Marcus Clarke dabbled in websites for fun back in the day, but it wasn’t until he started learning about SEO in 2010 that he had a lightbulb moment. Once a site he had started to make a bit of money, he went all in and started doing freelance SEO and eventually worked in-house at an agency.
Marcus decided to take the things he learned and start his own company. Searchant was created in 2018. Today he serves 40 different clients, employs 50 people, and is bringing in up to $100k per month.
Keep reading to find out:
- How his SEO journey began
- What important lessons he learned at the agency
- Why he decided to launch his own business
- How he feels about SEO reports
- What he believes truly moves the needle in SEO
- His top marketing strategies
- How he approaches keyword research
- His views on link building
- The resources that have inspired him
- His biggest challenge
- His greatest accomplishment
- The main mistake he’s made
- His advice for other entrepreneurs
Meet Marcus Clarke
I’ve been involved in SEO for over a decade now. That includes just playing around with my own blogs, then going into freelance work, then working in-house, and eventually starting up my own business.
The first website I ever created was probably around 1998 when I was still at school and coded a website from scratch for my school friends’ gaming clan, but it wasn’t until around 2010 that the idea of SEO started to dawn on me and I realized that getting visitors was a big thing and could eventually be monetized.
Around that time I created numerous hobby websites and tried to monetize with Adsense, about the only thing that I remember it was possible to monetize with back then.
None of those websites really ever took off until I started studying psychology and created a blog alongside that to document what I was learning, as a little side hustle.
That blog went live around 2012, and after a few years of being more of a personal learning journal as I learned more about actual SEO from the likes of Niche Pursuits, it began to grow, get good traffic, and, more importantly, make some money.
His SEO Journey Begins
That was the real, first success that kickstarted my SEO journey and opened my eyes to possibilities. It wasn’t a success by the standards of today’s affiliate site owners, but at its peak, it was hitting $1k/month. As I gave up on a career in psychology, I didn’t hold onto the site for too much longer and sold it off soon after.
From there I went on to dip my toes into the world of freelance SEO while I was working other jobs, and I eventually landed an in-house SEO job.
That SEO job was another big eye-opener for me as it taught me important lessons about business. I was also extremely lucky to have the 2 best bosses I’ve ever had in any job at that position who provided encouragement to go on and eventually start out my own SEO consultancy, and that’s when Searchant was born in 2018.
Since then, Searchant has been my sole focus and my full-time endeavor.
Why He Created Searchant
There were various reasons. When I was in-house I worked with a bunch of agencies and saw how clueless they were, how little impact they drove, and how much they charged.
The most eye-opening part of that for me was just how it was kind of accepted.
At the receiving end of an SEO agency, all I saw were reports and talk of strategy, with very little time left to actually implement any work. Since then I’ve always had a funny relationship with monthly SEO reports, as I’m still waiting to see one that would tell me anything that I can’t decipher from Google Analytics, if traffic is increasing, and if we’re making more money. SEO reports can be stuffed with vanity metrics and rankings that don’t add to the bottom line.
To me needle-moving work in SEO, just 3 things are necessary:
- Technical SEO – This can, quite often, just be a one-off or annual project
- Content – Improving existing content and creating new content (focusing on the bottom of the funnel first, and mid-top once the bottom is “complete”)
- Link building – I still refer to it as link building despite its infinite rebrands, but essentially it is still the same thing—getting other good quality, real and relevant websites to link back to yours.
If you do those 3 things correctly and for long enough, then it’s only a matter of time until the amount of traffic you get from Google will increase. This is the framework we take with all of our clients.
How Much Money Marcus is Making
I don’t want to be too exact, and things fluctuate, but we’re in the $50-100k/month ballpark. These days 99% of our revenue is from client SEO, our own internal projects used to make up 10-20% of revenue, but they have really been neglected recently.
We had a pretty slow ramp-up and were stuck at $10-20k for around 1.5 years. Then things just really took off and it probably took another 6-12 months to hit our current level.
We currently have around 40 clients of various sizes, ranging from local clients to multinationals.
Our internal projects mainly consist of good old affiliate websites that are somewhat treated as test or training projects.
For example, if we want to test something out that’s a bit riskier, we would do it on one of these sites, or if a new team member needs training on something, they generally use these sites before being signed off to work on clients’ live sites.
His Top Marketing Strategy
It probably sounds very obvious, but I really think the best marketing strategy is just to do a great job for the clients that you have. If you do that and get them some big wins, then that means a couple of things:
- They’ll tell other people and you’ll get referrals
- You can use what you did for them as case studies
I actually think even more important is that once you have some solid client results, you just have more confidence in selling your services and you can talk from a place of experience.
Something we’ve done recently is partner with other businesses that work with our ideal client type, such as PPC agencies. It’s often a win-win for the other agency and their clients if they can refer an SEO agency that they trust.
Despite what you may read though, it’s not easy to establish these kinds of partnerships and build that trust; it takes a lot more time than you might think.
The Importance of SEO
Up until the last few months, we have really neglected SEO for our own site, simply because we were growing extremely well without it. But we have recently started to invest in our own SEO and started seeing results in under 3 months with qualified leads starting to come in, I definitely regret leaving it for so long!
I generally start keyword research in one of two ways:
- Content gap analysis – Looking at keywords that competitors are ranking for that we are not
- Looking at major websites in the industry and filtering down by sections, keyword difficulty, or other metrics to start finding some “seed” keywords
Once seed keywords are established, we then usually go broader to make sure we get full coverage of keywords across the main topic buckets before eventually zooming back in and coming up with a finalized content plan.
We’re in the trenches with SEO day in and day out, and as far as our observations go, link building is still a very important piece of the puzzle.
We have evolved the kind of link building we do and these days we rely on extremely high-quality linkable assets, such as industry stats posts, which naturally attract authentic links and PR-style links with a combination of things like HARO and digital PR to gain top-tier links.
We find that a combination of industry-relevant links from linkable assets and top-tier links moves the needle faster than any other combination.
Marcus’s Content Creation Process
It’s pretty comprehensive, but it’s taken a long time to get that way. The short version is that we go through a pretty rigorous process of keyword research, keyword clustering, and prioritization. Once keywords are agreed upon, the content we create has a detailed 2-page brief that looks at the content from an SEO perspective and also an outline perspective.
Once we’re happy with a brief, the article is finally ready to be written.
His Top Resources
It really depends on what stage you’re at. In the beginning, I listened to a wider range of podcasts than I do today. For example, I would listen to entrepreneur, business, mindset, and SEO podcasts.
My philosophy was if I could extract just 1 or 2 useful takeaways per week from any or all of those different areas, that would expedite my plans then it would be totally worth it, and it definitely was!
It’s easy to overcomplicate business and try to do something totally new. You obviously want to put your spin on things, but most problems you have someone else has already solved, and for me that’s the purpose that educating yourself through podcasts serves.
The other side of that is mindset and motivation. It’s motivating to hear of people who are 2x or 10x ahead of you.
Here are my top 5 from back then; today my selection is a little more random!
1) SEO 101 – I’ve not listened to this for a few years now, but back when I was starting out this provided so much detail and analysis of important SEO topics. Clients will ask you all sorts of things and this was a great way to build up solid knowledge.
2) Niche Pursuits podcast – When I was starting out, it was very motivating to hear of other people’s successes.
3) Authority Hacker – Another obvious one, and I’d pair these with Niche Pursuits; if you like one, they’re probably both a great listen for you.
4) Systemology – While I have a long way to go, over the last couple of years this book has been an important part of scaling my business.
5) The Daily Stoic – Running a business is pretty insane at times. I’ve always felt naturally stoic and relaxed about difficult situations, but this is a good reminder about what is and is not in your control and about perseverance.
His Favorite Tools
I like Asana for task management, Notion for systems documentation, and G Suite as we do everything in Google docs, sheets, etc., and could not collaborate with it.
Marcus’s Biggest Challenge
The hardest thing for me is the transfer of knowledge, which could also be called a people or hiring issue. You really don’t know how much you know (it’s a lot) about something until you start trying to explain it to someone with no experience.
Documenting systems and processes is tough and it takes time and patience to transfer your knowledge to the rest of your team.
It’s a fairly painstaking process, but you find over time it buys you hours back every day.
I would also say it’s important to stop being a control freak over every little detail, which is very difficult to do as a business owner.
His Greatest Accomplishment
My main accomplishment is simply running a business that is successful, and people (I hope) like working with, and for.
We currently have a team of around 50 and that’s a combination of full-time, part-time, consultants, and freelancers.
What He Wishes He Knew When He Started
I think limiting beliefs are a real danger. You grow up with the ideas of what a salary might be. But in business, if you’re working in an area with demand and you can deliver good results, you can 10x what you might have earned for doing a similar role employed, or eventually 100x as your business matures.
His Main Mistake
I regret not giving up more control sooner and investing in people. This is still an issue for me.
My advice for anyone in the same predicament would be to break up your bigger tasks into smaller tasks, document those, and start giving them away.
His Advice for Other Entrepreneurs
I’m a big fan of @visualizevalue on Twitter and I’ve had this as the background image on my desktop and phone for a couple of years now. I think it explains everything about my mindset and the mindset required for long-term success.
I guess the image might mean different things to different people, but to me, it represents just being relentless and always finding a way to succeed. If you want to be successful in the long term, you have to get used to failing regularly and using those as learning opportunities and fuel to keep going and come back stronger.
Ultimately, my principle is that what we are doing is not so complicated and that for 99% of the projects we’re working on, there’s always a way to make it succeed, it might just take 1 or 100 iterations.