How I Built a 7 Figure SEO Agency

seo agency

The second business I ever started was an SEO agency. By no means did I see myself creating an agency… I simply stumbled upon it. Before I go into how I built an SEO agency and made millions from it, let me give you a quick background on how I stumbled upon it…

The first website I ever started was a job board called Advice Monkey. I was trying to get the website ranked for terms like “job search” and “tech jobs”. I hired a few SEO agencies to help me out, but none provided any results. After tens of thousands of dollars down the drain, I had no more money and no choice but to learn how to optimize Advice Monkey for search engines… all on my own.

From reading sites like Search Engine Watch and SEObook, I started getting the hang of SEO. I made on-page changes to my own site, and learned how to build links by talking to people like Patrick Gavin on a weekly basis.

Eventually, I started to rank really well for job-related terms on Google, but the business failed because of these reasons.

When my first venture failed, I decided I was going to quit entrepreneurship, get a college degree like everyone else, and get a job after graduation. To get a head start on things, I started taking college classes while I was in high school.

The first college class I took was Speech 101. The professor asked us to give three speeches on any topic of our choice. One of the topics I chose was on SEO… It was called “How search engines work”.

One of the gentlemen sitting in the room during my speech was a sales rep from Elpac Electronics. He approached me after my speech and told me that the company he worked for was looking for an SEO person. He introduced me to the marketing manager of the company, and the company hired me as a contractor for $3,500 a month.

After a few months of me working with Elpac, their rankings shot up to number one on Google for terms like “power supplies”. They were so happy, they introduced me to other companies they knew. Within months, I was pulling in around $20,000 a month from SEO consulting.

That’s when I started an SEO agency… And here’s how I built it to seven figures:

The best clients come from referrals

I know this goes without saying… the best clients you will ever get as an agency is from previous customers, friends, or even family members. When someone refers to you, chances of you closing that deal are really high.

But if you treat that client poorly, not only will they stop paying you, but you’ll notice that the number of referrals you get on a regular basis will slowly start going down. For this reason,you have to have a clean reputation and be known for taking care of your clients even when you don’t think it makes sense to. By doing this, in the long run, you’ll continually gain new clients from referrals.

When I first started the agency, referrals were my primary source of revenue, but once I learned how to gain customers through marketing, it became our 4th most popular channel.

You can’t rely on referrals

I used to rely on the word of mouth as my main revenue source. It’s easy to build a six-figure SEO agency, assuming you can provide the service. It’s really hard to create a seven-figure business from it though.

Here are the main ways I got new customers:

  • Blogging – consistently blog about SEO, social media marketing, conversion optimization and content marketing. The more technical your blog posts are and the more often you use data to backup your points, the more leads you will get. For example, this post on how content length affects rankings and conversions drove 51 leads, while my post on don’t forget the marketing in content marketing only drove 18 leads. Both posts did well on the social web, but the one on content length contained more stats and data. In general, I’ve seen that posts with stats and data drive roughly three times more leads than posts that don’t contain any data or stats.
  • Speak at conferences – SEO and marketing conferences used to be the place to get new customers. I used to pick up at least $100,000 per marketing conference I went to that had over 1,500 attendees. Sooner or later, all of the other SEOs and marketers started to speak at the same events, and the amount of new revenue I acquired from these events drastically shrunk. I later learned that the best events to speak at are non-industry events. For example, when I spoke about online marketing at an online gambling event, I was able to lock PokerStrategy.com in a $1.2 million contract. From finance to fitness and everything in between, non-industry events typically brought in four times more revenue than industry events. You just have to make sure you are speaking at conferences that charge at least $1,000 per ticket as that means you are usually talking to an audience that can afford your services. When you speak, you have to talk about specific tactics people can leverage, show examples of companies using those tactics, and wrap it up with data that shows your methods were successful.
  • Help out bloggers – the last method I used to gain new customers was to reach out to Technorati 100 companies and offer them free SEO. Most of them didn’t take me up on the offer, but a handful did. From TechCrunch to Gawker Media, I did free SEO for these companies in exchange for a badge on their sites that said “SEO by…” That badge would link back to my site and drive leads. If I got lucky, they would also do a blog post on the results they received from me, which typically led to over $250,000 in new revenue as those blogs had a large following.

Out of all the methods I mentioned above, speaking at conferences was the leading way to gain new customers, blogging was the second, and helping out bloggers was the third.

There’s always churn

Whether a client is referred to you or they found you through some other means, sooner or later they are going to leave you. SEO is a business with a high churn rate… it’s very rare that someone will stick with you as a client for three years.

Because of this, you want to survey your clients on a monthly basis. Find out what issues they are having with you, your team, or your company. Let them know that they should be transparent and frank.

Some of the questions you can ask are:

  1. Are you satisfied with the level of service you are receiving?
  2. What is one thing that we aren’t doing for you that you wish we did?
  3. Is there anything we can improve upon?

Once you have that data, you should try to fix the identified issues. If you do this with your customers on a monthly basis and you see the survey responses improving, you are doing well. If not, you have an operational problem within your business.

In addition to surveying your clients, make sure you also provide them with a monthly report and weekly calls. The more you communicate with them, the faster you will find out if they are happy or not.

I’ve also noticed that the more you communicate with the client, the longer they will stay with you. I know, this process may seem like a pain in the butt, but it’s harder to get new clients than it is to keep your current ones paying. So, cherish your clients.

Be results driven

I had this philosophy from day one because I got burnt by paying other SEO agencies. They took all of my money and didn’t provide much in return. Due to this, I only took on clients for whom I could provide the results… but I never explained that to potential clients in a way that made sense to them.

What I started doing was estimating how much more traffic I could drive to the companies. I would take their current rankings and use the multiplier from this table. So, if they ranked #6 for a keyword that drove them 1,000 visitors a month and I thought I could take them to #1, I would estimate that I could drive them 10,400 visitors, which is 9,400 extra visitors than they currently have.

I would then take their current conversion rate, let’s say 2%, and their average value per sale, let’s say $100 dollars, and show them that 9,400 extra visitors could give them $18,800 a month in extra revenue. I would then do this for each of their keywords and estimate how much more money I could make them each month.

By showing potential clients how much more money you can make them versus how much you are charging, you can help make their decision to go with you pretty easy. The only thing they have to worry about is whether you can actually provide the results. To combat this, you would use testimonials and case studies to show what you have done in the past.

Ideally, you want to use detailed case studies showing how much money you have made other companies as well as outlining what you exactly did to achieve those results. In addition to that, you want to list all of the big brands you have worked with as it shows your credibility.

What I also learned through this process is that though the majority of our customers were mid-sized businesses, they wanted to see all of the large Fortune 500 companies we worked with even though these customers themselves were nowhere near that size. When we showed our potential clients all of the small and medium businesses we worked with versus only showing them large brands we worked with, our conversion rate of locking them in as a customer decreased by almost half.

Once we learned this, we started to work with as many large brands as possible, even if the large brand wasn’t willing to spend money on us… Heck, we were even willing to lose money or do the work for free.

Give away the farm

When you are building your agency, you need to focus on getting clients that pay you six figures a year. It’s hard to build a profitable agency and provide great results when someone only pays you a few grand a month.

The best way to get companies to pay you six figures is to give away the farm. Within your proposals, you should have one section that breaks down everything the company is doing wrong, how they can fix it, and what it would cost for you to fix it.

Don’t worry about a company taking everything you gave them and doing it on their own… people are lazy. They’d rather pay you to fix their problems.

If you show your prospects in advance what you will fix for them versus only offering a list of services in a proposal, they will be more likely to hire you. This will allow you not only increase your deal closing rate but also charge them a lot more.

Make sure you don’t negotiate on your prices because I bet other SEO agencies won’t go into this much depth to lock in a potential client. Yes, you may be more expensive, but at least the company will know what they getting with you versus what they will get with competing SEO agencies.

Leverage business development

In the short run, you will lose money on business development. In the long run, however, you’ll be able to make it up. The quickest way for you to increase your revenue is to become the outsourced arm of bigger agencies.

As an SEO company, look for ad agencies to partner with as there are a number of ad agencies that are way bigger than SEO agencies. Feel free to cold call them and offer free help with their own websites. If you do well, they’ll drive a lot of clients to you.

It’s a tedious process, but it works really well. We used to do this, and we would get a steady flow of leads from ad agencies. You just have to be willing to lose money upfront, as you will be doing their SEO for free in the short run.

When dealing with these ad agencies, let them know that your minimum price is six figures a year because they should have no problem getting big contracts for you. They’ll probably try to white label your service, which you should be okay with as they will be driving you revenue and eliminating a lot of the hassle by dealing with your clients on your behalf.

Never stop giving

The last, but not least, piece of advice I want to give you is to never stop giving. One of the major ways I grew the SEO agency is by helping people for free. When I first started, people helped me for free, so I would try to pay it forward by doing the same thing.

Even to this date, I try to respond to every email I get and respond to every comment on this blog. Whatever I can do to help people out, as long as it doesn’t break my bank, I do it. Why?… Because I really care about you, just like people cared to help me out when I was a kid starting my first venture.

You will earn a lot of karma points, and you’ll notice that people will start saying great things about you to other businesses or people, which eventually will get you more business. But the key is to not expect anything in return when helping people.

Conclusion

Using all of the methods I covered above, I was able to build a business that did well into the seven figures a year in revenue and millions of dollars in profit.

The one thing to keep in mind is that my agency actually provided results. From getting companies to rank in the top three results for terms like “credit cards” and “life insurance” to helping boost their sales, we provided a positive return on investment. If you do everything I mentioned above but fail to provide results as an SEO agency, you won’t be in business for long.

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Comments

  1. hey,
    Excellent post. It seems that you have done a lot of hard work. Also How many workers are there in your team ?
    Thank you

  2. This is great especially for what I am doing too! I really like the part about surveying clients and seeing how satisfied they are with everything.

    I spoke at local places and those have gotten me a ton of leads and clients, I believe I e-mailed you about that once. Speaking is definitely the best thing to get business, build credibility, and networking. I’ve never been to and SEO conference, but I can imagine how a non-SEO conference would be better to get leads.

    -Amir

  3. Hi Neil

    I like the title, ‘giving away the farm’ because we did something similar, not in terms of us giving information but we made the decision to break even on some deals that we did, so after our costs, we didn’t earn a bean!
    Sounds crazy I know and it’s not something we would advocate anyone else do, but we were in a hugely competitive market at that time and we needed to do something that would grab people’s attention.
    It worked for us and once we were established, we started charging the going rate (our charges were one offs-not residual income) because people were able to see the work we did and would start asking us to quote. If we hadn’t of done that then we would never have been heard of.
    Sometimes you have to take risks…

  4. Excellent article. I think cracking that 6 figure mark for one client is challenging for people because they probably have a lot of local clients they are helping out and making enough to get by on.

  5. Hey Neil! Thanks for the ideas, I am planning to have my own SEO agency too! If this will happen, I am the only SEO agency in my place. :D Thanks!

    • Awesome, best of luck! Let me know if you have any questions as you go.

      • “Best of luck”: He’s going to need it!! Jill Whalen announced she’s quitting her SEO career because “the tricks to beat and spam Google, no longer work as well.” MozSEO.com became now Moz.com. You said it yourself in a reply to Mo Johnson: “now it is all about quality sites and information.”

        I would expect a lot of books with titles like “The SEO Millionaire,” “SEO Riches,” “How to Become an SEO Mogul in 24 Hours,” ad nauseum. When the well runs dry, everyone starts to sell pumps!

  6. Congrats on making a lot of money, but I think most people realize that SEO is the new snake oil. Charging a company $3500 a month to add a few meta tags to their web pages is great work if you can get it, but hardly an honest gig.

    The fact is that its impossible to guarantee a move up the Google rankings except by the documented ways that you would expect – get more incoming links etc. There are no ‘secret tricks’, so essentially SEO is based on hoodwinking old company bosses who have no idea how the internet works.

    • It’s a shame that this is the reputation that the industry, to a large extent, has earned…

    • Couldn’t disagree more. If you think SEO is changing meta tags and that there aren’t “secret tricks” that the majority of SEOs don’t know about, then you’re definitely the 99% and not the 1%.

      I don’t take on SEO clients per se but I’ve done some (highly priced) SEO consulting that one client told me at one of our monthly consulting call that he’d happily pay 5-10 times what I was charging him. And that was with him doing all the implementation of the plan I lined out.

      Neil is absolutely correct, if you provide value that is greater to the client’s bottom than what you’ve charged them, they will happily keep paying (and recommending).

    • You’re opinion is correct if you think people getting paid thousands of dollars to do fundamental SEO anyone could figure out in a week of research using Google is true. I’m sure this does happen or has happened.

      I used to work in the SEO department for a basement systems company and you have no idea how intricate a proper SEO company is. They owned a network of thousands of quality domains, blogs and websites whose sole purpose was to constantly build links back to the multiple business properties they owned. They had one main business but owned multiple domains to rank in different states and regions. Not to mention the managing of their anchor text, and conversion testing to see how a keyword would perform. The on page stuff is basic, the real value an SEO agency can provide now a days is a proper network of diverse high quality sites to provide links and knowing how to give those links and for what keywords.

    • There is a lot of link building involved as well as content creation and paid ad a management.

  7. @Fredo ” so essentially SEO is based on hoodwinking old company bosses who have no idea how the internet works.”
    And your job as a Seo Consultant is to make them understand the value of having more exposure for ther business by using Interactif Strategies on the net.

  8. Good stuff as always Neil. Really appreciate the insight and strategies. Many of them are strategies we stumbled into and have implemented without the roadmap you outlined. Wish this post was made 5 years ago lol.

  9. Helping people for free is still so under-rated… especially for newbies really trying to build a brand. I think this is the most powerful tip on this list as it allows you not only to build genuine relationships but affords you the opportunity to provide direction and advice on websites that are potentially much larger than your own (or any of your current clients for that matter) and see the results; building both trust and brand awareness at the same time.

  10. Thanks for the great info again. Your SEO practices and tips have been more than useful for me. I always come back for more. Blogging and helping out other bloggers have proven to be useful for you. I have taking note. Cheers Neil.

  11. This is a serious post about building 7-figure business.

    I love your marketing approach. Especially on doing some research at Technorati, then give them the irresistible offers.

    Smart people will grab that offer. And it is simply a win-win situation.

    We are figuring out what value can we offer for our potential customers. It is important to define every business forte (expertise).

  12. Thank you so much Neil for your insight on SEO. I have become a huge fan of your emails and blog post. I always look forward to what you’re going to write about next. You give away many Gold Nuggets Neil about SEO, thank you!.

  13. Great information!

    I have always wanted to know how you got started and grew your business.

    I already, added some of your questions and I’m going to create a monthly survey.

    Thanks

  14. re: heck we were even willing to lose money or do their work for free.

    You see, this go against what most of these experts say/preach. Don’t do anything for free. I on the other hand believe in doing what you did.
    Meaning strategically, work for some “powerful leaders” with the understanding that IF I do this for your organization, you will refer me to your folks.

    I am glad to see the strategy for you Neil.

  15. A ton of helpful and inspiring info in this post Neil. Having guys like you and Rand that give this kind of transparency is appreciated.

  16. Excellent post. Your breakdown of how to price yoru service is applicable to nearly any revenue generating sales pitch (including salary negotiations.)

    Here’s the thing, lots of people like Grind say, “Neil is absolutely correct, if you provide value that is greater to the client’s bottom than what you’ve charged them, they will happily keep paying (and recommending)” and I am definitely someone like that. But, I’ve yet to find someone that can produce those results…..

  17. Great post and great insight into your success. “Never stop giving”…that really says it all.

  18. I love the transparency in your posts and the way you share the knowledge instead of hoarding it. Yes, part of it can be due to business reasons like getting leads, traffic etc., just like you’ve stated. But, I am more taken in by the Human You in these posts…which is your genuine desire to share and educate.

  19. Neil, what a priceless post! Every single word worth gold.

    Although I think the title is a bit misleading, should be more like “How I Built a 7 Figure SEO Agency and What Any Business Owner Can Learn From It.” These same lessons apply to consultants, lawyers, realtors, you name it.

    I am not in SEO business in any way, but subscribe by every word you wrote there. My consulting business (nothing of your magnitude or level, but still) was growing and doing well – but then started to slip and went down substantially. If I am to list reasons why, all of them are contained in this post of yours – because I was not doing what you are listing. Well, you learn as you go. This year I am set to turn things around.

    I would add though a couple of things:

    1) Recognize your strengths and build/grow on them. Recognize your weaknesses and either stay away from projects and opportunities involving those, or do something to overcome those weaknesses (e.g., through training), or outsource.

    As simple as it may sound, but a lot of those strengths and weaknesses are not immediately clear and only become clear with experience and time and trying various things, which can take some years. Also, opportunities based on your strengths may not be readily available, so one needs to put focused effort in that direction. For ex., I have realized by now that there are some things I am really good at, they come natural to me (to the point that I was taking them for granted), and they happen to be difficult for a lot of people/competitors. So I am now trying to focus on that.

    2) Always keep in mind that it is so much easier to prevent problems than trying to fix them after the fact. A lot of the things you are listing are actually so much easier to do than not do them and then end up with problems and try to fix them.

    E.g., I remember a project – the client had some money to spend (a government agency) and had some very vague idea. There was no clearly defined scope with clearly set expectations of deliverables. I took it. Man, it backfired. It turned out there were several other people in the picture, “stakeholders” as they would call them in my field, and they all had strong and loud ideas for what they wanted to be done, and there was no consensus. I ended up spending endless time facilitating endless discussions with them of what should be done etc etc etc, all of which after the contract was already in place. The end result: I spent ridiculous amounts of time, nobody was happy, the amount of money was small and totally not worth it, and I was to blame for everything. Man, I learned a lot from that one project.

    3) Have very clearly articulated expectations. Sometimes it is not possible to have everything clearly defined in terms of what eventually needs to be accomplished. For such projects I have learned over time to make sure to include in the contract (a) clearly defined tangible deliverables and (b) clearly defined activities that I would do. For ex., if I am doing a Needs Assessment for a community-based organization (CBO), I wouldn’t now just say a “report with findings and recommendations.” Because a “report” can mean totally different things to different people. I now would actually spell out anticipated page number range, and actually bring to the client several examples of such/similar reports (my own and others) and nail it down with the client (and “stakeholders”): “Here, is this the kind of report we are talking about? If not, let’s agree what’s different you would like to see, etc.”

    3) I work now almost exclusively with government and non-profit agencies, and they have their own peculiarities. Different from the private sector.

    Well, I’d better stop before I get carried away again :)

    THANKS, Neil, for taking the time to share your wisdom with us!

    • I really appreciate the thoughts. Comments like these is what really makes the Quick Sprout community. :)

      Thanks for the title suggestion as well.

      • ahutani mayur :

        I am Link Building, SEO guy with 5 years of experience in Search Engine Optimization and Social Media services. I do high quality back-link building services to increase website’s ranking in Google, Yahoo and Bing. We do 100% Manual work and follow search engine guide lines to get maximum benefit. Will send you detailed Report (Progress and Link Building).

  20. Great post, but you know what they say about those that teach ;-)

  21. Hi Neil:

    I’ve been reading SEO research for 12 years as I have been an SEO consultant for that long. It’s very rare that someone actually tells you their methods for getting clients. Wish I had read this 12 years ago.

    Love your posts.

    Rob
    San Diego

  22. “Hurry, only 1 spot is available.” on case study about Timothy Sykes website, simple and brilliant! Good old marketing school :).

  23. Excellent post Neil. There are only quite a few blogs that I read and you’re one of them (1st) and always looks forward for your emails. I really love your stuff.

    I do wish this post was made 5 years ago too as what @justin McGill said. :)

  24. I graduated from a music college and one of the best professors in my department always told us, “never do anything for free.”

    I started my own digital media strategy company 3 years ago and during the lean years if I would have listened to that advice and applied it to my company, I would have failed miserably.

    Do quality free work for people and it really does pay off.

    Great article, Neil.

    Spot on with everything you mentioned.

  25. Very inspirational post Neil, I admire your passion and the way you shape your clients businesses when helping them with SEO – great job, both post and real day to day SEO work :-)

  26. Cool to hear your story Neil! You getting that first company such great results is what catapulted your SEO career. So many so-called SEO companies are robbing small businesses and not producing results. Good to hear you’re not on the “dark side” my friend.

  27. Gold, Gold, Gold…

    in Today’s blogging atmosphere you can only get guessing labeled as “7 non sense that tricks your mind” lists and called posts. for me, right now right here is the moment to improve and start reading only real gold like this post . technical posts of expertise

  28. Thanks for sharing this Neil. I’m curious to know how you do SEO differently for a 10k+/month client as for a 3k client. Is it just more hours spent? More money spent on designers and programmers? Thanks for the inspirational post!

  29. Interesting post. I hope that I can be as successful as you have been!

  30. It’s really inspirational that how you built up a six figure company .

    It’s really very interesting post and even I can’t stop reading till end as such I am a person who skips mostly all article in between . But I read it fully . Thanks for such awesome tricks

  31. I’m curious if folks would agree that SEO is much harder today. It used to be, I think, that most people didn’t know much about SEO, most websites did none of it and the search engines were less saavy. So…you could do simple things to get ranked higher.

    Today, it seems to me, it’s much harder. You really have to earn the rankings by providing true quality to the visitor. So, it seems to me, SEO (if it’s alive at all) is now much more about helping clients build quality sites — quality content, putting the quality content in front of the right audiences and of course having a strategy for profitable keywords, etc….

    Curious what folks think.

  32. @Andrew, maybe you should hire Neil :P

    It is tough to find a credible company these days with so many in the market, but if you know what to look for it is very possible.

    It’s also best if you can educate yourself ahead of time using the resources Neil mentioned above (SEW & SEOBook). Plus check out some tools like SEOMoz and Hubspot. The more knowledge you have about the search engine landscape, the better equipped you will be to find a good company to work with.

  33. What an excellent story!

    I think there is plenty to takeaway here: speaking both as a professional SEO and as a nonfiction writer. But I also feel there is a unique and direct message to plenty of potential entrepreneurs reading this. I really feel that there is a clear point in your narrative that really stands out – one that I am going to call your “one-in-a-million” moment. I’m referring, of course, to this:

    “One of the gentlemen sitting in the room during my speech was a sales rep at Elpac Electronics and he approached me after my speech. He then told me that the company he worked for was looking for a seo. He introduced me to the marketing manager at the company and they hired me as a contractor for $3500 a month.”

    To go from starting a business that isn’t successful, to being a student, and then happening into a $3500/month consultancy gig is truly phenomenal and, unfortunately, too good to be true for most young entrepreneurs. I can’t help but think that an opportunity as rich as this doesn’t just come about on a whim. I’m curious to know if there was any thing that influenced that sales rep to be in attendance that day.

    However the case, I would love to hear more about how this opportunity shaped your future. Particularly, I’d be interested to learn more about the immediate aftermath and how you turned a classroom proposition into a super success!

    • I guess a lot of it was luck…

      It didn’t really shape my future until a year or so later. It helped me be a lot more aggressive and business minded. But it was a slow transition.

  34. Hey Neil – I’ve used some of these strategies myself to build up a 7 figure agency at Powered by Search. As the business has built up we don’t tend to do a lot of ‘free’ work anymore but we do quite a bit of pro-bono work for non-profits who need our help.

    Partnering with agencies of all kinds has been great and it’s lead to us working with larger brands as well.

    Once you hit that growth stage, what really matters is making success repeatable. This means blogging with consistency, meeting new agencies to partner with consistently, and following up with existing customers to gain an understanding of their satisfaction consistently too. It sure takes a lot of work but if you love what you do (and I definitely do) it pays off in spades.

  35. I got introduced to you and your blog when I read a your blog about lessons learned from SEO Agency. ( http://www.seomoz.org/blog/7-lessons-learned-from-running-a-seo-agency-14225 ) After that I have been reading every blog from you be it on Kissmetrices or QS.
    Reading your blogs seems to be living with you and seeing your personal growth as an entrepreneur as you always mention how you learned all these things. I am mentioning the kind of revelation you made about 51 leads and 18 leads.
    BTW, I wonder What is your conversion rate Neil? Just curious

  36. Hey neil.!!
    I am a high school student and currently doin on my bodybuilding site.. I am further looking for my career in seo, and the reason is you!! Hope some day ill be like you….!
    #respect :))

  37. Hey neil,

    This is an awesome article for all the aspiring SEO consultants and agencies…

    Thanks a lot for explaining your “Search Engine Revenue Methodology” in detail…

    You provide pretty valuable information here free… Which could easily be sold as a premium.

  38. So easy to get braided into the complexities of SEO…nice to hear some good, solid, positive outcomes…thank you.

  39. Epic post Neil!

    You gave away the farm.

    It’s probably the best ways to go and the hardest things to do to.

    Thank you for caring.

  40. In the professional SEO world results matter the most. If you are able to show results, then referrals would follow you. What many of the SEO agencies miss is that they do not track the success of their campaigns and they fail to let their clients know they did it for them!

  41. Thank you very much for this open and honest post, Neil.

  42. Excellent post Mr. Neil,

    You gave really good advice to all of us…

  43. Hi Neil,

    Great post. Most of my SEO clients come from referrals and they are converted from leads to clients by, as you say “giving away the farm” (I like to call it consultative selling). Once they see what can be done its a no brainer. I now need to get some bigger clients to turn my agency from 6 figure to a 7 figures.
    Cheers
    Roger

  44. That’s a great post. Really loved reading it. I like the concept of giving away the farm because it will be reciprocated. And they will naturally feel that we are the experts in that.

  45. Do Elpac still trade?

  46. good post…. really full of information that i needed to jump start my own seo agency… thanks neil …

  47. Hi Neil,
    As you advice we do, you have given away the farm here. :)

    With this, who knows, my SEO business just got a boost.

    Thanks so much for providing this quality of specific actionable steps.

  48. Hello Neil,
    I can’t get enough of your timely advice and this post is just as informative as it is helpful.
    I agree with you that speaking at conference is effective and I will like to go in that direction. What is you don’t have access to conferences, what do you do? How can you get one going most in a rural area?

    Thanks

  49. Neil, thanks a lot, as always, for sharing your story. It’s very inspiring and touches on a few things relevant to any kind of business: drive results, care about clients, think big and don’t be afraid to do some free work at the beginning. Loved it!

  50. Very informative – goes to show that all success is as a result of hard work

  51. Thanks Neil! You continue to inspire me!!

  52. Another wonderfully written and descriptive post Neil! As usual you laid everything out and like you mention people are lazy so half of us wont bother to do as you say. Hey don’t forget to go meet the guy for lunch that got you started!

  53. Neil,

    I love your detailed posts. Anyone growing a business can benefit from the information you’ve provided in growing your own SEO business. Isn’t great how sometimes life works out? You didn’t go to school to become an SEO but through unexpected events here you are making millions with a successful company.

  54. Thank again for this inestimable info to success in SEO business

  55. This is seriously impressive. Tons of ideas on how to build a solid SEO agency. My only fear now is that all SEO companies trying to get off the ground are going to start doing some of these things and make them less effective.

  56. Great read, very informative. I think the best part is that most of these things can be applied in different industries.

    Just a quick question, how old were you when you started Advice Monkey? Just curious since I am relatively young, and have ideas left, right and center, just have to teach myself how to execute.

    Thanks!

  57. Very informative!
    I am stuck in a dilemma, should I be concentrating on ranking my own SEO Service site or should I spend my time cold calling and other methods of client acquisition?

    There are roughly 880 exact matches for “SEO Service[my city]” should I concentrate on trying to rank for it at all?

    Thanks,
    Michael.

  58. Thank you Mr Neil, I like your approach. I definitely get the best outcomes from your article. You always help me to set my directions. Nothing to be add on great and complete article.
    Regards,

  59. Hey Neil great post

    We’ve been giving away the farm for quite some time when we write proposals.

    What we found was that quite often the contract in question would be given to someone who has done a really fluffy, shiny, glossy, visually lovely proposal in comparison to ours. More often than not the proposals said very little and we would have to read between the lines to work out what the agency said they would do for the customer.

    We know this because we’re extremely honest with the clients and more often than not they will show us the competing proposals.

    Anyway to cut a long story short, I use to get angry at loosing a potential customer to someone I thought were not going to do the same standard of job as us.

    One day I took a look back at the clients we had got and laughed. They were fantastic. There is a lot of mutual respect and we are doing work we are really proud of.

    On a side note we’ve heard back from more than one of the customers we’ve previously missed out on.

    Word of advice to businesses hiring agencies. If the proposals for you work are fluffy… dont expect the service you get to be any different.

    Duncan Johnson
    Yodelay

  60. great post. Sounds like your very busy working for yourself and been successful. Its good to read a blog from someone who is proven in SEO

  61. I love your blog! Excellent info here thanks.

  62. Hey,
    Excellent post. It seems that you have done a lot of hard work to build this SEO agency. What i think is, If you do hard work then you will get rewarded one day.
    Same is the case with SEO, you keep on doing work on slow pace and you get the reward in the end.
    Nice post Neil :)
    Thank you

  63. I have similar views. Helping people does help in growing business.

  64. Bob's Basic SEO Consulting Company :

    @Neil, ALSO

    0. Use Google+.
    Google is pushing it really hard right now.

    1. don’t guess at your keywords.
    - use google adwords traffic estimator to accurately plan
    - create emotionally surprising content for that keyword and related alternates
    - compare traffic vs ctr vs conversion.
    (the terms that bring the biggest traffic don’t always bring sales)

    2. if you’re not a professionally trained writer, hire a college student for $35.
    Google reads grammar. You’ll get penalized

    3. Phone call bloggers.
    Ask them to link to you. Offer unrefusable value back

    4. Use a high speed server.
    Google wants to feel fast. They can’t if you’re site takes longer than 2 seconds to load. Use a site like Pingdom or other to test yours.

    5. Join 20 DOFollow Discussion Forums.
    Do NOT use the signature to place links. It’s all duplicate content. Personally write DIFFERENT signatures with varying anchor text links to your site.

    6. Use Reddit under the right SUBREDDIT. It’s DoFollow.
    And bloggers link to Reddit all the time

    7. The other 19 Google SEO checklist strategies are at:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbZcykUNUg8 and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ml7tx3sff4Y

  65. It does take time but the effort pays off and its worth it.

  66. This is great info right here, have to share this on my Breaking News website..

  67. Neil, you simply rock! You write with such an excellent perspective on life. Thank you for this post.

  68. Your dedication and hard work is the key behind your success. Your success is really inspirational for other SEO professional, even for others also. All the best. Thanks.

  69. That’s awesome. English is not my mother language but i’ve read all of this article. Thank you for your post again and again.

  70. Thanks for the ever practical examples and Great advice as always!

  71. Great post – really goes to show three things. 1) You can find a great business idea from anywhere as long as you keep your eyes open. 2) That hard work really does pay off over time, and 3) we, as small business owners, can learn anything we set our minds too. Great post.

  72. Incredible post, Neil and thanks for all the info!

    This is more of an open question to everyone – does anyone know of a more up-to-date version of the Jim Boykin table Neil linked to in the 2nd paragraph beneath “Be Results Driven” for click rate for top 10 search results? I’d love to use this strategy but I imagine these figures are much different nowadays.

  73. Thank you Neil, this post is full of nuggets! We will take what we are not doing now and change. One question, what’s your advice on signed agreements with Clients? Is 30 day, mth to mth good? On one hand you don’t want to make people feel trapped and on the other you don’t want them to quit on a whim without at least being with you for 6-12mths. Is the industry standard of 1-2yr good enough? What’s a good balance between sustainable revenue for agency, and good commitment & partnership between an agency and a Client?

  74. Very inspiring story Neil!
    I agree that the best deal comes by referrals. That’s true.
    People love to hear from their friends. This word of mouth bring big impact in term of getting new contracts.

  75. Re: ” I only took on clients that I could provide results to”

    Without out a doubt, this is *the most* important eleven words in this whole post.

    That said, thanks for sharing Neil. This was, once again, great good for thought.

  76. Thanks a lot for explaining your “Search Engine Revenue Methodology” in detail.

  77. Solid advice. If only the results were easier to come by.

    • Nothing worth doing or having comes easy though.

      • Yeah, I guess that’s just my lazy side coming through.

        To be honest… I think the hardest part for me to deal with is lack of hope, not needing to put in the work.

        Basically I could work 10 hours a day for the next five years if there was some guaranteed result, but I guess the uncertainty until you hit it big is just something you have to deal with when making money online?

  78. All the above – Knowledge is King, and Experience is Queen. If you can get both, then you’ll be the front of others. Sometimes people can talk but cannot deliver. This is why many SEO Guru, cannot becoming the next billionaire.

    Thanks.

  79. I know practical is the best thing but did not mention which technique you used for better ranking either on page or off page. How to work for better ranking my site keyword is not in the search engine please suggest me….

  80. Great post Niel, like always!
    Really useful and you know what you are saying-this is why you have the results that you have:-)
    Do you happen to have a schedule of daily activities that a new blogger needs to do? Like : how many post -where+ what else, but all in a concise , user friendly format?
    That will help me a great deal.
    Many thanks,
    Aleksandra

  81. Hi Neil,
    I am really inspired by your success story and i also appreciate that you always make effort to reply to your readers comments.

  82. Hi Neil,
    I’m a struggler…was reading your post very carefully from past 1 hour! You words are very real & motivates people like me.

    Pls. Answer my Question:

    If I have a SEO Agency in India. Can I target different countries? Can I raise a sale?

  83. Great Tips. +1 for the attention to being value-driven. The more value, the more revenue, plain and simple.

  84. I’m starting to get my head around SEO; its less of a mystery than it was a year ago. The main difference has been read blogs such as yours.

    Lewis

  85. Hey Neil,

    Excellent post. I think that if you work hard on Internet marketing and if you think that you could work on laptop 10-14 hours a day in right direction then you will get some where after few years. Your experience teaches you every thing !
    Thank you

  86. Neil,

    Awesome post! I concur with the advice that consistent blogging about seo topics backed with facts and samples is very important to get known and build Authority for your services!

  87. Hey,
    Excellent post, I think you have done a lot of hard work and it seems to me that i need a lot of work to get on that stage where you are. You are my role model. :)
    Thank you

  88. Mr. Patel,

    Earlier I was Reading Seth Godin and he spoke about storytelling and how every startup has a compelling story and how important is to tell it right.

    I always have two favourites example that I always give to anyone…One is Buffer and Second is Neil Patel…

    You are a marvellous writer and a very true Entrepreneur….

    Thanks for sharing it with us….

  89. Hey, great post!

    What type of profit margins are we talking here to make a 7 figure income?

    If it is costing me the following to SEO a site a month:
    $1000, how much should I on sell for?
    $7000, how much should I on sell for?

    Thank you.

  90. Mind blowing :)) $20k a month is dream for every SEO agency across the Globe.
    Truly Inspiring article for upcoming SEO’s

  91. Excellent post Neil.
    Referrals whether through social media or from face-to face clients are always the way. Although we deliver a service that can easily be supplied remotely, building relationships is the way to build a business sustainably.
    I really like the idea of setting out exactly what is wrong with a client’s approach and the process they need to take to improve, it really helps to show the value in the SEO service delivered, and backing this up with real life data that demonstrates the cash value to their business is the clincher.
    I am always trying to give information out, even though I often feel that I’m working for free (my FD certainly thinks so!) as it just builds your reputation as the go to expert when people have a problem that they cannot solve.

    How do you justify to non-believers that Always Giving is valuable?

  92. Thanks for the great info Neil! You really put the smaller clients into perspective and I like how you seem to focus on the Pumpkin strategy and building bigger clients. I think that’s one area that I can use a lot of improvement in. Needless to say I’ll be updating my companies strategies and plan of attack based off of some of these recommendations.

    Also a quick question for you. Does your Case Study link always say: Hurry, only 1 spot is available? I love it!

  93. My name is Brian Wambua from http://www.StretchGO.com. Just a bit of introduction though.

    Neil, you wrote great stuff. However, you did miss stating at the beginning of all your posts that “MOST OF THIS INFORMATION ONLY APPLIES TO THOSE WHO HAVE MONEY TO INVEST AND USE WHEN STARTING UP”.

    Why? Most bloggers and internet marketers need to make a coin every time they meet a client to survive. It is not until they make that coin that they will be free to lock in great 6-figure deals or work for big companies. for free to earn the name.

    All in all, I do agree that all what you write about applies to any person who is funded to run a company (may be that is why you already introduced that you are kind of a big deal). But for non-funded bloggers and marketers from developing states and companies, wait for sometime before you take all this information from Neil. Otherwise, you will not celebrate the first birthday of your Domain name.

    In other words, as a “small” deal, try to deviate most of the time from some of Neil’s information until you become a big deal like him, then you can take all the information that Neil posts here.

    Thanks Neil Patel.

    Brian.

  94. I am a tennis coach in Philadelphia, and have been looking for help with CEO. This has been a very inspiring story and advice for me. Thank you for the motivation and help!

  95. Hi Neil ! it’s great lesson for me. As a newbie, i have got many ideas from this post. i always love to read Neil’s blogging ideas. i have been reading this site for two years and always get different ideas. best of luck.

  96. Hi,
    I’ve been reading SEO research for a year as I have been an SEO consultant for that long. It’s very rare that someone actually tells you their methods for getting clients.
    Thank you

  97. Neil,

    Thanks for the great post! I also read your recent one with the site review sample for your website. Do you have any sample proposals that indicate all of the ideas you talked about? It’s hard for me to visualize this for some reason and I think it would be super helpful. Thanks for your time!

  98. Hi sir

    i am totally impressed i have read your story vary interesting . i have loose my confidence but now when i have read your this article . now again my confidence is high i have little bit knowledge in Seo but i want Seo expert like as you hope sir if i need your help in future you will do help . thank you thank you thank you so much .

    Thanks
    vikram

  99. thanks for information us. I know building agency is too difficult option. because i am also running. To get an clients i ran 3 years to proposed by speaking, blogging, chatting, etc.

  100. Very Inspiring Story Neil , Keep going :)

  101. Excellent Post, thank you for the info

  102. I just found about you today my friend shared your article on facebook and your articles are really good and inspiring. I wish I could earn $20k a month lol

  103. Great article for that attention to being value-driven. This informative article makes me know a lot more about entrepreneurship. Keep going.

  104. First for everything :

    Hi Neil,

    Thank you for your post, it made for a very interesting and well worthy read. I am from the UK and going for a second job interview with a local SEO company very soon. One of the tasks in my interview is to present to them how I will drive new business for their company. They currently only work from referrals but want to rapidly expand their client base. I have been studying my socks off learn all I can about SEO and how to drive business. The main way, I can think of personally, would be to cold call local businesses. Now I understand that if we ‘were that good an SEO company then we shouldn’t have to cold call’, but my argument is that we would just be using any advantage we can in order to develop our business. They already use Twitter and Facebook and go to shows and seminars etc. Do you think cold calling would be a useful way to drive business into an already reasonably well established SEO organisation? If not, do you have any more advice on how I could do this. I am determined to get this job and any constructive advice from anyone would be greatly appreciative…

  105. Wow, pretty sick , 7 figures , kinda far away from me , but I will get there , nice accomplishment

    Tom

  106. Hi Neil, I tried posting this question a number of times, but it isn’t being approved or is getting lost in your comments alerts. Anyway, I’m trying again in case there is some problem on my end.

    The gist of my question is this: how, exactly, does one offer free SEO services to businesses? Write an article and post it on a Web2.0 property? Bookmarks? Tell them they’ve missed an alt tag?

    Obviously, it is quite expensive and time consuming to dedicate a monthly campaign to a non-paying client; so I’d like to know exactly what you recommend doing to justify value given to the client? Do you say, ‘I’ll do x for you, in return for allowing me to post your logo on my site as a client?’

    Lots of people want freebies, and I’ve been reluctant to give away too much…I will give clients a quick overview of their site/competitive environment as a way of justifying the need to hire an SEO agency; but I find that some have no intention of buying because they see this as a freebie and hope to get more freebies…I’m wondering how much one should ‘open the kimono’ during these early stages, and if one realizes that the company isn’t going to be a client, whether it is worthwhile to say: ‘Look, I’ll make you a deal, we’ll do x for you as a free service in return for allowing us to wear your logo on our site.’?

    • You just do the work and you eat the costs. That’s how you do free SEO work. It’s a loss leader in hopes that it will make you money in the longrun.

      Yes, you would have to work out with them on what you will exactly do and what you will get in return for how long. I usually have them put my logo on their site for a few years.

  107. Giving your clients an effective intro into SEO and the search engines. Make them have the knowledge the web works, and how their business could profit from a good website and also SEO optimized website.

  108. I do SEO and have done so for about a year and my clients are getting to first place in Google but they only pay a few hundred a month. They are very small businesses. But they are getting me referrals. I wonder how do get it to the next level. Another SEO company much bigger than I am just asked me to do SEO on their own websites. So maybe it’s starting to happen.

    • Cathie, sounds like you have a great problem to have. I would say reaching out to other industry leaders to see what works and what doesn’t. More often than not you can find this information on their website or blog.

  109. I believe venturing into business is a long term process and you have managed to highlight the important points of running a service line business. Thanks for sharing and blogging such vital points.

  110. Great post Neil I am also a young entrepreneur/author/SEO and I am really glad I stumbled across your blog today. Congratulations on all your success so far man!! Look forward to reading your future posts and I’ll see you at the top!

    Joe Stewart
    Author of Create Your Own Economy

  111. Hi Neil,

    1st – I like to read your articles
    2nd – Appreciate for your efforts for replying to each and every person who comments on your website.
    3rd – Without any profit you give away solutions..,

    Here I have one query which i want to post:
    1. Recently i started to have my own SEO business, i’m confused how to convince a visitor in landing page? as i don’t have big clients list nor case studies..,

    2. In what context i should say where a user / client can convince.,

    can you or fellow readers please help me out

  112. What’s the best way to respond to SEO leads?

  113. Hello Neil,

    Another great post. I am a customer of your Quick Sprout product which i purchased a while back which i found very usefull in my day to day dealings. One thing i am struggling with at the moment is producing a step by step plan that will allow me to fully analyse a clients website and SEO position top to bottom including their top competitors links etc and then present these findings to them with our quote. It seems i need tons of different products to do this. Do you have any tips on how we can do this without spending so much time and tools to make it happen? I always provide upfront in depth detail about what we do for a clients site but always looking to improve. Thanks in advance. Bill

  114. Neil, great article shows me that their is a lot of potential in the SEO business even though it’s going so mainstream. I want to ask you your opinion of a business motto i’m currently working on, whether or not you think it could be profitable for me.

  115. Hi Neil,

    Thanks for your honestly

    My question is to do with sharing our own SEO techniques as training for business owners to learn how to do it themselves.

    We’ve found that many businesses we come in contact with want to do it themselves to save costs and to stay away from being ripped off.
    I put the question out there on whether they would like to learn how to do it themselves and it was very popular.
    We would like to do this training and wondered what your thoughts were on deciding whether its a good option please?

    Thanks

    • Louisa, if you have the resources in house then you should definitely do it in-house. However, most companies do not have the resources which is why they outsource to other companies. It all depends on what you feel comfortable doing. In my experience the best agencies will do better than any in-house entity. Primarily because their main focus is SEO.

  116. Very good “story” as a great guide for a start-up like me. Thanks so much for all the great ideas!

  117. Neil, This has motivated me and really need it now. I just had a meeting with a $45 million/yr business and asked them for $100,000 budget. I was able to show them I could get them the same clicks organically that they were paying $10,000/ month for with PPC… and show them my solution was long-term from 3 years of client data in the same industry and locations nearby for the same style keywords. I did not get the deal and it really discouraged me. Was the first time I ever asked for that much money so I could taste it. My biggest clients all fall in the realm of $1500/ month but I cannot build an agency like that for sure. I want the big clients like but am a 1 man shop. You feel maybe I am too small at this point to go for that kind of money? I could have done a better job showing my prospect a path to ROI. I have a new meeting I think for a company that does say $5-7 million per year, is a $100,000 annual budget realistic if I can show them the path to money? I need a wealth mentor. Got to break through this.

  118. Hello Neil…

    Thank you. I needed that.

    I’ve been thinking of starting my own SEO business after years of doing freelance. This is the inspiration I need.

  119. Hello Neil,

    I own a product photography business and i’m getting ready to start a huge content marketing push. I’ve been following your blog for the last 2 years and this article stuck in my head. I’ve noticed that in my keyword research that ‘how to’ photograph it yourself keywords make up a huge portion of the traffic looking for our primary keyword term “product photography”.

    Setting up a ‘how to’ product photography section on our website is very appetizing, but i’m afraid we would lose business as people attempt to do it themselves.

    Do you feel that your strategy of ‘giving away the farm’ would work well in my industry as well or is this primarily related to SEO?

    Thanks!

    • I think it would work as it builds trust. If you find that it is hurting you, you can then start blocking some of it off and creating paywalls. But overall giving away the farm really helps build trust and loyalty. I’ve found that it causes more people willing to open up their wallets.

  120. Thanks for your response Neil, it goes a long way.

    I have been on the fence with this idea for a long time. It seems counter intuitive, but you’ve proven it over and over again. Perhaps i’m my own best example, my company is obviously too small to work with your company directly, but i’m an avid follower of your blog and a highly respect your brand. I’m not sure how that comes back financially in this example, perhaps if we get larger it’ll come in the form a of a kissmeterics subscription or perhaps it’s just a referral or maybe just communicating itself is adding DA and i’m just a smaller piece of a larger scheme.

    In any case, photography technique is something we know a lot about and this would probably be the most through knowledge we could give back. Similarly, leads (small businesses that sell products) who can’t afford to hire us may try to photograph their products themselves & at this point we could connect with them until they are large enough to outsource their photography.

    It seems that this strategy relies on the theory that there are limits to DIY and by providing DIY answers, your potential leads will come to not only respect your brand, but come to an understanding of their own limitations internally. A photo taken by someone who doesn’t do it every day will never be as quality as product photographed by a us, a company that shoots products daily and the same goes for SEO.

    On this note, I’m curious to see how SproutU does! Good luck!

    Thanks,

    Jeff Delacruz

    • Jeff, glad we could hop into a dialogue. I really think the points you brought up are great! SEO strategies can be extended to so many other avenues — like photography as you mentioned. I think no matter your size, there are certain techniques that cross many boundaries and are helpful to all. Thanks for the words of support :)

  121. Would you please shut the hell up and give me a break. You always come up with fake stories and some BS thinks that you really do a great job. How can an Indian like you can invest so much money?
    If you are the man than approve this comment.

  122. Very revealing data and information. This article is 1 year old but will remain relevant for many years to come. There might be other ways of doing it but you can’t fail doing it your way. Any SEO is going to need more than just experience but case studies and data to backup their work. For those that have time on their hands there are so many ways of filling it up with a free offer.

  123. Chris Johnstone :

    Hi Neil,

    Great info, very inspirational.

    Too many pop ups though…

    Cheers

  124. Do You also help other S.E.O. Companies?

  125. Amazing post Neil! It’s not always easy to lay down a to-do list for a career in this manner. But it’s good to know that you have succeeded in doing so, and I guess following your footsteps is a good choice to make.

  126. Hi, constantly i used to check weblog posts here in the early hours in the break of day, since i enjoy
    to gain knowledge of more and more.

  127. I don’t think I’ll take SEO advice from someone who allows there website to have this many ads. I’m all for ads, but this is ridiculous. I had to stop reading the article twice because of stupid pop-ups that completely cover everything.

    This site is basically unreadable without ad-block. My opinion, but you won’t get a reader out of me.

  128. Great article. Any advice on a good tracking and reporting software?

  129. Sanket Shah :

    Hi Niel,
    Great Post! Can you please tell the best SEO tools you use for Keywords, Backlinks, Competitive Analysis and Recommendations? A lot of companies are a rip-off.

    Thank you!!

  130. Hi Neil, thank you so much for the informative post! Great read.

  131. What’s up, constantly i used to check weblog posts here in the early hours in the
    morning, as i like to gain knowledge of more and more.

  132. I used to do actual SEO when the main thing was meta tags and robots files and sitemaps and trying not to have dodgy links. Now it is SO much more than that.
    A few years later and I am selling SEO for the company I work for. I’ve never really done sales but it seems to help that I know (a bit anyway) what I am talking about.

    Thanks Neil for this article, as old as it is, it is still relevant. Selling is not my field of expertise, but it’s becoming so. I am a marketer from way back so I do believe that SEO works and is really important.

    Wow yeah, I need a six figure client…. anybody?

  133. Yes, Well just started my carrier as an SEO guy. Will take it to Next Level very soon.

  134. Unquestionably believe that which you said. Your favorite justification seemed to be on the web the
    simplest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I definitely get annoyed while people think about worries that they just do not know about.

    You managed to hit the nail upon the top and defined out
    the whole thing without having side-effects , people could take a signal.
    Will probably be back to get more. Thanks

  135. Neil -

    How do you feel about working with clients from the same business niche in the same town?

    Say, two personal injury lawyers?

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