how to start an SEO agency

How to Start an SEO Agency: The Ultimate Guide

Most people have thought about starting their own business at some point. After all, the freedom to be your own boss, set your own hours, and focus on what you care about is alluring. If you’re one of these people and you work in content marketing or SEO, you’ve probably thought about starting an agency.

How hard could it be? Is it as easy as setting up a website and waiting for the clients to come flooding in? This guide will help you learn how to start your own SEO agency—from deciding which SEO services to offer to finding and keeping clients.

Whether you’re already dreaming of setting up an agency, are an SEO consultant interested in growing a team of experts, or are just curious about what it takes, this post will guide you through every step.

How to start an SEO agency in 10 steps

1. Choose an SEO niche

Want to start a successful SEO company? The best place to begin is by choosing a niche.

A niche is sometimes called a market segment. It refers to the type of business you decide to focus on—the one thing you’re really good at. It can also be the thing that sets you apart from your more generic competitors.

Isn’t SEO a niche, though? Yes, you’ve already niched down by focusing your agency on SEO over general marketing.

But, even within the world of SEO, you can get more specific. For example, would you like to focus on the content side of SEO, or do you prefer the technical side? Here are seven types of SEO your agency could be well-known for.

  • Technical SEO

  • On-Page SEO

  • Content SEO

  • Off-Page or Off-Site SEO

  • Local SEO

  • Mobile SEO

  • eCommerce SEO

You could also choose to niche down by topic area or industry, such as Health & Wellness or Retail & CPG (consumer packaged goods). This opportunity might only arise after you’ve got a few clients who refer your services to each other, but it’s good to keep in mind from the moment you start your agency.

Industry niches for SEO can be as micro or macro as you like. Some examples include:

  • Gardening

  • Food

  • Wellness

  • Fitness

  • Pets

  • Parenting

  • Beauty

  • Technology

  • Travel

  • Finance

While it may initially seem limiting, choosing the right niche can help start your new agency on the right track. Start small, get good at one thing, and then scale your agency.

Many agencies make the mistake of offering too many services, making it hard to set themselves apart as they never become industry experts.

2. Decide what SEO services you want to offer

Once you’ve found your niche, try to decide which SEO services you excel at, and offer them to your customers on a retainer basis, as a recurring subscription, or one-time service.

If you’re not sure where to get started, check out this list of standard services offered by search engine optimization businesses:

  • SEO Audits

  • Competitor Analysis

  • Keyword Research

  • On-Page SEO Optimization

  • Link Building

  • Local SEO

  • Social Media Marketing (SMM) and Social SEO

  • Content Marketing Services & Creation

  • Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)

  • Website Design and Development

  • Ecommerce SEO

  • Paid Advertising (PPC)

  • Web Analytics

  • SEO Performance Reporting and Consulting

Remember: only offer SEO services where you can position yourself as an industry expert in a niche market.

3. Choose a company name

For any marketing business, choosing a name can be tricky. Of course, you want something catchy and memorable, but you also need to ensure it’s legal and doesn’t infringe on trademarks.

Here are a few tips for choosing a name for your agency:

  • Keep it simple.

  • Make it relevant to your niche.

  • Avoid generic names like “The SEO Company.”

  • Check the availability of the domain name and social media handles.

  • Make sure the name is legally available.

  • Finally, register the domain name and social media handles before advertising your new business.

Example

Loganix logo
One of Canada’s biggest SEO agencies, Loganix, has a memorable name and logo.

Once you’ve got a name and business structure, you’ll need to follow your local guidelines to register your business with the government officially.

4. Set up your SEO contracts

Creating a contract template is one of the most important things when building an agency. A contract has two advantages: it protects you and your clients and ensures everyone is on the same page regarding expectations and results.

Related: how to manage customer expectations on a project

Here are a few things you should include in your SEO contract:

  • The services you’re offering

  • The price of those services

  • The terms of the agreement

  • Payment terms

  • Cancellation policy

  • Warranty

  • Liability waiver

  • Confidentiality clause

  • Assignment clause

  • Governing law

Consider seeking legal help when creating your contract template. It might be expensive, but it will protect you and any partners or employees of your business.

5. Choose your SEO software

There’s an abundance of SEO software on the market, and it can take time to choose the right one.

The best ones can help you track your website’s ranking, analyze your competitor’s websites, and optimize your website for search engines—all while improving your SEO knowledge. But not all SEO software is created equal.

Here are a few things to consider when you make your choice:

  • The price: Not all SEO apps are expensive, but it’s important to find something that fits your budget.

  • The features: Make sure the software has the features you need, such as rank tracking and competitor analysis.

  • Ease of use: The software should be easy to use so that you can get the most out of it.

  • Customer support: Good customer support is essential, especially if you’re new to SEO software.

  • Compatibility with other tools: Can it be integrated with apps like Google Analytics and Google Search Console, for example?

The following SEO software is popular among industry experts: SEMrush, Ahrefs, Screaming Frog, Clearscope, Moz, and Keywords Everywhere.

Then there’s the software you’ll need to use that’s not necessarily SEO focussed but will help you run your agency efficiently, such as:

  • Project management software

  • Content creation software

  • Social media marketing software

  • Customer service software

  • Customer relationship management software

Agency Analytics
Embed Agency Analytics reports in your client portal.
View all our integrations

You might also need client portal software, like the one Service Provider Pro offers. Some features have been built specifically with SEO agencies in mind. SPP not only helps you manage clients and their requests, you can also embed reports from Agency Analytics—and everything is available in one place.

It’s perfect for small business owners looking to ditch spreadsheets and email because it saves a ton of time.

6. Create a brand

Like any marketing agency, your SEO business needs to be unique and memorable. A strong brand backed by customer testimonials will help you attract new clients and retain existing ones. It will also make you stand out compared to the competition.

Below is an example of testimonials we use at SPP:

SPP does a lot of the heavy lifting we used to do manually saving us a ton of time & effort. It's fantastic and I recommend it all the time. The way I explain it is that it's kind of like the Shopify for service businesses!
Brendan Tully, CEO
WP Speed Fix
Brendan Tully

If you’re not sure how to kick-start the process, follow these tips:

Define your mission and values

What is your agency’s mission? Why do you exist? What are your core values? Answer these questions and define them in your mission statement; also make sure that everyone on the team follows them by heart.

Create a logo and branding guidelines

Your logo is one of the most important aspects of your brand, so make sure it’s professional and eye-catching. Create branding guidelines that explain how to use your logo correctly and share it with your employees and freelance designers.

Know your target audience

You should have thought about your ideal customer when determining your niche in section 1 of this guide. Let’s go a little deeper.

Ask yourself: who are these people? What do they care about? What are their pain points? How old are they? Where are they from? Make sure the answers to these questions are reflected in all the copy and design on your website and other digital marketing materials.

7. Create a website

As any SEO professional knows, your website will likely be the first point of contact for many of your new clients. So it has to be good.

Make sure it’s well-designed and easy to navigate, and filled with useful content that will help your target audience.

You’ll also want to make sure your website has the following essentials:

  • A contact page with all the necessary information (phone number, email address, etc.) to reach you

  • A detailed about page that tells potential clients (and Google) about who you are, the history of your company, and why clients should trust you.

  • Your logo and name

  • An easy and logical URL

  • A page that details the services you offer (and pricing if you choose to be transparent)

  • Case studies page with examples of your SEO work for convincing social proof

  • A summary of how you work with clients

Grow your industry knowledge

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Another important factor is your agency’s position in the SERPs. If you can’t demonstrate your knowledge with stellar content, why would a customer choose you? So make sure your website is optimized for SEO to show up for keywords your customers are searching for.

8. Market your business

Now that you know how to start an SEO company, it’s time to start marketing it.

As any SEO knows, one of the cheapest and effective ways to market your agency is through content marketing. That means creating blog posts, articles, e-books, and other content that will help your target audience learn more about the topic and how to improve their website’s search engine ranking.

You can also market your agency through social media by creating profiles on popular platforms like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and even TikTok. Be creative and share content that’s relevant to your target audience. Less cheap, but still effective, are paid ads on these platforms (or Google) targeting people interested in SEO.

Finally, make sure you’re actively reaching out to potential clients. Attend industry events, send out email newsletters, and use any other marketing channels that make sense for your business.

Further reading: what is digital marketing automation?

9. Begin SEO client outreach

Now that you’re all set up, let’s find some clients.

Of course, some will naturally come across your website (if you’ve done your SEO correctly). But you can also try some more direct methods to find leads:

  • Attend industry events and meet potential clients in person.

  • Reach out to potential clients directly via phone or email.

  • Run paid ads targeting people who are interested in SEO on Google or other social media platforms.

  • Get involved with online or offline discussion groups related to SEO to become known as an expert.

  • Answer questions about SEO on platforms such as Reddit and Quora. This is a great way to show off your expertise and drum up some business leads at the same time.

Also read: How to get clients for marketing agency.

10. Land your first client

Someone has expressed interest in hiring your agency by filling out your contact form—congratulations! How do you close the deal, though?

As a newly established SEO business, it’s all about trust.

Start by sending them an SEO proposal that outlines what you can do for their website and how much it will cost. Be transparent about your pricing, and make sure your proposal includes detailed information about the services you offer and your exact process for working with clients.

If you’ve already created content relevant to the services this client requires, include them in your proposal as well. This will help them get a better idea of how you can help them.

Once you’ve sent out your proposal, patiently wait for a response. If you’ve done a good job with your sales pitch, you should hear back from them shortly.

If you don’t hear from them right away, follow up after a few days. But don’t be too pushy. They could be busy with their own work or interviewing multiple agencies.

Next step: scaling the business

With fast growth comes great responsibility. Scale your agency too quickly without repeatable processes in place, and you risk losing clients.

I don’t want you to make these mistakes, so here are a few tips for scaling your company safely and efficiently:

Create a process for onboarding new clients

When you get a new client, it’s important to have a process in place for getting them up to speed on your services and how you work. This will help ensure a smooth transition and prevent any misunderstandings from happening.

Your marketing agency onboarding process should include things like setting expectations, explaining your services and outlining your project management workflow. You may also want to create a client handbook that covers all of this information and more.

Get involved in the SEO community

Another great way to land more clients is by getting involved in the SEO community. Attend SEO industry events, join online or offline discussion groups, and host webinars to demonstrate your knowledge.

As you become known as an SEO expert, potential clients will be more likely to reach out to you. That being said, staying ahead of the competition is a full-time job in itself.

When I first launched SEO Builder back in 2018, I found the biggest free way of generating leads and customers was by joining and contributing to SEO-focused Facebook groups, such as The Proper SEO Group. Try not to be just another SEO. Instead, find your unique selling point for your brand and become the go-to person for a particular service or product.

Robert Kirk SEO Builder
Robert Kirk, SEO Builder

You need to stay up-to-date on industry trends in order for the services and advice you offer to be fresh and cutting-edge.

Tip: Read our post on why you should consider forming agency partnerships

Consider raising your prices

Once you’ve become well-known and respected as a successful SEO business, you may ask more for your services, especially to avoid taking on too many clients.

You don’t want to charge too much (or too little) for your services, but you also need to make sure you’re making a profit. So be sure to research what other agencies are charging and find a pricing structure that works for you.

Offer more services through white label partners

White labeling offers agency owners to expand their service portfolio without having to hire new talent. Partner up with agencies in similar niches, and resell their services with added markup.

Not only will you be able to grow your revenue, you can also upsell existing clients and increase their lifetime value.

Frequently asked questions about starting an SEO business

Are SEO agencies profitable?

Successful agencies can be very profitable, but it’s important to find the right pricing structure and keep processes in place to avoid taking on too many clients at low prices. As long as you can prove results, you should be able to charge at least three times what it costs to deliver them. Also, as long as the Google algorithm continues to change, SEOs will continue to be in demand.

How much does it cost to start an SEO agency?

It’s hard to determine the cost of starting an agency. Generally, you should be able to afford the cost of hosting a website, registering your business, subscribing to helpful software, consulting with lawyers, and hiring freelance designers and copywriters to help you market your business. This could result in start-up costs of $2,000 to $25,000.

Is starting an SEO agency worth it?

If you have great SEO skills and have chosen a niche that has a lot of demand and low competition, then starting an agency will be rewarding—both personally and financially. Besides being able to make money doing what you love, you’ll be your boss and get to work with a myriad of different people and businesses.

Ready to build an SEO agency?

Starting your own agency can be rewarding—both personally and financially. But it will take hard work, dedication, and time to get off the ground.

You have to think hard about the niche you want to focus on, as well as the services you want to offer, and how much you want to charge for them. You’ll also need a stellar brand, website, and marketing strategy to help you stand out from your competitors and catch the attention of your target customers. You should be ready to spend between $2,000 and $25,000 to achieve these things.

Finally—and I know this is challenging for many SEOs—you’ll need to get good at sales. It’s not enough to just wait for customers to find you, especially at the beginning of your business journey. You’ll need to put yourself out there, either at industry events and conferences, or by cold-calling prospects.

But don’t be too scared. If starting an agency is really your dream, follow the 10 steps in this guide and you’ll have a solid shot at creating a successful business that delivers real results for clients.

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