For SEO businesses, this typically means a free SEO site audit, but this can get expensive if you’re not guaranteed a sale out of it. But you could also look at including content templates, tools, social media calendars, and so on.
Whatever incentive you decide to offer should appeal to your target client, relevant to SEO, and adding value without detracting from or replacing your own services.
While this won’t guarantee clients, it will increase your potential audience base for your SEO business and help you get your marketing messages to the right people, boosting your business as a result.
The tips and tactics outlined above are just a few ways you can start growing your SEO business. Start with a plan, set milestones, and explore opportunities to differentiate your service offerings. With time, effort, and no small amount of patience, you could soon build up a solid client base that spurs your SEO business growth.