5 Tactics to Turn a Small SEO Agency Into a National Force

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5 Tactics to Turn a Small SEO Agency Into a National Force

There are thousands of small SEO agencies.

Many of these small SEO agencies are content to remain at that size — serving local clients, running smaller campaigns, and doing good work.

But what if you want to scale up? You want to be bigger than your hometown, bigger than your home state, and bigger than your region. You want to play with the big boys.

How do you do it?

Aggressive Content Marketing

As a content marketing nerd, I can’t conceive of any way of growing apart from content marketing.

With content marketing, you can create a platform as big as you want, conquering any keywords, specialties, and niches that you desire. It grows your platform, meaning that you are respected by your industry. You transform from a backwater SEO shop into a force of thought leadership and power.

But beyond the natural growth of your own reputation, there’s an even bigger reason you need to do content marketing.

Today, SEO has morphed into content marketing. You don’t exist merely on the merits of your technical SEO prowess. There’s only so much optimization of meta tags you can do. Today’s search engines crave content. It’s content marketing that will win the day.

So, what do you do? You offer content marketing as part of your services.

But there’s more to it than that.

If you want to be recognized as a content marketing agency, then you have to be doing content marketing yourself. Thus, content marketing is the starting place for any agency that wishes to be catapulted to national prominence.

Since content marketing is the cornerstone of growing your agency, let’s settle on this point for just a moment. There are several specific facets of content marketing I need to go into further.

Write Opinion Articles

Opinion articles are those that share your personal or your agency’s perspective on a digital trend.

Mark Schaefer’s “content shock” article is a good example of an opinion post. Because he is a recognized leader, this article was a massive boost for him and his personal brand.

Your agency can do the same thing. By posting an article with your opinion — even a controversial opinion — you can gain wide recognition in the industry.

Work on Guest Posting

Where does every agency SEO, in-house SEO, and business owner interested in SEO go for their SEO information fix?

They all go to the same websites:

What if you were writing for these websites?

Instant credibility. The more you guest post in industry journals, the greater your reputation. It’s just that simple.

Guest posting is the key to meteoric growth. The key to establishing a massive national reputation is to post your articles to these recognized and respected publications.

Write Comprehensive & Masterful Guides

Content marketing is cluttered by lots of people writing lots of articles in the same way and on the same subjects.

The way to rise above the clutter is to create long-form and in-depth guides on relevant topics. Several years ago, I determined to write extremely informative, book-length guides on several critical topics.

These guides have remained at the top of the SERPs ever since I wrote them, essentially catapulting my brand to global recognition.

Turn a Small SEO Agency Into a National Force | SEJ

You can do the same. Instead of just writing opinion posts or guest posting, you can triple your strategy by creating long and informative articles on the topics that are most relevant in your particular SEO niche.

Get Referrals

One of the best strategies of all time is to get referrals. There’s an obvious reason for getting referrals — word-of-mouth marketing.

Regardless of the industry, people trust personal recommendations over anything else. Shopify’s survey found that “recommendations from people I know” outpaces the runner-up by a huge percentage!

Research by Raging Creations found the same thing to be true. Word-of-mouth reach was the most trustworthy.

Referrals are one of the best ways to expand your brand to a larger circle. How do you get referrals?

The basic method is really simple. Just ask. Or, to use the strategy of Inc. columnist Srikumar Rao, you provide value to the referrals your client gives you.

Hubspot recommends building referrals into your agreements, which nearly guarantees you’ll get some.

Conference Attendance & Speaking

Landing speaking gigs is easier than you might think. But, like anything else worth having, it requires a lot of groundwork and preparation.

The benefits, however, are extraordinary. You might not get a lot of direct leads from speaking at a conference, but you will gain recognition. And recognition might be more valuable than leads!

Before you can expect to land on the stage of SMX, MozCon, or Pubcon, you have to build your reputation and establish the fact that you’re a speaker.

Here is the process of becoming a speaker:

  1. Start with personal branding
  2. Speak at small local events
  3. Become recommended or ask to speak at larger events

Form Partnerships With Other Digital Agencies

This advice — partnerships — is absolutely crucial if you want to secure a pipeline of clients that will put you on the national map. I recommend you form partnerships with other digital agencies.

What?! Am I suggesting that you cavort with the competition?

No. Not really.

Here’s what I mean by “digital agencies”:

  • UX providers
  • Paid search agencies
  • Social media agencies
  • Wireframe agencies
  • Design agencies
  • Development agencies

The smaller and more boutique the business, the better your chance of scoring big-name clients.

Here’s why. When a big and reputable business needs service in a particular area, they will either 1) hire an expensive person to do the job, or 2) hire a specialized agency to do the job.

Many jobs, such as wireframing, are a one-and-done deal, so they would prefer not to have to hire a person just for this job. Hiring is a long and expensive process. And besides, what would they do with this person when the job was complete?

They believe, as anyone would, that the more specialized the agency, the better work they will do. An agency can execute lots of great work in a short time, especially since there is more than one person working on the project.

That’s where you come in.

I also recommend you partner with digital agencies whose services come logically prior to yours.

There is a logical sequence to marketing tasks:

  • Start with market research
  • Create target persona
  • Sketch website wireframe
  • Website design and development
  • Paid search, keyword research, website launch, and SEO

Most businesses don’t think about SEO until they are ready to launch their website. If your partner agencies can recommend you as the SEO agency of choice, then their clients will be more likely to choose you when the time is right.

Your partners thus become a critical part of your sales funnel. They are referring all their clients to you for SEO work. You get to sit back and enjoy the steady stream of clients. (Obviously, you would be paying a finder fee, or making other deals with your partner.)

I’ve seen this strategy be extraordinarily successful in agencies. Since specialized digital agencies have a corner on the market for some really big name businesses, you stand a great chance of winning these clients, too.

Target the Right Keywords

Figure out how exactly you want to grow.

It’s not enough to say, “We want to be the biggest SEO agency in the world!” You have to figure out how, practically, you’re going to reach that goal.

In the era of digital search, the way that you do so is by keyword targeting.

This is what I mean:

First, focus on winning your local SEO terms. For example, if you were an SEO agency in Denver, you would want to win the keywords “seo Denver” and “Denver seo”.

From that point, you’re poised to earn even more business. This is where you need to choose which direction you will go. People might search for “denver seo,” but they are less likely to search for “colorado seo” or “rocky mountain seo.”

Turn a Small SEO Agency Into a National Force | SEJ

The greater the geographic region, the less likely people are to search for you.

Well then, what the heck are they searching for? They are searching for niche service providers.

Turn a Small SEO Agency Into a National Force | SEJ

If they’re not looking locally, then they are looking for agencies that target a particular vertical. The better you can target a specific vertical, the greater chance you have of becoming a national agency.

Here’s the great thing about these verticals: they are more likely to convert! The narrower the industry, the more interest they will have in your service (as long as you specialize in it).

For example, let’s say that a textile business owner is looking for seo services. He searches for “textile manufacturer seo”.

Here’s what he sees:

Turn a Small SEO Agency Into a National Force | SEJ

There is basically one digital agency providing services exclusively to textile manufacturers. If I were a textile guy, I would certainly trust this marketing agency over an agency that specializes in seo for French pastry shops.

These people are so dedicated to their niche that they have “yarns” and “fibers” in their business name!

Turn a Small SEO Agency Into a National Force | SEJ

That’s the power of going niche. When you go niche, you go national.

So, let’s say you decide to become the go-to SEO for dentists. Suddenly, you are the number one premier agency, serving thousands of dentists all over the nation.

Then what? You scale again. You become the go-to SEO for chiropractors, and then physical therapists, and then urgent care clinics, and then hospitals, and then medical record businesses, and eventually, the entire health care sector.

And then, because of your reputation in health care, plenty of other businesses start flocking to you. Now, you’re a national force with clients in many industries, and you become known as the preeminent B2B SEO provider.

Start with your geographic niche, work up to a single vertical, and then expand organically. That is how you build your brand to national recognition.

Why? Most potential customers are searching for a local agency — someone that they can meet in person and communicate with face-to-face.


Before you rush off to become the biggest SEO agency in the world, you need to ask yourself, “Do I really want to do this?”

Scaling a business can be even more difficult than getting one off the ground. If you are ready to grow, do it the right way. Use these strategies to expand your brand to national recognition.

Do you want your SEO agency to build a national reputation? Why or why not?

Turning a small agency into a national force

Image Credits

Featured Image: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.com
All screenshots by Neil Patel. Taken February 2016.

Neil Patel
Neil Patel is the co-founder of KISSmetrics, an analytics provider that helps companies make better business decisions. Neil also blogs about marketing and entrepreneurship at... Read Full Bio
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  • Joseph de Souza

    Excellent piece of advice for small SEO agencies . In fact I have actually done just that, and I am just a freelancer and currently rank no1 for SEO + province i.e. SEO Goa

    • Neil Patel

      Great to hear ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Byron Lee

    perfect guide for small seo agency.

    • Neil Patel

      Glad you liked it!

      • Byron Lee

        Thank you Neil I always like your content you are amazing writer. Thank you

  • Hemang Rindani

    Amazing guide. Targeting the right keywords is important for both their clients and SEO Services Company. If the agency wants to expand, they themselves need to do SEO efficiently to get better visibility. I feel along with having a tie-up with digital companies, having relations with CMS Development Company (like telerik for Umbraco, sitefinity CMSs etc and automattic for WP and Drupal) will also help. As you know that enterprise web content management services are in demand, there is a need of mastering SEO tools that these CMSs use. There are less number of agencies working for CMSs and it will be good to compete in a niche. I am not quite sure about the outcomes for my suggestion, may be someone in the group can add more life to this concept.

  • Frank Sandtmann

    Hi Neil, thank you for putting together these growth tactics. I am sure most smaller agencies will discover some suggestions that they would find useful to implement.

    As you mentioned in your conclusion, scaling a business is difficult. Besides, one needs to answer the basic question, what kind of work one really wants to do. Just setting out to make loads of money might fall a little short.

    Thus IMHO it is important to decide, whether one wants to be rather in the role of an expert, or in the role of a business manager. Growth most of the times will include a substantial increase in administrative work, which will leave less time for SEO details.

  • Lana Stankovic

    I love this guide. Very useful if you want to expand your digital business. Great tip for niche service providers, something we should definitely think of. Thank you, Neil.

  • Karl Ott

    There is some good advice here but there is also a lot of fluff. “Force of thought leadership and power.” Is one of the biggest fluff sentence pieces I have ever seen. Also when he lists agencies many of the types of angencies he lists are part of content marketing. Content marketing isn’t just writing “book length” blog posts and speaking at local events. There should be a holistic approach that admits all the fluff Neil Patel is missing. This article is basically a fluff piece disguised as something that could help you scale your agency. I’ll pass on most of the advice and take the rest with a grain of salt.

  • Shiva Subba

    Thanks Neil,
    For another power puff post.

  • Nathan Drake

    This is one of the reasons why I follow Neil Patel’s articles. He’s not holding back his ideas and tips.

  • Aimee Beck

    Great advice, Neil! It really is. But I would like to ask you to expand on a few points for those small-agency owners who haven’t yet built any sort of reputation; suppose they’re new or just unknown.

    In my experience:

    Major pubs like this feature thought leaders, the big players (like yourself!). What advice can you give to unknown SEOs about getting noticed by the big-wig publishers like these?

    I’ve had to rely on my 15 years in the industry to “prove” to well-known publications that I do in fact have the experience and know how to write for a pub this size. What advice can you give those who don’t have extensive experience?

    I’ve had to rely on introductions from people I’ve met along the way. What advice can you give to those who don’t have friends in high places?

    Thanks Neil ๐Ÿ™‚

  • JJ

    Great article Neil, love it when people don’t hold back!

  • Jason Swenk

    Thanks for sharing but I also disagree with you on a couple of fronts. Now before I go any further, let me give you all some context. I ran a successful 8 figure agency for 12 years until I sold it, so I have tons of experience at this.

    Ok, so I agree with the aggressive content marketing play only if you have a defined niche. Too many agencies do this strategy without a niche and wonder why they have no leads, and then they rely on referrals. Which is where I start to disagree with you.

    Referrals are the icing on the cake but most agencies sole lead generation is referrals and they are not scalable or predictable. They need a couple other revenue generating channels.

    I do agree with you on building the brand so you are the industry leads and your audience thinks of when they mention SEO or whatever your core service is.

    I agree with you on the strategic partnerships, but I would like to add in other companies going after your audience that are outside the agency space. It is good to align with other agencies that are not doing exactly what you are doing, but make sure they are not white labeling your services.

    Thanks for sharing. My whole goal is to help out the digital agency industry, and just wanted to provide a bit more to this article.

    • JJ

      I actually agree with Jason on some points here that trying to scale without a niche can be somewhat fruitless. Also, partnering with other companies is a really good idea. I’ve had some success partnering with other service providers such as review platforms, analytics solution providers etc.

      • Ioana Sima

        Great points Jason. I also believe that investing in multiple revenue generating channels is vital.

    • augenthaler

      I really love Neil’s post yet Jason brings up some great points, especially about referrals. They usually bring in great business but they are unpredictable so a strategy that brings in leads that is scalable AND predictable is critical. Or else, the agency never grows much and rides the razor’s edge of financial insolvency because of poor cash flow. It gets stuck in a fugue state.

      As to the white labeling, let me tell you how many problems that can create. The agency doing the white labeling often does not understand how YOUR business operates and what is required by the clients to make things happen. I’ve been in a few situations where huge amounts of time and energy were wasted having to explain, backtrack, educate the clients because the other agency misrepresented our services.

      Jason, would love to hear more about your experiences. If you have a blog somewhere and you write about this stuff, I’d love to read it.

  • Eugene

    Neil is seriously a genius and a true expert on SEO and Social Media marketing. I really do appreciate and value is insights!!

  • Ankush Nikam

    Great points . Agree with the aggressive content marketing play only if you have a defined niche. I also believe that investing in multiple revenue generating channels is vital.