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How to Start an SEO Business

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.

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.

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. You might consider 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.

  • First, 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.
  • Next, Google My Business emphasizes to Google any important data such as physical location, phone number and operating hours.
  • Lastly, a 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 Pricing Model

In order to start selling your services, you will need to decide on your pricing. We recommend a monthly retainer-based model; because SEO is a long-term endeavor, one-off SEO services rarely get results. The search engines continually evolve, as do your clients’ businesses. Thus, SEO’s best return on investment comes from sustained effort — which lends itself to a monthly retainer.

Your pricing should reflect both the time you’re investing and the value you’re providing to your clients. Your value continues to build as you gain more experience in SEO strategy and implementation. Additionally, the amount of value you can add depends on the competitiveness of a client’s keyword space. It is much easier to make large gains for clients in less competitive spaces, whereas clients with highly competitive spaces will require more time and effort to see similar results. Keep this nuance in mind when quoting a price and setting expectations.

Learn more about packaging and pricing 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:

Dear [Name],

Thank you for your time to discuss search engine optimization for [website]. We are excited about the prospect of working together to grow your organic search traffic.

We are particularly excited that you have a strong, modern website powered by WordPress and backed by great content. Nice work! The next step is ensuring that your website communicates as well with the search engines as it does with website visitors. That’s where [Your Business] comes in. We partner with businesses like yours to grow your traffic and increase sales.

Please review our proposal for SEO services and let me know if you have any questions.

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:

[Business Name] is launching a new website in two months. Organic search drives 75% of their total website traffic and leads. We are concerned that without an active SEO campaign, the new website will underperform the current site, and traffic will begin to fall. The new website is a big leap in both design and structure from the old site, so a lot of URLs and content will inevitably change, which can be disorienting to visitors.

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 why your solution is a monthly project — not a one-time service. Here’s an example, “We propose a monthly engagement that allows for the long-term effort needed to excel in organic search. Search engine optimization is not “set it and forget it. The search engine algorithms continually evolve, and so does your business. Many SEO tactics need to be implemented on an ongoing basis — tactics which include link building, content creation, and more. We partner with your team to ensure that you are continually evolving alongside the search engines.“
  • 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. As an SEO agency offering monthly services, the three services we deliver each and every month are reporting, communications, and concrete action items. In the project outline, assign action items to each of the first three months of service.

Pricing & Timeline — This part is simple. What is the cost of your service each month? 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.
* 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.

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.

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.

Pathfinder SEO Can Help

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 & Community — 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.

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.

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