SEO Should be FOM for Freelancers and Design Agencies – Part 2

Woman thinking about how to improve her agency's SEO capabilities.

In WordPress world today, every web developer, designer and marketer is looking to get into the SEO game. But, where should you even start? With so many tools and tips out there, it can be overwhelming. Let me try and narrow things down for you. Keep reading for my best tricks and tips.

Before we discuss some things that have worked for myself and my agency friends, let’s go over some of the tools you will need to track a client SEO project.

Tools You Will Need

It’s difficult to do quality SEO work without having the proper tools to track things like rankings, link profiles and estimated traffic.

The tools I happily pay for each month are Ahrefs (a multipurpose suite of SEO tools) and KWFinder (a keyword suggestion and tracking tool). Other good multipurpose SEO suites are SEMRush, Moz Pro, and Majestic.

Tools that I use for local SEO are Moz Local and Bright Local. Whitespark is another great local SEO tool.

These are all subscription services. You should have at least one multipurpose SEO tool to track data effectively and accurately. Ahrefs, SEMRush, and Moz Pro are tools that you can use to set up a client project and track their ranking progress for selected keywords.

Unlike the above tools, Google Search Console and Google Analytics are both free. Ideally, Google Analytics is already set up on your client site, and you have access to the historical data. If you are taking over for another web agency, see if they will give you admin access to the account.

Lastly, the most important SEO tool of all is what is between your ears – your mind. SEO software can give you information about your client’s site, and their competitors, but you must decide what to do with that information. How you decide to execute an SEO strategy alongside your client often separates a mild success from a huge success.

Now, let’s look at the different ways you can help your clients with SEO, and build MRR for your web agency.

Types of SEO Services You Can Offer

There are many different ways that you can start helping clients with their SEO while adding monthly recurring revenue to your agency.

Regular Ranking Reports

It’s very important to measure your SEO efforts and track your progress. I don’t consider ranking reports to be “SEO work,” as you are simply reporting where a given keyword phrase is in Google rankings. However, I do believe that ranking reports should be included in every type of SEO offering. The clients will want to know how they are improving in rankings, and it’s good for you to know, too.

Additionally, you may want to keep track of the overall traffic to the site, and the traffic that comes specifically from Google organic search. You can find both of these metrics in your Google Analytics account.

Content Adjustment

This is where most freelancers and agencies will be comfortable when first offering SEO services. A content adjustment will normally include optimizing title tags and meta descriptions, as well as adjusting content to include certain keywords. It’s worth noting that this is what most business owners think of when they hear the phrase “SEO.”Depending on the size of the client website, this may be a one-time engagement, or you may spread it out over time.

Other actions that may fall under this category include: optimizing URLs, changing site structuring (aka “siloing”), or adding certain elements to a page to make it rank higher.

This is a good avenue to explore if the client has certain pages that are already ranking well but aren’t at #1 for their target search terms.

Keyword and content suggestions are an easy way to expand from singular adjustments to larger project engagements.

Measuring User Activity

These SEO services are where you find opportunities that produce monthly, billable activities.

By installing a heatmap tool like CrazyEgg or HotJar, you can see where users are clicking, and scrolling, and get a very precise idea of how they are behaving on certain pages. SEO is very similar to the scientific method – form a hypothesis, test it, and improve your formula.

“If you are optimizing content, adjusting page layout, or improving an existing design, this information is valuable. -lockedowndesign”

When you have heatmaps (or browser recordings) of how users interact with a page, you can quickly see what they are interested in, allowing you to improve the content or UX on that page, which can help it rank higher over time.

Layout Adjustments Based on Data

From collecting data on the website, and seeing what users like and what they don’t, you can make educated changes to the layout of a page. Often, we need to change the context of a page to match the searcher’s intent, make a page easier to navigate or add elements of other high-ranking pages.

Technical SEO

Optimizing site speed, clearing up 404 errors, adding 301 redirects, adding Schema markup – are all things you can do to help your client’s SEO.

Content Creation

This is one of the more difficult, but most imperative thing you can do for SEO. The challenge lies in understanding your client’s business enough to create compelling content.

Many small businesses simply do not have the time or resources to create content on a consistent basis. This makes content creation one of the highest value offerings for SEO, if you do it correctly. It requires that you, or someone on your staff, have a thorough knowledge of the subject matter and can consistently write articles that are informative and interesting. You may also need access to a  graphic designer to create visuals.

Now, if you are a generalist web design shop, not every client will be a fit for this service. For example, a medical practice may be better off having one of their own staff write content than having an agency create content for them. You will have to make this decision based on your client roster and your own staff. That said, content creation is necessary if your client wants to rank for additional keywords.

Next to content, incoming links to your website are one of the most important factors in SEO. Many SEO consultants believe that links are used as a proxy for the authority of a website.

Earlier in the article, we talked about SEO software and tools. These are especially useful for investigating and comparing the backlink profiles of your client sites and their competitors. When doing client SEO, look for a pattern of high-ranking sites that are linked to/from the same sites. Those might be good links to acquire.

There are many ways that you can help your clients build relevant links to their website. One way is to compile a list of “low-hanging fruit” links to acquire. These could be your client’s strategic partners, distributors, allies, or industry directories.

Perhaps the best way to help your clients build links is to get an email address from your client’s website and do some of the legwork. Smaller or quickly-growing companies may not have time for link building.You can also look for relevant industry memberships and directories for your clients to join. Links from these types of sites often have a correlation to higher rankings.

Lastly, there is link outreach. This involves forming relationships with other site owners, webmasters and content creators, and building links through those relationships. There are a few forms of link building that fit in this category.

Broken link building is when you find sites that have a broken, outgoing link to a page of content similar to one on your client’s site. The idea is to help the linking site by helping them fix their outgoing 404. You do this by suggesting to your clients pieces of content to which you want the external site to link.

Traditional link outreach is suggesting that a given website links to your client’s content. This method can be tricky — so many people do this in a spammy way that many webmasters disregard these requests.

HARO link building involves using the Help a Reporter Out service. You can sign up as either a reporter or a source. Three times a week, Monday through Friday, content creators and reporters ask for short blurbs of information from sources. If you respond quickly and intelligently to enough of these, you will eventually get links from trustworthy online publications.

When it comes to HARO pitches, it’s best to reply to inquiries that are directly related to your client’s industry. These inquiries have a time limit, as copywriters have deadlines to hit, so the faster you reply, the better. Most SEO consider links earned through HARO to be 100% “white hat”, or compliant with Google’s rules.

One thing that you should notice about all the different forms of link building is that it is exponentially easier to do when your client has a wealth of great content on their site.

“Good content tends to attract links because it is inherently helpful. -lockedowndesign”

The more you work with your clients on SEO, the better you understand their business. This is beneficial if you are helping them with content and links, which are two factors which will help move the needle on their SEO.

Final notes

Many of my own clients are on a monthly SEO/WordPress development hybrid retainer. This has helped me with cash flow in my own company.

If you decide to use SEO retainers as part of your monthly recurring revenue strategy, remember to communicate regularly with your clients about what you are doing. Most regular business owners do not understand how SEO works; educating them on SEO best practices will help you work together smoothly.

Measure everything, track your progress, and take notes of what moves their rankings and what doesn’t. Google constantly tweaks their algorithm, so some fluctuation is to be expected.

“Don’t panic if certain keywords go down. SEO progress is almost never a straight line up and to the right. -lockedowndesign”

There are usually peaks and valleys for keyword phrases. The important thing is that your client’s keywords are trending up, and their organic Google traffic is up over the long term.

It’s okay to reassess your client’s needs if you think they need something different. You may see things that you didn’t see a few months ago. A piece of content may need to be improved. The layout of a page may need to be changed. You may notice a correlation in high-ranking sites that you didn’t before. Those are the things your clients hire you for — to be the digital expert that helps them grow their business.

There you have it. With the right tools and the right knowledge, SEO can be a great source of recurring revenue for your business.

John Locke

John Locke

Guest Author

After a nearly two-decade career in commercial and retail bakeries, John founded Lockedown Design & SEO, a web development and marketing agency focused on the industrial sector. His consultancy works closely with companies to accelerate growth through organic search and white-hat SEO.

When he’s not working directly with clients, John is empowering people to make the best use of their website by sharing knowledge through his blog, YouTube channel, and as a recurring panelist on the WP-Tonic podcast.

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