How To Start An SEO Business

If you are reading this post, you may be interested in starting your own SEO business.  Or growing the one you have.

The good news is that this is not only very possible, but may be easier than you think – especially it you have a marketing or web design background.

SEO (search engine optimization) is an exciting, high-growth sector.  In fact, according to Search Engine Land, SEO is a 65 billion dollar industry and shows no signs of slowing down.

Google is one of the biggest (by market capitalization) most profitable companies in history, largely due to the fact that its search engine has become a fundamental component of the modern purchase process.  It doesn’t matter where or how people hear about a product or service (via social media, television, word of mouth, etc), almost all consumers will “google it” before making a final purchase decision.

If a business wants to grow, it can’t avoid Google.

As we outlined in the book SEO for Growth, there is nothing really hard about SEO.  You just need to treat your website as an investment, make sure your site is fully integrated with all of your digital channels and marketing activities, and have the discipline to make content marketing and SEO part of your daily routine.  In other words, set up your web presence and commit to SEO for the long haul.

With a systematic approach to SEO sales and fulfillment, you can sell and close SEO engagements with the confidence of knowing that your services will deliver results for you clients over time.

The Opportunity

Do we even need to explain the opportunity?  Everyone uses Google everyday for pretty much every thing.

All businesses need to do some level of marketing and lead generation, and in just about every case, high search engine rankings will make the phone ring.

To put things into perspective, here are some tasty stats:

In 2004, there were 3.5 billion Google searches made every day.  In 2016, that increased to 5.5 billion Google searches per day.  That comes to 65,000 Google searches per second.

People are searching for information, products and services at a faster rate than ever before.

In terms of revenue potential, most SEO engagements start at $1,000/mo and typically much higher.  Josh Steimle wrote a great post on how to plan and budget for SEO on Forbes.  Most small businesses pay between $1,000/mo and $5,000/mo.  Larger small business may pay $5,000/mo to $10.000/mo and much high depending on many factors such as the level of competition and geographic scope.

You can sell some specialized SEO services, such as citation building or reputation management for under $1,000/mo, but the problem is that the sub $1k/mo fee range is where most of the SEO snake oil is sold.

A good SEO agency in a typical metro area can bring in $20,000 to $100,000 per month and up as the business grows and as long term monthly retainers are secured.  A great SEO agency can do even better.

The Challenges

You would think that a high-growth market for a service with such high demand and an endless supply of small business clients would be an easy money-maker, right?  Not so fast.

While there are few barriers to entry, there are several barriers to success, such as:

  • Business owners don’t trust SEO
  • Business owners expect you to rank for your own services
  • When you get new SEO clients, you are expected to deliver SEO results
  • SEO is a long term investment, yet clients want immediate results

The biggest challenge relates to trust.  SEO and Internet marketers have become the used car salesmen of tech (no offense to used car salesmen!). There are several reasons why business owners do not trust SEO agencies:

  • Business owners are hounded daily by email spammers and hard-selling cold callers and robo-callers
  • Many unprofessional SEO agencies will guarantee rankings
  • Many SEO agencies use SEO tactics (knowingly or unknowingly) that end up harming the client’s website
  • Many business owners have tried SEO services many times and feel burned, and have effectively “given up” on SEO

How bad is it?  In 2016, USAToday found that Google robo call scams were the #1 phone scam in America.  Yeah, it’s that bad.

If you plan to start an Internet marketing business, you will need to have a clear way to establish your business as credible and trustworthy.  This will be priority number 1.

The Solutions

How Do You Start an SEO Business?

You start can start an SEO business four different ways:

  1. Start an SEO agency from scratch
  2. Buy an existing SEO agency
  3. Buy an SEO franchise
  4. Buy an SEO license

Starting an SEO agency from scratch

Starting an SEO agency from scratch is probably the most difficult.  The startup costs are pretty low, because all you really need is a website and a way to fulfill services.  Setting up is easy, but getting clients is tough.  Trying to get organic visibility for SEO services will be tough because you will be competing with SEO agencies that have been doing it for years.  These agencies will have a track record, organic rankings and testimonials.

You can get instant search engine visibility through pay-per-click (PPC) marketing, but this will be an expensive form of client acquisition.

SEO businesses for sale

If you have money to invest, it’s possible to acquire an existing Internet marketing business.  You may have to find a local business broker to see SEO businesses for sale in your area.  Buying an SEO business can be tricky.  You will need to make sure what the sellers intent is for selling the business, what domains are associated with the business and willingness of the seller to sign a non-compete.  Most importantly, you should do an extensive backlink analysis and make sure that any valuable domains or links that are point to the main website will remain after the purchase (or are part of the purchase).

Look for an existing track record, a strong online reputation management profile, and willingness of the seller to share their service fulfillment process.

While this option has a lot of inherent risk, it is possible to get lucky.

SEO franchise opportunities

Another option for starting an SEO business is via a franchise.  The problem with this method is that there are not many Internet marketing franchises available today.   There are one or two that have had some success as a seller of franchises, but if you dig a little deeper you will find that very few franchisees have found success.  One issue with the SEO franchise model is the cost.  The upfront cost for one Internet marketing franchise we researched was between $65,000 and $100,000 in terms of the starting up, and included hefty ongoing fees and royalty payments.

With this kind of investment and ongoing costs, seeking an SEO business for sale and going that route starts to make a lot of sense as an option.  When you buy an established SEO business, at least there is a local track record and (presumably) some existing SEO equity in the business.  In a franchise relationship, you are buying into the strength and recognition of the existing franchise brand – and with Internet marketing franchises, there aren’t any with strong brand recognition.  And if you’re not buying into a brand, then what are you paying for?

SEO certification and licensing

With an SEO certification from a trusted brand, you can immediately solve the single biggest challenge in SEO – the trust issue.  Further, most SEO certification programs offer training and resources to help you learn best-practices SEO, so that you can sell and fulfill.

The ability to sell your service as “SEO certified” is a huge competitive advantage.

While a certification from a proven, trustworthy organization will help you solve the SEO industry trust issue, you still need to solve the lead generation issue.  How will you get new clients?

The SEO franchise model may be cost prohibitive, but an SEO licensing model can be a great fit for many consultants and web design agencies.  Look for SEO business licensing opportunities that include some type of lead generation service.  A proven SEO brand will attract leads and some may offer affordable lead generation services.

SEO for Growth

SEO for Growth offers both SEO certifications and a licensing model designed to help independent marketing consultants and digital marketing agencies get qualified leads.

We offer of the SEO for Growth SEO Certification that is based on the principles, strategies and tactics detailed in the book.

We have a beta license and beta certification in development right now, and while these programs are not yet available to the general public, you can learn more about SEO certification and contact us to be put on the early notification list.

seo certification


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