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Mastering the ROI Mindset to Boost SEO Agency Profits with Liam Quirk

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Liam Quirk

Liam Quirk, MD at Quirky Digital

Liam Quirk is an ambitious entrepreneur and the Managing Director of Quirky Digital, a Liverpool-based SEO agency. With a career deeply rooted in the SEO industry, Liam has a proven track record of helping businesses of all sizes dominate their niches by securing top rankings on Google. His expertise has benefited one-man operations with modest budgets and multinational brands alike, earning him features in prestigious publications such as Huffington Post, Ahrefs, Yahoo Finance, Liverpool Echo, and

Liam's journey into SEO began in his teenage years, influenced by his uncle, a pioneer in digital PR and SEO. At just 16, Liam left school and plunged into an apprenticeship, armed with foundational knowledge and an insatiable curiosity about search engines. His early career saw him mastering the ropes of SEO at various agencies, where he handled everything from building citations and writing content to managing campaigns with both small and large budgets.

Driven by a passion for continuous learning and innovation, Liam spent countless hours experimenting with his own websites, learning from his mistakes, and refining his strategies. This hands-on experience gave him a deep, practical understanding of SEO that he now leverages to deliver outstanding results for his clients. He is particularly adept at thinking outside the box and maximising the potential of smaller budgets, a skill that has set him apart in the industry.

Four years ago, on the cusp of the COVID-19 pandemic, Liam took the bold step of founding Quirky Digital. What started as a one-man operation in his bedroom has since grown into a thriving agency with a team of 15, working with notable brands and continually pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in SEO.

Despite his business's rapid growth, Liam remains dedicated to helping ambitious brands achieve their goals. Outside of his professional endeavours, you can find him in the boxing gym, cheering on Tranmere Rovers, or investing in the latest SEO strategies to stay ahead of the curve.

Liam Quirk is not just a name in the SEO world; he is a driving force for businesses looking to elevate their online presence and achieve lasting success.

The Unscripted SEO Interview Podcast with Liam Quirk

Watch the interview

(click on the 'cc' icon to view subtitles)

Listen to the podcast

(54 minutes long)

Unscripted SEO Agency ROI Mindset Q&As with Mark A Preston and Liam Quirk

What is your SEO career story, Liam?

I began my journey in the SEO industry while still in high school, heavily influenced by my uncle who was already established in the field. He was involved in innovative digital PR campaigns, including bait-and-switch tactics before they became widely recognised. He would showcase his work to me, which initially I didn't fully understand.

About ten years ago, when I was 16, I left school and immediately embarked on an apprenticeship. Thanks to my uncle, I already had some background knowledge about SEO, although I had no practical experience. During my apprenticeship, I dived into understanding how search engines work and started doing hands-on tasks like building citations and writing content. Some of my early work, although rudimentary by today's standards, is still live, showcasing the leniency of early SEO practices where keyword stuffing was more permissible.

I also experimented with Web 2.0 properties, like WordPress and Weebly, gaining invaluable experience in the process. My initial tasks were varied, working with both small and large budgets. I handled campaigns for local builders in Wrexham and major hotel groups in the UK, giving me a broad spectrum of experience.

Over time, I began creating my own websites, which was a pivotal learning experience. Making mistakes on my projects taught me the most about SEO. Today, there are numerous SEO influencers, but I believe it's crucial to test and learn independently rather than blindly following trends. I used my websites to test different strategies and applied successful techniques to my work at the agency.

Starting four years ago, just before COVID-19, I founded my own agency. What began as a one-person operation in my bedroom has grown into a team of 15, working with significant brands. Reflecting on my journey, working with smaller budgets honed my skills and made transitioning to larger campaigns more manageable. Today, my agency aspires to be among the top in the UK, combining the extensive experience gained from both small and large-scale projects.

What sort of learnings have you had from working within somebody else's agency to actually running and building your own agency?

There are quite a few lessons I've learnt along the way. Initially, one of my main motivations for starting my own agency was the desire for flexibility in my time and travel. Ironically, since making that decision, I haven’t had that luxury, as growing the agency has demanded my constant attention. When I worked for someone else, I had more personal time, which is a common misconception about running a business.

Another significant learning curve has been managing workloads and expectations. When I worked for other agencies, I focused solely on completing tasks to the highest standard, regardless of the time it took. This meticulous approach often meant spending extensive hours on tasks, which isn’t feasible when running an agency with multiple clients and a team to manage. I’ve had to balance quality with efficiency to maintain profitability and ensure timely delivery of work.

The third major learning point is the importance of systems and processes. Many agencies I worked for lacked structured processes, often leading to inefficiencies and unsustainable practices. Now, my agency operates with well-defined systems and processes tailored to each client's budget and needs. This structured approach allows us to deliver consistent, high-quality results.

My team comprises specialised roles, including content writers, link builders, digital PR experts, client managers, and technical SEOs. This diversification contrasts with my previous experiences where a few consultants had to manage all aspects of SEO. These structural changes have significantly enhanced our ability to deliver effective and scalable solutions for our clients.

Have you recently seen a shift in client expectations?

Absolutely. I think you've pinpointed it correctly. When I first started as a freelancer and consultant, the focus was on selling expertise. It was straightforward to justify consultancy calls, although they didn't necessarily lead to tangible results unless implemented.

What I've noticed is that businesses and their marketing teams have become more sophisticated. Tracking expenditure has become easier with advanced analytical tools like GA4, Shopify analytics, etc. It's now simpler to see where leads and sales originate. Consequently, business owners and marketing teams, accustomed to measurable returns from Facebook and Google ads, now expect similar transparency and returns from SEO.

SEO is inherently more complex, with a broader funnel. To address this, we provide estimated returns on investment, though this is a time-consuming process. We base these estimates on keyword volumes and conversion rates, giving clients a rough idea of potential returns. However, it's essential to offer tangible outputs as well.

For example, instead of selling half a day of consultancy, we break it down into concrete deliverables like content creation, digital PR campaigns, or link building initiatives. Clients might not grasp the intricacies of these campaigns, but they understand that these deliverables contribute to the ultimate goal of increased traffic, sales, and leads.

I've definitely observed a shift towards this more results-oriented approach. Even before COVID, many agencies operated on a broad strategy, alternating between SEO and social media without delivering consistent results. As competition has intensified and corporate investment in SEO has grown, agencies have had to elevate their game.


How do you present an SEO or Digital PR service when clients want to see something for their money?

That's an excellent point. Digital PR, for example, is increasingly vital. It's become a standout service in SEO because business owners appreciate the tangible results it offers. Being featured in prominent publications like the Daily Express or The Standard is something they can see and feel proud of. This visibility is a modern take on traditional PR.

Digital PR campaigns may not always lead directly to online sales, although they can contribute significantly to a broader SEO strategy. Major brands, especially in sectors like fast fashion, invest heavily in digital PR not just for backlinks but to showcase their media presence. They can proudly display these features on their websites, even if the actual products aren't highlighted in the publications.

It's all about building trust. In today's AI-driven world, where authenticity is increasingly questioned, trust is paramount. People receive emails and see videos online, often unsure if they're dealing with real individuals or AI-generated content. Marketing strategies now emphasise trust, with businesses showcasing their PR features to build credibility.

This shift towards trust-based marketing is evident and likely to become even more critical as we move forward.

What is the key difference between a small and large budget SEO campaign?

Yes, absolutely. I completely agree. When working on SEO campaigns, it's easy to become overly focused on keywords and rankings. For some campaigns, especially those for new businesses that haven't invested in SEO before, the process can feel like a checklist exercise: ensuring various tasks are completed.

In contrast, when working with a larger brand, you can delve more into the overall marketing strategy and how it influences the SEO strategy. This broader approach often yields more significant results.

When should an SEO step out of the SEO checklist mindset?

Yes, I agree. For local campaigns, such as a solicitor in Liverpool wanting to rank for specific keywords, it can often be a straightforward checklist exercise. However, for larger brands that have already invested in SEO or have established marketing strategies, the approach needs to be more integrated.

For instance, with some of the SaaS companies we work with, SEO needs to be seamlessly incorporated into their broader marketing strategy. These clients often know the exact keywords they need to target, based on how their audience searches for them. In contrast, clients with a blank slate and a new website may require a more systemised approach initially, identifying their target audience and tailoring the strategy accordingly.

What does your agency's pre-sales process look like?

Yes, of course. At a high level, our typical enquiry process starts from our website. We have a 'get a quote' section, which takes about five minutes to complete. If someone calls wanting to discuss SEO, the first thing we ask them to do is fill out this form. It collects essential information such as their identity, the search terms they want to target, their competitors, other marketing activities they are involved in, and their past investment in SEO. They can even attach previous reports if they have any.

Once we receive the form, we analyse their website using third-party software like Ahrefs or Semrush, without needing access to their analytics initially. We identify gaps in their current SEO strategy and spend about 15 minutes to spot immediate issues. For instance, a common issue we see is content generated by AI tools like ChatGPT, which often impacts the site's SEO performance negatively.

Our next step is to present these initial findings to the client in a top-level overview. We discuss the issues we've identified and suggest potential improvements. This includes offering two options: a consultancy approach where we advise on what needs to be done or a managed service where we handle everything from content creation to technical SEO and digital PR.

We then provide a broad range of pricing based on the client's industry and specific needs. For example, a local plumber aiming to rank for Liverpool keywords would have a lower budget compared to an accountancy firm targeting multiple locations. After discussing these options with the client, we gather further details on their past experiences and frustrations, which helps us paint a clearer picture of their needs.

Once we have all the information, we create a detailed proposal. This proposal includes an overview of the type of content we would write, the volume of content required, and whether we would handle the writing or if the client would. We also outline the digital PR or link-building strategies, the impact of citations or Google My Business optimisations, and identify any technical SEO issues we've discovered.

For instance, we recently identified a client whose entire navigation menu was 'no follow', significantly impacting their SEO. We include such findings in the proposal, along with an estimation of where the campaign could be in six months, including potential impacts on traffic and sales.

Finally, we present this detailed proposal to the client, providing them with a clear understanding of the deliverables and the expected outcomes. We hope this process gives clients the confidence to move forward with us.

What are your thoughts on SEO deliverables and impact?

Absolutely. I believe deliverables are crucial. Clients want to see tangible results for their investment. If you tell a client you'll spend half an hour on technical SEO, for instance, fixing broken links, they need to understand the potential impact of those actions. Some fixes might have a significant effect, while others may not, depending on the importance of the pages involved.

When proposing work to clients, we prioritise actionable steps and detailed fixes, especially if they've been affected by updates like the helpful content update. Sometimes, we inherit campaigns where the previous SEO efforts were actually quite effective. In such cases, our role may be to refresh content or assess whether additional content or links are necessary.

There are times when we have to be upfront with clients about the expected impact of our proposed actions. If we believe the changes may not meet their expectations, we ensure they understand this from the outset. Honesty and transparency are key in managing client expectations and building trust in our SEO services.

How important is it for an agency to provide a solid ROI?

Yes, absolutely. It's crucial. When you're an SEO professional working within an agency, it can be difficult to grasp the impact of your work unless you're dealing with an e-commerce campaign where results can be seen directly in Google Analytics, Shopify, or Magento. Without these analytics, you might only see improvements in keyword rankings and increased website traffic, which doesn’t always translate to a clear understanding of ROI.

As my agency has grown, I've realised the importance of understanding the commercial side of SEO. My head of SEO is excellent at this, and she helps the team understand the financial impact of their work. However, team members involved in content creation or link-building may not fully appreciate this unless it's explicitly communicated.

As a business owner with an SEO background, I understand the importance of demonstrating return on investment. Some sectors, such as drug and alcohol rehabilitation, can be challenging to track due to the nature of their conversion processes. In contrast, e-commerce brands can quickly see if a blog post generates revenue.

For B2B and local campaigns, we rely heavily on clients to provide accurate data. Even our own website, which ranks for many local and agency-related keywords, could be better tracked to demonstrate ROI. It's essential to ensure that both agencies and clients are aligned in tracking and understanding the impact of SEO efforts.

How important is it for agency team members to be commercially savvy?

That's a very good point. Agencies specialising in one area often have the luxury of focusing on commercial outcomes. However, full-service agencies, which offer various marketing services, might not track the direct impact of SEO as closely.

Improvement is definitely needed in this area. Reporting on traffic and keyword rankings is essential, but it doesn’t always tell the full story. If a campaign runs for 12 months and the marketing manager cannot demonstrate the financial impact to their senior management, it can be problematic.

Ensuring that SEO consultants understand the commercial implications of their work is vital. They should be able to articulate how their efforts translate into financial benefits for the client. This commercial awareness helps avoid situations where the value of SEO is questioned and supports a more strategic approach to client management.

Do you think that some agency and client issues are due to a lack of upfront transparency?

Absolutely, I think so. Particularly in agencies with numerous clients, conversations can sometimes be quite taxing. I remember when I first started, especially during the COVID period when clients were looking to cut marketing budgets rather than increase them. It was tempting to avoid difficult conversations and instead focus solely on achieving results to build a good reputation.

In the early stages of an agency, you often have to go above and beyond to prove your worth, which is understandable. However, it reaches a point where consistently over-delivering isn't sustainable. Now, my approach is to simply do what we promise. This reliability builds a reputation of trust without negatively impacting other clients.

Why do you think some SEO agencies have adopted the productization approach?

It all boils down to managing expectations. When you're running an agency, you aim to achieve and communicate tangible results. Part of our sales process involves clearly illustrating potential traffic outcomes and how we plan to achieve them. Effective communication is key.

As an agency grows, it encounters various types of clients. We have some clients from our early days who are content with receiving regular reports and seeing consistent keyword rankings. These clients are often the most profitable. However, as we take on larger businesses, we also work with clients who have internal SEO teams seeking to learn from us. For them, it's not just about the results but also about gaining knowledge from our team.

In some cases, these clients may eventually outgrow the need for our services as they build their own internal teams. This is something agency owners must be prepared to handle.

Where do you think the future of the SEO agency world is heading?

That’s an interesting question. As a company, we’ve been projecting our growth and looking at trends for the next few years. We've experienced significant growth, which has been fantastic, but now we’re focusing on the future. What I’m noticing, not just within our own business but also from conversations with other agency owners, is a shift towards specialisation.

It’s intriguing because, as an agency, our speciality lies in taking local campaigns and transforming them into national ones. However, we don’t specialise exclusively in one area of SEO, such as digital, content writing, or technical aspects. I believe that larger businesses with substantial budgets will start seeking specialised agencies. They might look for a technical SEO agency, a digital agency, or a content agency.

I’ve already observed this trend where clients tell us they don’t need certain services because they have in-house teams handling those aspects. This indicates a move towards more collaboration with other specialised teams. Currently, we collaborate with social media teams, PR teams, and email marketing teams, but rarely with other SEO experts. I have a strong feeling that this will change in the future.

Is SEO heading in a more holistic direction?

Yes, I’m definitely starting to see that trend. The direction is certainly moving towards a more holistic approach. Google, as a search engine, is evolving, and in 10 years, we might even be dealing with a different primary search engine. There’s a lot of talk about younger generations using platforms like TikTok as search engines. While I don’t fully agree with that notion, it’s clear that search behaviour is changing.

AI tools are also becoming search engines, as seen with developments like SGE, which opens up a whole new set of possibilities. The key is not to put all your eggs in one basket. There will be numerous opportunities with different strategies, whether they are content-heavy or PR-heavy. I think businesses are increasingly recognising the need for a diverse approach.

Should SEOs understand what works for which business on what platform outside of Google?

Absolutely, you’ve nailed it. Currently, SEO is often synonymous with Google, but the landscape is broader than that. For instance, we have clients who think we can help with their podcasts on YouTube. While we probably could assist, we aren’t specifically set up for that.

Similarly, clients ask about TikTok SEO, and this is where specialist agencies will emerge. These agencies may be smaller but highly focused on particular platforms. They might not have the longevity of traditional SEO agencies, as their relevance depends on the platform’s popularity. However, they can dominate their niche as long as that platform remains significant.

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