How SEO Professionals and Agencies Win New Business [Survey Results]



Where do you find new SEO business opportunities and clients?

Maintaining a constant flow of leads and inquiries to consistently fuel your pipeline is critical to the growth and success of your SEO agency and / or career.

In our recent survey on the state of SEO, Search Engine Journal collected information from 2,830 SEO professionals with varying salaries, experience levels and specializations.

And in this article, you’ll find key insights into how freelancers, consultants, and SEO agencies generate new business and gain clients. You will learn:

  • Which channels are the most effective for generating new business.
  • How lead generation and marketing results differ for B2B versus B2C and agencies versus freelancers.
  • What has worked for SEO professionals looking to gain new clients and grow their business.


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What is the most effective channel to generate new SEO business?

According to 45% of State of SEO respondents, their personal or business website is one of the top three channels for generating new business.

Google search is also a popular lead generator for SEO pros (no surprise there), as is having a dedicated sales team.

Channel for new business Percentage Volume
1 Website 45.2% 1195
2 google search 28.0% 740
3 Dedicated sales team 27.4% 724
4 Google Ads 24.7% 653
5 Professional business networks in person 22.8% 603
6 Paid social media ads 18.9% 502
7 References from your network 18.2% 481
8 Unpaid social networks 15.2% 402
9 Cold call 10.9% 289
ten Paid referral platforms (eg Credo) 9.9% 262
11 Online employment offers 9.0% 238
12 Upwork or similar platform 8.6% 227
13 Speaking at conferences 6.0% 159

(Asked question: What is the predominant channel of new business for you or for the company you work for? Up to 3 options can be selected. Open to all respondents, the results were filtered to 1,241 who worked directly with clients through an agency (875) or as a freelance writer (366). 51% worked in B2B, 41% were B2C and 8% fell into a non-specific “other†category.)


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Obviously, keeping your website updated and optimized is essential for the majority of SEO professionals and agencies.

Izzi Smith de Ryte, for example, finds that organic search delivers the lead, which she can then drive to conversion through content.

“Organic search drives the most traffic, but it’s mostly information intent sessions that don’t always result in a direct conversion,†Smith explained. “To turn them into business opportunities, we leverage quality content (webinars, ebooks, etc.)

In-person networking and conferences always work

Despite last year’s restrictions, in-person networking remains an effective and popular channel for developing new business.

In-person professional business networks are still one of the top three channels for starting a business for 22.8% of respondents.

However, speaking at conferences is last on the list at just 6%, despite its effectiveness in increasing a company’s brand awareness and authority.

Public speaking is not for everyone and can be a time investment. It is also not an evolutionary process.

But for the small percentage who invest in speaking, it pays to raise their profile.

Barry adams, founder of Polemic Digital, has invested heavily in his personal brand by being active on social media and speaking at conferences.


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“Most of my new business comes from referrals, some via my email newsletter and conferences,†Adams said. “My personal brand as an expert in a specific niche plays an important role in obtaining new leads. “

As we emerge from the pandemic and confidence begins to build up, we expect conferences to once again become popular places for networking, as people want to rebuild social contacts.

How Does Marketing Strategy Differ For SEO Agencies And Freelancers?

While each agency or consultant’s marketing strategy is entirely unique to them, we’ve seen some trends in how different types of SEO professionals generate new business.


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Unsurprisingly perhaps, an SEO agency (32%) is more than twice as likely to have a dedicated sales team as a primary channel than a freelance SEO (12%).

Freelancers are more likely to use a market like Upwork, as reported by 18% of SEO freelancers versus just 7% of SEO agency respondents.

Freelancers also reported greater success in gaining new business by referral from their network, with 31% choosing it as their number one channel versus 22% of referral agencies.

When it comes to the differences between B2B and B2C, we saw that almost twice as many B2C SEO professionals (14%) chose paid SEO sites as their primary channel, compared to just 8% of B2B.


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We also found that 30% of B2B SEO professionals use a dedicated sales team to generate new leads, compared to 25% of B2C.

What Works To Win New Business In SEO?

The results of our State of SEO survey highlight the importance of:

  • Keep your website up to date.
  • Participation in in-person events.
  • Invest in your network.
  • Use Google Ads and social media ads to connect with new prospects.
  • Get referrals, whether organic or paid.

Freelancers are more successful with job boards and marketplaces, while agencies tend to have more budget for dedicated sales professionals, cold calls, and other outreach activities.


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More resources:

Download your copy of the full report to access all data from the Search Engine Journal 2021 SEO Status Survey.

Featured Image: Paulo Bobita / Search Engine Journal


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