Now that you have a good amount of experience, you might be wondering how to start an SEO business. But what does it take to run your own agency?
Even if you know the ins and outs of search intent and keyword difficulty (to name a couple), the industry is very competitive. If you want to build a solid business and set yourself up for success, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve been exactly where you are.
In this article, I’ll walk you through launching and growing a thriving SEO agency.
Assessing the SEO Business Landscape
The SEO landscape is more competitive than ever in 2024. With more than 180,000 SEO agencies worldwide, you’ll have a lot of competition. You’ll need to work hard to stand out.
However, SEO is still a lucrative field. The global SEO services market is expected to reach $83.7 billion in 2025, up from $37.84 billion in 2020.
So what are the keys to building a profitable SEO business in this market?
Start by understanding evolving industry trends, like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). It’s playing a larger role in search, with chatbots and other AI tools now handling client requests. Voice search is also common — 50% of U.S. consumers said they used voice search every day in 2022.
Featured snippets now appear for many searches, so you’ll need to learn the right strategies to compete and rank for these and other SERP features.
With personalization and localization growing, clients expect hyper-targeted SEO campaigns. Your agency can use data sources like clickstream and site search analytics to meet this demand. Though the landscape is changing, fundamentals like internal linking strategies, building relevant backlinks, and technical SEO remain critical.
Have you thought about what to charge? You’ll be able to ask for higher rates if you specialize in an industry or location. I’ll explain more below about picking a niche and narrowing down your audience.
It can be challenging, but breaking through to start an SEO business that thrives is entirely possible with the right strategy and execution.
The 5 Foundational Steps to Starting an SEO Agency
Now that you understand the SEO landscape and what it will take to be competitive, let’s explore five steps that’ll help you start an SEO business.
Step #1: Define Your Niche and Find Your Audience
Identifying your niche is one of the most critical strategic decisions you’ll make when launching an SEO agency. Specializing in a specific market, customer type, or service offering can provide a significant competitive advantage.
Niching comes with many benefits.
- You can provide more tailored solutions because you understand clients’ unique needs within your niche. This leads to better results and higher client satisfaction.
- After you position yourself as an expert in your niche, you can increase your rates. Recognized authorities naturally charge a premium price for their services.
- Marketing and sales are easier when you have a clear target audience.
- Employees benefit from specialization because they gain valuable industry or topic expertise. Your employee retention will increase because your staff can work in an area they’re passionate about.
Of course, you don’t want to niche down too far in case demand is limited. Here are tips on finding the right focus when you start an SEO business.
- Analyze your skills and interests: What SEO services or areas come most naturally to you? Go all-in on your strengths to provide the best results.
- Research in-demand services: Look for specific SEO needs that are growing but not overrun with competition. Fill obvious gaps in the market.
- Test niches before fully committing. Highlight a few focused areas of expertise before isolating a single niche. This gives you the flexibility to pivot.
- Choose growing niches. Emerging and rapidly expanding niches have hungry buyers and few experts. Selecting a growing niche with low-competition keywords will help you establish authority.
Next, take some time to create a customer avatar, which is a fictional representation of your ideal customer.
Create a Customer Avatar
Creating detailed avatars helps you understand your target audience and make marketing decisions specifically tailored to their needs and preferences.
Customer avatars turn abstract audience data into an actionable, memorable visualization of your perfect customer.
Conduct thorough market research to identify demographic information like age, gender, income level, location, and occupation. Look at existing customer data to find common patterns. Also consider psychographic factors like attitudes, values, interests, and pain points.
Bring your research together to craft a persona with a name, photo, and backstory. Specify their challenges, goals, and typical buying journey. The more comprehensive you make your customer avatar, the easier it will be to craft messaging and experiences that resonate.
Step #2: Craft Your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
Your USP differentiates your business from others and makes you the best choice for potential clients. It solves their problem in a way competitors can’t match.
A compelling USP answers the client’s question, “Why should I hire you over other options?”
Try these tips for developing an SEO agency USP that converts.
- Identify your ideal client’s main frustrations and unmet needs. Build your USP around solving these pain points.
- Leverage your niche. For example, if you specialize in healthcare SEO, emphasize your expertise in that vertical.
- Spotlight your unique process, technology, or approach if you have one. Show how it drives better results for clients.
- If you can deliver faster or more customized solutions, talk about your agency’s speed and flexibility in your SEO copywriting.
- Highlight excellent support and guidance if your focus is exceptional client service.
- Use client results and testimonials to demonstrate real-world value.
It might seem challenging to start an SEO agency, given the competition, but a thoughtful USP will make you stand out. Define and prominently promote your differentiation, and it will attract clients and win business.
Want to learn more about how to identify a winning USP? Check out the full TTT Academy 7-Figure Agency course, which includes an in-depth module on positioning your agency and developing your USP.
Step #3: Offer Profitable SEO Services
The services you offer directly impact your agency’s profitability. When you start an SEO business, choose high-value services that leverage your strengths and align with your target client’s needs.
When selecting your service mix, look for options that:
- Provide significant value: Services that deliver tangible ROI, like targeted lead generation, are most profitable. Choose results-driven offerings.
- Have recurring revenue potential: Renewable retainer packages provide predictable income.
- Leverage your niche expertise: Lead with your niche services. Offering services tailored to your specialization will help you earn premium rates.
- Align with ideal client goals: Ensure your services address your target customer’s core pain points and needs.
Also, consider expanding profitability by:
- Offering tiered pricing: Create a service menu that includes entry-level, standard, and premium-level options at different price points.
- Selling bundled packages: Group complementary services into bundles to maximize value.
- Upselling existing clients: Many clients will need advanced services, so don’t be afraid to provide ongoing education and upsell during sales and customer service interactions.
Step #4: Build Your Team and Infrastructure
Once you’ve defined your agency’s niche, USP, and service offerings, the next step is to assemble a talented SEO team and develop the infrastructure to support growth.
When hiring, prioritize skills aligned with your services. SEO experts like content writers, link builders, and analysts are essential early hires. Additionally, you should seek out soft skills like communication, strategic thinking, and relationship management.
Build your roster as your budget allows. Many successful agencies start with the owner as the sole employee. Consider bringing on contractors or freelancers first to complement your skills before making salaried hires.
As you’re building your team, set up your core agency infrastructure, including:
- Fast and reliable web hosting to support quick page loading and high-quality user experiences on your site.
- Robust analytics tracking using Google Analytics, Search Console, or a Google-alternative like Matomo.
- Marketing technology like CRM, email marketing, and advertising platforms.
- Project management software to organize tasks and collaborate with team members.
- Accounting software, legal support, and insurance to cover your business fundamentals.
These might seem basic, but getting your fundamental infrastructure set up correctly from the start will help you streamline operations so you can expand when you’re ready.
Step #5: Plan Strategies for Client Acquisition and Retention
Building a client roster is critical to sustaining your SEO agency. Before you launch, you’ll need solid client acquisition and retention strategies.
For acquisition, begin by developing a sales and marketing plan tailored to your buyer personas. Your tactics might include content marketing, hosting educational webinars, running paid ads, exhibiting at industry events, and leveraging referrals. Focus on attracting clients that align with your niche and offerings.
Content marketing has been an essential source of targeted leads for my SEO business. Here’s a look at my content’s reach on Medium:
When you pitch, lead with the value you provide through deep expertise and proven results. Address common pain points like declining traffic and lackluster conversions, and outline how your services can resolve these struggles.
To retain your SEO clients, strive to delight rather than just satisfy. Set proper expectations upfront through in-depth audits and reports. Here’s a link to an SEO reporting template you can use to get started.
Overcommunicate throughout your campaigns. Share insights, optimize based on feedback, and prove the ROI you deliver by providing regular reporting.
Ongoing education is also vital. Inform clients about new opportunities and developments, and nurture relationships by becoming a trusted partner, not just a vendor.
With the right mix of marketing, sales, service, and education, you can start an SEO business and build a roster of engaged clients that stick with you.
How to Grow Your SEO Agency
Once your agency gets traction, you’ll need to scale up operations. Tread carefully in this stage, because there will be some growing pains.
Here are some suggestions to help you ramp up.
- Revisit your systems: Make sure your processes are still efficient. Look for SEO tools to automate repetitive tasks like reporting, and streamline your systems wherever possible.
- Continue hiring: Add staff gradually in areas like account management and junior SEO roles first. Boost mentorship and training to get new team members productive quickly.
- Bring in more clients: Ramp up lead generation and sales efforts. Tighten onboarding and account management processes to handle more accounts.
- Monitor client satisfaction closely: Send surveys and touch base frequently as you expand. Overextending your team can lead to declining retention.
- Plan as you scale: Financial planning is critical as you expand. Project your cash flow needs for hiring, tools, and marketing spend, and line up capital sources in advance before you execute growth plans.
Expanding your SEO agency takes strategy and preparation. Scale wisely by shoring up operations, hiring selectively, and providing outstanding customer service. With the right foundation, growth can help multiply your impact and profitability.
Start an SEO Business That Gets Results
If you want to look over my shoulder and get a comprehensive plan that’ll help you start an SEO business that gets results, check out my TTT Academy course 7-Figure Agency.
This training program will give you a complete blueprint for building a $1 million+ revenue SEO agency. You’ll learn how to transition from individual consulting to managing a high-growth business.
Ready to get started? Click here to start building your own 7-figure agency.