How to Build a Scalable and Sustainable SEO Agency That Actually Succeeds

Jun 30, 2022

Aljaž Fajmut

Over the years, when working with various SEO agencies, we've made some keen observations about the industry. Helping clients with ongoing on and off-site SEO can be tricky for a myriad of reasons.

One reason is that keeping up with the evolution of SEO is challenging, as the rules are constantly changing. We have to learn sustainable strategies that will drive results for the clients long-term.

Along with that, measuring the efforts invested in acquiring organic traffic is difficult. This is partly because bread & butter giants (Google, Facebook, Pinterest, and their counterparts) prioritize monetary exchanges. They do an exceptional job at controlling ads and providing results for any kind of paid advertising, while trying to keep certain information from you, like which keywords drive the most traffic to a website.

Another tricky aspect is setting expectations for the work that you'll be doing on behalf of the agency and what metrics in which interval you should be using to justify the effect of your work. This is one of the most painful parts in the beginning, as the bond of trust has not yet been established.

Don't let this discourage you, though! I’ll know if you do!

Running an agency that provides SEO can be extremely satisfying. Not just because you can earn good money, but also because it's one of the most challenging types of online work, requiring you to make astute observations, study and measure everything, and communicate with clients. Seeing the positive results of your hard work can be very rewarding for both you and your client.

So let's focus on some things that an existing or brand-new agency can benefit from to ensure long-term success and long-lasting, amicable relationships with clients.

1. Establishing a relationship with a new client

Every relationship starts with certain interests, expectations, and promises — looking presentable doesn’t hurt either.

The nature of SEO work implies establishing a prosperous relationship with a client and maintaining it with on-going, reliable communication

Understand the client’s needs and expectations

First of all, we should identify and understand what kind of clients we want to focus on when doing SEO.

  • Are they small business or startup clients, or are they a bigger, more rigid company?

  • What are the specifics of their niche or industry?

  • What kind of difficulties are they facing and what are their strengths internet marketing-wise?

  • Will your team be doing all the work for them, or will you just be collaborating and consulting their team?

  • Will you be working with an intermediate or directly with the person in charge of main decisions?

Here we go: by understanding our client’s persona, context, and their motivation for hiring an agency we can start getting a better idea of not only who we are going to work with — but also how we’ll be working with them. This should be especially important in setting up and establishing the frequency and tone of our communication with the client.

The needs, structure; is it a Limited liability company or a Corporation, and context of the company you are working with has to be thoroughly discussed and well-thought-out for one more important reason: determining what you’re going to do and when you aim to do it.

For example, if the client is new to marketing and SEO and doesn’t understand the basics yet, scheduling frequent calls and updates with additional clarification might be necessary. It will help make things easier for you if you discuss this in advance and agree on the price for the services that you or your agency will be providing.

Understand the person’s role in the company

When working with larger companies or enterprise businesses, it is crucial to understand how the role, position, and communication with a certain person affects the perception of your company and the work that you will be doing.

For example, if someone at the company was assigned to find an appropriate agency to hire, you should understand who the decision maker in the company is, and how things are being communicated through the person you will be in touch with.

Being aware of this can be quite advantageous: you can adjust the reassurance, communication, and delivery of results in a way that is aligned with the expectations of the decision-making person and makes them feel that your work is beneficial, trustworthy, and dependable. Provide them with a guarantee or an SLA if necessary — bigger companies are often willing to pay more if they know that the quality is guaranteed and they will have someone available for them at any time.

Set up training

It might be necessary to set up some educational training to get your clients familiar with digital marketing, particularly SEO and search engines, and how it works. Regular training will help you to increase trust and reduce panic and disappointment when things don’t go the way everyone expected.

Training sessions should be aimed at getting your clients to understand the sometimes unpredictable nature of this work, how long it takes for results to be tangible, and what kind of results they can expect from their campaigns.

2. Doing the work

In this part of the article, we will try to outline some of the approaches that SEO agencies use as well as their advantages and disadvantages.

Doing the research

All work (whether it’s SEM, SEO, or any other kind of marketing) starts with market research, which gives a foundation and feel for where a certain client is at.

SEO research is  an essential part of campaigns

This usually includes keyword analysis — a well-known process to all experienced marketers, which gives us a better idea of which keywords are the most relevant for our client’s business and how their website is already performing on those keywords.

In this initial research stage, we should also identify which keywords the client should be utilizing for their business. Try to put this into perspective and evaluate which objectives should be addressed now and which should be accomplished in the future.

Most agencies would charge for this kind of work, but if you can do it without spending too much time, it’s a great way to acquire new clients.

On-site SEO

Most of the on-site SEO work is normally done in the initial phase of the project. This is because it often has the biggest effect on the results and doesn’t require as much effort as off-site SEO, especially for smaller websites.

One of the main potential roadblocks to doing on-site SEO is the CMS platform that your client is using. Even though most modern platforms are SEO-friendly, some can be difficult to adjust, notably when they don’t provide the ability and flexibility to customize URLs.

To prepare for the on-site work you will be doing for your clients, you should clarify the following things:

  • Which CMS platform is your client using?

This should help you understand how easy it will be to do certain customizations in terms of content or URL structure. For example, if your client is using Wordpress, you know that changing a URL structure to an ideal search engine optimized one should not be a big problem since it doesn’t require any particular technical skills. And on the other hand, a website that runs Typo3 or an old custom CMS system would probably require you to hire a qualified developer to perform the changes.

  • Who will be doing the changes?

You should find out if the client has a person who is responsible for maintaining their website. Big companies usually have a person or team for that, so in that case, you should schedule a meeting with them and find out what is the best way to get the desired changes on their websites.

Successful SEO agencies usually also have their own technical engineer or a whole department  that helps them to get those changes implemented on the clients’ sites. If you don’t have this person yet, you may want to consider finding a freelancer on UpWork or

Sharing credentials is always a tricky thing, especially for bigger companies. Make sure to set up the right contract with a freelancer and take precautions to change usernames and passwords after their work is completed.

  • How should the structure be adapted?

Finally, when we know what and who will be doing the modifications on the site, we should create a spreadsheet with all the tasks, sorted by their priorities. You can use this template as an example.

Sometimes, changes on the site are more complicated than expected and require more experienced developers — for example, to run a complex operation on a large set of the data in the database.

In those cases, you should set up a duplicated copy (often called staging website) where you can perform all those operations and test them properly before they go live — you don’t want to put your client’s website offline while the changes and improvements are being applied to it. Sometimes, though, that is unavoidable, so make sure to communicate this well with the client and agree on the date and time when the website can be put offline for the adjustments to be executed.

Off-site SEO

There are numerous strategies for doing off-site SEO, and deciding upon them and establishing processes to execute them effectively is one of the most challenging tasks your agency can imagine. The fact is, regardless of whether or not you did everything else right, doing off-site SEO wrong will most certainly put your agency out of work sooner or later.

In many cases, we observe that an agency invests time into building their own blog network, which they use to build backlinks to their clients’ sites. While this can be a very effective method for driving off-site results faster, it can also have some devastating consequences when not done properly. Unfortunately, this is often done improperly and leads to dissatisfaction of clients when their rankings are lost and the network gets hit.

In this part of the article we will look at the pros and cons of the most known, effective, and popular strategies of off-site SEO.

  • Blogger outreach

Backlink building with blogger outreach is one of the most effective and sustainable SEO strategies.

The advantage of blogger outreach is that it is sustainable in the long-term. Besides, it’s not likely going to have any negative impact on the websites you will be optimizing.

The disadvantage is that it is time consuming, since you have to find the relevant blogs with established authority that will accept your guest post. And of course, writing good content takes time, patience, and money. If you lack the time or resources to put together a solid outreach strategy, you can always rely on the help of the third party outreach companies, such as OutreachMama.

The good thing about attempting to execute outreach campaigns on your own is that you get more experience with approaching new companies and clients, you will establish connections with site editors and become more fluent in providing content for them.

  • Blog networks

This is a greyer SEO method, though still quite popular

The good thing about this method is that once you have the blog network ready, it is easier to build new backlinks to your target sites.

The downside, besides the risk of getting penalized on the network and target sites, is that it takes a lot of time to build and maintain a good blog network. Fortunately, there are services like Easy PBN that make the hassle of staying under the radar easier. Still, you will need to take care of adding new domains, upgrading Wordpress or any other CMS, and take care of hosting and domains — or again, hire a person to do that for you.

  • Link exchange

Link exchange is an often undervalued and less commonly used method, though it can be in fact very effective.

There are two types of link exchange: paid links and non-paid links.

Paid link exchange is when, in return for a backlink, we offer payment to the website or the editor; this can be either one-time or subscription payment. However, paying for a link every month is not practical or efficient.

The non-paid kind of link exchange is one where we offer a resource in return that is not money — this can be anything from a backlink from our side, a mention of the website, or the free use of service or product that we’re selling. Be creative: what is that something that a person who will create a backlink would love to receive?

You can easily monitor your backlink campaigns and their effect on your search visibility with Nightwatch backlink tracker

Oftentimes, site owners or article writers would like to link to you if you give them a compelling reason to do so. For example, if you’re selling a product that does X exceptionally well, and if the author wrote an article mentioning products that do X, when approached and presented appropriately, they would mention your product without expecting anything in return.

3. Understanding Strategic Advantages

What is your greatest strategic advantage that your customers and clients will not be able to get from any other agency?

Your strategic proposition could be:

  • In-house built audience

Having access to a particular kind of audience through your websites, mailing lists, Facebook or Linkedin groups, and any other channels that an agency can access to spread and promote their message is a foolproof advantage that makes it easier for you to acquire clients and target potential or existing clients.

The downside? It usually takes a long time to build your audience, so you should decide whether this is something you want to pursue for the long-term success of your agency.

  • Specialization

Is there a particular segment on the market that you understand really well and are able to help your customers with?

A good example would be a web agency that is specialized in helping companies with crowdfunding campaigns. They have a vast knowledge of all the relevant websites where they can promote a particular gadget, get PR publications out, and how to get a project funded. This kind of agency would be much more successful in terms of time investment required to execute a successful Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign.

  • Outreach skill advantages

Another key advantage of your agency could be the inventory of outreach contacts to get guest posts for your clients published on the most relevant and authoritative websites.

If you’re getting into a new niche or don’t have any connections, your asset could be your communication and writing skills, as well the tools to connect and get approvals for article publications on websites for both link-building and PR.

Communicate and advertise your strategic advantage to your client to make them understand that your agency work comes down to more than just building links and changing a site’s structures with the goal of ranking higher on search engines.

4. Reporting to the client

Automatic reports simplify your work. Many SEO tools include this feature, and as a specialist agency rank tracker, Nightwatch does too:

Nightwatch offers flexible report scheduling abilities: easily set up a schedule and send out reports at regular intervals

There are some drawbacks you should expect — for example, when Google drops search rankings unexpectedly, which can be quite a common case for new sites that are being optimized or when certain rankings get unstable and frequently move up and down, which is particularly common with sites that don’t have a well-established SEO authority. In these cases, a client could misinterpret the reports and panic because of the results. To prepare and prevent this, there are multiple things we can do.

Educating the client

The first and probably the most important one is it to explain the nature of the work to educate and prepare the client for unexpected rankings fluctuations.

Filtering the keywords with temporary drastic movements

The other solution, a somewhat more technical one, would be to use the reporting tool’s ability to only report positive changes and exclude negative fluctuations from the reports. There are not many tools that support this kind of flexibility, but Nightwatch is one of them.

Those kinds of reports take the stability and fluctuation factor of a keyword into consideration and focus on the changes on keywords observed in longer periods. These should be the most important ones for each client, as you should not be spending unnecessary energy on explaining to your client why every particular change on a keyword has occurred.

Work and progress updates

Presenting a client with a report that just shows keyword ranking changes will not really do much but cause confusion.

Invest some more time in providing additional information and notes on the reports on a regular basis. This would depend upon your agreement, but for smaller clients, you could set up a monthly report with comments on the results, and for bigger companies, it might be necessary to provide this kind of input on a weekly basis.

You can write the comments on top of the PDF report, in a separate document, or even have someone explain it to them on a video call.

Bonus tip: include a checklist of tasks that were accomplished into a report. You could use a Trello board for that so your client can access it anytime and share their thoughts there. (show an example of such a task list)

Reporting the story

Invest some time into providing additional explanation of the results in a wider perspective and with a contextual timeline.  You should strive to present the story as well as results to your client.

The successful, trustful relationship with a client should consist of the story, which would include a vision for your client’s long-term success, their positions, and overview of the whole market or industry where the client is operating.

The best way to present these things is by using slides with all the necessary data to show the bigger picture of where the clients have come from and where they are heading.

5. Understanding The Evolution of SEO

If you want to win the SEO game, here is the most important advice you could ever get: you should perceive it as the growth of an organism. You should see it as a whole, not just as a separate activity isolated from your other marketing activities. Successful SEO should be tightly connected with all the activities mentioned above, as well as another type of marketing — whether it’s inbound, email, social, or PPC marketing.

Remember, the constants for continuous success of a sustainable and scalable agency with trusting, happy clients are: regular reports of “the story”, which would give clients the context and the whole picture, frequent communication to keep the client's team in the loop and the work moving forward, and educating the client to set the right expectations of the SEO work.