At the turn of the century, the job title “search engine optimization specialist” was virtually non-existent. There wasn’t much of an SEO industry that a guy in the field can belong to at the time and the craft was mostly a collection of “techniques” with anecdotal benefits at best and not a lot of testing behind them. Fast forward 15 years and SEO has become a mainstream job title that most modern businesses recognize. From SMEs to large conglomerates, business owners now recognize the value of appearing atop Google search results for terms that describe their offerings.
Over the years, a lot of folks in the SEO scene have come to realize that having a corporate job is good, but you can really make a killing if you’re running your own agency. Unfortunately, knowing how to do SEO alone isn’t enough to help one transition from being a regular employee to a successful business owner in the field. People skills, entrepreneurial savvy, technical knowledge and street smarts are just as vital in helping you thrive in this increasingly competitive niche under the digital marketing umbrella.
If you’re feeling a little bored in your office cubicle and you’re wondering what it’s like to be your own boss, this post is for you. Here are our tips on how to start your own SEO business:
- Make Sure You Have a High Level of SEO Knowledge. If you’ll be doing SEO for people, you need to know exactly what you’re doing. The websites entrusted to you represent people’s livelihoods and they won’t be paying you to mess that up for them. When you start your own SEO business, make sure you know just about everything there is to know about the following areas of the craft:
- Technical SEO. This is the aspect of SEO that ensures a website has good levels of crawlability, performance and security. Understanding how bots behave along with some basic information retrieval concepts will help you a lot. You don’t have to be a web developer to be good at technical SEO, but it will help if you can speak coder language.
- On-Page SEO. This involves the optimization of HTML elements such as title tags, meta descriptions, H1 tags, images and internal links. It also involves the management of duplicate pages, paginations, similar content, etc.
- Link Building. Probably the most demanding of all SEO facets, link building involves the process of persuading other webmasters to link back to your website in order to boost the ranking power of its pages.
- Local SEO. This aspect of SEO is all about helping Google recognize that the website targets a specific city or region. If you’re offering this service, you better have extensive knowledge about Google MyBusiness optimization. Local Business Schema markups, local citations and acquiring local backlinks.
- Content Development. Content is the core component of any SEO campaign. While you may not necessarily be a content creator, you should have the ability to recruit and collaborate with content creators like writers, video editors, graphic designers and more.
- Make Sure to Have Ample Experience. SEO knowledge is good, but it has to be backed by a solid amount of experience to work for your clients. Each website is unique in its own way, and when there are plenty of gray areas in a campaign, having seen many different scenarios in your career will help carry the day for your campaign.
While there’s no hard and fast rule in the minimum number of years for you to have the right amount of experience in SEO, it’s generally accepted that five years is a decent amount of time to have been in the industry. Some SEOs can get into excellent companies and come out with plenty of experience after 2-3 years while others may require almost a decade to be considered really competent at what they do.
- Set Aside Initial Operating Funds. The good thing about service businesses like SEO agencies is the fact that you don’t need much capital to get started. With your primary asset being your knowledge and experience, there isn’t a big need to spend tens of thousands of dollars in infrastructure and equipment.
However, that doesn’t mean that you can build an SEO agency with no money in your bank account. You should have at least $5,000 to get your business registered, to purchase some initial equipment like laptops and to subscribe to tools that you’ll be using. You’ll also need to pay your initial set of employees a few dollars to keep them motivated in helping you out.
- Register Your Business. If you’re serious about sustaining and growing your SEO business, you need to do things the correct and legal way. That means registering it with the government and paying the appropriate taxes involved.
While working in your basement and hiding from the tax man can work to a certain extent, it will be very hard for you to thrive under those conditions. Sooner or later, your clients will demand official receipts and will ask you to fill our IRS forms if you want to be their vendor. Similarly, you’ll have a hard time convincing talented and qualified people to join your team if they’re aware that you’re not running a legitimate operation.
Being registered allows you to present your business as a credible agency that people can trust. It shows that you’re willing to be held accountable for the quality of your services and that you’re serious about employee rights. Running a registered business also has the added benefit of allowing you to access credit lines and investor pools in the future so you can secure funding when you see opportunities for growth.
- Establish Lead Generation Channels. Of all the things involved with running a business, cashflow is the most fundamental. Without a steady stream of income, any business will fold. For SEO agencies, preserving good cashflow means that you need a reliable source of leads that you can convert into paying customers.
In the SEO world, qualified leads can come from a variety of sources. Here are the common ways that SEO agencies generate them:
- Content marketing
- Collaborations with other agencies
- Posting on classified ad sites like Craigslist
Most of the time, you’ll have to do a little of all these to test which channels drive the best leads for you. What’s important is that you constantly receive inquiries from potential clients and that you’re able to convert a decent number of them into customers that you can retain for long stretches.
- Find Reliable Recruitment Channels. As a service business, an SEO agency’s greatest asset is the people who work for it. Finding talented SEO specialists, web analysts, writers, programmers and other people involved in your operation is a must for your survival and growth. However, that can be a challenge as the SEO industry is still a small niche and the people who count themselves in it aren’t exactly the majority of the job market.
As the business owner, you’ll need to know where to look for the kind of talent that you need to recruit. That will mean joining special social media interest groups, being active on LinkedIn, being a thought leader that people want to associate with or even using professional recruitment services like ZipRecruiter. You may also need to join industry organizations for meet-ups and conferences where you can continue to meet people in your industry.
There’s plenty more that you’ll need to do in order to establish a stable SEO business in 2019. However, these tips will give you the correct foundation for an agency that you can scale to greater heights once you find your groove. Follow each of them and you should be on the right track.