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

Where do you find new SEO business opportunities and clients?

Maintaining a steady stream of leads and inquiries to constantly feed your pipeline is essential to the growth and success of your SEO agency and/or career.

In our recent State of SEO survey, gathered insights from 2,830 SEO professionals with varying salaries, levels of experience, and specializations.

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

  • Which channels are most effective for driving new business.
  • How lead generation and marketing results differ for B2B vs. B2C and agencies vs. freelancers.
  • What has been working for SEO professionals looking to gain new clients and grow the business.

What is the Most Successful Channel for Driving New SEO Business?

According to 45% of State of SEO respondents, their personal or company 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 In-person professional business networks 22.8% 603
6 Social media paid ads 18.9% 502
7 Referrals from your network 18.2% 481
8 Social media not paid 15.2% 402
9 Cold calling 10.9% 289
10 Paid referral platforms (e.g. Credo) 9.9% 262
11 Online job boards 9.0% 238
12 Upwork or similar platform 8.6% 227
13 Speaking at conferences 6.0% 159

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

Clearly, keeping your website up-to-date and optimized is essential for a majority of SEO pros and agencies.

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

“Organic search brings in the most traffic, but these are predominantly informational intent sessions that don’t always result in a direct conversion,” Smith explained. “To turn these into business opportunities, we leverage quality content (webinars, ebooks, etc.) to nurture their journey and guide them from problem-aware to solution- and product-aware.”

In-Person Networking and Conferences Still Effective

Despite the restrictions of the last year, in-person networking is still an effective and popular channel for developing new business.

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

However, speaking at conferences is last on the list at just 6%, despite how effective it can be in raising brand awareness and for the authority of a business.

Public speaking is not for everyone and can be a time investment. It’s also not a scalable process.

But for the small percentage who do invest in speaking, it does pay back 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.

“Most of my new business comes from referrals, with some coming via my email newsletter and conference talks,” Adams said. “My personal brand as an expert in a specific niche plays a huge part in getting new leads.”

As we come out of the pandemic and confidence begins to build, we expect conferences to again become popular places for networking as people want to rebuild social contact.

How Does Marketing Strategy Differ for SEO Agencies & Freelancers?

While each agency or consultant’s marketing strategy will be entirely unique to them, we did see some trends in how different types of SEO pros drive new business.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, an SEO agency (32%) is more than twice as likely to have a dedicated sales team as a top channel as an SEO freelancer (12%).

Freelancers are more likely to use a marketplace such as Upwork, as indicated by 18% of SEO freelancers versus just 7% of SEO agency respondents.

Freelancers also reported greater success in winning new business by referral from their network, with 31% choosing it as a top channel versus 22% of SEO agencies.

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

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

What’s Working to Gain New Business in SEO?

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

  • Keeping your website up to date.
  • Attending in-person events.
  • Investing in your network.
  • Using Google Ads and social media ads to get in front of new prospects.
  • Getting referrals, whether organic or paid.

Freelancers are having greater success with job boards and marketplaces, while agencies tend to have more budget for dedicated sales professionals, cold calling, and other outreach.

More Resources:

Download your copy of the full report to access all the data from the State of SEO survey 2021.

Featured image: Paulo Bobita/