How to Build a Successful SEO (Search Engine Optimization) Business
Building any business requires a great deal of thought and planning. SEO and Internet Marketing are no different but surely present a unique set of challenges and opportunities. For the purpose of this writing we will start from scratch and perhaps continue this article with future posts to further develop on the thoughts and principals discussed here.
The barriers to entry in the SEO world get higher each year because the elements and processes involved get more numerous and sophisticated as internet technology, the major players such as Google, Bing et al as well as new entrants add to the 100’s of considerations necessary towards creating winning SEO strategies. Just consider the major factors that must be included in any credible SEO offering:
- Onsite Optimization – even though this is the most basic of all aspects of SEO and has been there from the start, it evolves as well. Just yesterday, Google published its latest algorithm changes, many of which are purely onsite factors that all SEO Companies must pay attention to and act on.
- Content Creation – the creation of original, engaging content including articles, blog posts, videos, demos, eBooks and whitepapers is essential to SEO results. This is more important than any other single factor because the search engines, Google in particular, are much more sophisticated in assessing the quality of the information on websites. In addition, the “freshness factor” is big with Google which dictates that websites seeking to reach the top of page 1, and wish to stay there, must continually produce rocking content that is widely shared online through the social media and bookmarkers.
- Content Promotion – It is not enough to generate the content and add it to your website. The content must be linked-to by strong, quality sites. These links (backlinks) are the key measures Google uses to assess the human interaction, reaction and popularity that your content is receiving.
- Conversion Optimization – It is also not enough to get high on the search engines and drive traffic. I assure you that Optimum7 doesn’t retain its clients unless we also bring home the business. So, we need to make sure that the conversion rate coming from the traffic is increasing. Conversion Optimization involves sophisticated testing, including split testing and multivariate testing, to monitor and determine the best combination of design factors, calls to action et al to drive the best factors for Return on Investment.
The above 4 factors represent the broad brush of SEO. There are literally 100’s of elements involved in each of them that require mastery to actually deliver quality results for SEO clientele. Obviously, this means attracting, hiring, training the best personnel for your company.
Your Professional Team
You are in the SEO business; but ultimately you are in the people business. There is no single individual that can perform at a top level for everything involved i.e. Onsite Optimization, Content Creation and Promotion, Conversion Optimization. In addition there is the issue of the business of the business including New Client Acquisition (Sales), Accounting / Bookkeeping, Back Office Management, Legal, Insurance, Location, capital equipment, etc, etc. However, putting all of the business management aside for now, let’s take a look at the skills that you either must staff or outsource for.
- SEO Professional(s) – to start, you will need one professional who has a full understanding of all of the processes involved in Search Engine Optimization. While no one individual is capable of doing it all, you still need one individual who is aware of and on top of it all; i.e. an expert who can lead your team.
- Copywriter(s) – as stated above, nothing is more critical now in SEO than the constant / consistent production of quality content, both for your SEO Company’s website and for each of your clients. At Optimum7, at least 80% of our clients must rely on us to generate content of all kinds simply because they lack the ability or wherewithal to do it themselves.
- Website Designer(s) – there should be no such thing as separating Online Marketing from Website or Landing Page Design and vice versa. Websites must be designed with close SEO application and / or supervision and SEO must include a focus on conversions or conversion optimization and that depends on an excellent web designer to make all of the onsite changes needed for split testing.
- Social Media Specialist(s) – Social Media Sites including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ along with Social Bookmarking Sites such as Digg, Delicious and StumbleUpon are vital pieces of any online strategy including SEO. The search engines all use the “social response” to your content as key elements in ranking web pages.
- Further Considerations
- PPC – if you truly wish to provide full value, you will need to include Paid Search Management to your menu of services and only an experienced, qualified individual will do. Web Programming – providing clients special functionalities that may involve coding such as custom e-commerce systems, cross-platform integration, content management systems, social media integrations, API & XML integrations and much more are important capabilities to maintain and control your business as well as grow your client loyalty and confidence.
- Ecommerce Expert – there are hundreds of Ecommerce software systems available and clients with e-stores, or desiring one, require special expertise and attention.
- Data Analyst – your clients want to know how things are progressing. So do you. It is not enough to make cursory observations in Google Analytics, especially because there is so much more information (stats and trends) available to you that you can take advantage of to drive results in all respects.
Money and Capital
All these things require significant investments. A basic core group of individuals i.e. one SEO, one Copywriter, one Designer and one Social Media Specialist will likely cost a quarter million dollars in annual salaries; add 15% for benefits, Social Security Contributions et al and you are close to $300K with a core group of 4 individuals.
If you only have 1 or 2 of these core individuals, your choices are to (1) Recruit for them or (2) Outsource to a quality firm or individual(s) to ensure that all processes can be implemented and delivered as results for your client.
It is important that you have a good relationship with a bank including a key individual in the bank. My key individual is my loan officer; and yes, you should establish a line of credit with the bank. Having a suitable line of credit (at least $100K) serves several important functions:
- Reserve funds to take advantage of short and long term opportunities when you don’t have ready cash in the bank.
- You might not get new clients consistently; get used to it. However, be prepared for it by using your reserve cash to bridge short term gaps and also to avoid having to make short term and costly expense cutbacks that could deter your performance on behalf of your clients.
Additionally, establishing a good credit standing with a bank provides the ability to take advantage of unique opportunities that involve different types of loans e.g. commercial real estate loan for buying vs. renting office space.
Further, your bank can provide credit cards and debit cards for regular spending that is easier done through plastic e.g. online purchases of products and services.
Circle of Professionals
When starting out, you will need to make sure that you retain the services of the following professionals and individuals:
- An Accountant and / or Bookkeeper – invoicing, follow up, collecting are all a basic part of the business. You must learn to do this yourself using QuickBooks et al or have someone do it. I believe you need a good CPA for tax planning considerations.
- Attorney – you will have to register your company either as an S-Corp, C-Corp or LLC. You can do some of the basics online within your state, however, inevitably you should have an attorney to assist you in many areas e.g. the establishment of service agreements, partnership agreements et al.
- Insurance – if you rent your office space, you will need renter’s insurance, fire insurance. You will also need Professional Liability insurance. Make sure you find a very competent insurance professional who can coordinate all of these for you.
Even if you are on page 1 for all the right keywords, you will need at least one sales professional to follow up on leads promptly, but more so to pound the phone, the pavement, trade shows and conferences to bring in new clients as well as to up-sell existing clients. Paying sales personnel can be tricky; generally a base salary with incentive compensation is the norm. Be careful about incentives; SEO cannot be “sold” in the traditional sense. SEO is expensive and takes significant time to see results. Traditional attitudes about selling run counter to these salient facts. Only representatives that can illustrate their integrity by doing what we do at Optimum7 … “tell people what they need to know, which may well not be what they want to hear” can truly succeed for themselves and the company. It’s a mature, long term perspective that is needed and this should only be supported by long term incentive compensation approaches.
Obviously, building an SEO Company requires onsite technology to make it work. Each team member will have to have a CPU. In addition, you will find that you will need and use literally dozens of online tools and local software to actually perform the work. The list seems endless to me, after the past 5 years, of all the tools required to conduct SEO, PPC, Reputation Management, Website Design, and Copywriting. In addition, you will need management tools to control projects, results, progress, passwords, networks, servers, hosting and probably a dozen more things I haven’t even thought of as I write this.
The office must have a technological infrastructure including networking platforms, email and text management, backup solutions, basic business applications e.g. Microsoft Office, QuickBooks et al.
You Must Have a Process
As much as things have changed over the years, as well as change constantly in the world of internet technology and SEO, what doesn’t change is the absolute requirement that you establish proven processes that generate results. These processes must be documented and followed religiously to generate consistently positive results. When things change, the process is updated and integrated into the existing process. Optimum7 constantly updates its methodology and processes based on the evolving technology from the likes of Google, Microsoft, Apple and many more. Without constant attention to the systems you create and the processes you perform, you will relegate yourself to “crisis of the day” management instead of managing your business professionally.
SEO is a wonderful business. I love it when we see new rankings for our clients, new keywords showing up in the search engines, traffic moving up, conversions increasing. However, building an SEO Business is really hard; we know how hard it is, I assure you. It requires passion for what you are doing, of course; it also demands powerful dedication to the processes, and the organization of same, into a finely tuned system for performing the work. And as with all new businesses, it requires a heck of a lot more perspiration than inspiration. You will spend many long nights working in all of the areas mentioned above. But if you can really be passionate on behalf of your clients and keep your on eye on the goal of serving them as I like to think we do here at Optimum7, you can build a truly successful company and get all of the pride in the world of accomplishing it.