The Automated SEO Agency

Software as a service (SaaS), rightfully so, has been the holy grail of business models for a while now. The lure is undeniable: a one-time cost of development and design, fully scalable (and massively profitable) lines of code that cost peanuts to host and maintain, while charging people all around the world a monthly fee to use – no shipping, inventory, returns or manufacturers to worry about, either.

The service & consulting space has similar benefits, and some that are even more attractive than SaaS: zero upfront costs, instantly charging thousands of dollars as opposed to the $20-50 range most software demands, and it can be run with just one person (who doesn’t even need to know code).

Unfortunately, marketing agencies are difficult to scale.

Yes, we can hire more people to manage the accounts and run the business, but that lowers profits and increases stress.

It’s also much harder to generate leads at an agency. Closing leads is another story. And if you happen to close, then there’s the weight of managing expectations, generating reports that always look positive or promising, weekly or bi-weekly WIP meetings, and the uphill battle of having client dev teams hand over some level of access in order to install analytics and make other small changes here and there. But, most of all, the frustration of having clients not implement the recommendations you worked so hard to discover and deliver, only to have them expectedly fire you a few months later for “lack of results” is the absolute worst thing that can happen. It’s a vicious cycle, and we all go through it.

Is there not a better way? Is the model perpetually broken? While we can direct unsavory clients and unqualified leads to a DIY SEO solution for them, the rest of the SME business world wants to work with real people, in a real agency. There is still a need for people like us out there.

Clients will always induce pressure and strain on us; there’s no changing that. However, I believe we can manage things our end better, in order for our jobs to be as painless and stress-free as possible. It just requires some careful planning.

Let’s see how much of the agency process we can actually automate and fine-tune to be positioned for scale and growth:

#1. Lead Generation

Depending on the kind of agency you are, along with the niche you have decided to target, your leads will be generated from different sources than ours. Of course, there are agency directories out there that some clients will look through to find agencies like ours, but the most predictable kind of lead flow is the one we control; the one we generate from our own outbound campaigns.

A verified database of companies? There are plenty of those, too. These may or may not work – the best way to find out is to try it out for a while and see how it pans out.

The point here is to find a lead source, and automatically gather new leads by the day, week or any interval that’s feasible for your current stage. Most likely, the source in question will not have an automatic process in place to bring these leads directly to you, in which case you may need to revert to an API, or hire a developer to scrape and serve new leads on a consistent basis.

#2. Scalable Outreach

As new leads are generated, the most effective way to (still) reach them is through cold email. There are too many platforms to mention, but Reply and Klenty are great starter solutions which can get the job done for a campaign of any size.

Depending on your source and the email service you decide to go with, both solutions could communicate with each other, either through native integrations or a third party connector such as Zapier or IFTTT. It’s important that they do, otherwise you will be forced to transfer the leads manually at each point of the funnel, which defeats the entire the purpose. Even if it costs a little extra, the time and energy it saves will be well worth it.

A value-lead, personalized template should be constructed; and continuously tested to ensure your efforts aren’t wasted on a poorly optimized email body and subject line. If done well, open rates will be relatively high, with most potential clients seeking to moving the conversation further along via phone or in-person meetings.

#3. Discussions & Contracts

Can a phone call really be automated? It’s not as though you can pre-record them the way you could with a webinar, or even slap a chatbot together to somewhat mimic a live discussion. Indeed, this may be the hardest part of the automation process.

Could a white label agency service provider hop on the call instead? Well, unlikely. Most (if not all) white labels like to get involved after the deal is signed and the client is on board. But surely, there’s another way to keep the train rolling here?

The only way would be to have human, hired help. Unfortunately, machines and automation have not come so far as to replace humans and real conversations when they are absolutely required. Commission Crowd would allow us to have active agents ready to close on generated leads, trialing a few of them before deciding to the most compatible sales rep who understands the business and can communicate the benefits of working with your agency better than you can.

When they do close, I would include the contract signing aspect of the process to be handled by them also. It is usually nothing more than an electronic signature of a standardized SLA document, meaning there is no need to summon software or perform an extra step, especially by you.

#4. Day-to-day Operations

Now this is where a white label agency can shine. They are happy to deal with the minutiae of the work, and the client at the same time. Like everything else mentioned, it is best to trial a few, before deciding on the most ideal one out there. Many don’t deserve a minute of your time, so screen well.

Effectively, this process can be scaled by many multiples before you would even need to consider hiring somebody yourself. The white label can hire people as they scale, while you remain small, lean and profitable.

Many white label agencies also offer add-on services to clients such as paid advertising (PPC), social media management, email marketing and conversion optimization to name a few – all which could allow you to maximize your reach and generate greater levels of growth and scale. It’s a win-win-win!

Final Thought

While definitely not perfect, this can be an initial working model for an automated SEO agency. The ideal setup would be completely automated from beginning to end, meaning, no human intervention or maintenance of any kind. Such a task would be near impossible for the closing aspects of the business, but I don’t doubt there are engineers and CEOs working on this very problem as we speak. It’s that lucrative an opportunity.

About the author

Sebastian Hovv

Sebastian is the author of "The Little White Book of SEO" and curates a weekly marketing newsletter just for fun.