If you have ever contemplated the idea of starting an SEO agency but didn’t take the leap due questions or doubts, then this post is for you. Over the years one of the most common questions I’m asked pertains to starting an agency.

For those not familiar with my story, I started selling SEO services on the forums back in the Wild West days. I was one of the first to offer Russian SAPE links that flipped the entire SEO industry and SERPs upside down. It was a game changer for sure, and it helped propel me into this industry.

Back then I really wasn’t sure where my career path would take me, but from there I started to offer more services and eventually started my first agency. After a couple of successful years that agency was acquired and I was considering switching directions and starting a business in a completely different industry.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do so I took some time off and decided to start a marketing blog in the meantime. This would keep me busy and also allow me to publish 100% accurate an unbiased information related to search engine optimization, which was something I really felt was needed.

I created my blog, SerpLogic, with the tagline of “Real Talk Marketing” with the intention of giving readers the right information regarding SEO and the industry. And that is exactly what I did. Some of my early posts went viral because I was telling it like it was. I had no agenda. Nothing to sell.

There were far too many gurus saying that links didn’t work and that content was king. Yet the same gurus were some of the biggest link brokers. They would say something in public to make them look like Matt Cutts (remember him? Lol) fan boys, but in reality they were doing the complete opposite of what they were preaching.

Well, after publishing nonstop content on the blog I started to get contacted by a lot of companies. Some of the biggest brands in the world were reaching out to me. The messages were all very similar. They liked my honest approach and wanted to hire me to help them with their SEO and link building.

There was one problem though — I had nothing to sell them.

That is when I realized I had a huge opportunity in front of me to build a leading SEO agency and that is exactly what I have accomplished over the years. I was quickly able to scale to a seven-figure annual agency and our growth has been consistent over the years.

I’ve done it personally, so I’m not just blowing hot air or hypothetical theories and ideas out there. With that being said, there are the things you need to make sure you focus on and address if your goal is to build a successful SEO agency. While my agency isn’t fully outsourced, it’s something that can be done, and I will touch on that as well, as many people aim for that business structure. This should give you the foundational knowledge to start planning, building and growing your own agency..



Create a Brand with Long-Term Sustainability in Mind

When you start out it’s always best to think long-term from the very beginning. It’s much easier than trying to adapt or make changes down the line. It also helps with your mental mindset. If you have it in your head from the start that you are going to build an agency that will be around for a long time you are more likely to succeed than if you start with a “I hope this works” thought process.

Pick Between Specific Niche or Broad Niche

It’s important that you determine if your agency is going to be niche specific or broad, because changing down the road could create some hurdles. You see a lot of successful niche SEO agencies, like those that only focus on law firms or real estate, for example.

Or go broad and work with any industry. If you do go niche make sure it’s a segment with money to spend like the examples mentioned.


Will You be Geo-Specific or Worldwide?

Another important thing to make clear from the start is whether you are going to work with clients located all over or just in your local market. Locally focused allows you to really make a strong presence in your area but will limit your ability to go wide later down the road.

If you do go the local route, be prepared to network hard in the beginning.


Determine What SEO Services You Will Offer

The biggest mistake I see many agencies make is trying to do everything. That is a recipe for disaster. Determine what it is that you are great at and focus on that. There are so many different components of SEO.

Link building, content creation, on-site optimization, local SEO, etc.


Select Your Agency’s Name

Since a lot of SEO agencies start as a one-man shop I see many use their personal name and market as a consultant. This is fine, but it can limit your ability to sell or be acquired down the line.

Instead, create an agency name that has unlimited branding and marketing possibilities. Think catchy and easy to remember.


Create a Professional Logo

Now that you have a name for your agency you need a logo. Skip Fiverr and spend a little money to have one done professionally. You want to make sure it looks amazing, but also adapts to all other mediums, like social media profiles, etc.

If you can only afford $5 for a logo it might not be the right time to start a business.


Create a Personal Brand

You also want to focus on building your own personal brand and then using that authority to market your agency. That is the exact strategy that helped me turn SerpLogic in a million-dollar agency.

Try to guest post on as many SEO industry blogs as possible. Get your name out there. Build credibility. This can be leveraged big time and will help you establish trust.


Create a Complete Online Presence for Your Agency

Your SEO agency is no different than a local car dealership or a national food brand. You need to have a complete online presence because you know that any potential customer is going to look up your business. The more complete and wide-spread your business appears after a Google search, the more trust you will establish.


Secure Your Domain Name and All Social Handles

When you are coming up with an agency name you will want to make sure the domain is available as well as all of the social handles.

I know there are several new TLDs, such as “.agency,” but let’s be honest — those are garbage. The only people that push those are domainers and the TLDs themselves. If the .com is not available keep brainstorming.


Create Your Website

You need to have a professional looking agency website, but there is no need to blow all of your startup money on a fully custom design and development project. Look for a SEO agency theme and then spend a little money to modify and customize it.

There are several very good themes available to use as a starting point. Get a presence setup and consider a redesign when you can afford it.


Setup Your Google My Business and Yelp Profiles (Local Focused Agencies)

This is more important for locally focused agencies, as local clients will be searching for your help so having a fully optimized Google My Business and Yelp profile will be key.

Reviews play a huge role in the local SERPs, so focus on attracting as many positive reviews on these two platforms as possible. Give out free service if needed. Many local business owners will select an SEO agency based on reviews alone.


Create Branded Social Media Profiles

This serves two purposes. One, it helps to fill up Google’s first page with business related profiles when a potential client searches for your agency. This builds you a barrier for if and when a negative review hits.

LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. will all occupy the top of the SERPs for a brand name search.


Secure as Many Trust Signals as Possible

Securing links from trusted sources helps you not only rank better, but it also helps you convert more leads into clients. Displaying badges from the Better Business Bureau and local Chamber of Commerce will help you tremendously.

You can also try to get SEO specific listings and awards, as that has the same impact on clients with a bit more search engine optimization knowledge.


Get Strong Testimonials (Provide Free Service if Needed)

Testimonials that are in-depth and are more than just, “Wow. Great service,” will help you land more clients. It’s hard to get these just starting off unless you do a little bit of work for free.

Tip: offer to help some local businesses with SEO for free for a detailed testimonial. Look for local clients that you can rank easily. Low competition niches won’t cost you much time or money and they allow you to start with some strong testimonials off the bat.



Setup a Legal Business Structure for Your SEO Agency

This circles back to doing everything correctly from the start. If you half-ass it and just “wing it” you might encounter some issues down the road. It’s a much smoother ride if you start off with the correct corporate structure. This will also help you get a business bank account established right away.


Determine the Best Legal Structure

You will want to make sure you have your SEO agency set up as a proper business entity before you start to market and advertise or solicit potential customers.

The last thing you want to do is land a client and not be able to properly onboard them because you are not set up to do business.


Always Seek Professional Advice

Don’t just Google “setting up a business” and take the advice of some random blogger. Talk to a local business attorney and find out what the best structure is for your particular situation.

There are a lot of factors, such as your country, other business holdings, etc. Everyone has a different situation, so be sure to seek professional help rather than just assuming you know what the best option is.


Don’t Ignore Health Insurance and Benefits

When you start an SEO agency you are now self-employed and health insurance and benefits are your own responsibility. While you may not be able to afford contributing to a retirement fund right away, don’t ignore health insurance.

One trip to the hospital or an unsuspected medical emergency can bankrupt you and kill your business dreams. Have a minimum policy at the very least.


Open a Main Merchant Account and a Backup

You need to open a merchant account in order to accept payments. I’m going to give you two pieces of advice. One, don’t just rely on PayPal. They have been known to freeze funds for up to a year. This can kill your business.

Open one with a company like Stripe and then also open a backup one for an emergency situation. You will be glad you have it if a situation ever arises.


Create an Invoicing System

The last thing you want to do is waste your day invoicing clients and chasing money. Use an invoicing program that you can easily input new client data and set up recurring profiles for monthly retainers or select services for one-off orders.

The more complete your invoicing solution, the less time you will waste on bookkeeping.


Establish a Concrete System and Methodology for Operational Processes

One of the easiest ways to crumble your business is operating without an operational system in place. Systemize everything and have a process that is followed for every single client. This streamlines everything and ensures all t’s are crossed and i’s dotted.


Establish the Methodology Your Agency Will Use for Client Projects

You need to have a methodology in place for all client work. If you are going to just sell links, then that is a simple process. If you are offering local SEO, then you need a method in place that you will apply to each client.

If you just “wing it” for every client it’s hard to come up with a price structure that works and assures you operate at your desired profit margin.


Create or Rent a Project Management System

The more organized you are the less headaches you will encounter. A solid project management system helps keep everything on track and it also allows you to keep your clients satisfied with upgrades and progress. We use SPP which I’ve highly recommended for years.

Make it accessible to all teammates and also have a client area they can access at any time. When they are able to do this it will eliminate the calls and emails looking for an update.


Determine What SEO Tools Your Agency Will Use

There are so many SEO tools, from the OG staples to new ones daily all promoting some new bells and whistles. Figure out what you need to get the job done and subscribe to them, rather than waiting time exploring new tools.

You will want Ahrefs, SEMrush, Moz and maybe Screaming Frog. Those are the essentials.


Finalize a Pricing Structure

This circles back to your methodology. Are you doing to offer basic local SEO with some content marketing and link building for a monthly retainer? Are you going to sell links a la carte?

Come up with a pricing structure that works for what you are offering. This helps you track ROI and profits and figure out how to adjust in order to keep the business thriving.


Contract with Reliable Outsourcing Partners

This is one of the biggest decisions for those outsourcing their work. Your outsource partner can make or break you. If they deliver exceptional results your SEO agency looks like a star. If they suck the blame is 100% on you.

This is a decision that you need to put a lot of thought and research into. More agencies than you would imagine outsource. We do the link building for some of the largest SEO firms in the world, so we’ve seen it first hand.



Identify Where to Attract Clients for Your Agency

This is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle, because without clients you have nothing. You might be a great SEO and have a great product or service, but if you have nobody to sell it to your business will tank.

I can promise you that there are SEO agencies that deliver low quality work and results, but they thrive, simply because they have clients. They know how to attract them nonstop.


Hit Local Events and Industry Events

Ok, so you have a company and a website. Now you need SEO clients. One of the easiest ways to secure your first few is by going out there and talking to people. A local business owner is going to react better to a face-to-face pitch than a random Facebook ad.

It takes work, but if you really want it, you have to be willing to get out there are hustle. Do this well and referral business will flow in if you can deliver results.


Get Active on Social Media

Social media can be a great place to attract some new clients, and I am not talking about your SEO agency profiles, as you will have little to no following when you just start out.

Get on your personal profiles and let your followers and friends know that you have started an agency. Offer referral fees or other incentives and watch how many will connect you with potential leads. They are often friends of theirs, so they are easier to close because they are coming from a personal recommendation.


Create a Blog and Newsletter

Make sure you start to build a list from day one. I started an email list when I launched my blog and because of that I had thousands of potential clients in my database before I even decided to start another agency.


Focus on Providing Value to Your List

One of the reasons my list grew so fast was because I wasn’t spamming it with offers. When they received an email from me they knew it was because I had published a new (and potentially controversial) blog post.

The key was providing value. If you do that well, then when you do have something to offer they list will be much more responsive to that offer.


Create a Lead Qualifying System for Your SEO Prospects

Time is money, so the less time your spend on each prospect the quicker you can push away the time wasters and onboard the qualified leads. A system to weed out the garbage and identify the gold will help you maximize your time.


Create Qualifying Questions

Every business owner wants SEO, but your service isn’t going to be right for everyone. If you are a local SEO agency that primarily focuses on Google Map optimization would you be a good fit for a supplement company trying to rank nationally for “weight loss pill?”

No. Come up with a qualifying process to make sure you don’t waste time on leads you can’t help.


Know What Potential Customers to Turn Away

This can be hard, especially when you are just starting out. The thought of saying “No” and turning away business seems crazy. But taking on every client will create a bad situation.

The sooner you can identify warning signs, like those wanting a first page ranking guarantee, the less headaches you will face down the road. Not every client is a good client. Remember that. I’ve turned down many clients because of this, people that know me will know this well.


Understand You Cannot Help Everyone

Focus on the clients you can help. If someone has been ruined by a bad SEO company in the past and their link profile is a mess then turn them away. Sure you might feel bad for them and want to help, but it’s not your problem.

Think with a business brain. Not a compassionate one. This is business, remember that!



Establish a Humanized Pitch and Sales Process

You don’t want to sound a like a robot or a salesperson. The more polished and custom your pitch, the better the response will be. Since most of your customers will be business owners themselves, they can quickly identify if they are being oversold.

Leave the fancy terms and jargon to used car salespeople. Be human. Building a strong personal connection plays a major role in the ability to close clients.


Learn to Listen, Then React

Do not give every lead the same pitch. SEO is a specialized service. Listen to them. What are their goals? Their concerns? Their questions?

Then, take that information, process it, and react according to their specific situation.


Don’t Sell SEO — Sell a Solution

There are endless options when it comes to SEO providers. Companies will jump if they feel they can get a better deal elsewhere. Make sure your clients know you are providing them a custom solution for their needs. Not just “SEO.”


Have a Standardized SEO Proposal and Contract Template Created

Welcome to the business world. There are going to be clients that miss payments and try to screw you over. It’s just the way the real world works. Sometimes you will deliver on your end and they will simply not honor the agreement.

You need to make sure everything is spelled out clearly and signed. In the event you have a chargeback or a client that refuses to pay this can help you avoid being screwed over.


Hire a Lawyer to Draft Your Templates

Please don’t just Google “SEO contract” and change the name of the agency to your own. Contracts need to be country and state specific. If not done correctly a contract isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.

Always hire a professional to draft your contract templates. If you cannot afford a few hundred dollars for this you are not in the position to start an SEO agency.


Be Specific with Timetables and Expectations

SEO takes time, and while you might explain that to the client they will soon forget. Make sure you really lay it out and they are fully aware of the timetables for their given project.

If you are not specific you will encounter problems. Rather than saying, “SEO takes time,” say, “You should expect to see results in 90 days.” Different clients will interpret “time” differently if you are not specific.



Learn to Overcome Objections if You Plan on Closing Your SEO Leads

There is a lot of skepticism when it comes to SEO these days thanks to fly by night sellers on certain market places (ahem!). Like any industry there are always going to be some bad apples and you will usually have some resistance from any potential client. It’s just the nature of this industry. You are going to have objections all the time, and the sooner you can shoot them down the sooner that client will feel confident in your agency’s ability to serve them.


Don’t Make Unrealistic Claims or Over Promise

The worst thing you can do is over promise in order to land the client. You never want to do this because they will always hold you accountable for what you promise. Instead, under promise and over deliver.

For example, if you think they should see some SERP gains in 30 days, tell them 90. Then, if you achieve it in 30 you look like a fucking rock star. If it takes longer you still are fine. Be smart about this.


Master Overcoming SEO Objections

You are going to always receive objections. SEO is a dirty business, with a lot of bad apples. Business owners know this and they are very skeptical. The sooner you are able to master overcoming objections, the more leads you will close.

You are going to receive them, no doubt, so learn how to win everyone thrown your direction.


Learn to Work with Your Customers and Not Against Them

Fact: You need your customers more than they need you. Yes, a great SEO service is a gamechanger, but they can easily walk and go elsewhere. It doesn’t matter if you have them ranking number one for all terms. Treat the client with respect and learn to leverage the relationship correctly. When you do this it can lead to new clients rolling in at a $0 acquisition cost.


Create an Onboarding Process that Explains the Reality of SEO

One of the smartest thing you can do is educate your clients on the reality of SEO. Explain that it takes time. Explain that you have zero control over what Google does. Let them know that negative SEO is a thing.

The more educational value you can deliver during the onboarding process, the better chance you will have at not only closing the client, but also retaining them long-term.


Make Communication a Top Priority

Communication is key to keeping your clients satisfied. Make sure to give them regular updates and answer their calls or emails right away. All will be fine if you make this a priority. I’ve always made it an aim to reply to people right away, and a rule never leave someone waiting for an answer for more than 6 hours.. that’s me personally, that’s not even counting the support staff we use.

When a client doesn’t receive updates or if it’s hard to get in touch with you that gives them time to think and question everything. The easier and more streamlined you make this, the stronger your relationships will be. Remember, it’s cheaper to retain a client than have to go find a new one.


Create a Referral Program

Happy clients can be the best source of new business. Often times you just have to ask, but if you create a referral program that reward them, they will often deliver you a steady flow of new business.

Something as simple as Amazon gift cards or restraint gift cards is all it will take. If you are providing a great service they are going to be more than happy to bring you more clients.


Bonus: Other Things to Consider

There are a few more things I want to touch on before wrapping this up. These are some things that will also play a big role in your success and I wanted to single them out here at the end for you all.


Run Your Agency Like a Real Business

It’s funny, but many SEO agencies are run horribly and I don’t know what it is about this industry that causes that mentality. You have to run your agency just like you would any other business.

You have customers, expenses, and responsibilities just like the grocery store down the road or the retail shop across the street. If a customer has a question you need to answer it. The sooner SEO companies will realize this the better our industry will get.


Keep Your Eye on Competitors

SEO is always changing. Aside from reading the popular news and industry blogs, watch what your competitors are doing. Read their blogs, subscribe to their newsletters and lists, see what their offerings are, etc.

This can help you stay on track. If you just close yourself in and don’t keep up to date on what is happening outside of your agency you will miss opportunities. Be prepared to adjust and make changes quickly.


Invest Your Time and Resources in Education and Learning

You have to be ready to invest in yourself and your team. Conferences, trainings, etc. SEO changes so much these days. Imagine if you were still using techniques from years ago? You wouldn’t be able to deliver results.

Be willing to always learn. That is the only way you will stay current and relevant in this business.



Final Thoughts

I’m not going to blow smoke up your rear and tell you that anyone can start an SEO agency and find success. I see new “agencies” launching all the time and after a few months they are gone. Many think it’s an easy game and industry to jump into and they expect to realize amazing results with little to no work.

The competition is harder than it ever was, not just in terms of other agencies, but also other advertising and marketing platforms. Paid ads are becoming more attractive because the results are definitive and measurable and many companies are allocating money to influencer marketing.

But, there will always be a demand for SEO. If you are willing to work very hard and you know from the start that it’s not going to be easy then you have the opportunity to build a solid business around SEO, I can confirm this personally.

I’m proof that you don’t need a fancy degree or a pile of money to start. Work ethic and willingness to adapt have a lot to do with whether or not you succeed or fail. I know this is a lot of information to digest and you more than likely have some questions. Drop them below in the comments and I will do my best to try and answer them all.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and for those of you that will take action and start your own agency, I wish you great success. Who knows, maybe we will be working together in the near future – my agency is the outsourced link building solution for some of the biggest SEO agencies in the world. I’ve used many of the tips above to get it to that level.. I hope they can help you too!

Tommy McDonald

Tommy is an SEO professional with years of experience running highly successful SEO companies, founded SerpLogic after noticing there was a major void when it came to options for SEO agencies needing a reliable and professional one-stop outsource solution.You can read all about me in the “About” page here on our blog!

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