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How To Build And Scale A Local SEO Agency




Deepak: Wait for it to go. Hello, guys. Welcome back. We are live, as Anton, the man on the decks and dials, is telling us. I sound like a five o'clock radio show host now, don't I? Or like an 11:00 AM daytime disco. Today's episode is about how to build and scale a local SEO agency. We've got Tom here as you can see and he is of Right Click Inspect and we're going to be talking about everything that's related to actually building and scaling a local SEO agency.

What we're going to be going through is a couple of key areas. How to win local SEO clients, Tom's going to be talking to us about that. We're going to be talking about how to deliver at scale for multiple local SEO campaigns. If you've got several clients, if you've got one, three, five, 10, Tom's going to talk you through his experiences of how he's managed such an environment. 

And then, of course, the standard operating procedures or SOPs that you need to make sure that every campaign is dealt with efficiently, effectively and that you're not working every hour that God sends at least trying to deliver these campaigns. So Tom.

Tom: Hello.

Deepak: I'd love for you, for a little while to talk to the audience and tell them a little bit about who's Tom, who's Right Click Inspect and why should they listen to you when it comes to this topic?

Tom: I've got a bit of an unconventional background really. I spent 10 years in the military before coming out and thinking about what I want to do via online marketing. I knew that I wanted a career to do online and find something. I didn't really have the normal background of someone that's been doing web design in their bedroom or something like this. 

I started off working and amending websites for yell.com. I literally got started properly in SEO in April 2012 when Penguin hit and it was a manic time to be joining the industry. But moved around between a few different agencies, learning the ropes, and then I wanted to act as an SEO consultant. 

I contacted a few people in my local area to see if they needed help and I found my business partner, Luke, who's very strong with sales, very experienced in the art of selling and so we teamed up to create a local SEO offering together. That was at Bite Design, and that's been going for five years now.

Right Click Inspect is my SEO consultancy service where it doesn't really focus on the local SEO model. Time has just flown over the last few years as we've built that up and scaled it out. We've got a number of staff, a number of different operations going on with the local SEO agency now. We've branched off into web design and conversion optimization and development as well.

Deepak: Okay, okay. Well, listen, I didn't know about the 10 years in the military. That's amazing to go from doing something that is very physical, I guess, to doing something that's completely, I guess, in the background so to speak.

Specializing in Local SEO and Scaling Up

I will get to almost probably all of the questions that you definitely are asking and I guess what I'd love to begin with, Tom, is asking about one of the big things that companies consider is specialization. How is it that you guys decided from day one to focus upon local SEO? This relates to Katie's question. Katie's asking, how do you make small clients with small budgets profitable in this space?

A lot of people have the conception, whether it's false or real, that a local SEO client might be a builder or it might be a local hairdresser. I'd love to first ask, how did you decide to specialize on local? And then how did you make sure that the numbers made sense for you guys as a business?

Tom: We decided to specialize in local because it was partly what my background was. I was specializing in local SEO around Bedford and London before I moved back up to Northampton. That was a particularly strong area. 

We'd been doing a lot of testing with Google My Business, well, Google Places back then it was as well. We had a pretty tight strategy when it came to delivering local SEO to smaller budgets as well. In reality, we made a loss at the beginning because so much work and time gets invested into that local SEO client, but you can then sort of like not set and forget, but you can set and leave it to run and make sure that if the process is being followed then the results will come.

Sometimes a lot of our work isn't necessarily based on the budget. It's based on the work that we're able to put in and the time we spend. You can make things go a long way when you are delivering at scale. If we've got a number of tasks that are happening over 100 clients, we're able to make it profitable because we're able to get so much done based on all of those budgets put together.

Deepak: Okay, okay, okay. Perfect. Is it fair to say then that this is a process that works really effectively when delivered at scale in terms of the profitability?

Tom: Yeah, absolutely, and certainly when we're using consultants to carry out the process, or virtual assistants. As they get better they get to understand the process, it becomes quicker and we're able to reduce the amount of time it takes to deliver each month.

Deepak: For you specifically what does local mean? Just so we're clear, is it local, your area? Could it be local, but anywhere in the UK, that's just they're focused upon local listings? 

Tom: To make it clear, I would say any keyword search with the location in it is local SEO.

Deepak: Perfect, perfect. And was that something that you focused then? And it could be anywhere, as long as they were focusing upon a local listing?

Tom: Yeah, yeah. We could do local SEO for a guy in Miami if we wanted to.

An Example of Working with a Client in Local SEO

Deepak: Do you want to walk us through an example of what a process would be for a local SEO client that you kind of follow?

Tom: Once we've won that client there'd be an audit and we'd see where are the quick wins? What have we identified this site lacks? A lot of the time it's stuff like Google My Business listings, no area pages on the website, maybe it doesn't have a blog module for example to target additional keywords, maybe they're not doing anything socially, maybe you just can't find them in that area. The site could be lacking in content.

It's all the normal stuff with regards to an SEO audit, but just more looking at the local side of things and where are they coming up with proximity searches and things like that. There's a lot of manual work that goes in at the beginning. 

Deepak: Okay, okay, okay. I mean it's interesting, isn't it? It sounds a lot like the fundamentals to a large degree don't change whether it's local or anywhere.

Tom: Obviously the local algorithm's different, and you can get away with certain things that you can't do when you're trying to rank on a national scale. I say that lightly because there's been changes over the last two or three weeks where some of our local strategies are not working as well as they used to and it might fall in line with the algorithm update over the last 24 hours.

KPIs for Local SEO Clients and Managing Client Relationships

Deepak: My friend Pierre, he says, "With the local SEO clients, what kind of KPIs do you base it upon? Is it, "We will get you to ..." I mean how do you deal when thinking about KPIs for your local SEO clients?

Tom: Our KPIs for our local SEO clients are no different from national SEO. Just so everyone knows, we are ... our client base, we have about 300 local clients now and about 18 national clients, so we're not a full ... we're not like a full local SEO agency, but the KPIs will remain the same. It's rankings, traffic, conversions, and return on investment, and that's very much how we sell the product, shall we say? 

Deepak: Dude, that's a pretty impressive number. 300 local clients, how does client relationship management work?

Tom: That's the most important thing, that is. Our business is built upon communication. This is why very much we have quite a large team in the UK and an even bigger team offshore. Because what's really important to us is communication with the client at least twice a month, a phone call at the end of every month. 

It gives us an opportunity to make sure that people are happy, that things are progressing well and then if there's any problems as well, with such a large client base it'd be easy to miss one or two. Those are things that we've learned from failures in the past in previous roles and experiences. Certainly, some of the agencies I've worked in...we were not able to deliver properly because the set up had been wrong within the team and things like that.

Deepak: And then so talking about the kind of phone calls and the processes, do you want to speak a little bit about some of those elements? Is there a process that you guys follow with your local guys?

Tom: Yeah, so within the first five days of each month, everyone gets a report. We've automated that so that gets sent out and then we have a consultant call, maybe 24 to 48 hours afterwards to discuss the report, find out things that are going on in their business. Any opportunities like that they might've had like some new sponsorship or something like that where we could go and get an unlinked mention potentially. 

Then pretty much straight away the next day, we're looking at what content is needed. We have a six-month content calendar created at the beginning of the strategy. We spend a few minutes to check that the blog content, there isn't anything better that might be more timely that we can maybe create an article for. 

That goes out to our content team and then link opportunities are identified, which then goes out to our link acquisition team and from there we then move onto the next one and move onto the next one. We have like a very much a project management system for all of our clients as they progress through each month. 

Communicating the Value of SEO to Local Business Owners

Deepak: 33BigMoney asks, "How do local self-employed or small business owners trust in perhaps you or trust in SEO when they might not necessarily believe that SEO has its value?" Can you talk through that process a little bit?

Tom: Dealing with company owners directly, is not that different to dealing with marketing managers with marketing budgets. They are emotionally invested, they need things to happen straight away and so you've got to be able to demonstrate that you can do what you say you can do. 

One of the first things that we did was made sure that we rank number one for SEO in our local area. Okay? One of the first sales that we say is, "If we can do it for ourselves then we can do it for you." 

It's certainly a good sell as well because we rank really well in areas that we're not necessarily based out of; so other regions and towns. We're not in that area and we don't have a right to rank in that area so we can say, "Look, you want to target these additional areas if you want to expand your business then we can get you found in these areas. Look, we're not in this area and we're up there."

That builds trust straight away, builds the confidence straight away. We get probably about 5-7% of our leads inbound organically from that.

Deepak: You said five to seven? What's the other 95%?

Tom: Outbound sales, cold calling.

Deepak: It sounds like it's a really interesting approach and I want to talk more about the inbound versus the outbound strategy as we move forward. Do you want to talk through some other strategies that have been really effective in demonstrating how you're different to any other agency out there that you've found that's been effective with winning clients?

Tom: Do you mean from an inbound point of view?

Deepak: Well, we can probably talk about the nuances. We could talk about how it changes from inbound to outbound. Let's first of all talk about when you're selling outbound, how is it that ... What is your answer to, "Well, Tom, your agency sounds quite similar to seven phone calls that I got this week"? Are there particular things that your sales force use effectively in these local campaigns for the outbound sale?

Tom: Well, most of the time when we're contacting people outbound, we're contacting them for a reason. We're not just phoning up and saying, "We're so and so from this area. Would you like to work with us?" We're contacting them with a particular problem. 

Now, most people are not ranking in GMB properly. They might have a listing in there and they haven't claimed it, and so as soon as we say, "You risk your competitor stealing this listing, hijacking it." And show them, we can show you examples of where it's happened before to other people, you don't want to fall into that trap.

Even if they don't want to, even if they're not interested, they don't want their competitors taking their share of what they should be getting. It's an easy way in when you get them emotionally because they're so emotionally invested in their business anyway.

Client Contracts in Local SEO

Deepak: Do you want to tell us a little bit about how contracts work in the local SEO space?

Tom: Yeah. 12-month contracts. We very much say that a lot of the time and effort goes in at the start of the campaign. It helps when we are able to say that we've got clients, we're ranking other people in other areas that they're not competing in. 

That can demonstrate how we work and things like that. But the contract's very much to protect us as well, because of that time investment at the start. We know that we will make a loss for the first three months on that client, so we have to protect ourselves in order to make sure that we've got a business. 

Deepak: Oliver's asking, "How do you actually enforce a 12 months contract?" Can you talk us through that?

Tom: You have to be able to sell the benefits. You have to make them realize that we're not just providing a service that you just buy. We're very much invested in their business. We are a partner in their business and when you're able to build that rapport, getting the signature on the dotted line is much easier. We will go out and meet the client before anything. We usually have two to three meetings.

If we were cold calling someone, for example, one thing that we do is look at if they're advertising in Yell, we'll contact them and say, "How does that advertising work for you? What sort of budgets are you spending?" 

At the end of our close when we're selling, we don't say, "Would you like to progress?" We say, "Right, okay. These are the next steps. I need you to sign on here. You can fully read this agreement at any point and you do have seven days to opt back out if you don't feel comfortable with it." Usually, we don't get any cancellations from then. 

Deepak: I think, guys, this is for me amazing advice I think because what Tom is describing is a very, very personalized approach, it's done at scale. They do go out to clients, within a 100-mile radius. 

I think that these are things that more and more companies are probably, especially in the digital space, are probably a bit wary of doing and I think it certainly would differentiate you in the local space. Because I can't imagine there'll be many competitors in Tom's niche who will actually go in and actually meet and having an operational infrastructure behind them. 

Tom: Exactly, it's a really good point you've made there because a lot of the local SEO agencies, guys that are pitching to these people that are hearing this every day, on their website ... they might have an about page, but they don't have pictures of the people working there. Like you say, it's probably someone from their bedroom. 

But then if you look on the flip side of local SEO agencies that are saying, "We are a local SEO agency." And then they have this big team, that's where the gap in the market is for us and because they're not that apparent. A lot of agencies that you'll find are probably boutique, operating in certain issues and things like that.

It's not as competitive as an area or space as some may think. Especially if you give the perception that you are a fully committed team in the UK and things like that.

Local SEO Niches & Budgets for Specific Niches

Deepak: Prateek or Pratik has asked a really good question. Pratik Jain, he's asked, "Is it a good idea to focus upon a specific industry within the local?" Do you do as long as it's local it doesn't matter? 

Tom: We sort of do. There's more profitable industries locally, like your window fitters and things like that, then there is maybe for your handyman and your plumbers and stuff. It makes sense to maybe go after those more profitable local industries but I certainly wouldn't be going boutique, looking at certain issues as a local agency.

The strategy doesn't change too much. If you can apply your strategy to multiple niches, without having to amend it, then why not just go offering everybody? I can understand the difference in maybe going boutique as a national agency, but it works differently for local because at the end of the day it's just an algorithm.

Deepak: Talking of budgets and profitability and those two areas, does your budget change based upon niche? Or how do you make determinations depending upon the state of their website, the state of their backlinks, all of the usual stuff? How does that kind of work for you?

Tom: Our business development team, the sales guys, they will speak to our consultants and say, "What sort of budget do you think we need when ... to actually rank this site?" The only thing we look at really, you can get a quick understanding of if the site is ready to rank, like what sort of CMS it's on quickly. 

But ultimately it's about how many links do you need? How many links do you need to rank for that keyword? Thinking about the amount of effort that goes into building those links, depends on what sort of budget we're looking for from them.

We also take into account how much can they afford and how much of an impact can our services have on this business? Because if we're going to be making a loss for the first three months, but then it gets very profitable, now, even if those profit margins are small, if we do a really good job you can imagine the referrals are going to come in from that client. That client could be a flag bearer of our business, and that again allows us to grow and so you've got to look at, you've got to think about the wider benefits. 

Deepak: There's a lot of knock-on benefits. I mean thinking about that referral piece, it must be, and local businesses probably tend to have pretty good networks I'd imagine as well, when it comes to knowing either industry-based or just local based customers and being able to actively refer you. Has that become a big part of your actual success as you've grown?

Tom: Absolutely. Some of our biggest clients are all referrals, and especially the local plumber down the pub who's speaking to his marketing manager mate. The ins that we've had from that has been, dare I say the word, unprecedented? 

Client Deliverables in Local SEO

Deepak: That's a good one, a good word. We've got Baiju. He's asking what kind of deliverables do you put into the contract? Or how does that work at a local level? How does that play out?

Tom: Well, I mean we say that we are going to very much maintain the site from an audit perspective. We use an SEO site auditing tool actually and we show them where we were at before we started, we'll make sure where we're at after we start and all the optimizations that we've done and the score that we've got from that. We say that we promise to get you above 80%, but we don't say we'll get you into first. That would be ridiculous, you can't promise that. 

But you can say, "Well, this will improve you. We'll be able to get you into the top two pages for this." But ultimately as long as we're making them money, if they are getting a return, then it'll work and I mean it's not, I'll hold my hands up, it doesn't work for everybody. Certainly, we have to manage those expectations. We like to under promise and over deliver really. 

Deepak: It sounds like you're very ROI focused as well when it comes to determining what the outcome is going to be for the business owner or the marketing manager. I can imagine at a local level that speaks volumes to companies that are very mindful of their budgets and very mindful of what bang for their buck is, so to speak. 

I wanted to go back into the inbound versus the outbound strategies. There's a couple of things, guys, just as a reminder, that Tom has mentioned that have been pretty powerful. The first thing that he mentioned is that they specifically target companies that have under-optimized GMB profiles that are not appearing for local based search. And you also look at companies that are currently advertising in Yell and then you approach them to find out how is that going for them, what kind of return are they seeing. 

Client Outreach for Local SEO

Could you elaborate on some of those strategies actually? To tell us more about how they work in practice and how the outreach process works? Because I think that there's some people in this audience that might have client rosters of less than 10 or less than 50, so the idea of getting 300 sounds quite daunting as you can imagine.

Tom: Well, I mean it's nothing that nobody won't know. We are Googling, we are using keywords and Googling by location, checking the second and third page and seeing why they might not be ranking there and then contacting them. 

We'll be using search operators and checking the copyright dates on websites as well, locally. We say, "Why haven't you updated your website? It says it's not been updated since 2017." Then I can sort of elaborate on that. 

Other times we'll be just going to like business events and speaking to businesses within those and the good old fashioned getting in your car and driving around and checking what businesses are in your area and contacting them.

Deepak: It sounds incredibly effective. Some of this stuff has become a bit of a lost art, because people are like, "Oh, so you just walk in?" And you're like, "Yeah, we do. We do."

Tom: Yeah, 100%. Part of the success that we've had is because of the cold calling. We're warming it up as much as possible. If we have identified businesses that are active on LinkedIn then we're making sure that we are viewing them, viewing those profiles prior to contacting them so that the seed drops and they're like, "Oh, I recognize that name. Where have I heard that before?" Yeah, we're connected on LinkedIn potentially or something like that.

Deepak: Cold calling works when you cold call with intent and when you really think about presenting them with a current problem they have as opposed to just randomly calling Mr. Joe Bloggs and saying, "Hey, we do SEO." And they're like, "Okay, great." 

We've got some more questions coming in. We've got Pierre I think has asked this question now for the third time. He is asking, I think fundamentally, how do you talk about or describe outcomes for a business owner who doesn't really appreciate the value of SEO or either the processes involved?

Tom: It can be a struggle sometimes to make business owners realize the importance and value of what you're doing and we won't enter into a contract with someone if we don't feel that it's mutually beneficial to both of us. It's a dangerous area actually when you take on a client that doesn't understand what you're doing and it compounds it even more because they're emotionally invested into their business.

We'll be losing even more time at the start, let alone the loss that we make anyway. We'll be losing even more time by trying to appease the situation and when they don't realize what's going on after three weeks and you're getting complaints.

That's where the sales process has to be really tight. We don't just take on anybody. We want to make sure that it's a relationship and that people understand exactly what they're letting themselves in for. They have plenty of opportunity to get out any concerns and for us to be able to speak with them about those. 

But you'd be surprised at how much, how successful those discussions are with someone that's worried when you're face to face in a meeting. That's the key. We've won some of the biggest contracts that we've got by going out and seeing people. That's able to build that rapport straight away and stop those worries from happening.

The Importance of Analyzing the Competition

Deepak: Out of interest, talking with other agency owners, how many agency owners are surprised when they say, "So you go out and meet everybody for the first time and sit down"? Is it quite common? Within your circle, is that quite typical?

Tom: No, it's not common. I think that's what makes us stand out. We've obviously contacted every other agency within 100 miles of us pretending to be a client to figure out what their process is. Competitor analysis and all that.

Deepak: We should build upon that, guys. Tom just talked about a really probably perhaps obvious but it might not be obvious thing, that when doing your competitor analysis, Tom just mentioned that within a 100-mile radius, they made an effort to reach out to every other client ... or every other agency rather to understand more about their sales process and the onboarding and probably as much as you can. How important is that for an agency who's just getting started in this game?

Tom: Oh, 100% because you've got to do something that's better than someone else, so what better way to do that than to know what the other people are doing? We do it for our clients as well certainly. 

We are, as much as an SEO agency, we are business consultants as well in a way. These local guys, they pin everything on us, they want us to work with them to grow their business which is what we're doing. Some of the conversations that our consultants have will be much more geared towards how they can grow their business, what sort of additional services they might be able to offer within their skillset and what things could we rank for? Then we say, "Let's contact these guys and see what their process is like and how you can maybe mirror that and do it better."

Client Retention Tips for Local SEO Agencies

Deepak: How many clients tend to renew? And ultimately I guess what you do with the problem of perhaps SEO fatigue? 

Tom: Ultimately if a client decides to leave, then fine. Our retention rate is really good. I'd say it's probably up in around the 90% somewhere. We very rarely will lose a client during the contract. 

Now, some clients might wish to go elsewhere or either say, "Right, we're coming to the end of the contract. Thank you for all of your efforts." That can be a bitter pill to swallow sometimes, especially when you've done everything you've said you were going to do, you're looking for a long-lasting relationship. 

But a lot of the time we will say, "If you ever need any more help, if your rankings do drop then you know where we are. Come back to us." Type of thing. But other than that retention rates are really high because you're doing what you say you're going to do, but talking to them each month, we are almost an employee of their business. The communication is the reason why that client retention rate is so high.

Deepak: A 90% retention rate in SEO is very, very impressive. In a service industry, it's pretty impressive. Talk about the keys to communication success when it comes to ... expand upon it a bit more. I think that there's probably a lot of knowledge that perhaps is obvious to you.

Tom: I mean we'll know if a client might approach us to ... if they're thinking about canceling or something. All of a sudden they're not available for that phone call that you have every month. Or maybe they're a bit quieter on the phone. 

We send a business development manager out to speak to them. Maybe the SEO consultant will come along at the same time. We can work through and iron out any problems that there might be and getting people face to face works wonders with regards to building a relationship back up. 

Deepak: It sounds like you guys go the extra mile, to be honest with you.

Tom: Yeah, we do, we do. It makes us feel better about it as well actually. A lot of the time as well whilst we're being available, you'll be surprised, whilst we do call every client some of them will be, "I can't talk right now, I'm too busy." We actually care. It might sound a bit corny or whatever, but we do. We take a very keen and active interest in the business.

We're constantly asking them questions about what do they want to sell more of? How are we going to increase their revenue? What does further success look like for your business? Have you got a better idea of where you want to be in 24 months? And let's build that from there, let's think about how we're going to get there, and what they need to do.

Biggest Mistakes Local SEO Agencies Make

Deepak: We're coming into the last five, well, three minutes. I'm going to storm through some questions. 33BigMoney's asked, look, he's asking, "Knowing what you know now, what are your biggest mistakes and kind of learnings that you think you might do differently at the beginning?" What's your parting advice to the audience?

Tom: Don't do everything yourself. I was trying to do way too much myself right at the beginning. Not sleeping at all, seven days a week, just felt like I was working all the time. Because you've got to, you need to get results quickly so it sort of buts a bit of pressure on yourself. 

Having the ability to build, have people I can rely on to follow certain procedures took a lot of the stress away and allowed us to work on the business, rather than in the business. Which is a very key point to scaling.

Deepak: So guys, work on your business instead of in your business. Develop really well defined standard operating procedures. Tom mentioned that he's got a document, a word document as well as of course the actual video for it.

Guys, thank you so much for being part of this webinar. Please do, as we said, comment, like, subscribe. Do go check out Tom. I'm sure you can Google him, I'm sure if you want to go ahead and find him on LinkedIn, Tom, you'll find him. Right Click Inspect is the name of his actual business, so go ahead and check that out.

Tom: Thank you. Appreciate it.

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