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Old 06-25-2005   #1
xitex
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Question Starting SEO Business - Any Advice?

I was wondering if there are people that run business, which markets SEO services (both solely or in a set of web development services). What would you suggest to take into account before starting of such sort of business?

While having an experience in web promotion, I'm stucked with such questions as:

1. What one should promice to his clients, and what shouldn't?
2. Do you have some fixed tarrifs or you vary price for each client separately?
3. What type of reports do you make?
4. How do you estimate the effect of your services to show it to your client?
5. etc.

Since the decision is crucial, it would be proper to make a research before start.

So any help from you would be appreciated.
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Old 06-25-2005   #2
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Talking Seo 101

hi xitex...welcome to the SEW Forums. There are going to be many different points of views regarding each of the questions you ask. If I was you I would spend more time researching the websites of some top SEO's/SEM's to get a feel for what is being offered. You could even (people will kill me for this one) act as a prospect and get a few proposals from some. You will find many of the top firms by looking at member lists of associations and organizations such as SEMPO. The majority of the sponsors of this very site are pretty good at what they do as well.

As for you questions, from our point of view (and of course I will be somewhat vague...I better not be getting a request for proposal from you next week )

1. Don't promise #1 rankings. If you could, you wouldn't need us. I would promise to clients to do the best job you can for them. Some clients will need a larger budget and more patience in order to eventually rank well across the major indices. let them know this from the get go.

2. price varies...see above

3. start with a benchmark report of rankings and hope that they get better each month (after a few). Linking reports and some sort of traffic analysis is also useful.

4. Use whatever statistics your clients will let you. many clients will require NDA's, so use what you can. Look for industry reports such as those offered by Jupiter and other research firms to help "make the sale."

5. etc


also...see this thread for some reasonable questions you should be prepared to answer. I would also recommend the Marketing Sherpa Guide to SEO firms, which is an outstanding tool to help you "size up" the competition, and also includes a remarkably thorough introduction. (and yes we are in that-I am not trying to self promote here, obviously- you are in essence going to be competition...the goal for me and many others in this forum is to try to ensure our industry as a whole has more "good eggs")

Last edited by Chris Boggs : 07-23-2005 at 06:51 AM. Reason: typo
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Old 06-27-2005   #3
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when you are new you will want to create a few of your own test sites so you can learn from them and so you can have decent income streams when client work is slow.

also there is strong value in owning a market niche instead of being one of 10,000+ SEO companies. If I started from scratch today I would focus on quality link development.
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Old 07-22-2005   #4
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Take a look at this thread that Chris Boggs pointed out to me. I've recently posted a "sort of" checklist that might help you if you are thinking of starting your own seo/sem business.
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Old 07-22-2005   #5
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xitex, am I understanding you correctly that you have no experience with SEO and yet are going to open up an SEO business? You mentioned that you have experience in "web promotion" but do you mean SEO?

What does your experience consist of?

Do you even know what sorts of results you can obtain? If you don't, how can you justify selling those services? Do you have any success stories for keyword phrases that people are actually searching for?

I'm confused as to why people wake up one morning and say "hey, I think I'll open up an SEO shop" whoo hoo!

Have you thought about seeing if any SEO companies in your local area might be looking for an extra pair of hands and perhaps you could help them out and learn at the same time?

To open up your own company, not only do you have to be extremely proficient at SEO (well you don't have to, you can just take their money and not provide results like a good portion of others do), and you have to be able to run a business. You have to create proposals, contracts, sell your services, find people who need your services, create and send invoices, collect payments, etc. etc.

But most of all you have to be able to do what you say you can do. If you don't actually know what you can do, then you really shouldn't be selling it.

Please don't take this the wrong way. I just get a lot of emails from people who have hired SEO companies, paid them lots of money, and then have nothing to show for it. Just make sure that you can give your clients something to show for the money they spent, and make sure it's worth more than what they paid for it.

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Old 07-23-2005   #6
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Shingles?

My question is: why is everyone "starting an SEO business"? This has become some kind of default job lately for people between jobs, or someone in college who wants to make money without signing on for the regular corporate gigs out there. Fair enough, but everyone else is doing the same thing.

I was a bit sad recently when I saw the site of a guy who has in the past been employed as a Chief Evangelist (yeah, that's what they used to call "CMO's") for a major software company followed by a string of smaller tech outfits. He's an SEO company now! To me it just screams that he's between jobs, because it's something he's never done and there's no good reason to start doing it now. There are lots of SEO companies already. I saw the same thing with a freelance tech journalist I know -- had his little SEO shingle out, which disturbed me, because he published a supposedly unbiased article in a major newspaper about SEO around the same time as he "hung out his shingle." This article talked, among other things, about the importance of submitting to Webcrawler and Altavista.

But why should I be surprised. Lots of people in areas like massage therapy, non-accredited counseling, and other service industries that don't require a long period of schooling (but rather, a world view and a short training period), do just the same thing -- "hang out their shingle" and plug away.

Then they find that their lack of imagination is going to keep them from getting any significant business, so they turn to black hat methods. And the next thing you know, they're getting busted by the vice squad.

Whoops, am I getting us off topic?
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Old 07-23-2005   #7
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Quote:
I'm confused as to why people wake up one morning and say "hey, I think I'll open up an SEO shop" whoo hoo!
Whats wrong with that? Thats what I did Actually, shortly after I wrote a book of SEO - still very inexperienced (compared to now) - and I am not the only one that have done it that way! And I think I am doing pretty good toady.

Off course, it depends on what kind of person you are. I am the jump-in-the-water-and-see-what-happens kind of guy - and so far I survived just fine.

My best advice: Don't listen to all the "but what if's" - jump into it and see what happens. It may turn out, by the end of the day, that you'll outcompete many of the same people giving you advice not to jump into the game. Wonder why ...
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Old 07-23-2005   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mikkel deMib Svendsen
Whats wrong with that? Thats what I did Actually, shortly after I wrote a book of SEO - still very inexperienced (compared to now) - and I am not the only one that have done it that way! And I think I am doing pretty good toady.

Off course, it depends on what kind of person you are. I am the jump-in-the-water-and-see-what-happens kind of guy - and so far I survived just fine.

My best advice: Don't listen to all the "but what if's" - jump into it and see what happens. It may turn out, by the end of the day, that you'll outcompete many of the same people giving you advice not to jump into the game. Wonder why ...
The thing is though, it appears you come from a very entrepreneurial background so already had lots of business experience, understood sales and marketing, and knew how to deal with customers and what results you could offer (and have to attain) to grow your business.

Complete business newbies with perhaps a bit of "web design" experience aren't going to do anywhere near as well as you.

Maybe a good way for this person to start is to offer services for free for a couple of months, get a track record (and testimonials) that way, and then move to paid. If his free "customers" aren't happy, going paid would be a complete waste of time.

Actually, it does seem that starting an "SEO business" is dead fashionable at the moment. It used to be "Hey, I'm starting a hosting business!", but perhaps that's now passé.
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Old 07-25-2005   #9
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I would have to agree with Mikkel about just jumping in with a willingness to learn and act accordingly. Enthusiasm when coupled with some tempered action can yield tremendous results.

It is the responsibilty of the employer to check references and past performace when hiring a firm to handle their SEO efforts. If an employer fails to do this, they deserve every spammy doorway page they get.

Jill provides valid points about the "business" side of the endeavor but I think most would agree that with a huge selection of templates and automation, the back office requirements are minimal at best. Jill, (if I recall you work alone) but if you did hire employees instead of contracting out certain tasks, I'd be curious to hear about how you'd feel about taking on an employee that you would spend time training only to have them jump ship and compete. Is it not in your best interest to limit the possibility of this happening in your local market? Just something that should be considered by those who hire employees.


Sometimes all it takes is handling a client for free or finding one willing to tack a chance with you as a new startup. If you treat them well with your best efforts the business just keeps on rolling in.
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Old 07-25-2005   #10
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If you do not have experience as an SEO, I would advise working as a staff member of an SEO company, or as an SEO staff member of a company who needs this type of work done in-house first. I think you would get a good overall feel for what it takes to provide results on a daily basis. This will also give you plenty of opportunities to make mistakes and learn while you go, honing your abilities. You may also gain technical knowledge from this type of setting. From this point, take a look at all the other areas you will need to know about when running your own business, such as contracts, reports, etc. before you take the plunge. Once you have real world, hands on experience I would look into opening shop.
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Old 07-25-2005   #11
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>>It is the responsibilty of the employer to check references and past performace when hiring a firm to handle their SEO efforts. If an employer fails to do this, they deserve every spammy doorway page they get.

That's a dangerous comment

Yes of course a company should exersize due diligence when employing and SEO but how on earth do you expect them to know what's good and what's bad?

No kidding - one of our clients employs an SEO firm which managed to delete their entire website last month. What annoyed me most isn't that they deleted the website (accidents happen, we had a backup) but that they didn't notice.

And when the client noticed the SEO company said it wasn't them. (but aren't server logs wonderful )

I don't actually have a problem with people jumping in as long as they have some commonsense and do the best they can - and don't pretend to be something they're not. There are a lot of little companies out there would happily pay a lower price for an inexperienced but hardworking SEO.

I do think you need to understand basic business though - not even just to run your own company but because you need to understand what the companies employing you need to achieve.
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Old 07-25-2005   #12
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Thumbs up It won't always be easy

I think we're at the apex of people entering into SEO, and it is a tough field to put a business model around because it is constantly shifting. I think we are approaching a saturation point similar to the way web design/ development hs become (a big reason why many of us jumped into SEO I think). SEO/SEM won't be as easy as it has been for long and the barrier to entry will rise...mainly because it takes strong references and credentials to prove that you aren't just another fly by night SEO with a virtual storefront website willing to take on any client with a fistful of cash.

People will start getting squeezed OUT of SEO any day now as algorithms improve and we evolve towards more traditional marketing practices. The barriers to entry are getting higher if you want to have good clients. If you want clients who do home mortages, payday loans, sell pills, or throw poker parties, I'll be happy to send you some leads

Quote:
1. What one should promice to his clients, and what shouldn't?
Promise top notch customer service and no BS. Do NOT promise rankings. Give some competitive analysis and initial reporting and let the client feel comfortable with you and what you do. Educate them on how your services work and why they are valuable.


Quote:
2. Do you have some fixed tarrifs or you vary price for each client separately?
Some of both. There are some services like directory submissions that should be the same for most any site (with the exception of porn, pills, or casino). Where as other services like link development will probably be much more difficult for a site for a site that is strictly commercial vs. a site that is strictly informational. Most projects should be quoted on an individually custom tailored basis. Make the customization and proposal process a value add that is highly regarded by the prospect. If they see that you are open and willing to share an abundance of information they will appreciate it. If you start getting taken advantage of this way, offer a paid initial consultation where the charge is subtracted should they continue to do work with you.



Quote:
3. What type of reports do you make?
All kinds. Any type of information that is valuable to the SEO process. We are merchants of information. This is what we sell for the most part. Anyone can become an SEO, but it is past experience that makes one valuable. Put that experience into explaining reports of value.
1. Link reports
2. Competitive analysis
3. Variable reports (analyze SEO variables)
4. PPC reporting (bid price, volume)
5. Keyword reports
Tie these all together to create a strategy based around a budget.


Quote:
4. How do you estimate the effect of your services to show it to your client?
This is a toughie. Be sure to create initial metrics. Get their log files. Make sure they have some baseline metric for tracking. Total natural traffic is a good metric (unique visitors - paid traffic). Watch the overall growth of unique visitors, search referrals, and conversions and conversion rates (if you are tackling that monster as well). It's a good idea to track their targeted phrases as well with something like digitalpoint's free keyword tracker.


Quote:
5. etc.
Keep your value high and you will retain your clients. Be HONEST with your clients and attract the good ones. Nothin' can kill a business like crappy clients. Educate your clients, and don't accept clients with terrible business models just to make money.

My top 10 things to ask a prospective SEO client:
1.How long have you been in business?
2. How old is your website?
3. Have you ever worked with another SEO company?
4. If you’ve worked with another SEO company, why was the relationship dissolved?
5. What is your monthly budget? (ask delicately or destroy the deal)
6. What are your goals and revenue models of the business?
7. What are your goals with a SEO campaign?
8. Do you have an in-house designer/ developer/ copywriter?
9. When do you plan to make a decision on your project?
10.What is your current internet marketing strategy?


10 Questions YOU Should be Able to Answer for Your Clients
1. What type of techniques do you use to acheive rankings?
2. What type of risk is involved with this method?
3. What will happend if our relationship is dissolved?
4. Can you show me examples of past work?
5. What was the client’s ROI?
6. What type of volume increase in traffic is reasonable to expect?
7. How long until I start to see results?
8. What would you expect from OUR end to aid your work?
9. What were some of your top search ranking acheivements?
10. Do you offer any other internet marketing services to supplement your SEO offerings?

Additional advice:
  • Don't get sucked into pay for performance
  • Don't go for revenue shares to start
  • Two words - HOURLY BILLING
  • Don't work for peanuts
  • If you get too busy - double your rates
  • Learn EVERY DAY
  • Post to forums often
  • Write articles to establish credibility
  • Build strong references
  • Learn everything, and if you MUST outsource, do it to the best people that you can count on to maintain your standards
  • Experiment with personal sites often
  • Learn who to listen to
  • Don't bring a knife to your client's gunfight

Last edited by stuntdubl : 07-25-2005 at 02:56 PM.
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Old 07-25-2005   #13
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>>There are a lot of little companies out there would happily pay a lower price for an inexperienced but hardworking SEO.

Gurtie, you've hit on something that rings true for may decisions I make. I would always always always choose a person or company who is excited to learn and work. This field can change fast and enthusiasm is the only thing other than losing your income that will keep you interested in the long haul. I also truly believe exactly what I wrote about deserving the doorway pages. When you go out and buy a digital camera, you read reviews. You're checking references and gathering opinions to make an informed decision. Hiring someone to do SEO is far more expensive and you better believe I expect them to check out anyone they are hiring.

As always, StuntDbl, you provided a wealth of information that more than answers the original question from which we were side-tracked. And Yes I check for Mr Ploppys list on Sunday night because I can't wait.

I'll only counter the issue of not taking a rev share when starting out. Just as you have to offer each potential client and personalized quote for their needs you also need to look at each potential clients potential for you to profit. A few of my first clients years ago were opportunities for rev shares and I was fortunate enough to see the opportunity and structure a deal that was fair to everyone.

I would also recommend trying to guage how long you anticipate the client staying with you. If I have a feeling that the client is only looking for a seasonal boost I crank up my price accordingly. We're looking to build long term clients and while not all will stay with you forever, good work will certainly keep most of them close.
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Old 07-25-2005   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gurtie
I don't actually have a problem with people jumping in as long as they have some commonsense and do the best they can - and don't pretend to be something they're not. There are a lot of little companies out there would happily pay a lower price for an inexperienced but hardworking SEO.
Nicely said. Be up front and honest about your abilities. Work hard and make an extra effort to do well by your client. You'd be surprised what a bit of free advice or information you pass along to a client will do for their business and your reputation.
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Old 07-25-2005   #15
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As always, StuntDbl, you provided a wealth of information
- and this is why StuntDbl is such as awesome SEO :-)
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Old 07-25-2005   #16
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Outstanding post stuntdubl. My advice to the OP would be to print out what stuntdubl wrote and make sure you can a) answer those questions and b) follow stuntdubl's sage advice.

Quote:
3. Have you ever worked with another SEO company?
4. If you’ve worked with another SEO company, why was the relationship dissolved?
Place emphasis on this question. Sometimes the client may deliberately (especially if the work performed was 'black-hat' or amateur) or unintentionally fail to disclose past SEO relationships, - until you work on their site and notice the shoddy and/or ridiculously entrenched 'SEO work' that they've done.
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Old 07-26-2005   #17
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Originally Posted by shor
Sometimes the client may deliberately (especially if the work performed was 'black-hat' or amateur) or unintentionally fail to disclose past SEO relationships, - until you work on their site and notice the shoddy and/or ridiculously entrenched 'SEO work' that they've done.
Very true. Sometimes, though, it's the developer, or two developers back, who's done the "optimizing," and the new marketing person working for the client won't have a clue what's been done. I encountered one group of sites where the coder routinely stuffed some keywords in hidden text positioned off-page by css, thinking he was helping out. Sometimes the problem is in link building schemes, perhaps also unknown to the people who are hiring you. Ditto with multiple domains. Many possible worms in the can. One of the problems in scoping out a site and giving an estimate is that discovering a lot of this crap is half the work. If you can, charge for a site analysis. Since you're just starting out, though, this is liable to be difficult.

Quote:
Originally Posted by xitex
What would you suggest to take into account before starting of such sort of business?
I think you need to have to be able to gauge how competitive your target phrases are and what it's going to take to rank on them.

You've also got to know enough to not get your client in trouble.
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Old 07-26-2005   #18
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I agree with some of the above post expressed by fine members of this industry. The best way to learn is by doing and by starting somewhere. In most fields you have to start in some way.

In my view, credibility problems arise when someone tries to carve or sell him/herself as "expert" in this industry without even knowing how to write basic HTML code or knowing basic hands-on SEO. You will be surprise at how many are in this category, few of them being quite vocal in public forums and conferences. It's a shame.


Just my two cents.

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Old 07-26-2005   #19
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Xitex,

Should you see yourself as an entrepreneur that you understand and want to take on the challange of an SEM/SEO Business, here are some basic recommendations as to how to see the entire business flow:

1) Research for potential clients
2) Sales
3) Closing the deal and collecting funds
4) Production (SEO/SEM)
5) Reporting and Account Management (lots of communication during de production phase and exchange + processing of information)
6) Final delivery
7) Reporting and Account Maintenance
8) Upselling of new products/services, which brings you back to #2

Running an SEM/SEO business has a lot of work. Most of it will boil down to the quality in the work you provide in #4, the production phase. However, if you are not a one-man show, you will need to hire multiple qulified staff for production, such as an Senior Account Manager that looks after the following:

a. Assistant to Account Manager with Business, Marketing and Web Development skills.
b. Web designers
c. Web programmers with HTML validation skills (preferred, if possible)
d. Algorithmic search analists
e. SEM analist (keeps up to date with industry trends and offerings)
f. Keyword research analists
g. PPC ad management (building and maintaining ads)
h. Link builders
i. Maybe you will need other specialists, depending on your type of business (for example, if you need translators or copy writers)

This list doesn't even take into account the person who will be on how to adapt the industry trends and new developments to the overall SEM/SEO Business (your business), plus branding your presence in the industry. I imagine this person would be you in your case.

Being a search engine marketer takes into account much more that just "knowing how to write basic HTML code or knowing basic hands-on SEO". That is single task needed to perform one part of the production process can easily be accomplished by hiring a qualified person.

Running an SEM/SEO business is a lot of work. It's important to mention that sometimes these set of tasks are easily accomplished by a single person. True! However, that single person or "one-man show" will most likely be limited to very few clients if he/she wants to maintain quality in the production process. This is the same reason why large firms have 90 employees, 160 employees, etc... Another important element is, a large company (perhaps a Fortune 500) will most likely hire an SEM/SEO with a strong reputation and that will be able to guarantee the work. This is why many specialized SEM firms are starting to come up to the surface (by local tactics, by language, by market focus, by industry, etc...).

I hope this helps you get better organized in you SEO Business and I wish you the best of success.
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Old 07-26-2005   #20
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Quote:
Being a search engine marketer takes into account much more that just "knowing how to write basic HTML code or knowing basic hands-on SEO". That is single task needed to perform one part of the production process can easily be accomplished by hiring a qualified person.
Indeed and agree. Far more to be claimed to be an "expert".

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