Survey Findings From Growing Digital Marketing Agencies

Table of Contents

  1. Lead Generation
  2. Sales
  3. Scaling
  4. Retention
  5. Solving Difficult SEO and PPC Challenges with the Help of a Trusted Partner
  6. Get Started With a White Label SEO Service Today

Update: Digital marketing in 2020 has already been off to a fast start. We are two weeks into the New Year and Google has released its first major core update, January 2020 Core Update. Early data reports suggest that YMYL (your money, your life) niches got hit the hardest along with Online communities, Games, Arts & Entertainments.

When a new core update is released, it is inevitable that one of your clients will be affected. If you have strong relationships with your customers and set proper expectations initially, then you should be able to weather most algo storms with them. Section 5 of our Agency Growth Survey outlines solving difficult SEO challenges with a trusted partner. Check it out if your customers have been negatively impacted by this most recent update.

Original Publication:

The digital marketing industry is not entirely unique in its challenges: all businesses want to reach new customers, earn revenue, and maintain solid relationships with their clients. At Semify, our mission is to help small businesses achieve their dreams; that includes our direct clients (marketing agencies) and their clients (dentists, lawyers, manufacturers, plumbers, to name a few).

So, we asked: How do small digital marketing agencies build their businesses from the ground up? How do they generate leads, close sales, scale their operations, retain clients, and ultimately grow to become large, successful agencies? To find the answers, we surveyed over 200 digital marketing agencies around the globe, analyzed the data, and came to some very interesting conclusions.

Below you will find a compilation of the survey responses we received and some of our best tips gleaned from the agencies with the highest growth rate and the greatest annual revenue.

What are the biggest and best digital marketing agencies doing today? What can you do to reach your business's greatest potential? Let's find out!

Lead Generation


Regardless of revenue or growth rate, agencies' primary sources of leads are organic traffic (SEO) and referrals. Of all the agencies surveyed, 49.1% said that their main source of leads is referrals; 29.4% of agencies said organic search traffic brings in the majority of their leads.

In other words, marketing companies are relying heavily on their reputation to bring in new business. To keep referrals rolling in, you undoubtedly need to cultivate strong relationships with clients and provide excellent customer service. It's likely that agencies with high retention rates are able to fill the top of their sales funnel with consistent referrals.

Of all the respondents, 48.6% reported that they spend $1-$499 per month on SEO for their own website. Only 9% said they spend $500-$999, and another 9% said they spend $1,000 or more. But what's interesting is who is reporting these big SEO budgets. Let's take a look at our most successful agencies.

High Earners

Agencies with an annual revenue of $1 million to $5 million are also most likely to generate leads through referrals or organic traffic. According to the survey, 38.5% of these high revenue agencies cite organic search as their main source of leads; 34.6% cite referrals.

What's truly interesting is that 33% of our high earners ($1 million to $5 million agencies) spend $1,000 or more per month on SEO for their own sites, and 25% said they spend $500 to $999. Compare this to the 9% overall.

Fast Growers

Agencies with the fastest growth rate (>150%) had similar responses: 43.8% said their main source of leads is organic search, and another 43.8% said referrals.

However, it's important to note that our fast growers aren't spending as much on SEO. Half of agencies with growth rates greater than 150% spend only $1-$499 per month on SEO for themselves, and one-quarter don't have an SEO budget at all. Only 12.5% spent $1,000 or more on SEO per month.

Our Recommendation

Based on this data, we suggest that you invest in your website’s SEO to take your business to the next level. Getting your first 10 to 15 clients can be done mostly through referrals; however, it will take a solid SEO campaign to become a larger agency.


"One of our primary sources of leads at Discosloth, our search marketing agency, is publishing books on digital marketing topics like Google Ads or remote work: this provides us a unique benefit by being both difficult to scale, and a high barrier to entry. Our current goal for the next year is to increase our company revenue, and hire additional employees if needed. We plan on doubling down on our authoring and publishing strategy in the next year to help us get there." -- Discosloth

"As an eCommerce SEO agency, we're always working on content strategy for our clients, but often forget to do the same for ourselves. We are starting to see more traction now that we're implementing a content strategy using the same approach we do for our clients." -- PixelCutLabs

"I feel I've been doing business for a good amount of time, and even though I've been at this for about 10 years, there is still much to learn from others and their experiences. It's important to surround yourself with individuals that have walked the path you are trying to walk. From them you can learn from their failures, mistakes, and successes. After being in business for so long, I realized I relied heavily on referral based business. Although this has carried me for so long, this past year referrals just stop coming like they were previously. I didn't get my first new referral based client this year until August. I've learn the hard way that it is important to diversify your sales channels so that when one, isn't producing then you can rely on the others. Now I'm scrambling to make something happen when this could have been prevented if I would have took notice to the flaw I was making years ago and fix it. Now I know, and I am constantly sharing this with every entrepreneur that I know." -- Go Viral Marketing

"We struggle with lead generation, sales processes, and outbound sales. We feel the sales process needs to be extremely customized both to us and the client for it to be effective, and this means that running our sales processes as well as running the agency can get tough. We are in the process of either hiring a sales person or outsourcing it." -- VisualFizz Chicago Digital Marketing Agency

"We're your typical start-up Agency. We are very good at what we do for our Clients, which means we have less time to work on our own (internal) projects to promote But hey, as long as we keep generating business for our Clients and they are happy then the referrals keep coming." -- The Hunter Company

"These days I would say 90% of the customers I speak to all want the same thing. More Customers! That's great because that is exactly what I want for my business. You figure out how to do that for your clients and you can't miss!" -- Harmonia Media

"Generating leads for your own business is a continual struggle with agencies today and the number one thing that agencies don't seem to work on enough is actually generating their own leads through SEO. So if you focus upon ranking your own agency - it'll set you up to get the best type of leads possible - leads that find you through your own SEO services." -- Pearl Lemon

"The competitive landscape in the digital marketing industry continues to get more densely populated. To break through the noise it's imperative to provide every client with the best customer experience possible to gain referrals and maximize lifetime value. Clients have more choices and information on digital marketing services than ever before. Going above and beyond for them is a necessity to earn their continued business." -- Conversion Chasers

"Since a majority of our new business is from referrals, we know that testimonials and case studies are imperative to closing the deal with new clients. When potential clients actually 'see' the work we have done in a non-visual service industry, it helps them understand the business value we can provide them for their search engine marketing goals." -- Two Wheels Marketing

"With a volume of more than 4.5 Billion Euros in 2019, Romanian e-Commerce Market is one of the most competitive in the region. This is why, as a Romanian SEO agency, you struggle to become competitive or you disappear from the market. I think this is the secret of us surviving for the last 10 years, and this is why we don't specifically advertise for leads, as we mentioned, but prefer accomplishing the digital marketing projects at our best. We prefer satisfying our clients in order to get recommendations and leads." -- TUYA Digital

"On purpose, we don't spend money on advertising. In addition to social media (especially LinkedIn), outreach & PR - blogging is one of our main tools for attracting leads If you're a new agency or startup and want to explore digital marketing, I suggest you take this route too." -- Konta SEO

"We focus on providing a great customer service and building solid relationships with our clients. We then find these clients are more likely to give us referrals and these referrals have near perfect conversion rates as our clients have put in great recommendations. Within this we also educate our clients on the process of SEO so that they can be seen as an 'expert' when speaking to their own clients and contacts which then leads to the question of who their SEO agency is." -- Brick Digital

"As an industry leading dental marketing company, we had plenty of leads but in the past were failing to nurture and qualify them because we were so busy with client work. By adding a dedicated New Business Specialist and lead nurturing software in 2019, we have successfully captured more high quality leads in the past 6 months. Automation allowed us to add the virtual resources of a full time employee without paying for one." -- Golden Proportions Marketing

"Diversification of lead-generating traffic sources beyond organic search has become a priority for our agency. Most of our site traffic and inbound leads comes from organic search, however we realize the potential to grow in other channels, namely social and email." -- Captivate Search Marketing

"I deal with a great amount of service businesses. We wanted to integrate Facebook/Instagram Ads into our approach to SEO. It was a challenge to us as Facebook/Instagram presented no 'intent to buy' like SEO and PPC do. So how do you take a client's website and digital presence and use these social media channels to help SEO? This was a challenge that I'm glad to say we've been able to develop into a good methodology." -- Auxilia

"A challenge we are facing is implementing a strategy that helps us get more leads. We are going to be creating more content." -- Arize

"Using free resources is a gateway to a plethora of customer information. We offer useful resources such as guides or SEO audits for customer emails, and we are able to build up email lists that are targeted and qualified because of this." -- Top Shelf Media

"I am really good at closing a sale when it’s a referral lead or organic lead, however I don’t know where to start on cold calling and other lead generation." -- Outrun Studio

"Generating leads for digital marketing and web design clients can be a daunting task as there is so much competition and companies spamming email accounts on a daily basis. However, perseverance is key to success in growing a digital marketing agency. Think outside of the box to reach new clients that your competitors are not going after, or are neglecting because they focus on one niche." -- InSync Media

"Having an optimized and user friendly website has been one of our most successful lead magnets. We have a full website with as much information that we can think that a customer would want to know in order to make a decision." -- Bhoom Digital

"Lack of good leads from companies that have a legitimate digital design/marketing budget. Less than 5% of our leads are from companies that we really want to do business with." -- AutoWeb Technologies

"When you attempt to attract leads from midmarket companies and larger, the thought process often times is that tried and true online lead generation won't work. Instead, you need to network, ask for referrals, do tradeshows, etc. Over the past year, our commitment to creating resourceful blog content and then leveraging CTAs for gated resources has been the best conversion method for bringing our ideal clients into our pipeline. If your agency is having lead generation challenges, try increasing the amount of blog content you are creating and then leveraging CTAs like exit pop ups to collect more contacts." -- Direct Online Marketing

"As a Digital Marketing company, after 10 years of working, I believe that focusing on one niche for lead generation, getting clients on board works better in delivering concrete results and client retention. Being passionate about Fashion, we work with Fashion Professionals and Companies to manage their Digital Marketing." -- My Fashion Villa

"Lead Generation for my own agency seems to be very difficult at the moment. The market is very competitive, companies are offering reduced prices and many agencies have failed to get results leaving people very uncertain. My main issue is getting a meeting booked with the decision owner, however, once I am on the phone I am confident in converting the lead." -- Social Media Time

"Web design for more profitable niche industries can be challenging. With the majority of our business coming in the form a referral there is not a great way to funnel in the right type of business we want. That is due to the connections people have, they vary and they won't always be the niche we prefer to work with. To combat this, we have to make a greater effort to ask the clients in our preferred niche if they know of anyone else that might need our services in their industry. In addition we could do targeted marketing, but with enough opportunity in a relatively close proximity to our offices, calling or meeting them in a different way seems to work better … So, to get the best client for your business, you may not be able to take what comes to you, go get what you want … If you haven't determined what is your best client, figure that out first." -- Key Element Media

"Finding qualified leads are always a challenge." -- Sunrise Digital

"Online traffic doesn't matter unless you have a system for capturing and converting site visitors. While other agencies focus on driving more traffic, our emphasis is on maximizing the opportunities to convert that traffic into sales." -- Baer On Marketing

"After 25 years of just word of mouth referrals we are moving into advertising for our agency. One challenge is getting us to rank for search in a competitive market." -- Morales Design

"Lead generation of quality medical type clients." -- Pinnacle Medical Marketing

"Our challenge is scaling to increase overall firm revenue but doing so in a sustainable way as to maintain our quality standards as we bring on additional clients." -- Destiny Marketing Solutions

"The great part about investing in website search engine optimization for your company is that the monthly investment will pay dividends long after the work has been done. Whereas a pay-per-click campaign needs a similar monthly investment to get a similar monthly return, an SEO campaign will improve exponentially from month-to-month with the same amount of time, money, and energy invested into the campaign." -- Flying V Group

"We identified two very profitable advertising channels through sponsoring listing/review directories. We 4x'd our spend on those directories and have continued to see positive returns — not at the same levels before 4x'ing, but still positive. We use SEO and other organic-focused channels to support the paid channels. Our challenge has been keeping sales pipelines moving, and closing deals on time. We just hired a new sales director to help with that!" -- 3 Media Web

"Creating an infinite pool of warm leads is definitely our goal as a new agency moving into 2020. But it's by nurturing those leads we feel we'll really start seeing big results." -- MetrixSEO Ltd

"Become a specialist within a niche for fastest growth and roi." -- Beyond Marketing Solutions

"Local search is one area we really focus on. We want to ensure we keep gaining more knowledge in this area to expand the results we're currently getting. With Google Local, there are a lot of new things you can do (like posts) to help local companies and we're excited to keep learning more to help our small businesses marketing efforts grow." -- South Street & Co

"Client prospecting is the real challenge for freelancer and small agencies like us." -- Search Excel

"We are getting all our traffic now from SEO which is good but we are trying to generate leads from a webinar right now. So generating SEO leads from the webinar at the moment is our biggest challenge. We will get there but it will take us some time." -- SoftwareCy

"Attracting clients is hard. Too many agencies out there which do similar things." -- Shounak Gupte

"Having a strong focus in New York City, as well as deep experience and targeted campaigns for a limited number of niches like Fashion and Beauty helps ensure that the prospective clients we do speak with are a good fit for a tech PR agency. This approach is consistent spans our traditional media outreach, SEO, Social Media Marketing (and PPC)." -- AMP3 Public Relations



How do agencies close the deal? According to the survey, only 21.9% of all respondents have an outbound sales team; that's 78.1% of agencies who do not have an outbound sales team. But these agencies do have sales tools; in fact, 66.7% say they have case studies on their site to show to potential clients. And when leads are hot, agencies move quickly, with 54.8% saying they respond to new leads in less than four hours.

When it comes to best-selling products, SEO is the clear winner. A whole 40% of all agencies surveyed said SEO is their best-selling product. Web design and development came in second with 26.7% of agencies citing it as their best-selling product.

High Earners

Our $1 million to $5 million agencies were split, with 50% having an outbound sales team and 50% going without. Still, that's more with a sales team than the overall. A staggering 84.6% of these big agencies share case studies on their websites, and 80.8% respond to new leads in under four hours.

SEO is also the best-selling product for big agencies, with 53.8% citing SEO as their most popular product.

Fast Growers

Agencies with growth rates greater than 150% are less likely to have an outbound sales team: 12.5% said they have one, and 87.5% said they don't. Over half (56.3%) share case studies, and 87.5% respond to new leads in under four hours.

The best-selling product for fast growers is still SEO; 43.8% said it is their most popular product.

Our Recommendation

To keep up with the competition, share your successes on your site with a case study, respond to new leads quickly, and sell SEO -- it's a hot commodity!


"As a local Buffalo SEO company, we initially struggled to grow our client base. We went from months of drought to gaining new clients on a monthly basis, at a conversion rate of 35 to 40%, by focusing on some core principles: 1) Consistent, transparent, and value-driven communication across all channels. 2) Casual face to face meetings, talking about their business. 3) Replying to all communications within hours. 4) Being entirely consistent about your goals, values, and what you offer. It’s not flashy, but it creates a very human and authentic connection. Sometimes it’s useful to re-visit the classics." -- Virtual Visibility Media

"We are looking at ways to generate more recurring revenue streams. Website builds and video productions tend to be 'one and done'; we'd like to have ongoing relationships and ongoing work with more clients, which will involve supporting them in more capacities." -- Talk 19 Media

"This industry is a very competitive niche and what I believe is essential to succeed is to define a proper USP for your business. This might revolve around the cutting-edge technologies or best practices which you follow and thus it can help one stand out of the crowd." -- ThatWare

"Luckily, our biggest issue this year has been our inability to quote fast enough. We've received an influx of volume and we're having trouble getting back to everyone in a timely manner. When someone contacts us, we try to be as responsive as possible. But there's a lot of work that goes into providing an accurate quote and ensuring we're properly guiding our potential customers through our sales process. Right now our solution is just being transparent and so far it's working." -- Oyova

"As the cost of websites go down we must continue to find other services to provide for our clients. Digital marketing strategies provide that opportunity." -- Pink Dog Digital

"Qualified Leads - even with referrals the quality can range as can the timeframe. I also network a lot for leads and ask my subs-contractors or referral partners for leads besides asking clients." -- Brand Build

"A challenge our agency is facing is coming up with different service packages and pricepoints that will allow us to better match our clients' needs with the services and budgets we offer." -- ApricotLaw

"Sales should be the easiest part of running your agency. In 2018 Will Power Marketing was like every other agency out there. We offered 'SEO Audits' and got paid on retainers. In 2019 we changed everything and implemented an 'irresistible offer' and got paid on performance. We doubled in size inside of 6 months. If Sales is hard - fine tune your offer." -- Will Power Marketing

"One of the biggest challenges I face is getting potential clients to understand SEO companies and the huge benefit they can provide. I have a lot of clients that don't understand much about the internet so getting them to pay a high monthly budget can sometimes be difficult. I will show them all of the analytics from current clients to help them understand, but still some people are very reluctant." -- Danner Digital

"Differentiating OttawayDigital from other SEO companies, as now most ad agencies in US morph into SEO agencies. Buyers are confused due to major differences in levels of experience, services included, fees, physical location of SEO company, among other things. It's become a cottage industry here and attracted lots of foreign competition as well. It all adds up to being a bit overwhelming for buyers who do not have a high degree of marketing savvy." -- OttawayDigital

"The biggest challenge at the King Web Agency is finding new web design clients. Many local businesses already have websites, but lack the education to really understand why their current site is flawed or that it could perform better if developed by a professional. As such, creating educational content to nurture these prospects and deliver it to them out in the marketplace is a challenge." -- King Web Agency

"Improving our lead follow up process has helped build our client base. Its been a challenge to put a solid process in place take transitioning a lead to a new client. A sales team could help with that." -- Atlanta Web Design

"Convincing clients that it is better and cheaper to use a digital marketing agency vs hiring in house." -- Godaddy Dave

"Finding new clients as an SEO company in Orlando is getting increasingly harder as more and more companies enter the field. Potential prospects are bombarded daily with options for digital marketing and figuring out how to make your firm stand out will always be a challenge." -- Big Wave Business Solutions

"Prioritize clients with good and noble causes and give discounts or free service to those who need them. We love helping clients who help make our city better so we volunteer our web design in Louisville to non-profits." -- Design Web

"We are in the process of niching down and while I know it's the right thing to do, it's proving more difficult to nail the approach and the language we should be using. However, we're moving in the right direction and hope to have several topic clusters by the end of the year." -- PHNX21

“People need to have options. These are freebies people would gladly exchange an email address for. These incentives should be relevant to the niche. The best options are not downloadables. For example, I have several exclusive member-only groups for people who get on my email list. One of these is a Community Pinterest board. People love “exclusive” groups.” -- Mostly Blogging



Many agencies have a hard time scaling, though quite a few are able to do so with the help of white label companies. In fact, of all the agencies surveyed, 39.5% outsource web design and development, and 38.6% outsource SEO. An additional 26.7% outsource PPC.

Over half of all respondents (53.8%) plan on hiring in the next six months.

High Earners

The agencies with the greatest revenue are less likely to outsource; 46.2% said they do not outsource any services. However, they have also been in business longer: 53.8% are over 10 years old. And they have more full-time employees: 38.5% have 11 to 30 employees. Compare this to the overall: 45.7% of all respondents have been in business one to five years, and 69% have three or fewer full-time employees. It's possible to conclude that these high earners are less likely to outsource because they have more resources and a better-established team available in-house.

And these high earners are still building their in-house teams; 88.5% said they plan on hiring in the next six months.

Fast Growers

Just under one-third (31.3%) of quickly growing agencies do not outsource any services, but 56.2% of these agencies outsource web design and development, and 43.8% outsource SEO. Keep in mind that the agencies with a growth rate greater than 150% are smaller: 93.8% have three or fewer full-time employees. They are also younger companies: 68.8% have been in business one to five years and none of them have been around for more than 10 years.

When it comes to team growth, 43.8% said they plan on hiring in the next six months; another 43.8% do not plan on hiring, and 12.5% were not sure.

Our Recommendation

If you want to jump-start your growth, outsource some of your services. By leaving operations to a highly skilled and experienced team, you can fulfill your current clients' needs while also focusing on your own marketing and sales.


"Our agency is in a growth phase. We are facing the challenge of deciding whether to hire an in-house sales team or hire SDRs that work as contractors and simply make calls. We believe that hiring properly will be critical to our future success. -- HighMark SEO

"Owning a SEO company in Charlotte, NC myself, I understand that starting and operating an agency is a pretty difficult task. If you're a new agency, I'd recommend helping out one of your friend's businesses for a lower cost to refine your methods and processes. Hopefully within 6-12 months you can create a case study, best practices, and have documented procedures so that you can replicate your success.” -- BartX Digital

"I am currently getting about all the business I can handle. My biggest challenge is to expand my bandwidth so I can offer more services and move work through the production process more quickly. I am currently speaking with a possible partner to join the business.” -- New Paradigm Marketing

“Outsourcing outbound sales has been a huge help, and allowed me to focus on other sales activities.” -- Bartoli Consulting Group

"Years ago we made the strategic decision to focus on seo for attorneys and related services including website design and development for that specific niche. This decision has allowed us to hone our expertise in this area while streamlining our product and service offering which has lead to significant growth in clients, revenue, and profit." -- Trighton Interactive

“One of the challenges we face is establishing processes and protocols for emerging digital marketing initiatives.” FireRock Marketing

“Our constant challenge is juggling the hours we devote to enabling growth for our clients vs the time necessary to grow our own business. Each track adds immense value for our business, but it can be a challenge to drive both paths forward simultaneously.” -- cSocially Media

"It's easy to fall into the trap of being a one-size-fits-all digital marketing agency. The greatest challenge we face as an SEO agency is specializing in one service for a specific group of people, and not venturing outside that area of expertise. In our case, our specialty is local SEO for healthcare providers.” -- Mammoth Web Solutions

"The key to growing a growth marketing agency is having the right systems in place and the right people to execute and innovate on those systems.” -- GrowthHit

“I'm having a hard time finding a reliable company to outsource client SEO to. I've lost a few clients from outsourcing to companies that cannot deliver what they promise.” -- Digifly Marketing

“As a rapidly growing digital marketing agency in Portland, Oregon we discovered early on that the #1 inhibitor to us bringing on the maximum number of new clients were our processes. Over the last 6 months we've invested a great deal of effort and resources in improving our systems; which include on-boarding, project management, and client reporting to name a few. By making this investment we believe we've safeguarded ourselves from dropping any balls and letting our valued clients down in any way. Those systems also allow us to scale more rapidly and continue our growth without overwhelming our team.” -- Lithium Marketing

"Its hard to find qualified SEO and PPC candidates to hire to help relieve some of the load we have because they don't teach everything needed in most marketing or web design programs. 10/10 applicants for SEO and PPC are self-taught, in our experience.” -- VisionFriendly

"Our focus for scaling is based upon on Project Management System. We are primarily an SEO Agency -- so much of what we do is opaque, it is critical that our clients get updated (via email) anytime we do ANYTHING on their project. We work hard to flesh out systems that can be duplicated in our PMS.” -- One Click SEO

“Trying to grow my agency and deal with social media of my own is near impossible. It's a chicken and egg situation where I always favour getting sales in instead of worrying about my own SEO.” -- Realisma Digital Agency

“I don't have time to prospect or follow-up with leads, so growth is consistently slow paired with limited time to fulfill orders; the bottleneck is me but I don't know how to resolve it without significant outlay (i.e. hiring a full-time prospector). I've outsourced many times in the past but the quality is always inconsistent which makes it unnerving to hire out.” -- IgniteMX Digital Design and Marketing

“Finding a balance between client acquisition and doing the actual work behind it is a struggle for me. I am in the works of getting an outbound sales team together to help in this regard.” -- Bunn Brands

“The only real challenge I have been facing that has been frustrating is dealing with the constant changes that are being made to social media platforms. I have a good process and then every few months things change and I have to develop new strategies.” -- Brett Baughman

"As our agency grows, our processes continue to expand and grow with us. This presents a unique opportunity for our whole team to work together to problem-solve and create solutions. While having outdated processes can be frustrating and time consuming, we also know, at the end of the day, that we are able to work together to make our digital agency more efficient.” -- Deprigo

"We need to create better processes and systems and put the right people in place to excel in their role. We wouldn't be able to take on a ton of new clients without doing this.” -- Healthcare Digital Marketing

"When it comes to the successful onboarding of a digital marketing project, the most crucial step is to ensure you have as much alignment as possible with your client before terms of service are finalized - not only hard goals like KPI's, but also with the desires and fears of project owners, and upcoming changes within the organization. The hours this adds in the sales process is well worth the months of dependability and more predictable, trusted revenue it provides.” -- C1 Partners

"Our digital marketing team has grown significantly recently. The prior years, we had approximately 3-4 employees. Now upwards of 10-12 so we are experiencing growing pains and attempting new strategies.” -- Code Authority

“Biggest challenge is balancing growth in sales with actual marketing. The more and faster we grow, the less time we spend marketing ourselves. It's likely that if we marketed more we could bring in higher value clients, which is the catch-22.” -- Web Upon

“One of our biggest challenges is finding the time to blog. We have tried outsourcing the writing before, it's challenging to find someone who has enough expertise in our field to actually write thoughtfully and accurately on current topics. We should take our own advice: find time for marketing -- Fisher Green Creative

“A challenge we face that we plan on improving is blogging for our website, bc we have a small staff all of our time and efforts go to our clients & staying updated with the current trends” -- TECHsan Media

“When do we hire? That is the question. We need to have more bodies in order to grow, but do we have enough work? Will we get enough to sustain?” -- O’Mara Marketing & Media

“I am in a growth phase so my challenge is staffing up while having the time to keep the sales pipeline moving.” -- MRN Web Designs

The challenge is scaling social media marketing while maintaining fresh, consistent and relevant content creation. Clients demand focus on great design and interaction. We meet this demand by providing the social media support needed to engage customers, suppliers and employees. -- Panorama Press

"One challenge we face in our agency is finding time to work on our own internal projects while maintaining the work for our clients. We would like to have more time to spend, ironically, on improving own website design, onpage SEO, and write more blog posts. Luckily, most of our clients come to us via referral or word of mouth. Between working on multiple client projects, lead generation and prospecting for our own agency, and internal business activities (such as hiring, etc.), the unfinished work on our website often gets pushed back for more pressing client related tasks.” -- One Thing Marketing

"We are a new agency that is working on systems that allow the best experiences for our clients and our company to achieve our clients goals. During our experience, we have seen that creating an efficient and customer oriented process has lead to more referrals and customers coming back for further services. However, continuous prospecting and attaining more sales was a challenge and we are currently re-structuring our system to make all this automated.” -- Create By Influence

“Few things have been as important to our success as a thorough and efficient onboarding process. That process gives the client all the information they'll need, and gets all the information we'll need from the client to be able to serve them properly.” -- Search Commander, an Internet Consultant

"Our biggest challenge is time. It is hard to justify taking time away from paying clients to work on our own brand and processes, however, we understand it is necessary. Part of our initiative this year is to do a better job with our brand as well.” -- South Made, a Knoxville SEO Company

“Concerning our client onboarding process, one of the challenges we often face is the issue of client education. Many clients who come to us have limited knowledge of SEO, PPC, and social media advertising, and helping our clients exactly what these things are and how they work is frequently a struggle.” -- 1SEO I.T. Support & Digital Marketing.

"We did try to scale this year and it didn't exactly go very well. This is because we didn't have our processes and SOP's as well thought-out and documented as we'd hoped. So we are putting a significant effort into improving those for the remainder of the year and we'll try hiring a few more people again around the new year.” -- Visualab Design

"The biggest challenge we have right now is finding reliable help. We've tried some contractors in the past, with varied results. Some people follow through with what they say they will do and are easy to work with. Others fail to do what they say they will do, or deliver half-hearted work. Finding a good team of people who can pitch when needed is one of our main priorities for 2020, so we can deliver monthly results for more clients.” -- Lockedown Design & SEO

"Our main challenge in growth is having a well rounded scalable marketing strategy to bring in the right type of customers for our agency. We are a small agency that offers bespoke strategy for service based businesses, and we do not take on any customer. This makes it easier to manage our customers but harder to find the right type of customer. We also choose our customers based on their values and how they run their business. If they are passionate about their business they close the leads they get through SEO our partnership works well. With that in mind our challenge is to communicate our services to the right people at the right time, as well as work out which leads are worth investing in and then nurturing those leads to use our service. This is where we would like to focus our attention in the year to come.” -- Local Web



According to a recent study from Harvard Business Review, more than 80% of surveyed executives said that an increased focus on onboarding offers "significant or moderate positive impact" over the life of the contract, and 85% agreed that successful customer onboarding ensures long-term customer loyalty. Our survey showed that many agencies agree: 63.8% of agencies we surveyed have a formal client onboarding process.

Customer service seems to be a high priority for our respondents as well: 77.1% engage with their clients on social media.

To ensure recurring work, 46.7% of all the agencies surveyed offer only subscription-based digital marketing plans; 27.1% offer some subscription-based plans and some a-la-carte plans.

High Earners

Agencies with annual revenue between $1 million and $5 million are highly likely to have a formal client onboarding process: 76.9% said they have one.

The same number of high revenue agencies engage with clients on social media, demonstrating that customer service is likely a high priority.

The majority of our high earners (61.5%) also offer only subscription-based digital marketing plans, while 19.2% offer some subscriptions, and another 19.2% offer a-la-carte plans only.

Fast Growers

Of the agencies with a growth rate greater than 150%, half have a formal client onboarding process and half do not.

Like high earners, fast-growing agencies are likely to engage with clients on social media: 56.3% say they do.

Fast growers also tend to lean towards subscription-based plans, with 68.8% saying their digital marketing plans are subscription-based.

Our Recommendation

To grow quickly, set up subscription-based digital marketing plans, ensuring recurring revenue month after month. To keep customers coming back, build strong relationships with your clients -- this starts with a formal onboarding process that sets proper expectations. And to make sure your clients stay on board for the long haul, provide excellent customer service, including engagement on social media. Be open to feedback and show you care.


“One pain point for our agency is client retention, especially when we lose clients for reasons that are beyond our control. In many instances, we lose clients during/after acquisitions and when our main point of contact leaves and is replaced by someone who wants to bring in their own dental marketing company or individual.” -- Redefine Marketing Group

"We’re an agile agency that puts a ton of emphasis on being transparent and educating our clients for search engine optimization for small businesses. This is great for retaining current business but we’re constantly working on content management and its role in bringing in new business. Inbound marketing never ends for us but it’s a challenge for sure." -- Agency Jet

“The largest challenge VRG Web Design faces is client retention. At some point, every client thinks that they do not need SEO, as it is difficult to quantify an ROI for search where there is no specific KPI tying the results to a particular campaign. However, this also creates an opportunity to sell social marketing and PPC.” -- VRG Web Design

"Project based work can be tough to maintain and the entire industry seems to be moving away from the retainer model. This results in a lot more ups and downs and less stability overall for the business.” -- Dragon Social

“Companies must understand that they MUST drive clear value today. Make sure your agency sets clear expectations with your clients, perception is everything!” -- Let’s Get Optimized

"Customer retention or rate of churn, linked to a knowledge of total lifetime customer value are key indicators for a business to report on as KPI metrics. If your churn level is too high all of your sales and marketing efforts are only going to enable you to stand still and not grow. Learn more about how an experienced digital agency can help with this” -- Whitehat SEO

"Our Agency's biggest challenge is capturing ROI with our clients. Specifically with SEO and PPC services. We find most clients don't have a well-developed means of tracking ROI. The clients who do well tracking ROI are using a CRM. Now we encourage our clients to implement a CRM if they do not use one. We have started offering CRM implementation services as a result of this challenge.” -- Metro Annex Interactive - Your Digital Marketing Agency

“Increasingly we are finding businesses want to take their digital marketing in-house. This poses challenges of advising on the benefits of using an agency instead or alongside an internal marketing team.” -- Novi Digital

Solving Difficult SEO and PPC Challenges with the Help of a Trusted Partner


The results in this survey were no surprise to anyone at Semify, as we talk to agency owners about these very same challenges every single day for the past 11 years. The sheer complexity of running a run-of-the-mill agency is daunting; however, agency owners we work with are not satisfied owning a run-of-the-mill digital agency. They want to run an agency that is performing in the top 5% of all agencies. That takes discipline, hard work, and an extensive knowledge of the industry coupled with the resources to tackle a diverse set of challenges.

The simple fact is that many agencies simply do not have the resources and/or time to solve so many complex issues simultaneously. For agencies that are under-resourced, we highly recommend that you look into utilizing a white label SEO service program like Semify. A white label digital marketing provider can help take lower priority/margin activities off your plate, which allows you to focus on what you do best and what will create the biggest impact for your agency going forward. It is extremely liberating to know that you have a trusted partner who has your back and will take care of the mundane tasks of link-building, blogging, and PPC management while you focus on growing your business the way you intended when you started out.

Our Recommendation

Hire a white label SEO service. At Semify, we take special pride in leveling the playing field for our resellers. We do this by providing high-quality deliverables normally only available to Enterprise level clients and make them available and affordable for the small business market that our agency partners sell into.

Another benefit of working with a national white label SEO service provider is that we act as a clearinghouse for ideas. Agencies from all over the country share their best practices, ideas, and strategies with us, and when given permission, we share those with our entire community.

If you follow one piece of advice in this article, we advise you to focus on what will make your company great. If you do, it is our sincere belief that you will have a prosperous 2020.

Some Final Tips/Challenges Faced by Agencies

“At The Loop Marketing, we do Content Marketing and have implemented a CRM not just to keep track of customers and opportunities, but to manage relationships with content influencers and collaborators. We feel that one of the biggest challenges in 2020 is going to be nurturing the valuable relationships which promote opportunities to share great content. Those who are using automation to 'personalize' their link requests are becoming too ubiquitous and easy to identify. We are investing in real relationships to get real results.” - The Loop Marketing

“SEO in particular is a moving target. As a digital agency, our rankings obviously matter a ton. If you're looking for an SEO firm, it makes sense to find one that ranks well itself. That means a significant time investment for us. There are no 'tricks' to SEO. You can't fool Google. The only way to rank is to produce really good content really often. Fortunately, we have a number of writers on staff who are able to share the workload. But I can imagine how a smaller agency would have difficulty keeping up with everything that needs to be produced.” -- Altitude Marketing

"Competing in search engines can be a steep challenge, especially when there is always someone with a larger ad budget than you. But rest assured it is very possible to win with long term investment in great web design and content strategy, having clear processes in place, and most of all keeping a focus on user experience at every step of the customer lifecycle.” -- Ayokay

"There's an overall perception by small business owners today that believe that digital marketing should be cheap/free. I'm not sure if it's that they don't know enough about it so their perceived value is low or that they see influencers making money off free social media accounts. But when I started in advertising 20 years ago, even small businesses understood that they needed to spend money to make money. They were willing to throw thousands out per month in yellow page advertising, but now they scrape to put money into SEO or PPC? It's very frustrating when they don't see that this is the yellow pages and more , therefore being much more valuable.” Marketing Magnitude, Las Vegas Search Engine Optimization Company

“If you think simply blogging is good for SEO, you're doing it wrong.” -- JSB Collaborative

"One issue we are facing is increasing monthly costs for local seo clients who have been with us for a long time. We typically have not raised their monthly fees, though some are now paying below our preferred monthly minimum. Raising rates can be difficult, especially for those who have not dealt with increasing fees in the past. Keeping the rates the same could mean those clients receive less attention and assets.” -- IntegrateDigitalMarketing

"As a small boutique agency specializing in email marketing and SEO for ecommerce stores, we face a lot of challenges new agencies are facing. From the lead generation, using a funnel or not, running ads or just doing outbound. What works and what is currently working is outbound marketing. Going out there and analyzing potential clients' websites, then reaching out to them directly on email and telling them what needs to be fixed. We like bringing up the competitors, because it always pushes people to respond to out initial emails. Quality outbound outreach works like wonders, it takes time and effort, but it works when you don't have a full sales team in place.” -- Bright Leads Media

“A game changer for us and our clients in 2019 has been focusing on Strategy. At the end of the day, having a great strategy is the #1 factor for business growth and success. For example, many companies in your space have SEO and PPC what determines the ones who are profitable and get the best results? 9 times out of 10 it is the strategy and not the execution. Execution is cheap and can be outsourced easily around the globe..knowing WHAT to execute on remains the secret sauce that provides the most value to our clients.” -- Lahav Media, a Denver SEO Consultant

"One tip I have is to use call tracking phone numbers to see the success of ad campaigns. Surprisingly, many agencies still aren't using these and it can make a big difference!” -- Website Tigers

"Even though Technical SEO is relatively a new term, provides the foundation for the whole SEO as it's responsible for the entire structure, quality, and discoverability of a website. The best content campaign and all of the link building efforts won't matter if your website is technically incapable of adequately handling Googlebot, its structure doesn't support the ranking signals flow, or it loads 20 seconds. Make sure your website is safe and sound from the Technical SEO perspective to make your other digital marketing efforts count!" -- Onely

“When it comes to SEO, results vary. I hate selling a client on SEO, seeing them dump a bunch of money into it, then not seeing any ROI. That's why I've started just doing basic on-site SEO, and coupling it with Paid advertising.” -- Next Up

"Finding affordable, high-quality SEO/PPC specialists is extremely challenging. The reality is that anyone with a working formula has no reason to discount their services. The only solution (as a small business owner) is to dig in, test a bunch of different strategies, and figure out how to make it work. The beauty of running a graphic/digital agency, however, is that as soon as you solve any of the above, it immediately becomes a high-value service you can then showcase and offer to clients. The epitome of rags to riches!” -- Logo Coast

“I use a 360 degree camera to take a picture for GMB - it's a great way to help rank local businesses.” -- SEM By Design

“We are a digital marketing and website designing company in Delhi. The biggest challenge we experience in the course of running digital marketing campaigns for our clients is to get quality backlinks in high DA websites without any link-exchange fee.” -- ICO WebTech

“Clients who invest in both SEO and PPC as a coordinated strategy achieve the greatest results. We encourage each new client to focus on technical SEO and proper analytics tracking before we begin implementing more content and advertising based strategies. Each business is unique, each problem challenging, and having the ability to set each client up for success and grwoth gives us great satisfaction as a digital marketing agency.” -- White Hat Ops

“Guest blogging is a key aspect to any content marketing strategy. Nearly any business can benefit from contributing to other websites through worthwhile guest posts that actually hold value. Avoid creating spammy articles, and load up your piece with knowledge and tactics to help solve a problem. Don't be concerned with the links you're getting, be concerned with actually helping the user and solving their issue.” -- Top Shelf Media

"We notice that clients often guest blog on non related websites. Those backlinks have a lower value than those from websites related to your service or product offering.” -- BroadVision Marketing

"SEO is a data-driven endeavor. While there are creative aspects (to be sure) there are measurable, empirical methods of determining whether or not the efforts of an SEO agency are working. It's about the organic non branded rankings. Granted, there are plenty of other key performance indicators as well, but rankings are still one of the biggest indicators of SEO services working. Make sure analytics are set up properly, conversions are measured and report on the ROI of SEO, along with keyword ranking data. Make sure that the reports show how much traffic a keyword is bringing, what landing pages the are interacting with and how many of visits convert into a sale. That way you can put a clear dollar value to each keyword.

This type of and insights is valued by clients, builds trust and leads to increased retention rates.” -- Spokane SEO Service

"Are blogs still going to grab attention and be relevant in 2020? This is the flooded question that has been saturating the internet for years. We don't think the challenge is keeping our data relevant, up to date and interesting. Let's keep in mind that the average person spends around 37 seconds reading your article. With this small amount of time your visitor is on your website, the challenge is: How can we keep visitors on our website longer without writing long form articles? In today's world simply reading text is not enough.” -- TurnkeyWebsiteHub

"For local service based businesses adding schema markup is a must and offers a huge competitive advantage. We use ratings schema markup for all our clients and have seen a huge CTR boost and an overall increase in highly qualified traffic, which has led to an increase in leads and really happy clients. The best part is that hardly anyone else is using schema markup, so it's an easy win.” -- Digital Envy

“We are pleased with the improved quality of geolocation mobile advertising and believe it is the holy grail for mobile and digital if permitted to grow without further regulation concerns.” -- geolocation advertising tip provided by Bob at Purple Gator

“Always try and find something you do better than anyone else. For us it's Google My Business and maps rankings. Then think of the client that could use that service the most. An even better answer to that question is what are people 100% going to be using more of in the future than they are now? Try to work with clients that fall under that answer.” -

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