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How to Start an SEO Business | 10 Unique Tactics To Get SEO Clients

June 7, 2024

How to start an SEO business:

  1. Learn SEO.
  2. Choose a niche. 
  3. Decide which services to offer.
  4. Employ the right SEO tools.
  5. Set the pricing for your services.
  6. Create a website.
  7. Market your SEO services.
  8. Close clients.
  9. Build a portfolio of successful projects.
  10. Scale the business by hiring support.
  11. Engage in continual learning.

49% of marketeters report that organic search has the best ROI of any marketing channel, according to Search Engine Journal. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the majority 73% of businesses invest in search engine optimization (SEO), based on data from a survey by business services directory Clutch. Starting an SEO business can be a great way to make money online for those who have SEO skills like content creation with keywords, programming in HTML, CSS, or Javascript, and project management to oversee long-term marketing campaigns.  

An SEO business is a type of digital marketing agency that focuses on helping businesses improve their visibility in search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Right now, some of the best SEO company options are HigherVisibility, WebFX, and Amra & Elma. These premier SEO businesses have worked with the likes of Warner Brothers, Quest Software, Wells Fargo, and Stockwell International. Starting an SEO business requires relatively little investment and can grow into a legitimate business with uncapped revenue potential over time. 

1. Learn SEO

Before you can start an SEO business, you need to learn SEO and develop expertise in the SEO industry. You learn SEO by studying SEO concepts and learning SEO terminology like SERPs, anchor text, and content clustering, and then applying your knowledge to real-world projects. It takes around 3 months to learn the basics of SEO and 2+ years to reach an advanced understanding. 

You can learn SEO for free through online resources like, Ahrefs blog or YouTube channel, or the Black Hat World forum. There are also tons of paid courses available on platforms like Udemy for those who want to learn SEO in a structured format from an SEO expert. 

SEO encompasses many aspects, but the three main pillars of SEO are:

  • On-page SEO (content creation, keyword research, metadata, HTML tags)
  • Off-page SEO (backlinks, social promotion, PR, guest posts)
  • Technical SEO (page speed, sitemaps, site structure, indexation)

It’s best to attain a basic understanding about all aspects of SEO and then choose a specialization to focus on. 

What are the best SEO courses to learn SEO?

The best SEO courses are:

  • The Blueprint Training by Ryan Stewart
  • Rank Daddy Elite by Brandon Olson
  • SEO That Works by Brian Dean

2. Choose a niche

Choosing a niche for your SEO business enables you to more easily stick out from competing SEO agencies and attract the clients you want. Choosing a niche also allows you to focus on achieving expertise so that you can charge a premium rate for your services. 

For example, Julian Goldie of Goldie Agency focuses on the SEO service niche of link building. Link building is just one aspect of off-page SEO. It’s one of the most popular SEO services niches because high-quality links contribute to better rankings in search. By focusing specifically on building backlinks for companies, Julian Goldie has been able to scale his SEO agency to over 7 figures in revenue. 

Besides choosing a service niche, you can also choose a specific industry niche to focus on. Although choosing just one industry niche to focus on limits your potential client base, it also allows you to uniquely position yourself as the go-to SEO agency for businesses in that industry. This can allow you to more easily attract and convert clients in that industry and charge a premium rate for your industry-specific expertise. 

According to Portland SEO Growth, some of the industries that need SEO the most are:

  • Home services and repair companies
  • Medical providers
  • Legal services
  • Real estate
  • Beauty services
  • Ecommerce businesses

3. Decide which services to offer 

Decide which services your SEO agency will offer to clients, such as SEO audit reporting, content creation, or web development. SEO services often come packaged with related services. For example, SEO content creation services might come packaged with:

  • Keyword research  
  • A set number of words or articles
  • Article interlinking
  • Images
  • On-page SEO optimization like Schema markup
  • Content management (uploading content into a CMS like WordPress)
  • Content tracking and reporting

4. Employ the right SEO tools

Once you know which services you want to offer, you need to employ the right SEO tools to accomplish the job. There are hundreds of free and paid SEO tools on the market to choose from. Some of the most popular SEO tools include:

  • Ahrefs - An all-in-one SEO tool that excels at backlink analysis, rank tracking, and site auditing. (Price: Starts at $99/month)
  • SEMRush - An all-in-one SEO tool popular for keyword research, competitor analysis, and rank tracking. (Price: Starts at $129.95/month)
  • Google Search Console - Allows website owners to monitor information related to Google crawling and indexing a website. (Price: Free)
  • Google Analytics - Allows website owners to monitor how users interact with the website and where they come from. (Price: Free)
  • Surfer SEO - A content optimization tool that provides users with article keywords and AI content generation. (Price: Starts at $89/month)
  • Screaming Frog - An SEO spider website crawler for technical SEO audits. (Price: Starts at $259/year, with limited free version available)
  • Keywords Everywhere - An SEO browser extension for keyword research. (Price: Starts at $21/year) 

5. Set pricing for services

Next, set the pricing for your SEO services. According to an SEO pricing survey of over 400+ SEO businesses by Ahrefs, the most popular hourly rate for SEO services is $75 to $100/hour. The survey goes on to show that $501 to $1,000 is the most popular monthly retainer, while $2,501 to $5,000 is the most popular project rate. Besides charging clients by the hour, retainer, or project, selling SEO service packages is another popular pricing method. For example, prices their recurring content writing packages at $720, $1,440, and $2,880, depending on the content needs of their client.

When setting pricing for SEO services, you should take into consideration how much it will cost you to deliver the services so that you can ensure a healthy profit margin of at least 20%. This includes costs like the SEO tools you’re using and the employees or freelancers you will hire to support your business in delivering SEO services to clients.

6. Create a website

Create a website for your SEO business to establish an online presence and showcase your service offerings to potential clients. SEO is all about improving a website’s visibility in search, so it’s essential for an SEO business to have a high-quality website so that potential clients can see the quality of service they can expect by working with your agency. For example, if you run a technical SEO agency but your site loading speed is slow, potential clients looking for SEO support aren’t likely to hire your services. 

To create a website for your SEO agency, start by purchasing a relevant domain name. If you already have or want to set up a legal business entity for your SEO business, the domain name should try to match with the legal business name. Once you have your domain name, you can use a drag-and-drop website builder like WordPress to create a simple business website or hire a professional web developer.

7. Market your services

Once you have your business website ready with your SEO service offerings, you can start marketing your services to attract clients. SEO-related marketing initiatives like publishing blog content are often best for SEO businesses because it helps showcase your SEO expertise and acts as an additional portfolio piece for potential clients to reference. If you can get SEO-related blog content to rank well on Google, you can attract businesses looking for SEO support through organic search. Even if SEO content is too difficult to rank for globally, publishing high-quality SEO content can still help you rank better on Google for local search queries of local businesses searching for SEO support. 

You can improve the reach of your business’s SEO content marketing strategy by promoting it through other marketing channels, like paid advertising and social media. For example, you can run Google ads for SEO marketing services that go to your services page or an informational blog post you’ve created. You can also use social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn to share the content you’ve created and attract users from those platforms onto your website.

8. Close clients

Successful digital marketing initiatives result in your business generating high quality leads, which you’ll then need to close in order to start generating revenue for your SEO business. When meeting with potential clients about working with your agency, it’s important to confirm that the business is a good fit for your SEO services. For example, if a business communicates that they can only afford to pay for 3 months of SEO services but your SEO services require a year or more to generate results, the potential client is not a good fit for your business. You want to accept the right clients so that you can generate successful results, which leads to positive ratings and testimonials for your business, and the ability to generate more business through referral marketing.

How do you get your first SEO client?

  • Freelancing platforms - Freelancing platforms like Upwork and Fiverr can be great places to find SEO clients. Businesses that use these platforms are actively looking for freelancers and businesses to perform digital services like SEO.
  • Offer discounted services - Offering your SEO services at a discounted rate can be an effective method of attracting clients in the beginning by offering a better value for your unproven services. 
  • Offer free services - If discounted services aren’t enough to convince potential clients to contract your SEO business, you can try offering free services for a limited period to showcase that your SEO services can generate results.
  • Leverage your network - The easiest clients for a new business to get are often those already in your network, such as family, friends, and previous working relationships. 

What are common objections when selling SEO? 

  • SEO takes too long to generate results
  • SEO is too expensive
  • I can do SEO myself for cheaper
  • SEO results are too unpredictable
  • My business is too small to rank on the first page

9. Build a portfolio of successful projects

Building a portfolio of successful projects showcases that your business has real world experience generating SEO results, which makes selling your SEO services much easier. You can add your business portfolio directly to your website for easy access. Besides adding the actual work to the portfolio, it’s also a good idea to request testimonials from your clients and add them to your website alongside your portfolio. According to a report by Dimensional Research, customer success content influences the purchase decision for approximately 90% of people transacting online. Therefore, including positive testimonials with your portfolio on your website can result in more sales. 

10. Scale your business by hiring support

Hiring support allows you to scale your SEO business and serve more clients to achieve greater revenue potential. Outsourcing work also allows you to hire people who have SEO-related skills that you don’t possess to expand your service offerings. For example, you may be an expert link builder, but lack knowledge about on-page SEO. Hiring an on-page SEO person could make your services more attractive to potential clients because you can more comprehensively meet their SEO needs. 

You can hire support for your SEO business through online freelancer platforms like Upwork or Fiverr, online job platforms like LinkedIn or Indeed, or even an offshore talent marketplace like Allowing yourself to have support frees up your time to focus on more high level SEO tasks like overseeing SEO strategies and meeting with clients, rather than using your time to perform all SEO tasks for clients yourself.

11. Engage in continual learning 

SEO takes place in the rapidly changing digital space, so you need to engage in continual learning to ensure your business is operating according to the latest SEO trends and technologies. Google itself regularly updates its search engine algorithm. In 2021 alone, Google made around 5,000 changes to the search, according to Search Engine Land. Some examples of Google updates that directly affected SEO efforts are the Penguin update in 2012, which resulted in manipulative link building to be penalized, and the Hummingbird update in 2013, which improved Google’s ability to match SERPs with the actual search intent rather than simple keyword matching in search queries.  

What works well for SEO one year may not work as well the next year. As such, SEO professionals should be prepared to pivot when industry changes occur in order to remain relevant in a dynamic industry. 

10 Unique tactics to get SEO clients

  1. Get your business website ranked in your city - Local customers searching for SEO services can easily find your website if it’s ranking well on Google. 

  2. Break down your potential client’s website - Provide a short video review of a potential client’s website in comparison to their competitors’ websites to showcase your knowledge and help them understand what improvements they can make with the help of your services. 

  3. Leverage social media - Publishing social media content can be an effective digital marketing channel where potential clients can learn about your business and its services beyond a website. 

  4. Develop relationships with other marketing agencies - Forming relationships with other marketing agencies allows you the opportunity to potentially receive clients they can’t support themselves. 

  5. Offer rewards for referrals - Motivate your current clients to bring you more business by offering an incentive for referrals. 

  6. Answer questions in forums like Reddit and Quora - Answering SEO-related questions on online forums allows you to showcase your expertise and increase your online visibility so that more potential clients find your business online. 

  7. Put a backlink in the footer of your website projects - Referencing your SEO business by linking to your main business website from the website projects you work on leaves a trail of proof for your business. 

  8. Incorporate live chat on your website - Live chat bots like ManyChat allow your SEO agency to promptly respond to potential client inquiries, which can lead to higher satisfaction and more sales.

  9. Offer complimentary web design - Attract more potential clients by offering complimentary web design services, a service that goes hand-in-hand with SEO. 

  10. Cold email prospects - Cold email reply rates are 8.5%, according to Backlinko, so sending cold emails to relevant businesses in your niche can open the conversation to a potential business relationship. 

How much does it cost to start an SEO business?

It costs approximately $5,000 - $10,000 to start an SEO business. The primary costs of starting an SEO business are:

  • SEO tools $1,000 - $3,000+/year
  • Business website domain $10 - $20/year
  • Shared website hosting $2.95 - $50/month
  • Employee/virtual assistant salaries $0 - $1,000+/month

Some additional costs to consider when starting an SEO agency are the cost of SEO courses and training materials, setting up a legal business structure like an LLC, purchasing business hardware like computers, and administrative costs like accounting software, Google Workspace, and a virtual phone number.

What skills do you need to succeed in starting an SEO agency? 

  • Critical thinking
  • Sales
  • Technical skills, like HTML and CSS
  • Networking
  • Data analysis
  • Copywriting
  • Project management

What is the most difficult part about starting an SEO agency? 

The most difficult part about starting an SEO agency is overcoming lack of credibility and convincing clients that they should pay for your unproven services. 

3 Tips for starting an SEO business from successful agency owners

Tip #1: Learn SEO by implementing it

Payton Clark Smith of Pait Digital says the best way to learn SEO is by implementing SEO strategies on real life websites. He recommends offering new strategies to existing clients at a discounted rate until the results are proven.

Tip #2: Use multiple client outreach methods

Tristan Parker of Parker Digital recommends using multiple client outreach methods to find and attract clients, including email, direct messaging on social media, cold calling, in-person visits, and video outreach. Relying on a single method to attract clients limits your agency’s ability to find qualified clients. 

Tip #3: Draft your offer based on your client

Digital marketing expert Alex Berman recommends tailoring your service offers specifically to clients. For example, offering a small business a 3 month contract as opposed to a yearlong contract because a three-month contract is much easier for a small business to justify the risk. Three months is typically enough time to start showing results for small businesses and it’s a fairly easy deal for SEO agencies to close. 

How to make money with SEO besides serving clients? 

  1. 1
    Create websites that generate leads for local businesses
  2. 2
    Earn affiliate marketing income through a blog or niche website
  3. 3
    Earn advertising revenue from an advertising network like Google AdSense
  4. 4
    Use Ecommerce SEO to rank and sell products

These are some additional ways to make money with SEO beyond taking on clients. 

Local lead generation vs SEO agency: What's the difference? 

The difference between the local lead generation vs SEO agency business model is that you own the websites you create with a lead generation agency, while your client owns the websites you work on as an SEO agency. Owning the website enables you full control over the website and its operations, instead of being limited in your SEO efforts due to a business owner’s wishes. Owning your websites with a lead generation agency also enables you better protection because if you lose a client, you can just find another client to take the leads from your website instead of trying to find another client to pay you to work on their website. When you own a website, it also makes it more difficult for a client to drop you because they fully rely on your website to generate leads for their business. 

Conclusion: What is the best way to make money with SEO?

The best way to make money with SEO is to start a local lead generation business because this type of SEO company enables you to make passive income online more easily and offers additional protections compared to an SEO freelancer, SEO consultant, or SEO firm that offers client services. Local lead generation works by using local SEO to rank websites on Google that attract customers for local services business. You don’t offer local SEO services to companies directly for a fee. Instead, you charge clients for the leads that your website generates for them. 

Tree Site

Unlike a client-focused SEO business, which requires you to regularly interact with clients and justify your SEO strategy results, the results of the local lead generation business model speak for themselves. That’s because your website produces qualified leads for businesses instead of just promising that your SEO campaign will produce more website traffic and potential customer leads in the future. 

Once you partner with a local service business to take the leads from your lead generation website each month, you can automate most of the processes to keep your website generating leads successfully and earn passive income from this SEO strategy. Plus, businesses typically stick with local lead generation websites for the long term because it offers them a more consistent marketing channel than they might otherwise have available. Learn more about becoming an SEO entrepreneur with local lead generation through this lead gen training program

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Ippei Kanehara

$52K per month providing lead generation services to small businesses is for digital hustlers, industry leaders and online business owners.

His #1 online business recommendation in 2024, is to build your own lead generation business.