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Interviews

Doubling An SEO Agency In Size Since Covid Began

Work Hero
November 22, 2022

Andrew Shotland

CEO & Founder

Full service SEO agency working with multi-location brands, local marketplaces, b2b SaaS, e-commerce, and media sites

Launched:  

1. Hello! Who are you, where are you located and what is your business?

Andrew Shotland, CEO & Founder, LocalSEOGuide.com, USA

LSG is a full service SEO agency. We work with multi-location brands, local marketplaces, b2b SaaS, e-commerce, and media sites (so pretty much anybody with a site and a budget :)). We have done SEO for some of the biggest sites in the world (e.g. Bing Maps, Walmart.com, etc.) and plenty that you have never heard of, although you’ve probably clicked on their URLs in the SERPs :) This is our 17th year in business.

2. What is your backstory and how did you come up with this idea?

In 2003 I helped start InsiderPages.com, an early Yelp competitor. We needed to grow our traffic and someone told me to “try SEO”. I had never heard of it. I found someone who knew someone who knew someone and paid him to do an audit and teach me some tricks. We basically updated our title tags and internal linking, ran some review generation promotions, and our traffic took off.

We became one of the fastest growing sites in the world, which enabled us to raise money from Sequoia Capital and Softbank. That enabled us to hire a bunch of people and we decided to redesign the website. At the time I didn’t totally grok technical SEO and when we launched the new site, we torched the SEO with a duplicate content problem I could solve in 2 minutes today. But at the time we lost ~80% of our organic traffic, and I lost my job.

The day I got fired I was having drinks with the head of product at LATimes.com. He was all excited because he just got approval to redesign their site. I asked him what his SEO plan was and he was like “what’s SEO?”. I told him what had happened to me and he immediately asked if he could hire me to do some consulting.

I didn’t have anything else to do, so I agreed. So LATimes.com became my first SEO client. Pretty cool. The next thing you know people start pinging me because they hear I am doing SEO consulting. Within a month I had like five clients. My wife asked if I was going to start looking for a job. I told her I thought I had found one. That was 17 years ago…

3. Describe the process of launching your agency. What lessons were learned along the way?

The main lesson I learned along the way is that while it can be difficult to get businesses to prioritize SEO, getting it wrong or ignoring it absolutely can cost people their jobs. So we approach every client with a lot of empathy. I like to say “I have lost my job because of SEO so you don’t have to”.

I didn’t do anything special to market the business other than I tried to blog every day about stuff I knew and what I was learning as I did it. I spoke at a few conferences which probably helped. Mostly I tweeted snark about SEO. My guess is that probably helped the most as other SEOs paid attention to me and were like “this guy gets it” lol.

Mostly we just always tried to do right by our clients, always tried to be helpful to other SEOs, and never really tried to sell anyone anything. I mean when someone contacted me about SEO help I would basically give them an entire SEO audit over the phone. With many sites you can often diagnose 80% of the issues in five minutes. Then the person could decide if they wanted to do it themselves or hire me. As I like to say, anyone can unclog a toilet, but wouldn’t you rather have a plumber do it?

4. Since your early days, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

We haven’t really changed how we do things since the beginning. We try to provide great service, great transparency, and humility while we’re doing it.

We do like to show our work and demystify SEO as much as possible. I think clients appreciate that.

5. What were your challenges and obstacles in growing your agency?

Managing people and processes is the cliche when it comes to growth challenges and we are no exception to the rule. It has been interesting morphing from a solo consultant doing things his own way on his own time to a team of people who have different goals and needs from mine. We went through a period of what felt like hypergrowth.

In two years, we grew our revenue by about $2M annually and doubled the amount of people. That was tricky as I felt the business becoming something I didn’t recognize. At first I was like “grow!”, but after a while I realized that I had to figure out a way to grow this that felt right for myself. It took some hairpin turns along the way and some crazy steering to get it on the right track. We definitely scratched the paint and took on a few dents along the way.

I think if I had to do it over again, before we put the pedal to the metal, I’d have a very frank conversation with everyone on the team about the realities of growth, what everyone wants from it, and basically make sure everyone has a good psychologist on call. Growth can create a lot of stress if you are not both strategically and emotionally aligned with everyone on your team. And I’d argue emotional alignment is probably way more important.

6. What has been helpful to you to grow your agency?

We have benefitted from being able to work with a lot of great people, both as clients and team members. They provide a great referral network and personal network. Other than that, we have really tried to do the research to prove that our methods work. I think clients really appreciate when you can say “when we did XYZ this is what happened” v “I read that on Twitter you need to do XYZ”.

7. What is your advice for anyone looking to start an agency?

I think if I could do it over again, I would specialize in a single industry like boba shops or something like that. It’s a lot simpler to become an expert in a niche and to get to know a lot of your potential customers. I know a guy who does only SMB IT professionals. It sounds like shooting fish in a barrel.

8. How are you doing today and what does your future look like?

We have a team of 25 and have basically doubled in size since the beginning of COVID. We do very little to market the business and grow organically. Unless Putin blows us all up, I wouldn’t be surprised if we grew by 25-40% in 2023.

9. What are some of the platforms or tools you use and companies you partner with to save yourself time, money, and hassles?

  • Sitebulb
  • Clickup
  • Screaming Frog
  • Big Query
  • Google Data Studio
  • Ahrefs
  • Majestic
  • SEMRush
  • Notion
  • Clearscope
  • Slack
  • Roam

10. Where can we learn more about you? (website, social channels)

Website: localseoguide.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/localseoguide/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/localseoguide

Other social channels: https://seocommunity.social/web/@Andrewshotland

Doubling An SEO Agency In Size Since Covid Began

1. Hello! Who are you, where are you located and what is your business?

Andrew Shotland, CEO & Founder, LocalSEOGuide.com, USA

LSG is a full service SEO agency. We work with multi-location brands, local marketplaces, b2b SaaS, e-commerce, and media sites (so pretty much anybody with a site and a budget :)). We have done SEO for some of the biggest sites in the world (e.g. Bing Maps, Walmart.com, etc.) and plenty that you have never heard of, although you’ve probably clicked on their URLs in the SERPs :) This is our 17th year in business.

2. What is your backstory and how did you come up with this idea?

In 2003 I helped start InsiderPages.com, an early Yelp competitor. We needed to grow our traffic and someone told me to “try SEO”. I had never heard of it. I found someone who knew someone who knew someone and paid him to do an audit and teach me some tricks. We basically updated our title tags and internal linking, ran some review generation promotions, and our traffic took off.

We became one of the fastest growing sites in the world, which enabled us to raise money from Sequoia Capital and Softbank. That enabled us to hire a bunch of people and we decided to redesign the website. At the time I didn’t totally grok technical SEO and when we launched the new site, we torched the SEO with a duplicate content problem I could solve in 2 minutes today. But at the time we lost ~80% of our organic traffic, and I lost my job.

The day I got fired I was having drinks with the head of product at LATimes.com. He was all excited because he just got approval to redesign their site. I asked him what his SEO plan was and he was like “what’s SEO?”. I told him what had happened to me and he immediately asked if he could hire me to do some consulting.

I didn’t have anything else to do, so I agreed. So LATimes.com became my first SEO client. Pretty cool. The next thing you know people start pinging me because they hear I am doing SEO consulting. Within a month I had like five clients. My wife asked if I was going to start looking for a job. I told her I thought I had found one. That was 17 years ago…

3. Describe the process of launching your agency. What lessons were learned along the way?

The main lesson I learned along the way is that while it can be difficult to get businesses to prioritize SEO, getting it wrong or ignoring it absolutely can cost people their jobs. So we approach every client with a lot of empathy. I like to say “I have lost my job because of SEO so you don’t have to”.

I didn’t do anything special to market the business other than I tried to blog every day about stuff I knew and what I was learning as I did it. I spoke at a few conferences which probably helped. Mostly I tweeted snark about SEO. My guess is that probably helped the most as other SEOs paid attention to me and were like “this guy gets it” lol.

Mostly we just always tried to do right by our clients, always tried to be helpful to other SEOs, and never really tried to sell anyone anything. I mean when someone contacted me about SEO help I would basically give them an entire SEO audit over the phone. With many sites you can often diagnose 80% of the issues in five minutes. Then the person could decide if they wanted to do it themselves or hire me. As I like to say, anyone can unclog a toilet, but wouldn’t you rather have a plumber do it?

4. Since your early days, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

We haven’t really changed how we do things since the beginning. We try to provide great service, great transparency, and humility while we’re doing it.

We do like to show our work and demystify SEO as much as possible. I think clients appreciate that.

5. What were your challenges and obstacles in growing your agency?

Managing people and processes is the cliche when it comes to growth challenges and we are no exception to the rule. It has been interesting morphing from a solo consultant doing things his own way on his own time to a team of people who have different goals and needs from mine. We went through a period of what felt like hypergrowth.

In two years, we grew our revenue by about $2M annually and doubled the amount of people. That was tricky as I felt the business becoming something I didn’t recognize. At first I was like “grow!”, but after a while I realized that I had to figure out a way to grow this that felt right for myself. It took some hairpin turns along the way and some crazy steering to get it on the right track. We definitely scratched the paint and took on a few dents along the way.

I think if I had to do it over again, before we put the pedal to the metal, I’d have a very frank conversation with everyone on the team about the realities of growth, what everyone wants from it, and basically make sure everyone has a good psychologist on call. Growth can create a lot of stress if you are not both strategically and emotionally aligned with everyone on your team. And I’d argue emotional alignment is probably way more important.

6. What has been helpful to you to grow your agency?

We have benefitted from being able to work with a lot of great people, both as clients and team members. They provide a great referral network and personal network. Other than that, we have really tried to do the research to prove that our methods work. I think clients really appreciate when you can say “when we did XYZ this is what happened” v “I read that on Twitter you need to do XYZ”.

7. What is your advice for anyone looking to start an agency?

I think if I could do it over again, I would specialize in a single industry like boba shops or something like that. It’s a lot simpler to become an expert in a niche and to get to know a lot of your potential customers. I know a guy who does only SMB IT professionals. It sounds like shooting fish in a barrel.

8. How are you doing today and what does your future look like?

We have a team of 25 and have basically doubled in size since the beginning of COVID. We do very little to market the business and grow organically. Unless Putin blows us all up, I wouldn’t be surprised if we grew by 25-40% in 2023.

9. What are some of the platforms or tools you use and companies you partner with to save yourself time, money, and hassles?

  • Sitebulb
  • Clickup
  • Screaming Frog
  • Big Query
  • Google Data Studio
  • Ahrefs
  • Majestic
  • SEMRush
  • Notion
  • Clearscope
  • Slack
  • Roam

10. Where can we learn more about you? (website, social channels)

Website: localseoguide.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/localseoguide/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/localseoguide

Other social channels: https://seocommunity.social/web/@Andrewshotland