When it comes to working online, one of the most lucrative online businesses anyone can indulge in with limited investment is starting an SEO agency. SEO agencies are highly sought after today more than ever, especially considering that more and more people around the world are turning to Google to find the information they need.
Did you know that, with the required skills and knowledge, a start-up SEO agency can start earning anything between $2,000–$3,000 monthly with just a few clients? Due to how lucrative the business model is, the SEO agency market is one of the most competitive online markets today. Statistics indicate the market is only going to get bigger as the global SEO services market is expected to reach $83.7 billion in 2022.
Thriving in such a competitive market is not an easy mountain to climb. Becoming different and differentiating yourself from other agencies offering the same services is an even harder task to achieve, but nowadays it’s a must.
So how then were we able to make our SEO agency stand out among the crowded market? To find out, you’ll have to first understand our journey.
When we first started our SEO agency, we noticed right away that running an SEO agency wasn’t as easy as everyone claims it to be. This was primarily because the industry is without a doubt one of the most competitive industries there is.
We would put in hours of work time and for all that hard work, we’d be rewarded with little results, there were even times when we’d have no results.
After all, the people you’re competing with are not only thriving businesses but people that are experts in SEO and digital marketing.
One of the major challenges we faced was acquiring leads and it didn’t stop there. Even after acquiring these leads, it was difficult for the leads to trust us because at the time, our agency didn’t have a reputation. We understood that high quality SEO work requires time, effort and resources. This of course requires a higher spend for the customer, but the price tag for our services and the social proof attached to it simply wasn’t enough justification for our leads to spend their money on us.
We first started with testing multiple sales funnels through various advertising platforms. We did countless tests with many modifications made and even hired multiple advertising specialists to help us with it, but we still weren’t able to convert leads. After several trials and ad optimizations, we were able to convert a few but the sales strategy was far too difficult as we’d have to invest far too many hours for little to no results.
Since that method was too difficult, we had to try other methods of lead generation. We tried different techniques for about six months—one of which was sticking up flyers in our local city, and creating an affiliate program! Safe to say, none of those strategies worked at all. It was at that time during our struggle that we found a technique that helped us grow our agency to a 100k a month agency—we achieved this feat without ever having to pay for any lead generation (trust me, I’m going to show you how right now).
In our initial findings, we saw that many companies were executing their link building strategy the same way.
You might have heard of the term “guest post”. A guest post is when you contribute content to another person or brand’s website or blog with the hopes to secure a backlink for your own website.
This allows you to gain a “dofollow” backlink which passes on some of the linking website’s authority to yours. Unfortunately, what this meant was that people that were engaging in link building were looking purely at two things, and that is:
- The metrics of that website (Authority Score, Toxicity Score, Organic Traffic, etc.)
- The cost associated with obtaining a link from that website.
If the cost made sense, then people would create generalized content around their product or service and link back to their website (as naturally as possible). Unfortunately, this is not enough as you’re thinking purely about the numbers and metrics rather than what Google wants.
Google wants high quality information to be provided to users who are searching for that information. If the information is very detailed and meets all the key requirements of SEO (e.g. having a focused keyword, answers the questions around the topic, has clear structure and heading tags), Google will make it as easy as possible for that information to be presented to whoever is searching for it.
This is where we found the key difference between our link building efforts and other agencies' link building efforts, and what made many of our clients successful in a very short period of time.
Step 1: Create Metrics Around what Constitutes Quality Websites
This is something that SEO companies mostly get right, however it’s important to note a few things. Many people tend to look at two things, being Authority Score andOrganic Traffic—don’t forget to keep a note of theToxicity Rating as well.
Now, in the end, things like spam scores and toxicity ratings are just markers. What we adopt is a much more “common-sense” approach, and that is whether the website that you’re getting links from is topically relevant to yours and whether it has the potential to bring in referral traffic.
As Semrush has mentioned…
“Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.”
While Semrush has a great toxicity rating tool, you should exercise your own due diligence as well to determine whether the website is good quality or not.
We generally like to use the following markers when doing link building:
- Authority Score of higher than 30.
- Monthly organic traffic of more than 1,000
- Toxicity ratings of less than 10.
- No duplicate domains to whatever exist in the client’s backlink profile already.
- No links that have engaged in artificial inflation tactics
You might be asking yourself—what is artificial inflation? Lucas Vitale and Patrick Dhital from SEO Assistance coined this term during their outreach strategies as they noticed many guest post-related websites were engaging in this practice. Many websites try to use tactics such as bulk forum commenting, 301 redirect manipulation, and other black-hat SEO strategies to up their referring domain count. For example, by commenting on thousands of random blog articles that have high authority scores, it inflates the website’s authority score through different SEO tools, taking advantage of their algorithm.
Therefore, it’s especially important to do a backlink audit and conduct a deeper look into where a website is getting its referring domains from. If you see any sort of irrelevant blog comment-type links, you can be sure that they are not complying with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and that you should be avoiding them completely.
Step 2: Manually Audit Content to Make Sure It Aligns with the Client’s Website as Well as Meets Quality Requirements
A lazy SEO company will look at a website’s metrics, and use that to determine whether it’s a good or bad potential link for their client. A half-decent SEO company will look at a website’s metrics as well as the content to see whether the content is relevant to their client’s website.
A great SEO company on the other hand will do a complete manual audit of multiple different articles on the website and determine whether there are any grammatical issues, any design flaws and whether the content is providing value for the reader on that website. Many SEO companies forget logic when it comes to reality, and we sometimes get caught up in purely the numbers aspect of things. If you think logically, a website that wants to grow is a website that will always provide good quality information and content.
Think about your own SEO company (or any company for that matter)—
- Would you ensure that the content you’re publishing on your website has a meaning or intention?
- Would you review the content to make sure it complies with your quality standards before going ahead with it?
If you answered yes to both of those, then that’s the type of website you want to secure links on for your clients. If a website is just keen to get your money for a guest post, then it’s likely they don’t really care too much about quality and are just in it to get money from you, and the best way to test that is by doing a comprehensive audit of their content.
Step 3: Focus on a Specific Keyword that Is Not Too High in Difficulty
After you’ve found a website that meets your metrics and meets the standards you’d want in terms of content for your client, then you will need to develop high-quality articles. One of the experiences we’ve had in the past is that many clients want to write the articles themselves, enabling themselves to be able to control the quality standards. From a risk control perspective, it’s a good idea as it shifts the risk of an article under performing from you to the client. From a growth perspective, it’s the biggest mistake a client or your SEO company can make.
While many clients understand their niche, they don’t have as much understanding of what keywords are performing for their niche—this is a very important distinction. By doing properkeyword research, you will be able to find gaps in a market that other people are searching for, and this creates referral traffic for your client. This is also a double win, as firstly you are creating a really good quality article that people will actually be searching for, and secondly giving yourself a bargaining tactic with the website you are trying to publish an article on (and this is exactly what has helped us grow—read on).
For example, if you were doing link building for a digital marketing agency, then shift away from articles such as “Why Digital Marketing Is Important”, which is a very generalized article that will get lost in Google’s rankings, and focus on extremely specific articles that people might be searching for such as “Which CMS Systems Are Best For Digital Marketing Agencies” where you are making sure the focus keyword is added throughout the content and has a lot of relevance. This will make a substantial difference to your client’s link building strategy and is hands down the most effective way to do link building (in our professional opinion) because that article will drive traffic from Google, other websites will link out to that article naturally, and the website you’re contacting wants the traffic and rankings of that keyword (which you’ve presented all the logical data in your pitch to them).
Regardless of any metric such as authority score and toxicity rating, the metric that provides the MOST value for your client is referral traffic. If your client’s website is getting clicks from another website, this will pass on the most authority in Google’s PageRank system.
Step 4: Have as Much Content as Possible
When we think of outreach, sometimes we think of just creating small articles and hoping for the best. For example,the vast majority of guest post professionals offer 500-word articles for their link-building routine, so we assume that’s the best when it comes to creating content.
Our company also offers 500 words as a bare minimum since anything below that will have absolutely no value at all. Going back to step 2 though, the best websites to create links from are the websites that speak with you to revise your content until it meets their quality standards. Quite often, this means adding much more than 500 words of content.
Any seriously experienced SEO expert will know, the more content a page has, the better the chance of the website ranking well. This doesn’t just mean adding more words, but also including things such as case studies, infographics, data studies, interactive tools, videos, and podcasts/audio. You might see some of these things being utilized in this blog post. However, don’t consider this article as an example of our strategy. Our intention behind writing this is to help other ambitious agency owners or future agency owners that are active in the Semrush Blog.
Going down to more of the technical side of things, it’s also important to add a lot of headings that target other queries that people might have that are related to the parent topic. For example, going back to the article title of “Which CMS Systems Are Best For Digital Marketing Agencies”, some related keywords could be things like “Is WordPress a good CMS for Digital Marketing Agencies?” and these are things you can add to your article as heading 2 or heading 3 tags. We’ve also found that creating a lot of internal linking throughout other articles on the same website really assists in ranking potential. Adding this in to your articles you write for outreach will also help smoothen the process of getting it published as it will show you are serious about providing them results as well.
Now while those 4 steps are inherently harder than what the usual process is—the key takeaway I would want for anyone reading this article is to not look at the numbers but to look at the logical reason behind what you’re doing for your client.
Your client will have a product or service that they want to showcase to the world, and it’s your job as an SEO expert to ensure that it is showcased to as many people as possible via organic search. This means not only optimizing everything ON their pages, but also optimizing everything you can do on other website’s pages to maximize the results for your client.