How to Start an SEO Business: A Practical Guide

Search engine optimization (SEO) has become a critical component of success for businesses in the digital age. This is why I have decided to leverage my skills to launch an SEO consulting business serving small and midsize companies.

In this guide, I highlight my hands-on process for getting an independent SEO business up and running, from gaining technical knowledge to attracting clients and ensuring smooth operations.

Whether you want to start a solo operation or scale up to a full-service digital agency, I’m going to share with you pragmatic steps for SEO business success.

Let’s get started!

Table of Contents

Overview of SEO

SEO refers to the process of improving a website’s visibility in organic search engine results. The goal of SEO is to help a website rank higher in search engines like Google, ultimately driving more relevant traffic and leads.

At its core, SEO focuses on optimizing a website around keywords that potential customers use when searching for products or services. This involves extensive keyword research to discover the terms and phrases that your target audience uses when searching online.

These relevant keywords are then incorporated into important elements of a website, such as title tags, meta descriptions, headings, content, URL structures, image names, and more.

Additionally, SEO considers how search engines like Google evaluate websites. Search engines use crawlers and algorithms to scan web pages and rank them accordingly.

Factors like mobile-friendliness, site speed, security, authority, etc. play a role in how high or low a site ranks in search engines. SEO experts analyze and enhance these aspects for better crawling, indexing, and ranking.

Some core SEO strategies include:

  • Keyword research
  • On-page optimization
  • Site architecture and technical SEO
  • Content creation
  • Backlink building
  • Local SEO optimization
  • Analytics and Reporting

Implementing these ongoing SEO efforts has significant upside for driving qualified web traffic, leads, and eventually business revenue.

As search continues to be a top channel in digital marketing, focusing on SEO and search engine rankings offers excellent value.

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Why Start an SEO Business

There are several compelling reasons why starting an SEO business can be tremendously valuable, including the following.

Growing Demand for SEO Services

As more businesses and commerce move online, companies are desperately seeking help to improve their search visibility and web traffic.

The SEO industry has seen tremendous growth as organizations pour more money into their websites, content strategies, and overall digital presence to acquire customers.

Did you know that the global SEO market size was valued at over $52.95 billion in 2021 and is projected to expand at a CAGR of 17.68% CAGR from 2023 to 2030 to reach $222.41 billion?

Building an SEO business allows entrepreneurs and marketers to tap into this rapidly expanding market.

High-Profit Business Model With Scalability

SEO businesses operate on very favorable profit margins, especially when compared to other marketing services.

The core inputs for SEO are expertise and time, so after covering basic software/tool costs, the rest flows to potential profit.

This allows freelancers and agencies to scale up earnings dramatically once they are past the initial client acquisition stages.

Additionally, most SEO tasks are scalable when you systemize and delegate work. These qualities give SEO businesses an incredibly high upside.

With some client bases secured, automating fulfillment allows one to concentrate on acquiring and consulting more clients.

Location Independence

Unlike location-dependent jobs, SEO agencies can often run completely remotely with meetings conducted online. Results also do not depend on maintaining rigid in-office work schedules.

The flexible and autonomous nature of SEO work fits perfectly for those looking for freedom in lifestyle, responsibilities, and geographic mobility. 

Parents, travelers, digital nomads, and those with other priorities can still build this transportable business. You can run this virtually while traveling indefinitely.

Cutting-Edge Innovations in SEO

SEO keeps evolving thanks to expanding research and fiercer competition constantly raising optimization standards. 

Those on the cutting edge of new tactics and strategies stand to gain a lasting advantage. So, professionals need to actively specialize in modern SEO analysis software, machine learning applications, content creation tools, and more emerging solutions.

Forward-looking individuals can ride the wave of progress in the field, finding new ways to scale systematically.

Low Barrier to Start

Compared to other companies, SEO has a reasonable starting cost—requiring mainly a laptop, subscriptions to essential tools, and some marketing spending. 

Services-based businesses also avoid expensive infrastructure, equipment, and inventory. You can start small by selling services first and delay hiring employees until cash flow stabilizes. 

These factors provide a longer runway to slowly establish clients and capabilities before faster growth. Startup SEO businesses can validate their model with fewer upfront risks.

Skills and Knowledge Needed

At its core, SEO is about understanding search engine algorithms and using that knowledge to better optimize websites. However, running a successful SEO business involves much more than just technical optimization skills.

The most important skills you’ll need include the following.

Technical SEO Skills

A deep understanding of search engine optimization best practices is obviously crucial. You need to know things like:

  • Keyword Research – Identify keyword opportunities and analyze the competitiveness and search volume for target keyphrases. Being able to pick the right keywords to focus on.
  • On-Page Optimization – Optimizing title tags, URLs, headings, image alt text, meta descriptions, and the overall content itself around selected keywords.
  • Site Architecture – Structuring a website’s navigation and internal linking to make pages easy to crawl, index, and rank in search engines.
  • Content Optimization – Creating content that targets keyword phrases but also provides value for readers. Optimizing content for SEO without compromising quality.
  • Technical Website Fixes – Diagnosing and fixing site speed, mobile optimization, indexing issues, broken links, etc.

Mastering core SEO techniques like these will be the foundation of everything you offer clients. Staying on top of Google and other search engine algorithm updates is also key.

Content Marketing and Copywriting Skills

Most SEO campaigns involve creating blog posts, video scripts, and other content assets. This requires strong writing skills to produce useful, engaging content that also incorporates relevant keywords. If you don’t have that skill, you can outsource it to a content writing service.

Many businesses need help further promoting that content, too, so having solid digital marketing expertise is useful.

Business Development and Sales Skills

Running a service business means hustling to get clients.

You need self-confidence and persistence to network with potential customers, generate leads, craft solid proposals, and close deals.

Sales skills apply both to landing new business and expanding work with existing clients.

Analytical and Reporting Skills

Tracking the success of SEO initiatives—looking at site traffic, rankings, lead generation, and conversions—is crucial.

You need the analytical skills to gather and interpret data, identify issues impacting performance, recognize optimization opportunities, and convey insights clearly to clients.

Project Management Skills

Juggling multiple client accounts, campaigns, and ongoing optimizations demands solid project management practices.

You need to scope projects appropriately, break down complex goals into achievable tasks, develop calendars and timelines, brief team members if you scale up, and deliver on expectations reliably.

Strong SEO expertise builds the foundation, but excelling in these other areas is equally important for starting an agency instead of freelancing or taking an in-house job.

You get to avoid being stuck working at a desk all day optimizing websites, focusing instead on strategy and business growth.

Creating Your Business Plan

Crafting a solid business plan is crucial for launching a successful SEO agency. This process forces you to crystallize the specifics of your new business and plan for sustainable growth.

The key elements to cover in an SEO business plan include the following.

Vision and Mission Statement

Articulating your vision and mission provides direction and serves as the foundation for decision-making as you grow. Your vision statement captures what you ultimately want the business to become in the future.

The mission statement describes the purpose of your SEO agency and is shaped around skills, services, and target customer needs.

For example:

Vision: “To become the most trusted and results-driven SEO agency in the small business market by 2025.”

Mission: “We aim to help small business owners boost their local visibility and map listings through customized SEO solutions that deliver a reliable ROI.”

Goals and Objectives

Having clear goals and objectives keeps your efforts focused. Break down some overarching 3-5-year goals into smaller measurable objectives to accomplish this year.

Put target KPIs around lead generation, client acquisition, revenue, profitability margins, etc. These give you something tangible to track progress towards.

Estimated Costs and Budget

Enumerate the startup costs involved so you can determine how much funding you need.

Account for things like establishing a legal entity, branding and marketing collateral, website development, SEO tools/software subscriptions, office equipment/supplies, and marketing initiatives.

Build an operating budget, allowing for 6-12 months of costs before you’re cashflow positive.

Defining Your Target Customers and Competition

Get specific in profiling who your ideal target customers are.

Specifying their demographics, challenges, and needs, as well as defining your competitive advantages, helps enormously with positioning and sales messaging.

Outline your direct competitors and how you plan to differentiate.

Pricing Models

Figure out how you will price and bundle your services. Common options include monthly retainers/packages and project-based pricing.

Develop pricing tiers based on level of service and commitment. Discounts for annual contracts or add-on services are typical.

Developing SEO Service Offerings for Your Business

The services you offer form the backbone of your SEO agency.

Based on your skills and specialties, you can tailor your offerings to meet customer needs better than competitors.

Services should ladder up to solve clients’ overall issues around search visibility, website traffic, and conversions.

Typical SEO service offerings center around the following.

Core On-Page Optimization

This includes all the on-site best practices covered earlier—auditing sites, fixing technical issues, optimizing title tags and meta descriptions, improving URL structures, enhancing site architecture, creating keyword-focused content, and so forth.

Basically, analyzing websites and implementing changes to improve SEO viability. Offer different levels of optimization packages.

Ongoing recommendations through monthly technical audits and reporting. Suggestions to fix problems like site speed, broken links, indexing delays, or opportunities to better target valuable keywords. This provides continual value.

Content Marketing Services

Many small businesses struggle to regularly publish quality blog content and distribute articles across relevant websites for backlinks and placement.

Offer customized blog creation with SEO baking in from the start around defined topics and keywords. Repurpose it into social posts, visual quotes, and more.

Videos and podcasts are great content formats, too. Help clients establish their own media channel through an SEO lens.

Promote the content through your own social and distribution channels to amplify impact.

Link Building and Outreach

Securing quality backlinks remains important for rankings. It’s one of the most important ranking factors, after all.

Offer link prospecting and targeted outreach services to build relationships with website owners, influencers, and journalists in aligned industries to earn high-quality backlinks.

You’ll also be managing the relationships and reporting.

Technical SEO Audits

This service entails an opportunity analysis of a website’s current optimization status, visibility, traffic, etc. Technical and on-page factors plus a competitor comparison.

Deliver a report summarizing findings, prioritized issues to fix, and specific recommendations our agency can implement to boost organic growth.

Conversion Optimization

Many businesses get site traffic but fail to convert visitors into leads and sales. Offer landing page optimization, lead gen forms and email collection enhancement, phone call tracking, or even full website redesign services focused on conversion rate optimization best practices.

Reporting and Analytics

Install tracking like Google Analytics, rank monitoring, and conversion analytics. Delivering regular reports demonstrating impact and ROI will encourage client retention.

Tie campaigns to data so you can reveal patterns and optimize accordingly. Offer consulting calls to provide analysis and recommendations.

The goal is to provide complete solutions unique from a one-off freelancer. Ongoing service agreements build lasting partnerships and recurring revenue.

Securing Clients for an SEO Business

Building a solid client roster is imperative for any service-based small business, especially in the beginning stages.

While SEO skills form the backbone of what you offer, those abilities matter little without clients to provide services to.

Effectively getting customers involves the following.

Defining Your Ideal Customer

First, get very clear on who your ideal clients are. Specify details like:

  • Company size/industry
  • Key challenges they face
  • Common SEO pain points
  • Budget Parameters
  • Decision maker profiles
  • Where do they currently go for help

This helps ensure you target organizations you work well with and can provide strong value to. Allows focusing lead-gen efforts instead of a spray-and-pray approach.

Identifying Where Your Audience Gathers

Brainstorm the digital mediums and physical venues where your prospects likely spend time. This shapes possible outreach channels, partnerships, advertising platforms, and networking events to focus on.

For example, a small retail business owner might frequent industry trade conferences, local business Facebook groups, or community events. Get entrenched in those same environments.

Ensuring your agency is where your audience already gathers organically seeds many customer conversations.

Crafting Compelling Lead Generation Offers

Create offers that target customers inherently want and that provide value while highlighting your expertise.

For example, an SEO website audit with actionable recommendations, competitive analysis template, web design cost estimator, or guide to increasing Google My Business reviews.

Promote these lead magnets through paid ads, organic social media, email nurture sequences, etc. In exchange for downloading the resource, require visitors to complete a contact form to access it. This captures leads you can follow up with later.

Establishing Authority and Credibility

Prospects need to perceive you as a trusted expert before becoming clients. Generating expertise credentials builds this critical trust and authority.

Tactics include guest posting on reputable industry websites, getting featured in relevant digital publications, building your own educational SEO blog, gathering online reviews, showcasing client success stories, and more.

Social Media Presence

Maintaining an active, professional social media presence also aids in establishing credibility while organically engaging potential customers daily. Share educational tips, company updates, client testimonials, industry insights, and trends.

Make it easy for prospects to discover and track you. Promote case studies demonstrating strong ROI across platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Leverage paid ads to expand reach further.

Crafting a Conversion-Focused Website

Your own website is the 24/7 sales hub. Ensure the copy directly speaks to customer struggles and clearly communicates how you help.

Prominently feature credentials, reviews, case studies, and lead gen offers. Enable easy contact form access.

The site itself must instill confidence and authority while also driving lead capture.

Outbound Sales Outreach

Proactively identifying and directly contacting potential customers via email or cold calls kickstarts many sales cycles. Tactfully communicate your value while trying to schedule intro calls with key decision-makers.

Even just a few warm referrals can massively boost early revenue. Reach out to existing professional contacts who may know small business owners in need of SEO expertise.

Conveying Value Through Proposals

Getting potential clients interested is one thing, but communicating the value you provide compels them to buy.

Create sales proposals focused on their issues—lost revenue from poor visibility, inability to compete with bigger brands, and need for more qualified website traffic.

Then, map out step-by-step SEO solutions aligned to those struggles and priorities.

Back up assertions with data, financial modeling, and client success rates. Clearly convey the immediate and long-term ROI.

Overcoming Objections

Anticipating possible pain points, hesitations, or objections prospects may have is important as it will help you streamline deal closing.

Common examples include budget constraints, skepticism about whether or not SEO delivers results, desire to handle in-house, or already having an agency.

Script out responses to these ahead of time, emphasizing quick wins and ROI, onboarding education, or unique competitive advantages over other agencies.

Offer free audits to showcase opportunities and provide viable options at lower spending levels to secure a foot in the door for future upsells.

Following a game plan focused on properly defining your target customer, implementing diverse recurring lead generation systems, strategically showcasing your expertise, and skillfully persuading potential clients leads to sales growth.

Adapting Your SEO Services for eCommerce Businesses​

Many SEO agencies focus predominantly on service-based small business customers due to perceived ease and predictable revenue models. However, targeting eCommerce businesses also holds tremendous potential if you tailor offerings to their unique needs.

Yes, the sales cycle for eCommerce can be longer and more complex, given the sheer volume of pages, products, and moving parts of online stores. Helping consolidate inventory from vendors also takes effort upfront.

However, establishing authority as an eCommerce SEO specialist lets you command higher price points, make a more scalable impact on revenue, and tap into venture capital-fueled businesses eager to dominate search market share.

Specific services to offer eCommerce stores include:

  • Technical site migration assistance or development of SEO best practice architecture.
  • Product page speed optimization and conversion rate optimization.
  • Inventory feed optimization for consolidating item data.
  • Hyperlocal SEO focuses on driving in-store traffic.
  • Review generation efforts to build social proof.
  • Competitor benchmarking relative to ranking/traffic performance.
  • Email list-building assistance leveraging popups and login offers.
  • Assistance setting up pay-per-click ads funneling into shopping carts.

eCommerce organizations also often lack sufficient blog content to drive organic search interest for their niche. Become a strategic thought leader partner by handling the content creation – producing regular articles, email courses, visual assets, etc, tailored to their vertical.

Specializing in the eCommerce space allows you to rise above the noise of standard agencies to capture this lucrative segment.

Managing Tax Strategy and Accounting For Your SEO Business

As an SEO business owner, properly managing money matters right from launch reduces tax burden and financial hiccups enormously in the long term. Beyond just tracking revenue and profit margins, key areas to address include:

  • Choosing a Business Structure: Structuring as an LLC or S-Corp protects your personal liability and enables more tax deductions than simply freelancing independently. Consult an accountant to determine the optimal path.
  • Accounting Software Set Up: Choose user-friendly accounting software like Quickbooks or Xero for automatic categorization and tracking of every business expense receipt, payroll spending, refunds issued, payments received, etc. This streamlines year-end tax preparation.
  • Sales Tax Obligations: Understand when you need to charge state sales tax on services provided, integrating this into your invoices. Factor these costs into pricing models appropriately—Automate sales tax payments.
  • Estimated Quarterly Tax Payments: Paying a percentage of estimated taxes every quarter instead of one lump sum yearly helps avoid underpayment penalties. An accountant can help determine appropriate amounts.
  • Expense Deductions: Keep diligent records of valid corporate expense receipts, as these directly lower your taxable income. Things like office supplies, software costs, contract labor, advertising, and travel qualify.
  • Hiring a Bookkeeper: Consider hiring an hourly bookkeeper to handle categorizing transactions, issuing client invoices, managing payroll, cutting checks, etc. This lifts the financial burden so you can focus on sales and delivery.

While no entrepreneur loves dealing with money matters, getting your tax house in order from the beginning saves tremendous headaches as an SEO business owner while keeping more profit.

Additional Tips for Long-Term SEO Business Success

Beyond mastering sales and service delivery, running a thriving SEO agency over many years requires continually enhancing operational efficiency. Steady expansion and rising revenue inevitably bring growing pains if not preempted.

Key areas to fine-tune include the following.

Prioritizing Client Results

Never lose sight of the fact that tangible ROI for customers must remain the top priority, not quick wins, vanity metrics, and short-term revenue.

Transparency, proper expectations setting, and education around best practices build lasting trust and loyalty. Their success leads to your success long term via referrals, case studies, and repeat business.

Striving to over-deliver on value provides a competitive buffer even if you aren’t the cheapest initial option.

Staying Updated on Trends and Algorithms

Search engine algorithms and best practices constantly evolve. What worked yesterday may degrade or stop working tomorrow, and failing to adapt risks harming customer sites.

Regularly reading industry publications, blogger updates, and Google notifications allows for recognizing when new expertise needs integration both operationally and in client recommendations.

Don’t let staff skills or service offerings go stale. Continual skills development is crucial!

Check out my list of the 12 best SEO newsletters if you want to stay up to date on the latest innovations in the SEO world.

Focusing on Customer Retention

Acquiring new SEO clients has associated sales costs. Existing accounts with established revenue are more profitable, especially those retained for multiple years. Assuming their needs remain met, focusing on renewal and expansion is most financially prudent.

Small gestures like checking in about overall satisfaction, providing ticket giveaways, or sending birthday offers go a long way.

Also, making cancellation difficult not through rigid contacts but via consistent value delivery is important.

Developing Referral Networks

Referrals from past customers and strategic partnerships inherently build trust with new prospects, given existing social proof. They yield higher close rates and allow scaling client acquisition more smoothly.

Proactively asking satisfied clients if they can recommend your services or connect you with relevant networks helps jumpstart your word-of-mouth marketing.

Tactfully seek out partnerships with complementary service providers like web designers, PPC experts, business consultants, etc.

Cross-promoting expands the collective reach and ensures both sides supply and receive quality referrals, which cements long-term success.

Considering Outsourcing and Subcontract Work

Business growth comes with its own administrative, operational, and service delivery burdens. At a reasonable revenue scale, outsourcing certain tasks starts making financial sense to maintain quality and profit margins, especially commodity services.

Consider leveraging offshore labor or AI tools for things like reporting, lead gen outreach, content creation, etc.

Also, subcontract out niche campaign work in which you lack specialized skills. This lifts capacity constraints to taking on more clients without any major structural overhaul.

Maintaining a Strong Company Culture

Rapidly scaling teams or services risks culture degradation if not protected, and it’s very important to preserve institutional knowledge.

On that account, you need to promote talent development paths to retain star players instead of reacting to turnover. Regularly connect with staff about what matters to them and proactively gather feedback at multiple levels.

With vision, planning, priority balancing, and continual optimization, an SEO business can grow sustainably for decades to come.


Starting a successful SEO agency takes substantial expertise, from technical SEO skills to sales abilities and everything in between.

That said, the growing demand for these digital marketing services, coupled with the freedom of managing your own business, makes it an appealing path for aspiring entrepreneurs.

With proper planning around services, operations, and client acquisition strategies, a lucrative SEO agency is realistic to build.

Do the groundwork and commit to providing real value, and you can compete with any established competitor. Good luck!

Picture of Phillip Stemann
Phillip Stemann
I'm Phillip, and I've been in the SEO game since 2020, where I took it under the skin. I've grown multiple websites to thousands of clicks, and I'm sharing all my SEO knowledge through my content and YouTube channel. I started as a curious mind at 13 years old, programming and programming for many years before I discovered SEO. I then started with the technical part of SEO as it came naturally to me with my technical background, and then I took on all parts of SEO. I love helping other people grow their websites, and I help my clients do the same.

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How to Start an SEO Business: A Practical Guide

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