In the latest episode of The SMB Marketing Show, Marc Brookland, founder of SEO Locale, explains what it takes to build, scale, and operate a successful digital marketing agency. We've recapped a few key takeaways of the conversation with our own Philip Kuehnen below. Tune in to the full episode to hear Marc discuss the lessons he's learned and the trends he believes will revolutionize the industry.
About Marc Brookland and SEO Locale
Marc founded SEO Locale in 2015 while juggling a full-time job. Working from a small apartment in Philadelphia's historic Old City, Marc committed full-time to the agency in 2017.
In his first 30 days, Marc grew the business from 1 client to 14 through daily cold calling. Fast forward to 2020 — SEO Locale boasts over 100 clients and employs 9 full-time, in-house digital marketers, plus remote content writers.
Marc and his team have worked hard to make SEO Locale a trustworthy, reliable digital marketing agency for small businesses. SEO Locale prides itself on delivering comprehensive marketing plans customized for each client's needs and budget.
Key takeaways from the episode
Use partnerships and existing relationships to scale your agency.
Marc discusses how he convinced his long-time friend and mentor, Nick Quirk, to join the agency. Nick's experience in digital marketing dates all the way back to his teenage years, says Marc.
“It took me about a year to convince him to join on full-time.”
Shortly after Nick joined the team as COO and CTO, “we just exploded,” recalls Marc. “We jumped from probably about 17 clients to somewhere around 40-ish.”
Although Marc describes the duo as “workaholics,” he says they're also having a lot of fun. Before the agency scaled up and hired a full-time team, the pair managed SEO, social media marketing, web design, and more for 50 clients.
Hire driven, level-headed people willing to learn and work hard.
When it comes to recruitment, drive trumps experience for Marc. “I don't care if someone comes in to interview who has 10 years' experience or they're fresh out of college. That literally doesn't mean anything to me. When I came out of school, I had no idea what SEO was,” he admits.
“Most of the people we've hired have had little to no experience. Do you have the drive to learn? Do you have the drive to work hard? Are you going to be able to keep your head on straight when you have a million clients asking for a million different things on the same day?”
These qualities have played an instrumental role in the agency's growth and success.
Philip acknowledges this “less traditional" approach is particularly reassuring in a job market that prefers fancy resumes over soft skills. Marc reveals he, like many of his new hires, also had a lot to learn in the beginning:
“Certainly there's a huge learning curve when it comes to SEO. Of course, they weren't rockstars out of the gate. When Nick first started teaching me, I wasn't a rockstar out of the gate. It takes time to learn and practice.”
Voice search and mobile experience will play an increasingly important role in the evolution of marketing.
“I think that the user experience and speed of websites are going to be a major piece of how well your website is able to rank both mobile and on desktop,” says Marc.
He cites a recent update from Google — in 2021, core web vitals, which measure speed and user experience, will become a key ranking factor. No longer will businesses be able to ignore these often overlooked metrics.
Voice search will be perhaps a little more complicated, particularly for local SEO. In Marc's experience, a good chunk of voice searches come from users comparing or searching for nearby local businesses:
“I always have clients saying, ‘How do you optimize for near me?’ Well, you don't really optimize for quote-unquote ‘near me’, because it's not natural. You're not going to be writing a piece of content that says, ‘best SEO company near me'. It doesn't make sense.”
Marc suggests hyperlocal targeting your landing pages instead. Utilize a Google My Business page as well as local directories and microsites to build local relevance. Google will be able to pull that location information to return relevant results to users searching in that area.
He uses an SEO company based in Philadelphia as an example. "Look, there's this SEO company that's located in Philadelphia. They have all this web content about Philadelphia. Look at their GMB — it's located right in Philadelphia. They have these posts about Philadelphia. It must be right around Philadelphia. So those are the types of ways that you can effectively target those quote-unquote ‘near me’ keywords in an organic way."
Less scare tactics, more transparency and collaborative work.
When asked what other marketing agencies should do to build trust, this was Marc's reply.
“The average client is only with their SEO company for about 3 or 4 months. And I think the reason that they are is because people in the digital marketing world insist on keeping their clients in the dark. I don't want you to know what I'm doing or why I'm doing it or why it's important. I don't want you to know anything. I just want you to think that you need me to make your business successful.”
This belief is a core component of SEO Locale's vision. The son of a local business owner, Marc knows firsthand how big business exploits small, local enterprises. Marc's mission is to serve business owners, providing the best ROI for a competitive price — no gimmicks, no shady tactics.
As a result, most of SEO Locale's clients work with them for about a year. “What I have found is that the more transparent and open you are, the more simplistic you make your reporting, the more value that you can clearly show to the client, the more likely they'll be to continue to stay with you and appreciate that you're there to answer all their questions, walk them through what the SEO process is.”
He concludes, “There's not nearly enough of that kind of stuff.”
Unlock the rest of Marc's advice in the full episode
We've truly only scratched the surface of this insightful conversation. Check out the full episode to learn more about how Marc built and scaled his agency from the ground up.
Find The SMB Marketing Agency Show on Spotify, Apple, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for reading, listening, and subscribing! Stay tuned for the next episode, where Philip interviews Rankings.io's Chris Dreyer. We'll cover the highlights on the blog, so don't forget to check back next week.