“4 Pillars” to Starting & Growing an SEO Agency
I’ve been working with agencies for the last 10 years – as an owner, a consultant and an employee.
Through this experience I’ve developed a high level growth framework to start and grow SEO agencies.
In this post, I’ll be running you through the “4 Pillars” of SEO agency growth.
- Knowledge: You must have deep expertise in your service(s).
- Process: There needs to be a system through which you deliver your services.
- People: You simply can’t do everything yourself. You need people who can help you deliver quality work quickly so you can better serve your clients.
- Leads: You need to have a steady stream of predictable leads.
These pillars have helped me start and grow agencies that have amassed over 8 figures in revenue.
Let’s dive into each pillar in detail…
SEO has gone beyond just stuffing a page with keywords and building links to make it rank. There are so many moving parts to SEO success – you need to know them to drive results for your clients.
Even before they trust you with their SEO project — which is a high-ticket service — they’ll need you to show your expertise while pitching them, and you can’t do that without in-depth SEO knowledge.
How do you become really knowledgeable in SEO?
First, start with the fundamentals.
Learn how the internet and websites work, and how search engines interact with them.
Whether you’re already an expert or just starting out, launch something (a website, marketing campaign, etc.) from the ground up and learn as you go through the process of building it.
If you’re a beginner, start from:
- buying a domain,
- getting a hosting service, cPanel, DNS,
- setting up a site on any CMS of your choice
This gets you real-life experience of how websites work generally, and it will get you started understanding SEO from a technical perspective.
I also strongly suggest you read through Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, end to end.
It gives you all the basics of how to structure your website for search – it’s always overlooked by search marketers who are just getting started. PLEASE READ IT!!!
Second, immerse yourself.
Just reading about it isn’t enough – you have to take action. The key is to be actively working on a campaign (if you’re an expert) or something from the ground up (if you’re a beginner) — so that when you hit a wall, you simply search Google for it.
There are so many amazing blogs, YouTube channels, and guides that will help you simplify bottlenecks and answer your questions.
Here’s a short list of some I recommend:
I’m also big on leveraging consultants. There’s a site called Clarity — where you can pay experts by the hour and benefit from their wealth of industry and SEO knowledge.
The point is, all the information you need is online – but in order to use it effectively you need to be actively working on a campaign.
Third, get experience by any means necessary.
Getting your hands dirty by building things from the ground up is a great way to soak up real knowledge about SEO.
Here are a couple of ways to do that:
- Build your own websites, side projects, affiliate sites, and ecommerce sites.
- Work for a big agency (if you can). This will give you a hands-on experience of how the best agencies in the world function.
- Offer free work to friends and family. Help them with SEO audits, strategy, recommendations — in a way that doesn’t take up too much of your time.
In a nutshell, how you get real SEO knowledge is by doing it, failing, researching, and eventually working your way up to getting results.
It’s not something you do just once and then back off; you need to keep starting projects, campaigns, and websites from the ground up. The more you do that, the better you get at your SEO expertise.
Fourth, go deep instead of wide.
Avoid trying to offer every service you can think of and spreading yourself too thin.
Instead, go deep with your service offering, making yourself the go-to business for a particular aspect of SEO.
For example, you can build a multi million dollar SEO agency by focusing your agency on link building or content marketing — which are two huge markets within the SEO industry.
Also, specializing in specific SEO services gives you a leg up in the midst of a million and one agencies out there.
I firmly believe process is the most important aspect for any service business.
It’s particularly important for agencies because of how many moving pieces go into success.
For example, when you’re striving to grow a business through SEO, you know you need to do:
But this is simply a high level (framework, overview) of what you’ll be doing to get SEO results; it doesn’t map out all the work that goes into executing each of the tasks in the framework.
Moreover, you’ll need a process to show your staff how to execute each of these tasks. Without that process, people on your team will apply their own methods and that might not meet up with what you have in mind.
The processes give your team a consistent pathway through which your agency will achieve your (client’s) desired results.
For example, here’s the workflow or the process you’d need to execute technical SEO on a client’s website:
- Get access to client’s Google Search Console (GSC), Google Analytics (GA) and Google Tag Manager (GTM)
- Crawl website using Screaming Frog
- Review Robots.txt
- Review Status Codes
- Review 301 redirects
It breaks down every task that goes into doing an effective SEO technical audit and gets you and everyone on your team on the same page.
The same goes for any other task in your framework; take 301 redirects, for example. You need to:
- Open the Screaming Frog crawl software
- Filter Column L for status Codes
- Crosscheck 301 redirects
- Check for Redirect “hops”
- And so on
This way, you and your staff have a proven workflow that helps your agency deliver effective technical auditing (and other tasks) for clients. You will get consistent results.
But doing SEO is easy; scaling it is the hard part.
Processes can be injected into every element of your agency
Let me give you an example from my agency WEBRIS.
When we were first getting started, I didn’t have the funds to hire a sales person. So we built a process to help us automate the inbound sales process.
Before prospects become a lead
1. They fill out a contact form. We ask them to fill out a form where we ask questions that tell us whether they’re a fit for our agency or not.
This helps us ensure we’re not wasting time, spending 20 to 30 minutes talking with people who are not serious about hiring us. Even if it’s 10 minutes we save per contact, that number easily compounds when we get a lot of leads coming in through the form.
2. They get an automated email
Once they submit the form, they get an automated email from us, asking them to schedule a call:
Once they click through the link, it takes them to another form that contains some pre-qualification questions — which further helps us determine agency-client fit.
3. They get a few more pre-qualification questions
Our pre-qualification questions let us further see if there’s really a business opportunity with leads. This system ensures our leads are solid before we get on the phone with them.
All I have to do is check my calendar every morning to see who I’m talking to that day.
Also, when I click on any of the booked dates, I’m able to see responses from clients to all our questions — which gives me virtually all the information I need to start working on their project before getting on the phone:
Internally, we manage these processes using Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) that detail processes for employees to run on their own.
Using Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to simplify processes
An SOP document is a laid out, step-by-step guide that helps your team members know how to execute specific tasks.
For example, here’s our SOP that guides our team on how to execute keyword research for every campaign we work on:
This is invaluable. It shows everyone on your team specifically what they need to execute specific tasks. This allows you to hire less experienced people, saving you a ton of money on your payroll.
Which brings us to the next pillar…
As you grow, you won’t be able to deliver the service. You need a team of reliable people to help shoulder the load.
- There’s simply not enough hours to do everything yourself, so you need to hire people to help you out.
- You cannot be doing the operational work; you need to be managing and growing the business.
- When you’re just starting an agency, you’ll be basically selling yourself and your business. But as you grow, you’ll start having to sell your employees and their knowledge and skillsets — since they’ll be doing most of your agency’s operational work for your clients.
When starting an agency, you don’t have the money to hire pro marketers or designers. But you can hire entry-level workers and give them your process to follow so they rightly execute tasks for your agency and clients.
Your entry-level employees can also get low-cost, offshore freelancers whom they can work with to help your agency work even more efficiently, and they can use the process you provide them to work with freelancers and get results.
Essentially, there’s no right or wrong way to recruit the right people for your agency — you simply need to:
- Have the right process in place to ensure your agency always hires the right workers and trains them properly to do great work.
- Focus on hiring people who can think for themselves and do not have to contact you every time they get into a situation with a client or project — so that once you hand them a process, they’re able to follow through with it and even build subprocesses on top of your process to help themselves work more effectively.
Finally, the last pillar you’ll need to start a profitable SEO agency is “leads.”
You need a steady source of leads coming into your agency. Here’s 7 lead generation tactics that have worked incredibly well for me.
Create a ton of content
I always start with content — webinars, articles, etc. But I’ll admit it’s not for everyone, because you need to be able to create content, and that’s a whole project on it’s own. Content has been the #1 driver of leads for my agency.
Speak at niche conferences:
By “niche conferences,” I’m talking about industries that your clients are in. For example, you’d never find me speaking at marketing-related conferences because my potential clients are not there. To generate leads through conferences, you should be speaking at places where no one else is selling your services, like conferences for doctors, attorneys, plumbing professionals, and the like.
In my case, I’ve built a spreadsheet of such conferences and passed it to my assistant who sends a canned pitch to each of them, indicating my interest in speaking at their conferences.
Start a meetup
Our agency runs meetups in Miami and Philadelphia where we teach people how to do technical SEO because that’s our biggest seller. We run meetups every month and it always generate leads and buzz for us.
Join networking groups
If you’re comfortable with meeting people physically, Chamber of Commerce and Business Network International (BNI) are great networking groups you can join to find leads. Personally, I’m an introvert, so this is not a great lead generation channel for me. But I know lots of people it’s worked for.
Paid traffic from social media
Running ads on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube all work great — but you need to know how to set them up properly.
First, you need to have a funnel — which means you need to offer something of value in your ads for people to click on and use; this could be a webinar, discount, ebook, or some other piece of information that they can get from you by sharing their email with you. Once they share their email, you can then send them follow-up emails that can convert them into paying clients.
Remarketing is another great strategy. After they’ve signed-up for your piece of value, run ads that target them and convert them into paying customers.
Ask for referrals
Once you start getting happy customers, ask them to refer people they know who might need your services. This works really well because if they’re happy customers, their referral sells the product or service for you. It’s free advertising.
Sell micro-services to other agencies
When starting your agency, a great way to get your initial clients is to get really good at a specific service and sell it to other (bigger) agencies. For example, our agency is always overloaded with work and looking for experts who can help us handle the workload.
Plus, as you grow and you begin to get impressive results for clients, you can set up affiliate relationships with those agencies (or any agency at all), telling them you offer services that generate real results and that you can give them 15% off (or whatever number works for you). Many (or even most) agencies will take it — since it’s just a free revenue channel for them as well.
Video audits + cold outreach
Video audits are basically when you audit a potential client’s site and record your auditing process, showing them what they’re doing wrong and how they can fix it. Then you can tell them you could fix it for them as you’re an expert — so they can just hire you instead of doing it themselves.
Want to scale your agency?
Everything listed here is blown out into insane detail inside The Blueprint Training.
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