Starting an SEO business in 2021 may feel like elbowing your way through a Macy’s crowd on Black Friday – overwhelming and competitive. But that feeling alone shouldn’t stop you from pursuing a new enterprise. In 2021, “Business Services” will be the third-largest sector of the small business economy, and the potential for growth is virtually limitless.

You need to prove your effectiveness to win clients, but you shouldn’t have to offer free services in order to get started. The steps in this guide will teach you how to sell SEO services so that you can find your foothold in an ever-growing industry and build credibility as you go.

Pick a niche

Because the SEO industry feels as competitive as the search results themselves, picking a niche is an important marketing decision. It should be determined by your experience, knowledge, and the market need.

For example, say you’ve worked with a couple of roofing companies in the past. You’ve invested time researching and learning more about how to sell roofing products and services. These companies pay well because they need a strong online marketing strategy in order to edge out local competitors.

Here are some questions that will help you narrow down your niche:

  • What industry or area are you already knowledgeable in?
  • What is a large topic/niche in your local area?
  • Can you charge more in some industries than you can in others?
  • Do you prefer marketing for goods or services or a mix of both?

In this roofing example, you might be able to expand to home improvement as a larger niche. This will help you land clients with similar needs and product/service offerings without veering too far away from your knowledge base. Or, you may decide to continue offering your services to roofing clients specifically, so long as the sector is big enough to sustain your SEO business.

You also want to consider how you can narrow down your services themselves. Here are some examples of specialized SEO services that you can provide:

  • Link building within a specific industry
  • SEO copywriting
  • Negative SEO defense
  • Google penalty recovery services

Narrowing down your focus or specializing in a particular area of website management and optimization is crucial for differentiating yourself in the industry. Whichever niche you choose, make sure it is sustainable. In other words, it should be interesting, have growth potential, and earn a competitive fee.

Determine your audience

Before you can truly develop a sales strategy, you need to determine your audience. There are many target markets to choose from in the SEO industry. It’s important to have a target audience clearly defined so that you know where to focus your marketing efforts.

One option you can choose is to start a white label SEO business. In this setup, you sell your services directly to other SEO agencies. This setup allows you to work behind the scenes, and it can be more collaborative than some of the other options (since you’d be working with another marketing agency).

If you want to start a front-facing SEO business, you have the option to work with a wide range of businesses.

You may consider small business SEO services if you have a strong local economy that you can tap into. For example, if you live in Florida where there are a lot of landscaping companies, you could target those local businesses.

On the flip side, you could pursue enterprise SEO, selling services to businesses with much larger websites. Choosing this audience typically requires more resources, as finding errors and fixing large-scale website issues can be difficult as an individual.

Sometimes it’s beneficial to sell your SEO services to other SEOs. This is a common target audience for large industry leaders like Semrush and Ahrefs who create tools and courses which they sell to SEO firms and individuals. This could also take a consultancy form, helping other SEOs analyze their performance and increase their sales/traffic through project-based work.

Many SEO professionals choose to target a specific platform like:

  • Shopify
  • Amazon
  • Etsy
  • WordPress
  • Wix
  • Volusion

A Google search results page for "Shopify SEO expert."
This approach works well if you have skills or knowledge for one of those platforms. It also is a good way to build credibility by showing your narrow focus.

To determine your target audience, research the industries you’re interested in and look for answers to these questions:

  • Are there many competitors already providing services unique to this industry?
  • What is the growth potential for this industry?
  • What are industry pain points?
  • How profitable is the industry?
  • Do you relate to the industry demographic?
  • Is it easy to network within the industry?

Once you think you’ve found your target audience, assess your competition. When analyzing the field, look for:

  • What types of products or services do your competitors offer?
  • Are there pricing models you can look at?
  • Of the top-ranking competitors in your industry, is there a common niche that they work in?
  • What keywords or phrases do your competitors rank for?
  • What long-tail keywords can you target to compete?

Overall, choosing a target audience is an assessment of your personal strengths, untapped market or niche opportunities, and competitor performance.

Maintain a professional website

First impressions matter, and this applies to your website design. Page load times heavily impact bounce rate – in fact, as the loading timeframe goes from 1 to 3 seconds, the likelihood of a user leaving the page increases to 32%.

Keeping your layout simple and functional is critical for ensuring users can navigate easily. A GoodFirms survey of 200+ web design companies found that crowded pages are the biggest mistake that most marketers make.

A graph showing web design mistakes to avoid when selling SEO.

Maintaining a professional website involves monitoring mobile SEO techniques, as well as:

  • Choosing a color scheme and reinforcing it
  • Properly aligning and sizing all text (including headers)
  • Optimizing images to reduce load time
  • Providing updated contact information
  • Avoiding the use of slang (unless part of overall brand strategy and tone)
  • Updating content regularly

Even in the early 2000s, when search engine optimization was in its infancy, Stanford research found that 75% of internet users judged a business based on their website design.

Today, that is even more true given how integrated Google search has become. Customers expect professional content, otherwise they will just look elsewhere for what they need. After all, if you’re not providing a good user experience for potential customers, why should they believe you can help them improve their website?

Sell value, not price

Especially when selling services to clients who have never pursued an SEO strategy, you may need to take extra care convincing them of the value they’ll get for their money. To do this, you should use a sales technique called “value selling” which focuses on the benefits of the product rather than the features.

When value selling, you can shift customer focus by:

  • Addressing the customer’s issues or pain points
  • Understanding their motive for seeking out SEO services
  • Highlighting and explaining the benefits of your marketing approach

In the SEO industry, this sales approach involves focusing on the extreme impact that increased SEO performance can have on a company’s bottom line.

Just consider this SEO case study of Ganwehr client, Instapage, who saw their traffic value rise by 700% after intent SEO implementation.

Our case study pages start with results and then dive into methodology. This allows clients to understand how I might help them and the process that their brand would go through.

A case study example that shows how to sell SEO with value based pricing.

When your potential client understands how your SEO services can dramatically impact their bottom line, the prices will seem inconsequential. You’ll want to focus on this value while also providing data-driven results of your own business.

This ensures that the customer recognizes the service’s potential and your ability to execute. If you can prove that, you will be able to justify the cost of your services.

Eliminate jargon from your sales pitch

When writing a sales pitch, you should be as clear and concise as possible. You don’t want to bore potential clients out the door with a long-winded pitch.

According to a 2021 HubSpot sales survey, buyers want you to be upfront and discuss important points like pricing, how your services work, and your vision for their company.

A HubSpot chart showing what buyers want to talk about when buying SEO services.

You need to find a way to convey your SEO services in terms of the client’s industry. Here are a five tips for your pitch:

  1. Don’t assume clients know what SEO terms mean.
  2. Tell the client about your vision for their business after implementing SEO techniques.
  3. Highlight your USP and explain why it’s beneficial to the client.
  4. Mention any expertise you have that will enhance the effectiveness of your services.
  5. Demonstrate at least a basic understanding of their pain points or industry challenges.

The goal is to speak in the client’s language and give them the essential background on how SEO services will help their business. Eliminate everything else which doesn’t support that goal.

Prove your value with case studies and social proof

Especially when you’re just starting, having tangible results to present potential customers is a huge advantage. For SEO professionals, one of the best ways to do this is to publish case studies on your past projects.

A well-presented case study includes:

  • Background information on the client
  • Details on the goal of the work/project
  • Approach to solving the problem
  • Results in the form of data
  • Explanation of how the work impacted the customer

The overall goal of the case study is to demonstrate how your SEO services can make a true difference in a business. You want the impact to be clear and use the data to support the overall narrative, similar to the way this Semrush SERP visibility case study does:

An example from Semrush of how to sell SEO with a case study.

Just from the title, author Chris Beck has already hinted at how effective his services for increasing SEO visibility are–and the study only takes a few minutes to read.

This Search Engine Land case study is another great example:

An example of how to sell SEO services with a case study from Search Engine Land.

Notice how author Andrew Dennis asserts that his strategy gets results without any gimmicks or shortcuts? This type of data-based, anecdotal evidence will position you as a capable SEO.

Another impactful tool is social proof, or the psychological phenomenon that occurs when people follow or mimic another based on others’ recommendations of them.

In other words, the more that people positively highlight, share, and recommend your business, the more reputable you will seem. This happens whether or not the quality of your services improves.

There are six main sources of social proof, including:

  • Celebrities: (EX. Paris Hilton tweets about how great your clothing line is)
  • Friends: (EX. A customer sees that 30 of their LinkedIn connections like your page)
  • Certifications: (EX. You have an SEO certification from Moz)
  • Customers: (EX. Reviews from past clients)
  • Crowds: (EX. Advertising that 50,000+ people have downloaded your SEO checklist)
  • Experts: (EX. industry-leading blogger shares or links to one of your blog posts)

Here are a few examples of SEO professionals using social proofs to sell their services:

  1. Search BergAn example of social proof from Search Berg.
  2. Demandwell
    An example of social proof from Demandwell.
  3. SmartSites

An example of social proof from Smartsites.

Refine your unique selling proposition

A unique selling proposition (USP) is the factor that sets your business apart from your competitors. Each business needs to determine a USP in order to guide their marketing strategy. After all, if your SEO company doesn’t have an important differentiating factor, potential clients won’t see the value in choosing you over a competitor that does.

Here are some examples of USPs:

  • Fastest turnaround time
  • Most comprehensive digital marketing approach
  • Reputable/high profile client testimonials
  • Specific niche/area of expertise
  • Proprietary software, SEO tools, SEO templates
  • Superior pricing model
  • Combination of education and practical experience that provides unique perspective/approach

Consider the ecommerce thrifting brand ThredUp as an example:

An example of how to sell marketing services with a USP from Thredup.

One of the reasons why this brand is doing so well is because it has a clear USP: ThredUp has revolutionized the thrifting experience. Rather than competitors like Goodwill or Plato’s closet, ThredUp made reselling and buying clothes an online experience, eliminating the customer pain point of going to a thrift store and having no clue what brands, styles, or prices they might find.

When you develop a USP for your SEO business, you want it to be as clear as possible. Like ThredUp, make the USP a focal point of your website – highlighting it wherever you can so customers know why you’re a different and better choice.

Do SEO for yourself

What better way to sell your services than by improving your own website’s search engine rankings? As an SEO professional, you already know that optimizing your website is one of the best things you can do to build your online presence and grow your business. Doing so will have two benefits:

First, you’ll potentially raise the rankings of your own website, exposing your site to more potential customers. Second, your potential customers will see how well your site ranks and already know that you’re a capable SEO.

Make a point to implement a local search strategy, as you may be able to help businesses in your area who want to work with someone they can meet with in person. Finding projects near you is an excellent way to build community ties and get those first few testimonials which are crucial for securing new clients.

Partner with other businesses

Another way that you can increase your outreach is by partnering with other businesses to provide SEO services. Say, for example, that you provide SEO copywriting services. You may consider partnering with a graphic design firm or content marketing agency that provides the client with other services. This allows you to enhance your service offering without learning new skills. Plus, you can your partner(s) can:

  • Cross-promote each other on social media.
  • Increase each other’s SEO by providing backlinks via a directory or guest post.
  • Refer new business to each other.

If you can find a way to integrate your services with another business without merging completely, you will increase your SEO sales by supplying more value to the customer.

Conduct an SEO audit for your customer

One of the best ways to build a relationship with potential customers is to provide an SEO audit. During this process, you offer to review the strengths and weaknesses of their current website.

Then, after analyzing the performance of their site, you create a proposal of how you would approach improving these elements. Your proposal can include anything from link building and image optimization to local SEO strategies and web design.

Get a complimentary SEO audit

Figuring out how to sell SEO services within the industry seems overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Tactics like improving your website’s SEO and partnering with other businesses, along with having a clear USP, target audience, and niche, can enable you to charge the fee that you’re worth.

Want to see how you’re doing with SEO? Get an instant SEO audit below. Or, schedule a free consultation to see how intent SEO can boost search traffic revenue by 700%.