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Six Steps to Managing an SEO Client’s Expectations with Mindy Gofton




Have you ever been confident in the SEO results that you're delivering for a client but actually find out when you've spoken to them, that they're not quite that satisfied with you?

Well, today we're looking at how you can stop something like that from ever happening again, with a lady who has a Ph.D. in British and Irish history, and a black belt in kickboxing. She has been working in the field of SEO and digital marketing since 2003. Delivering training for the CIM and spoke at both BrightonSEO and SaaScon. A warm welcome to the head of SEO at Own Your Space, Mindy Gofton. Thanks so much for coming on. You can find Mindy over at ownyourspace.co.uk.

In this episode, Mindy Gofton will explain Six Steps to Managing an SEO Client's Expectations.

The steps are:
  1. Understanding Your Client's Pain Points
  2. Understanding What to Reasonably Expect
  3. Understanding What Will Delight Your Clients
  4. Make Sure Your Clients Understand What They Are Getting for Their Money
  5. Make Sure Your Clients Understand Their Given Timeframe
  6. Make Sure Your Clients Fully Understand What You're Doing for Them





Understanding Your Client's Expectations



David: So Mindy, would you say that many clients' expectations are similar? Or does each client tend to have a very different type of expectation?

Mindy: What I would say is that ultimately, they all want the same thing, which is to make more money from what they're paying you to do. But in terms of what they expect to actually get out of the SEO, it can be very different depending on their level of knowledge and how much digital marketing they've done previously. Some think that you're going to press a big red button, and they're going to get results from day one. And some are quite happy to wait 6-18 months to really see a good return on their investment.

D: So clients’ expectations are quite different depending upon their level of experience. Would you say that expectations are also quite different depending on the industry?

M: I think they can be. I think there are certain industries, definitely where there's a lot more pressure. For example, if it's an eCommerce client, and you're coming up to Christmas, and they suddenly decide later in August, that they're going to hire an agency to do their SEO, for them, they're under a lot of pressure coming up into the busy season. Whereas in other industries, if they just get one inquiry, it's going to pay for everything, because those inquiries are of such high value. I think there's a lot less pressure and a lot more understanding that will take time to get that really good inquiry.



1. Understanding Your Client's Pain Points



D: So today we're zoning-in on the six steps to manage your clients’ expectations. And that starts off with understanding your clients’ pain points.

M: So I think one of the things that's important to really understand when you get a client is while the end goal is pretty much always the same, which is to make the client money, the reasons that they're coming in and hiring an agency can vary a lot from client to client. For some of them, they don't have a marketing department at all. So they need you to step in, and they need you to do it all. They need to feel that you understand their business and that you are invested in their business. For some of them, it may be that they do have a marketing team, and they just have one gap in their skill where they need somebody to fill in those gaps for them. I think it's about understanding where their internal issues are. What are the reasons that they feel that the website isn't currently performing for them? What are the objectives and the targets that have been placed upon the people that you're actually reporting into in order to make sure that you're setting those expectations correctly?

If you don't understand that, say, the person who you're dealing with on a day-to-day basis has been told that they need to double their leads that are coming in from organic search, and all you understand is that I've got to get things ranking a bit higher, then you won't necessarily be able to focus on the right thing. So you'll be trying to do one thing and there'll be expecting you to do something else, simply because you haven't clarified their goals and really understood what motivates them.

D: Great point, and I love your point about understanding what their marketing department looks like whether you're just filling in an SEO position that doesn't exist, or you're perhaps just dealing with one person that doesn't have a full grasp of what organic means and how it fits in with the rest of what they're trying to do. So that was number one. Number two is to understand what good looks like.



2. Understanding What to Reasonably Expect



M: Yeah, again, for different clients what good looks very different. I've had clients where we were getting 20% increases in traffic and sales month on month, but for them, it didn't feel good because it still wasn't returning to what it was they were expecting. And for some clients, they were just absolutely thrilled when they were able to go back to their board and say that they increased their search volume by X amount because they could see that they were making progress. I think it's clear to understand at the outset when you do work for them, what it is that you do is going to make them happy. In terms of the work you do and what you're delivering, and what it results in, what is the thing that they need from you for them to feel that they've gotten value for money for the work that you're doing?

D: Great. I guess another word for good is satisfied. What's the absolute minimum that you have to do in order to ensure that your client is likely to retain your services? Number three is to find out what will delight them.



3. Understanding What Will Delight Your Clients



M: What will delight them? I think there's always some sort of vanity result that you can deliver for a client, especially a client who doesn't really understand what you do, that's going to get them really excited about the possibilities and what you could continue to do for them in the future. As an example, I had a client, that is probably going back six or seven years now, and they just hired an eCommerce manager. And she understood why she needed to get an agency and she was working really closely with us. But she was reporting to a board of directors that were in another country that hadn't really done much with SEO, that thought they were an eCommerce business and they were convinced that they weren't ever really going to sell much through the web. That it was all going to be through retailers or offline sales because their target market was much older. And what we did in the first three months is we managed to get an infographic onto the Daily Mail website. And when they saw that coverage in the Daily Mail, with their branding on it, talking about their products, they suddenly got excited. And I think it clicked for them that it wasn't just about optimizing around keywords, it was about making more people aware of their brand, and it was something they were able to be proud of. And the moment they saw that they suddenly got really engaged, they wanted to put more budget into it. They wanted to rebuild the website, and they were all about digital, and it just spiraled from there. And it was brilliant. In the end, they focused so much on digital that they ended up bringing in an in-house team to do the work.

D: Great example there. And I'll tell you what I was thinking of when you started that point. When you were talking about having internal conversations of what success would mean. I guess, delighting could also potentially mean, making your contacts look great internally. So if you've got someone that's dealing with you, and if you can make them look wonderful, either by appointing you or make them appear to be even better at their job, then that could be a great way of delighting them as well.

M: Absolutely. And it, I think it's one of those things that if you've ever worked in an agency, but you may have experienced it in house, that sometimes what the marketing manager is asking for is very much at odds with what the stakeholder, their boss, who actually signed the contract asked for, and you've got to find a balance between the two of those. Because inevitably, the marketing manager has their own targets and goals. And they're often struggling to meet them because they tend to be pulled in 10 different directions. They're always very busy.

As an example, I had a client that wanted us to write loads of blog content, and it wasn't going to help us hit the target that we'd been set for the inquiries. But we knew if we didn't do what she was asking as well, we were going to lose the account. But if we were able to do what she wanted, she had loads of content going up onto the website in her name. So she was able to turn around and say look how great things are going for me. Again, I mean, I suppose this also comes back to the pain points and the motivations as well.

D: Yeah, I love that distinction between finding out what your stakeholder wants and finding out what your direct contact wants as well because unless you satisfy them both, one of them is gonna be unhappy and they end up influencing one another in the medium term and the client won't stick around for too long.

M: I think it's one of the reasons agencies lose business because you end up not really understanding that the business goals and the personal goals, what people need are often slightly different things in order to feel happy with what you're doing for them to trust you or for them to feel that you have a good working relationship. And it's very rarely enough to just deliver a good result in terms of traffic and sales and high rankings because there's always something else, you know, some sort of extra little thing in that relationship, that's going to make them feel that you're really delivering our added value that they can't just go anywhere and get that result that it needs to be you because of that little extra thing that you're giving them.



4. Make Sure Your Clients Understand What They Are Getting for Their Money



D: And number four is to be clear about what they will get for their money.

M: Yes, I think that that's often a complaint, I think that I've heard when we've had new clients coming to us and they've left an agency because they were unhappy. It's often because what they thought they were going to get is not what they actually got. Or you lose clients because they're paying you X amount a month, which means you can deliver a certain amount of work for them, and you've only got a limited resource within your own agency, and you've got a range of clients, and you've got to service all of your clients. So you can't just do everything for them all the time. So I think it's really important to be clear that if you're paying us 1000 pounds a month, or 10,000 pounds a month, or 50,000 pounds a month, whatever that figure might be, that they know what it looks like in terms of how much work they're going to get over a set period of time.

I think everybody probably has a story of that client that's on your minimum spend and is on the phone absolutely every day and they want reporting every week, and they're dropping emails every few days asking what have you been doing for me. And you're thinking, well, you're my lowest spending client, and you're just as important to me as my highest spending client. But it doesn't mean that I'm going to be working on your account every single day of the month. I think if you're very clear at the outset that with what you're paying us and what you're coming in, you can expect that a three-month plan is going to look roughly like this. Although once we dig into your website, it's not necessarily going to be exactly this. And therefore, over the space of time, this is what SEO is going to look like when we do it for you. So that they're never getting up and going why have you only done these three things? Why haven't you done these 10 other things?



5. Make Sure Your Clients Understand Their Given Timeframe



D: You mentioned a good three-month plan there and number five is to give them a timeframe. Is that related?

M: Yeah, when I say give them a timeframe, it's giving them a timeframe when they can expect to see an improvement and expect to see results. Again, it varies from industry to industry, because if you're dealing with clients and financial services, where it's really competitive, or private client law, people chasing personal injury claims, or clinical negligence, it's really competitive and it's going to be rather different. Whereas if you've got a local skip hire company, which we do have as a client, that's maybe not as competitive an industry, because there are not as many people with websites who've hired SEO firms and have big plans to grow their businesses.

I think if you can just give them an idea, based on your spending and the competitiveness of your industry, we would expect in three months' time your traffic to start to look a bit like this. And this is when you'll really start to see a huge jump in traffic. And at the six months stage, we expect that you'll be getting twice the number of inquiries, whatever that number that you feel comfortable with, just so that they know that you're not going to go in, rewrite four or five pages of content, put them into Yelp, and their traffic's gonna double because it just doesn't work that way. Particularly the ones who have no experience of SEO, they do start to get antsy fairly quickly. So if they know from you that you've set KPIs for each stage, so that the first thing that's going to happen is you're going to get more keywords driving traffic, or you're going to appear for more keywords, then you're going to get more traffic for more keywords, at which point you should start to see leads trickle in, but it's only when you've got X percentage of your terms onto page one, page two, page three, is when you really are going to see a difference in the amount of traffic. If they understand that process and how long you expect that process to take they're more patient with it. You don't get that itchy feet client that after the first three or six months it is going well, but I was expecting it all to have happened by now. I've got somebody ringing me up saying that they can do the work at half the cost and they're going to have me at number one in a month. And that's not good for anybody.



6. Make Sure Your Clients Fully Understand What You're Doing for Them



D: No, you don't want to climb like that. And that brings us up to number six, which is to make sure they can see concrete evidence of what you're doing.

M: For me over the years, again, one of the big complaints that I've heard from new clients, in particular, is we never knew what our agency was doing. We got a report with a bunch of statistics from them once a month, or once every three months, or whatever that looked like, and we never actually knew what they were working on. So for them, if they don't know what they're paying you to do and they can't see that there are actually things going on and that you're invested in doing that work, then what reason do they have to trust you?

I think it's all fine and good to say, well, they pay us, they should trust us, and they're getting results. But for them, that result could come from anywhere. And if they don't really understand how the work you're doing is influencing what they're seeing coming out the other end, then what reason do they have to carry on paying you to do what you do? I've had a client in the past, where all we were doing was consulting because he had an internal team, but they were quite inexperienced. So we were providing every month a set of recommendations that they were meant to be implementing. And at the end of six months, they turned around, and they said to me, "Well, you didn't actually do anything to influence our results. You just told us what to do. And we did it. So the reason we got the good results is that we did the work.” And we were kind of going, "Well, yeah, but you wouldn't have gotten the result if we hadn't been telling you what to do in order to implement it.” And they just wouldn't see it that way. Because they were kind of going, we don't see what you've done as being a deliverable. I think if we'd been a bit savvier at the time, we would have been providing documentation and big flourishing reports. And there would have been another way to present the work that we were doing so that it was clear that it was coming from us and not from their internal team.





The Pareto Pickle - Always Optimize Your Content



D: Okay, let's finish off with the Pareto Pickle. So Pareto says you can get 80% of your results from 20% of your efforts. What's one SEO activity that you would recommend that provides incredible results for modest levels of effort?

M: I think, for me, the first port of call is to always optimize the content. Because if you don't say it on the website, you're not going to rank for it. And if you don't rank for it, and it's how people are looking to find the information you have, then you're falling down at the first hurdle. It is time-consuming, but it's easy to go through the website and just make sure that you've got optimized content and the pages aren't competing with each other.

D: Great advice. I'd like to go down that rabbit hole of exploring precisely what that means. But perhaps on another episode. I've been your host David Bain. Mindy, thanks so much for being part of the In Search SEO podcast.

M: Thanks for having me.

D: And thank you for listening. 

About The Author
In Search is a weekly SEO podcast featuring some of the biggest names in the search marketing industry.

Tune in to hear pure SEO insights with a ton of personality!

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