There are concepts that, when you understand them, change the way you look at the world.
For me, one of those concepts is white labelling.
Back in the day, I worked for a pet insurance company. It was at that company that I learned about white labelling – our company sold a wide variety of pet insurance products, all branded with the names of different companies I knew well. A couple were branded as products from other insurance companies. One was even branded with the name of a national grocery chain.
I learned the power of white labelling at that job. I learned that companies who knew nothing about pet insurance could associate their brand with cute and cuddly animals, all while expanding their services into a market that they could never touch, otherwise.
When you know about white labels, you start seeing them everywhere. From the over-the-counter drugs you see branded with your favourite chain pharmacy’s brand name, to the software your accountant is using, chances are you’ve encountered white labelling without even knowing it.
This is the ultimate guide to one specific type of white labelling: white label SEO. You’re about to learn a lot about both white labelling and SEO, so buckle in.
We might just change the way you look at the world.
What is white label SEO?
White label SEO is an SEO product specifically designed for marketing agencies. You’ll sometimes hear white label SEO described as SEO reselling – there’s a subtle difference between the two, but we’ll get into that later.
To understand what white label SEO is, you first need to understand the two terms separately: white label products, and SEO.
What is a white label product?
At this point, you’ve probably guessed what white labelling is, but let’s spell it out in more explicit terms:
White label products are goods or services sold by one party, but provided by a third party. The goods or services provided display the seller’s brand, not the third-party provider’s.
Why is it called a white label product?
The provider of the product is selling their services to multiple, different resellers – they provide them with the product and a “white label” on which branding can be displayed.
In other words, it’s all the same product (sort of – we’ll get into this later), but offered by different resellers under different brand names. The act of providing a generic product to which a brand can be affixed is called “white labelling”.
Why do businesses white label?
There are several reasons for businesses to white label, but the simplest one is this: they want to offer a product or service that they don’t have the ability to deliver on their own.
They also want that product to be associated with their brand, so they can appeal to certain customers they might have a hard time moving the needle on otherwise.
What is SEO?
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a type of marketing strategy that focuses on getting websites to rank higher in search engines.
It’s estimated that Google processes some 5.8 billion searches a day. At the same time, it’s estimated that 90.63% of content gets no traffic from Google. 5.29% of content gets 10 or fewer visits from Google per month.
Those numbers help to illuminate why businesses are clamouring to get SEO services. In a world where both local businesses and ecommerce businesses get a significant portion of their income from Google searches, you can’t afford to be in the 90.63%.
Why do businesses use SEO?
To be blunt, businesses use SEO to make more money.
A study conducted by Wolfgang Digital, found that an astonishing 69% of traffic and 67% of website revenue came from Google Searches. Organic searches, which SEO focuses on, are the primary source of Google-related traffic at 43%.
In other words, businesses who aren’t doing well on Google are leaving a ton of money on the table. That’s an untenable situation as we shift even more heavily to online business than we were in 2016, when the study was published.
White label SEO – a combination of two great things
White label SEO, then, is any SEO service that has been rebranded for sale by another party. It’s often used by marketing agencies who want to offer their clients SEO services, but don’t have the resources to provide in-house SEO.
A marketing agency, especially in the digital marketing space, is operating on the back foot without SEO services. More and more business owners are learning about the value that Google and SEO can bring to their business. White labelling SEO can be a great way of improving your brand, all while providing your clients with a more comprehensive marketing strategy.
Why should marketing agencies offer white label SEO?
Now that we know what white label SEO is, we can get into the good stuff – why marketing agencies should bother with it.
We touched on a couple of the reasons briefly – agencies can improve your brand and client satisfaction all in one move. What’s more, they can do it for free – or even for a profit. Let’s take a closer look:
White label SEO helps you extend your reach
I’m not looking to over-hammer a deeply embedded nail here, but I want to make sure everyone reading this understands that SEO is here for good; it’s not going away anytime soon.
As long as there are search engines, there’s SEO. And as long as those search engines are providing traffic and revenue to businesses, those businesses are going to want SEO. Better rank = more traffic = more sales. It’s that simple.
White label SEO looks and acts like it’s coming directly from the marketing agency. That means that clients are more likely to think of the SEO as an in-house service. The marketing agency’s brand gets more recognition as a holistic provider of marketing services, while the third-party SEO provider gets paid for their services.
It’s a win-win situation.
White label SEO can be free, or even profitable
An SEO provider will attach a price to their product. The marketing agency can then turn around and offer it to their own client at cost – this effectively means the SEO costs nothing (other than the effort it takes to show clients results).
Of course, the agency doesn’t have to offer the service at cost – they could mark it up instead and make a tidy profit. That’s one of the biggest advantages of white labelling services – it lowers the upfront cost for businesses who want to offer a particular suite of services, but don’t necessarily want or have the resources to commit to offering those services in-house.
White labelling SEO allows agencies to commit resources where they matter
To start an in-house SEO agency costs a lot. We’re talking a lot of time, a lot of energy, and plenty of money. SEO is a game where experience counts for a lot. It’s a game where your datasets matter – the more data you have to compare, the more easily you can track trends and predict how the algorithm is going to rank sites.
Getting this kind of experience isn’t something that happens overnight. By white labelling their SEO, marketing agencies improve their brand and offerings without having to allocate resources to SEO. That means they can focus on their strengths – like client acquisition and non-SEO advertising.
More options can lead to higher client satisfaction
Most marketing agency clients are looking for a full suite of services – they don’t want to have to hire multiple marketing agencies to accomplish their goals. That means if an agency isn’t offering SEO, and SEO is a service that the business is looking for, they’ll probably move to another agency.
Offering SEO can improve client acquisition, retention, and satisfaction. By using white label SEO, a marketing agency can gain all of those benefits without incurring the costs associated with developing SEO in-house.
The difference between white label SEO and other SEO outsourcing
Let’s compare white labelling to other forms of SEO outsourcing:
White label vs. private label
White label SEO is something an SEO company can offer to multiple marketing agencies at once. Private label, on the other hand, is an exclusive contract between your business and the SEO agency.
Private label SEO tends to be more expensive than white label, because an exclusivity contract limits an SEO agency’s growth. As such, marketing agencies have to pay more for exclusive rights.
You’ll rarely find SEOs offering private label services for that exact reason. In fact, private labels are found almost exclusively in the realm of physical goods – private label software is almost non-existent.
White label vs. co-branding
Here’s another strategy you don’t see too often in the software world – co-branding. It’s exactly what it sounds like – when you co-brand your SEO, both your brand and the SEO agency’s brand will be found on reporting tools and other client-facing products.
I haven’t personally seen any co-branded SEO, but it’s a pretty interesting idea – marketing agencies would pay a bit less for the white label services in exchange for the SEO agency getting a bit more exposure. For most SEOs, however, this extra exposure isn’t usually worth it – and for most marketing agencies, the confusion that co-branding can cause makes it a nonstarter.
White label vs. outsourcing
Outsourcing SEO is less expensive than white labelling. The obvious problem with outsourcing is the confusion it can cause for clients. Agencies have to explain why the reporting software is branded with another company’s name. From there, they’ll have to explain that they don’t do in-house SEO.
You can see where this is going…
The clients are going to start asking questions. They’ll start wondering why they’re getting SEO from a third party, and how that’s going to affect their bottom line. They may start wondering if it would be less expensive to simply buy SEO themselves, or just go to another marketing agency for full-service.
That’s the risk/reward of outsourcing. Some marketing agencies may feel being transparent about their 3rd-party SEO service is worth the savings, while others might feel like the whole ordeal isn’t worth the headache.
What services do white label SEOs offer?
Those of you who already understand how SEO works can skip this section – though I always feel like a brief refresher from another person’s perspective can be useful.
White label SEO offers the full suite of services that outsourced SEO does, but with one important difference…Branded reporting.
Basically, the 3rd-party SEO does all of the work, then sends reporting (and talking points) to the marketing agency. Then, the marketing agency can show their client the reporting – which looks like it was done in-house.
This reporting will include analytics like ranking changes for specific keywords and conversion rates. The marketing agency can then use this information to present a more holistic overview of digital marketing to its clients.
The SEO will, of course, need access to the clients’ websites – they will also meet with the marketing agency to discuss strategy. There are a number of things that SEOs will do to improve search engine rankings – we’ll take a look at four broad categories.
First, though, let’s look at category #0:
Without keyword research, SEO is nothing. The premise behind keyword research is simple: figure out which keywords the SEO agency should be targeting in order to improve a client’s customer acquisition and sales.
There are four main factors in keyword research:
- Relevance. How relevant is this search to the business? For example, a website that sells fishing equipment would find the keyword “burgers” irrelevant, the keyword “sporting goods” somewhat relevant, and the keyword “fishing rods” extremely relevant.
- Popularity. How often are people searching for this keyword? “Fishing rods” has a lot of monthly searches, while “Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2” has substantially fewer.
- Competition. How difficult is it to rank well for this keyword? Competition is generally correlated with popularity: the more popular a term is, the more difficult it will be to rank well for it.
- Intent. When users are searching for the term, what kinds of search results do they want to get back? The best intent for SEO (broadly speaking – SEO is complicated) is commercial. Commercial intent signifies that someone is trying to buy something – it’s incredibly high converting.
Now that we’ve established what keyword research is, we can look at how SEOs improve a website’s ranking for particular keywords.
On-page SEO is, unsurprisingly, everything that the SEO agency does on the front-end of a client’s website. I know some of you are wondering about the back-end – that’s called technical SEO, and we’ll touch on it soon.
Content is the primary driver of on-page SEO. The content SEOs create will be relevant to the keywords they’re targeting. Let’s take our fishing equipment website for example. An SEO might have found that “best fishing rods” is a good keyword, as is “shallow water fishing”.
Heck, they may have even found they can get some clicks for the search “best fishing rods for shallow water” – seems like a good article to write.
The SEO would then produce a piece titled “Top 10 fishing rods for shallow water anglers”. This content would contain links to other pages, relevant terms, and well-researched information, all of which is created to draw people to the webpage and keep them on the site.
Search engine algorithms love it when a page has a lot of links from other well-respected pages.
Off-page SEO is a set of tactics developed to increase the number of links a particular page gets from other pages.
There’s a lot of networking and pitching that goes into off-page SEO. The idea is simple enough: the SEO will create high-quality content for a client’s website, then ask other sites to link to that content. They may also create high-quality content for a third-party’s website and include a link to the client’s website in that content. This is known as guest posting.
When it comes to off-page SEO, the sky’s the limit – there are all kinds of creative strategies SEOs can employ. It’s also one of the reasons why white labelling is so appealing – SEOs will already have an established network of contacts who like their content and are willing to link to it.
This is the back-end stuff – changes to a site’s structure, submitting XML sitemaps to Google, fixing bad redirects, using canonicalization tags – that sort of thing.
We’ll spare you the long and boring details of how technical SEO works (though, if you’re a nerd like me, replace boring with very interesting).
One of the most important things in a white label relationship is trust – marketing agencies will need to trust the SEO with the back-end of their clients’ sites. With that trust, however, comes the potential for huge ranking gains. Technical SEO is an absolute must.
There are a lot of different tactics that fall into the domain of SEO-related services. To improve local SEO, businesses need to have a Google My Business listing set up and optimized. To get an influx of reviews while minimizing the effect of bad reviews, reputation management is a must.
Marketing agencies may or may not already offer these services to their clients. Because of this, SEO-related services are usually negotiated on a case-by-case basis between the marketing agency and their white label partner.
What you should look for in a white label SEO
Now that you know a bit more about what white label SEO is and how it works, we can take a look at what’s important in a white label partner.
Most of the relationship classics apply here: you want a partner who is honest and well-intentioned. Someone who wants to grow with you, not siphon your resources. Someone who has a clear vision of the future, and of how they want to develop.
Before I start sounding like a relationship coach, let’s take a look at what I mean:
This is probably the most important thing to look for – that’s why we put it first. Your white label partner can’t hide things from you – they need to show you exactly what they’re doing and how it impacts your client, if you ask them to.
The white label/marketing agency relationship needs to be absolutely honest, because they need to work together so their strategies don’t clash.
Imagine a world where a marketing agency is about to roll out an aggressive strategy to sell made-in-house fishing rods for their fishing supply client. At the same time, their SEO is creating an ultimate guide to fishing rods – and that guide doesn’t include the in-house brand.
By being absolutely transparent about strategy, the marketing agency and SEO can work in tandem to create momentum and consistency on all fronts.
Marketing agencies and SEO agencies have a lot in common. One of the most important commonalities is that they are, by definition, future-oriented businesses. When you invest in marketing, be it traditional, digital, SEO, whatever – you’re putting money down now to get results later.
These businesses deal in future-oriented intangibles – and that means they need a concrete vision of the future, or it’s all smoke. Marketing agencies should look for an SEO that can tell them their predicted returns for each client, how they’ll get those returns, what best and worst-case scenarios look for – the whole bit.
Looking for a white label partner who has a deeply ingrained philosophy that complements the marketing agency’s own, is a great way of finding the right match.
A proven track record of success
Partnering up with an agency that hasn’t had any success is a good way of lowering your costs – but it’s also a good way of losing money.
Marketing agencies should require a detailed track record from any SEO agency looking to white label their services. Without evidence, an agency can make any ridiculous claims they want.
In other words, vision is great, but unless you know what steps you’re going to take to meet that vision, it’s not worth a lot.
Vision should be grounded in reality, and to do that, an agency needs to have data that shows it can meet the lofty goals it sets for itself.
A plan of action
We’ve looked at vision in the abstract, and how you need to have some markers of success to sell that vision. A good white label partner will also have a clear plan of action based on those past successes, to move toward that vision.
Marketing agencies have many clients, and their white label partners will be working on SEO for any number of those clients. Having the same strategy for each of those clients is a huge red flag. Every client of the marketing agency deserves the same care and planning as the SEO agency’s own clients.
That means marketing agencies must demand a detailed plan of action for every client they have, and detailed reporting on each of those clients. Regular meetings are an absolute must as circumstances change for each client.
Dedicated project management
All of this requires a lot of resources from the SEO agency. As such, they should offer dedicated project management to all of their marketing clients. There should be a well-established reporting hierarchy, so the marketing agency knows exactly who is responsible for each part of their client’s SEO.
There should be one point person for all issues. Very large marketing agencies may have multiple point people, because their clients will need to be divided up among a number of teams. Those marketing agencies will usually have multiple project managers anyway, so this is only rarely a point of confusion or contention.
What to avoid in a white label SEO
Now that we’ve had a look at the green flags, let’s take a look at the red ones. Don’t worry – we’re going to avoid just repeating what we said above but in the negative (I hate it when articles do that). This last section is definitely worth reading:
When they’re competing with you for clients
Marketing agencies and their white label partners will need clearly spelled out non-competes. This is an interesting problem, because both digital marketing agencies and SEO agencies can get clients from all over the world.
The non-compete may be for certain industries within a certain radius, or for clients who are in direct competition with the marketing agency’s clients. There should absolutely be anti-pilfering/non-solicitation terms in the contract. Watch out for any agency who won’t negotiate these types of terms.
When the service is bad from the get-go
An SEO who doesn’t provide stellar service right away is probably not the best bet. If they can’t handle the questions of a single marketing agency, imagine what will happen when they start doing SEO for all of that marketing agency’s clients.
The white label relationship is already fairly complex, so direct and efficient communication is an absolute must. The SEO should offer quick responses to a marketing agency’s questions – if a question will take a bit longer to answer, the SEO should provide the reason why.
Overpromising means under-delivering – and when the marketing agency has its brand all over the SEO reporting, under-delivering can be a huge blow to their reputation.
SEOs cannot promise to get a client to the top of a search engine for a given set of keywords. That’s not how this kind of thing works.
What marketing agencies should look for instead is a promise of a certain ROI or other KPIs that aren’t “how high a client ranks for a keyword”. While an SEO can’t promise a specific ranking, they should be able to promise positive movement for some keywords – otherwise, what’s the point?
You should also ignore any SEO promising uber-fast results. SEO is an ongoing process – abandoning your SEO can mean abandoning improvements to your rankings, and getting on the first page for highly competitive keywords can take a lot of time. SEO is not a get rich quick scheme.
Black hat SEOs are the shady guys standing on street corners in overcoats offering off-brand “Adudas” shoes to unsuspecting teenagers. They’re the scuzzy players of the SEO world. They’ll promise a marketing agency everything, but what they do goes against Google’s TOS, and can get websites removed from search engine results pages forever.
That’s very, very bad. The days of black hats are (fortunately) mostly over – in 2021, search engines are designed to reward good behaviour and penalize shady tactics.
SEO is all about elbow grease – it’s not as glamorous or easy as it might have seemed 25 years ago. Basically, SEO is just a lot of hard work – if an SEO agency’s strategy looks like it’s going to take a ton of effort, it’s a good sign that they’re trustworthy. If it’s a bunch of buzzwords and ill-explained tactics, stay away.
Remember: if you want to white label, get a white hat.
That’s all, folks!
If you’ve read to this point, congratulations – you know more about white label SEO reseller services than most people even know about white labels.
The hope is that, by understanding more about white labels and white label SEO, you have a better understanding about how it can help your marketing agency, or, if you’re a marketing agency client, how your marketing agency is using white label to provide you with SEO services.
Thanks for reading!