What do SEO companies ACTUALLY do?

For the most part, you already know why SEO is important, what it does, and how it works (basically).

But what is it? When you pay your SEO retainer every month, what are you actually paying for? What work is being done to support this mysterious and seemingly intangible service? What does the startup cost pay for? What work is being done 6 months after you sign with an SEO agency? Is it the same work that they started with, or does it change?

If you’ve tried to get the answers before, then you know that these kinds of questions don’t beckon simple explanations. And if you’re not well-versed in the industry lingo, it’s easy to get lost in the winded explanation of outbound links, metadata, and canonical tags.

That’s why we’re here: to simplify the breakdown and give you a clear understanding of what you’re actually paying for when it comes to SEO.

Learn more about how to hire the right SEO agency for your business:

What Do SEO Companies Actually Do All Day?

When you pay for the service of SEO, you’re actually paying for a great number of sub-services that are woven together to achieve one common goal. Below, we’ve listed the most common services that contribute to search engine optimization — or in other words, the bulk of the work you’re paying for.


A great deal of your SEO startup cost was devoured by hours of research — if you hired an effective marketing agency. SEO strategies must be custom-tailored to the individual business, or the odds of success are slim.

Being so, research is absolutely necessary to design a custom strategy that will have the right effect on the desired audience, compete with the industry standards, and comply with the ever-changing algorithm that search engines use to assemble their rankings.

Here are a few of the factors we dig into when we conduct our research:

  • Your target audience (where do they spend most of their time online, what are their pain points, what is the typical shopping behavior?)
  • Your competitors (who are they, how are they marketing their business, what is their SEO like?)
  • Your industry (industry thought leaders, trending topics, common discussion points, etc.)
  • Keywords (long tail, short tail, trending, local, etc.)
  • The current structure of your website
  • Your company reputation across the web
  • The consistency of your name, address, phone number listings on various platforms


The most important job of an SEO strategist is learning how to assemble a variety of fickle components into one cohesive strategy that will yield profitable results for an extended period of time. While doing so, they must also ensure that their strategy is flexible, scalable, and tailored to the unique needs of your company.

Once an SEO strategist has all the research they need, they’ll spend another chunk of time crafting a custom strategy according to the following factors:

  • Your budget (the bigger your budget, the more time they get to spend on your account)
  • Your goals and expectations
  • The magnitude of the competition in your industry
  • The search patterns and shopping behaviors of your target audience
  • Whether or not you already have a solid foundation to build on

Account Setup, Tagging, and Tracking

With a research-based strategy in place, it’s time to lay the groundwork for your SEO strategy with account setup, tagging, and tracking. This phase is quick and easy, but a crucial step in making sure that your results are monitored, tracked, and improved upon over time.

Your SEO strategist will create new accounts (or seek access to existing accounts) in Google Analytics, Search Console, Google My Business, Ahrefs, Yext, and a handful of other platforms used to monitor results, track progress, streamline activity, or simplify and automate a repetitive task in your strategy.

Execute, Test, Improve, and Repeat

After all the initial research, planning, and preparation, your SEO team can finally get moving on the strategy they’ve concocted. From here on out, they’ll be performing an expansive variety of different tasks to strengthen your domain authority and improve your rank in search engine results for the keywords they’ve decided to target. The bulk of this phase will consist of the following methods.

Site Cleanup: Depending on the current setup of your website, a little TLC may be in order to provide search engines with a clear sitemap — which greatly helps your rank in search engines. This consists of removing old pages, rectifying broken links, organizing your internal link structure, redirecting obsolete URLs, and so on.

Backend SEO: Optimizing and maintaining the backend of your website also contributes to a clean and concise sitemap. Your strategists will rewrite existing metadata, add page titles, site tags, alt tags, and a myriad of other tiny technical details to improve your SEO.

Content Development: Content development plays a crucial role in search engine optimization, whether it’s a new blog article, ad copy, or content for a web page. Strategic keyword placement and density are used to let search engines know what your website is about and what you have to offer — and that’s just one of the benefits of business blogging.

Outreach and Backlinks: Your SEO team may also conduct bouts of outreach to gain high-quality backlinks to your website (i.e. links on other websites that lead back to your own.) With the right outreach strategy, this very time-consuming task has the potential to greatly improve your domain authority (DA), resulting in more support from search engines. The more quality backlinks you have, the higher your DA rises. And the higher your DA, the more search engines trust your website to be a credible recommendation for search queries.

Local SEO: If you are a local business or a franchise with multiple locations, you’re going to need some local SEO to increase your rank in search results that possess a certain geographical component (e.g. “drug stores near me”). The scope of this project is too broad to cover here, but you can learn all about it in this comprehensive guide.

All That and More

The services we’ve outlined in today’s article are really just the core components of a standard SEO strategy. While these methods and tactics are most common, the role of an SEO strategist goes even deeper — especially in this modern-day and age, where the digital landscape is constantly shifting and evolving. Before we close, we wanted to throw in a few of the more complicated and lesser-known responsibilities of your SEO team.

  • Stay up to date on the industry’s dynamic standards and best practices
  • Find brand new creative ways to outrank competitors that possess strong SEO
  • Conduct frequent A/B testing to measure the results of one tactic against another
  • Compile all of their efforts, findings, and progress into reports that can appropriately display the value in their work
  • Prepare for sudden changes in Google’s algorithm, which almost always result in many sleepless nights and long days trying to figure out why the change had a negative impact on their clients

SEO Was Made to Be a Specialty

As you can clearly see, improving your search engine optimization is a massive undertaking that requires constant effort, mental stamina, a love (or tolerance) for deep data, and a sound understanding of how search engines operate. Due to the remarkable nature of this venture, we recommend hiring an agency that specializes (almost exclusively) in search engine optimization.

Go figure, right? And here comes the shameless self-promoting plug…

For a dedicated SEO specialist with years and years of experience, choose Big Leap. We’ll set you up with your own team of seasoned professionals, create a custom strategy according to your brand, and work tirelessly to discover the best possible path to the top.

Contact us today at 801-317-8794 for a free quote and a multi-point site audit!