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Lori Calcott

Originally from Pittsburgh, Lori has been working in search engine marketing since 2001. Lori is the published author of The Definitive Guide to Google AdWords and is a leader in the paid search field. When not at work, Lori spends time with her family and can often be found hiking and skiing the Highland Bowl.

All Resources by Lori Calcott

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How to Start an SEO Business

January 14, 2021

Starting a new business of any kind is an exciting – and scary – endeavor. An SEO business requires little overhead or start-up capital which makes it relatively easy to get off the ground.

Why Start an SEO Company?

Offering SEO services is a meaningful way to help other businesses grow. Businesses rely on getting found on Google, Yahoo, and Bing. It's satisfying to help them improve their visibility in the search results in order to grow their website traffic and generate more sales/leads.

SEO businesses don't operate in a back-office environment. It's important to actively collaborate with your clients so that they understand the importance of integrating SEO into their daily operations and processes. Good SEO businesses help steer the ship for their clients' marketing on many levels.

From a business owner's perspective, one of the best parts of starting an SEO company is recurring revenue. Most SEO services require consistency and should be delivered on a monthly basis. So, by following a recurring revenue model, your new business will have a predictable and steady book of work. This makes it easier to hire and scale when you decide to go from a team of one to a team of many.

Are SEO Businesses Profitable?

Yes! SEO as a business is profitable – direct, honest communication will be your key to success. While it's a competitive space, you can stand out in the crowd with clear, consistent communication.

SEO businesses are profitable for several reasons:

  1. SEO is a long-term marketing initiative. You'll work with your customers for the months and years to come.
  2. SEO can be delivered following a process. This makes it a scalable service offering. You can hire team members to consistently deliver the service.
  3. SEO is in-demand. Getting found on Google is an essential component of almost every business's marketing strategy today.

How to Start an SEO Business in 7 Steps

Let's break starting an SEO business into actionable steps.

1. Hire an Accountant and a Lawyer

Before you get to the fun stuff, it's important to talk to a lawyer and an accountant. They can help you determine what protection your business needs. Should you be an LLC, an S-Corp or a Partnership? Get professional advice on insurance, banking, and taxes from the beginning. It's much easier to start with your books in shape then it is to try unscrambling things later.

2. Create a Business Website

One of the most important parts of being an online business is having an online presence. Creating your business website with WordPress – we think it's the best content management system for SEO, too.

Your site doesn't have to be overly complicated or large, but it should clearly outline the problems your customers face – along with your solutions. It's this pain/gain dynamic that will set your website apart and motivate website visitors to become prospects (and, ultimately, customers).

As you write the content for your site, think about your audience and the types of problems they face each day. Be sure to include a call to action on every page.

Here are some common pain points to address when it comes to SEO:

  • I don't know where to get started.
    I have a limited budget, and SEO is expensive.
  • I invested in a new website, but it's not generating leads because nobody can find it.
  • I don't have time to write new content or maintain a blog.

While including testimonials and white papers on your website can be helpful, most new businesses won't have these. Don't let that get you hung up on completing your site; start where you are and build from there. Here's an example website from our own SEO agency, which is simple (5 pages) and yet converts well. A website is only one touchpoint in a prospect's journey.

Be sure to use free tools such as Google Analytics and Google Search Console to measure the results of your new website.

3. Compile Your Toolbox

Finding the right set of SEO tools will help you streamline your workflow so that you can save valuable time and focus on building your business. There are several free tools that need to be part of your toolset from the start.

  • Google Analytics measures website performance and visitor data. Google Analytics shows which traffic sources are driving visits and highlights which pages perform well.
  • Google Search Console provides data on which keywords are driving traffic from organic sources and gives feedback on how the search engine crawlers are navigating your site.
  • Google My Business emphasizes to Google any important data such as physical location, phone number and operating hours.
  • Keyword research tool and ranking software are paramount to effective SEO. Both are included as part of Pathfinder SEO's monthly fee. Learn more about SEO tools.

At our agency, webShine, we utilize a project management tool called Basecamp to keep us on task. Trello may be another good alternative to get you started and keep you organized.

For accounting, we've found QuickBooks Online to be easy to use, although not inexpensive. Talk to your accountant to determine which accounting software is most appropriate for your business.

As an SEO business, your toolset will be one of your biggest monthly expenses. The good news is that you can start small and invest just a few hundred dollars a month. As your revenue and your team grow your tools may expand. At our SEO agency, we invest roughly $1,000/month in tools and subscriptions to power our business and our customer's SEO initiatives.

4. Create a Packaging & Pricing Model

Creating a packaging and pricing system that you follow consistently ensures you can deliver your SEO services following a process. It streamlines the sales process.

Start with packaging. We recommend a offering three services:

Learn more about each of these services and how to create SEO packages.

Once you have your packages in-hand, it's time to think about pricing. Our goal is to create a pricing model that is based on your value, not just your time. Learn how to price SEO services.

5. Develop an SEO Proposal Template

Creating a winning proposal template will help you close more business and will save you time during the sales process.

A successful SEO proposal includes:

An Introduction – A short letter to thank the prospect for their time during an initial SEO discovery call and to recap the prospect's current status with SEO. Here's an example:

Sincerely,
[Name]

Statement of the Problem – Repeat your prospect's core problem. This reminds the client that you've thought critically about their unique situation when crafting an effective solution. Show them you understand their pain and are laser-focused on resolving it.

Here's an example:

Strategy – How will you approach the problem? What is your solution? Clearly outline how your solution is process-based in this section of the proposal.

Key points include:

  • Break the SEO process into a framework that the client can understand. We use the four pillars of SEO to clarify our rationale.
  • Speak to the incremental nature of SEO. This sets the expectation that results take time, and can't happen overnight. A statement such as “Our approach focuses on making incremental improvements each and every month” does the trick.
  • Discuss how your solution is packaged. Here's an example, “Our SEO services are broken down into three projects: SEO Assessment, SEO Set Up, and Monthly SEO.
  • Mention the collaborative nature of SEO. Make it clear you'll need the customer to be part of the journey in order to get the best results.

Project Outline – This is where we get specific about the services provided within each project.

Pricing & Timeline –  What is the cost of your services? When are you available to start? What are your terms and conditions?

We keep our terms and conditions very simple:
* We do not require a long term contract. We request 30 days' notice for a change of service.
*One-time services are billed 50% upfront and 50% upon completion.
*Monthly services are billed on the 15th and payment is requested by the 30th.

Contract – A place to sign on the dotted line that also includes your specific terms and conditions.

A final tip about SEO proposals – use the proposal to cement what you covered on your initial SEO discovery call; your proposal shouldn't include anything new to the prospect.

We don't recommend giving a proposal to any prospect who hasn't already invested 30 minutes into an SEO discovery conversation.

SEO Proposal Template & More

Pathfinder SEO is an SEO business in a box solution for freelancers and agencies. It includes valuable business resources such as SEO Proposal templates, email templates, and much more. Don't re-invent the wheel or learn by trial and error. Leverage our experience and platform to launch your SEO business.

Schedule a Demo

6. Test Your Systems

Creating effective processes takes time and practice. As you get off the ground, it's a good idea to implement your proposed services for your own website (or a friend's site) to test your systems. Start fine-tuning your communication skills. Practice answering the tough questions. Not only will you get a run-through of your own process – practice clients can help you see your business from an outside perspective.

Learn how to deliver SEO services.

7. Document Your Results

As a new player in a busy space, creating case studies and gathering positive reviews to showcase your results goes a long way.

Keep future reviews in mind when you sign a new client. Take note of their goals, then record data at the start of the campaign so you can measure ongoing progress and successful goal completion.

A case study (once results have been achieved) should include four parts:

  • The Problem – What was the biggest challenge the client faced at the start of the project?
  • The Solution – What was your proposed solution?
  • The Results – Did you effectively solve the problem and generate the desired results?
  • A Testimonial – What does the client have to say about the experience?

Here's an example of an SEO case study along with great tips on getting amazing client testimonials from iThemes.

Take a Guided Approach to Offering SEO Services

Pathfinder SEO has everything you need to start an SEO business. Our guided SEO experience includes three essential components:

SEO Tools – We've got an entire suite of simple and actionable SEO tools – for one a small price – that allows you to offer SEO services quickly and efficiently. We help you with keyword research, rank tracking, and monthly white-labeled client reports.

Process – Our proven, guided SEO process doesn't require you to become an SEO expert. We provide a series of specific lessons – each with a relevant homework assignment – so that you can grow a customer's website traffic in just a few hours a week. This process is both practical and tactical.

Coaching & Resources – Don't go it alone. A dedicated SEO coach comes along as your guide. You'll meet with your coach each month to ensure you're on the right track. You'll get feedback tailored to your unique business and actual experience.

Pathfinder SEO is here as a dedicated partner while you navigate starting an SEO business. We're happy to answer any questions you may have. Learn more and contact us.

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SEO vs SEM

SEO vs. SEM: What’s the Difference?

April 20, 2020

If you are new to the world of digital marketing, wrapping your head around all the terminology and jargon can be overwhelming. Not only are there a lot of acronyms, there is often little explanation or differentiation. In this article we are going to focus on two terms you probably hear a lot — SEO and SEM.

What is SEM?

SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing. It describes the process of gaining traffic through the purchase of ads. SEM is used interchangeably with paid search.

Some of the tactics that fall under the umbrella of SEM include PPC, or Pay-Per-Click advertising and CPM, cost per impression advertising. The most popular platform for executing paid search campaigns is Google Ads followed by Bing Ads.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. According to Wikipedia SEO “is the process of affecting the online visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine's unpaid results—often referred to as ‘natural’, ‘organic’, or ‘earned’ results.”

At Pathfinder SEO, our goal is to share our search engine optimization process with you in an understandable and digestible way. We call our approach guided SEO.

The Difference Between SEO & SEM

The advantage of SEM is immediate, trackable results. SEM campaigns can get off the ground quickly and start generating traffic immediately. Additionally, the data from the campaigns can be applied to SEO efforts. The disadvantages of SEM are that you are paying for the traffic and in many cases the management of the campaign. Not to mention that once the campaign ends the traffic stops.

With SEO, it may take a little while for the work you do to impact how your website appears in search results and starts driving more traffic. However, the major advantage is that the resulting traffic from your efforts is free. Another upside is that the tactics and strategies that build a solid foundation for SEO, also create a positive brand experience for your customers.

Now that you know what differentiates the various types of search marketing, we recommend you test them out to see how they can benefit your website.

Pathfinder addresses the SEO needs of small businesses by sharing our time-tested process and helping guide subscribers every step of the way. Start your journey by requesting your SEO score.

If you ever have questions about other digital marketing terms, check out our SEO glossary.

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Communication Tips to Ensure Happy SEO Clients

February 12, 2020

“Miscommunication is the number one cause of all problems; communication is your bridge to other people. Without it, there’s nothing.” — Earl Sweatshirt

Effective client communication is essential for creating happy clients. SEO is often a large departure from a client’s “zone of genius” and in many cases, it feels like a “necessary evil.” Clients don’t truly understand how it works but know that it’s needed for their business to thrive. This conundrum can make them feel vulnerable.

So how do you put them at ease and earn their trust? Good, open, and honest communication.

5 Tips to Improve Your Client Communication

Here are our tips for the most effective communication strategies when talking with clients.

Avoid Industry Jargon

While phrases like SERPs, 301s and domain authority are part of your everyday vocabulary as an SEO professional, these phrases mean nothing to your clients. Go the extra mile to explain your tactics in common terms that your clients can relate to. Take the time to educate your clients so that your work feels more accessible to them.

How can you break things down? Here are some practical examples:

XML Sitemap // Your Website’s Résumé
Instead of telling a client that their website “lacks an XML sitemap,” I explain that this file acts like a website’s résumé. You wouldn’t show up to a job interview without bringing along a résumé to present your assets in an easily digestible format. A résumé quickly summarizes your “contents,” or the structure of your relevant roles and experience — just like a sitemap summarizes the contents and structure of a website. Link Building // Relationships
When a client hears you talk about link building, they instantly recall how they feel when they receive spammy emails requesting link exchange favors. They may worry that this tactic is too aggressive or short-sighted and that they may get penalized by Google. Consider describing “link building” as creating a network of professional relationships that the search engines will quickly and easily understand. By link building, you’re putting up relationship signposts that search engines can read. Featured Snippet // Above #1
Clients are often hyper-focused on their rankings. If you talk to them about “gaining a featured snippet result,” that language will leave them lost and they’ll disengage from the initiative. Instead, focus on what they really want: to rank #1 for a specific keyword they’ve chosen themselves. If you’re working with a client on a new piece of in-depth content (to help propel them to the top of the search results by demonstrating expertise), you can get the client’s buy-in if you say the content will help them get “above #1.” SEO // Getting Found
Perhaps the most important (and mysterious) term of all is “SEO.” We all assume our prospects and clients understand what SEO stands for and why the practice is essential. But more often than not, the acronym alone can lead to confusion. Try substituting “getting found in Google” anytime you’re tempted to say “SEO,” and your client will connect to the goal instead of staying stumped by the term.

Set Expectations

We often describe SEO as the marathon of search marketing. While tactics like Google Ads provide fast results and act as a sprint, there are no magic buttons that can be pressed to instantly build your site’s exposure and reputation. SEO is a process — a marathon that takes careful preparation and, ultimately, time.

If a client thinks they can go from the bottom of page 10 to the top of page 1 in the first month, they will inevitably be disappointed. Also, keep in mind that setting expectations is as much about what you don’t say as what you do say. If you aren’t setting clear exp

Understand Their Business & Goals

When you take the time to thoroughly understand your clients’ goals, you can better speak their language. The more you understand the ins and outs of their unique business, the more trust you’ll gain. What does their day-to-day world look like? What does success mean to them? What metrics matter most?

Once you’ve done your research, clearly communicate what you know about your client’s business operations and goals. This will allow them to know that you have their best interests in mind.

Send a Monthly Report

Every month, send each of your clients a report that includes measurable results, along with any updates on completed tasks. Make a direct connection between your actions and the results, and explain how these results relate to their ultimate goals. If the results are not positive, explain why. What will you do to move the needle in the right direction in the coming months? Your clients will want to know, so they can have faith in your combined and continued efforts.

Learn more about monthly SEO reporting.

Seek Feedback

Communication is a two-way street. Ask your customers what they feel you could be doing better. When clients feel comfortable sharing their opinions, the channels of communication can stay open.

Honing your overall communication skills means your business will run smoother and grow faster. As you communicate more openly with your clients, you’ll build trust — which leads to longer and more profitable client relationships.

We’re Here to Help You Communicate Better

Pathfinder SEO is here as a partner towards better client communication. We’ll ensure that the SEO strategy you deploy for your customers is current and holistic.

Our monthly reports are white-labeled and ready for delivery; you can also lean on your Pathfinder coach to help you answer client-specific questions.

Schedule a demo to learn more.

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make time for seo

Strategies to Make More Time for SEO

January 20, 2020

Small business owners already have a lot of their plates. It’s understandable that adding another task (like SEO) to the to-do list seems overwhelming. Given the high importance of getting found in the search engines, though, it’s a task that must be done. Here are some ways to make time for SEO while also running your small business.

First, create time to do SEO work by scheduling a meeting with yourself in your calendar. Treat that time like you would a meeting with a customer. Start with an hour a week, and commit to it.

Second, keep SEO in mind. A good SEO strategy is not completed in a vacuum. By making SEO part of your day-to-day business, you’re able to integrate SEO tasks with your daily tasks. Writing a blog post? Make sure it’s SEO-friendly. Just got great feedback from a customer? Ask that they make that sentiment public by writing a Google My Business review.

Finding time also means maximizing time. One way to maximize your time is to have a specific process to follow for your SEO tasks. When you have a set task list, it’s much easier to remember where you left off and what needs to be done next. This allows you to get to work quickly and efficiently. Working from a task list with clear steps and detailed instructions means you’ll be as productive as possible with whatever time you have.

The right tools are also important if you want to make the most of your time. Simple, straightforward tools keep the learning curve short, so you can get work done without learning the complexities of a new toolset. Who has time to stop and remember how to navigate a new platform?

Having a trusted partner is also key to maximizing your time. Small business owners are experts in their own niches and aren’t usually looking to become SEO experts, too. There’s so much information available in the SEO world; combing through blog posts and class offerings to find SEO strategies and tactics can be time-consuming. Don’t waste your time researching issues on your own; find a trusted partner with SEO expertise to summarize for you.

Lastly, find an SEO expert who can answer your questions and review your work. The value and time savings of an expert’s opinion will pay back dividends. You wouldn’t start your business without talking to a lawyer, or do your taxes without talking to a tax accountant, so why not invest in SEO by consulting an expert from the beginning?

Yes, a small business owner can find time for SEO. Decide to make it a priority and let SEO become part of your business planning. Your business will grow as a result.

An SEO option such as Pathfinder SEO blends a proven process with the tools you’ll need to follow it. In addition, a monthly coaching call gives you the opportunity to work with an SEO expert one-on-one. The Pathfinder SEO team is dedicated to staying on the cutting edge of SEO, so you don’t have to be.

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