EP#13 Nadia Mojahed - How I learned to manage clients' expectations

Nadia, an SEO consultant based in Switzerland, discusses issues that arise during a project due to unsettled client expectations, confusion around SEO progress and timelines, taking the lead on SEO actions and priorities, and communicating with the tech team. Nadia shares what she learned from real project experiences - good and bad.  

Who is Nadia Mojahed?

Nadia Mojahed is a Digital SEO Consultant based in Geneva, Switzerland. She helps B2C and B2B businesses of start-ups, UN organizations, local and international brands grow their organic lead generation and sales. She has experience in strategic, technical, and content SEO. She applies SEO as a business development tool and helps with in-house SEO training and strategy workshops. After being In the digital marketing field for more than 13 years, she founded her boutique SEO agency, seotransformer.com, in 2019. 

🧡 Many thanks to Nadia for sharing her experience with us.

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Useful links

Podcast Anchor Page: https://anchor.fm/workinseo

Isaline’s, the podcast host, Twitter: https://twitter.com/isaline_margot

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Sign up to “WorkinSEO” newsletter: https://www.getrevue.co/profile/workinseo

Getting in touch with our podcast guest, Nadia Mojahed

Follow Nadia on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/SeoTransformer 

Follow Nadia on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nadiamojahed/ 

Check Nadia’s SEO consultancy website: https://seotransformer.com/ 

#WorkinSEOPodcast full transcript with Nadia Mojahed

Thank you to Ahrefs for sponsoring the Season 2 of the WorkinSEOPodcast!

Isaline: Hi, everyone. This is WorkInSEO Podcase. I am Isaline Muelhauser, founder of WorkInSEO podcast and job board. In today's episode is about managing clients' expectations. We have a fantastic guest here to share her experience. It's Nadia Mojahed, digital SEO consultant based in Geneva, Switzerland. In 2019. she founded her own boutique agency, seotransformer.com. Hi, Nadia. 

Nadia: Hello, Isaline. Thank you for having me today.

Isaline: Thanks for coming. I'm happy that we're doing this. 

Nadia: With pleasure. I'm excited to share some experiences and some learnings that I've gotten along the way with dealing and managing SEO projects. 

Isaline: Do you remember when you first heard about SEO?

Nadia: It has been a long time ago. I've been actually working in digital marketing since a quite long time. I was always curious about Google and development of the web. I always followed the updates about search. Maybe it was going backwards, not very long time ago, compared to the start of the web. It was maybe 15, 12 years ago when I early started my work. 

Isaline: What did you like about SEO? 

Nadia: For me, I found it very exciting that you could put content to the world, and simply control and regulate what appears on search and the power it has on a person or a brand or a company's digital presence. I find it very interesting that it combines content, strategic, analytical skills, as well as digital PR. I find a unique combination that is not found in any other domain for me, personally.

Isaline: Is it the wide variety of tasks and things to do that makes it so interesting for you?

Nadia: Yes, actually. It fulfills all the elements that I would like to do. Like when it comes to content, you have this creative part; when it comes to analytical parts, it has, it has that part. Yes. It has this exciting mix of skills and variety of works to do, as you said. 

Isaline: We mentioned that you recently started your boutique ad agency. How is it going? 

Nadia: It's going well. The first year was very challenging in terms of setting up the processes, the scope of services, as well, to define the clients that I would like to work with and that I could bring the most value for.

The second year went well, in terms of having things already established, and refining processes more. The third year went much easier. It's always exciting and it's getting more and more exciting. There is much to learn, but lots of projects and lots of value to add to the project actually.

Isaline: Nice. Well, it was a bold move to do that when you couldn't know that a pandemic was about to arrive. But it was a very brave indeed to just go for it and start. So, congrats on that before we even go further. 

Nadia: Yes.

Isaline: What type of tasks do you most often do for your clients? 

Nadia: Usually, I work with a client/with clients for the optimization of their digital presence. So for that, I take care of setting up the SEO strategy, the competitive research, the keyword research, the technical optimization, and the tracking and the continuous optimization. I have also some projects that are, let's say, are specific to certain tasks but the majority of projects are managing all aspects of the optimization for the website.

Isaline: What type of clients do you have most often?

Nadia: I have clients actually from different sectors. I have UN organizations, from the education sector, and finance, SaaS, software as a service. I have clients in eCommerce and finance. It's really different type of customers.

Isaline: Which type of clients most often arise this issue of confused or unsettled expectations?

Nadia: I find that more with clients who are starting the SEO process for the first time. I find that very challenging and interesting to educate customers about the SEO process because it's different than any other process. Like for clients that are usually used, "What is the SEO or the sales process?" as "What is the business development processes?"

But when it comes to SEO, especially like when talking about websites, it takes time for them to understand what the process is, the difference between web developers and SEOs, content writers and SEOs, or what does the SEO optimization mean in practice, as well, I find it very common that because they don't understand the SEO process as a whole and the results, how it works. 

Then, for example, some clients would like to just start the process, try it for a couple of months, and then start to see a bit the results. Or, for example, they would like to do this part, but not this part. For example, some clients wanted to give me the whole website development scope because they thought SEO also does web development despite clarifying things clearly, and also setting up contracts, as well, clearly. So, confusion can easily happen with clients when it comes to SEO. 

Isaline: So, would you say it's mostly like smaller companies or companies who don't have someone appointed to marketing when you discuss directly with the owners? 

Nadia: The thought of the SEO process itself is what I think causes lots of challenges because it's something new. Whether for small companies or also bigger companies. With bigger companies, when they start with the SEO process, the challenges arise with the communication with technical teams, agreeing on the things to prioritize, or what the value can certain SEO processes generate or do certain changes, or taking the green light on doing certain changes. So, in brief, the beginning of the SEO process is very challenging. 

But also, I found there are some challenges that can happen with companies who are already have started the SEO process optimization when it comes, for example, to wanting to carry on SEO practices that might not be useful for them or relying on the automatic tools to their use. For example, to do certain things in a specific way, but they're just used to do them in specific way. And for them, because they haven't seen better results, they're used to have the scope of results and the optimization done in a certain way. And then, they just resist change or a new approach of doing SEO and handling the website content and [09:22.5 unin].

Isaline: So, you would say it's mostly for companies who start the SEO process. Which means, whoever's low maturity in terms of what they know about SEO and what it can bring to their business or companies who don't want to try new ways of doing SEO tasks, they might have been doing for a long time.

Nadia: Yes. 

Isaline: So, do you think that's a particular in the Swiss market? 

Nadia: Most of my clients are actually based in Switzerland. Some of them, are targeting international audiences, and some of them are actually the international businesses themselves that we collaborate with different teams in different countries. It's hard to generalize actually. That was my experience. I wouldn't say it's a specific tool to this region. I'm not sure. I can't say on that. 

Isaline: That's very interesting because you actually speak English, and you're based in French-speaking Switzerland. So, your clients, I can expect speak English also. I would have expected also based in French-speaking Switzerland but working with French-speaking clients. I would have expected that English-speaking clients would be more mature because they have probably access to more resources, more image resources that are in English because most of SEO happens in English rather than French. I think it's just very interesting fact that they face similar issues. 

Nadia: French is interesting to learn, as well. From you, that you find that similar. I had actually a project where I communicated with a French-speaking web developer. He's been working to optimized websites. That's what he communicated. That he has long years of experience working on websites and improving them for SEO, technically. But I find that what he knew about SEO was not the updated version of SEO. I just like to mention this particular case that I had a collaboration with a French-speaking, yeah. Maybe that relates also, in English, the communication and the updates are faster to spread than Google guidelines are the most mature, and et cetera.

Isaline: Tell me about a situation when the client was unsettled and confused about the SEO progress. What's happened then?

Nadia: Here, I would mention my first ever project that I handled. It was the most challenging one. Not because it was the first, but also it was also challenging. The client was not aware of that they did not have a web agency that supported them further with our projects. They had also the marketing collaborator who designs. Offered them after settling down the contract, after explaining everything, the process. Everything seemed to be very clear. I wanted to start working on the project and to communicate with the web developer, to have access to the website, to make an introduction with the content writer. So, I just realized that she's not here, the web developer. They did not respond. Then, after a few trials, they said that, "We apologize. We can't collaborate any longer on this project." I went back to the client. The client was like, "Oh! Actually, they are not here, but you can help us with those elements of the websites of the SEO." 

Despite settling everything well and clarifying on the contract what was what, there was still a confusion in the client's mind. Maybe they just wanted to include more services and they wanted for them, just like, "You handle everything." For me, was a real challenge because the website was built on pure HTML basis. They don't have SCMS either. To put things in place, I had to negotiate with the client on like what does it mean to what I'm going to do. I managed to renegotiate the scope of SEO to reduce it. Not that I was very happy about this. Because when it comes to SEO, you need to put more effort in order to generate, to give it what it needs, because the competition was so high for the industry. It was for home and beauty. 

Managing as well the technical part of pure HTML pages were really a big challenge. Especially with a very limited budget that I had to outsource an agency for that, and to manage all aspects together. The SEO optimization is so hard when you don't have an SCMS. Every change, you need to upload the pages again, and to do lots, so yeah, it takes time.

I learned from that actually is that really, it's very important to invest in creating a contract that is tailored to your business and not copied from other businesses because it can protect you a lot for that. I learned from that also to communicate with agencies locally. Or, at least, nearshore and not offshore far away. The agency that I have worked with to build the HTML pages after submitting the first draft, those pages have disappeared for a couple of days. I was so panicking. What's happening? Then, they came back after two days and they said like, "Oh, we're sorry. We had the cyclone in our country, and that disrupted all the telecommunication power."

It was like, for me, I wasn't aware of that and I didn't even follow the news. I also learned that it's important to follow the news and the updates of the country that you're doing businesses with. Things can happen. You don't know what they are. Of course, the cultural aspects also help on this smooth communication with the projects. As I mentioned, having really contracts that are tailored to your business and to your services are key, and it saves you lots of time and unnecessary hassle. 

Isaline: As I understand in this situation, the client expected that you were sort of the web project manager and that you would implement everything as well. You are their single point of contact and they expected you to do everything, kind of. They didn't understand the role of what you would do and who you would need to work with, right? 

Nadia: Yes. Just do it. Just like, "make it happen." 

Isaline: Yeah. Then it seems close to impossible. Like, especially, if you are consultants and not an agency. Like, you don't have a tech team sitting next to you, ready to help out and do things.

Nadia: Yes. Also, like sometimes, I include it now in my service contract that additional services are to be charged at the additional cost. It should be really clearly mentioned. Before, I mean, clients should also know that SEO is within this scope. Other scopes are also at additional services because they mean something different. Without leaving things, really putting dots at the end of sentences, without putting things clear, sometimes confusion can happen. There are sometimes people who can use the vague situation or undefined things to their interests, or to the situation that might arise here or there. 

Isaline: It's really interesting because preparing this podcast recording, when I thought about clients' expectations, I thought about, "Oh yeah, it's too slow." They expect something quick, like Google Ads, and they have to wait six months. But, as I listened to you, I understand that confusion and client expectation arise also in the scope of what you're doing and who you're collaborating with. 

Nadia: Yes. 

Isaline: Can you tell me what you added in your client's onboarding process after this experience; what you do today differently?

Nadia: Yeah. Actually, I take time to plan. I have a list of communication touchpoints with clients and things that I include as introduction to the SEO service that I make sure to communicate before. Like, at negotiating the contract, add the contract. Like, I induced also the proposal that I sent initially to clients. And also, the first information that I send. I define when would be the communication with the clients. I tell them exactly when they will be communicated for what. I explained to them all the process, what does it mean. Like, when we work on content, what does it mean? I showed up with them also examples of previous works or previous reports and templates that I use. So that they know when they receive it, what does it mean? I ask them as well, "What would you like to see?" Like, some clients, for them, they want to be involved and they would like to see what it means for the technical audit report.

For other clients. Like, one client was shocked, "Oh, what did you send me? It's just like a medical doctor's report. Like, I shouldn't be seeing this. It's too much. I'm overwhelmed with that." So after that, I learned that to ask the client, what would they expect to see, if they would like to be involved in the communication on the web changes or not. Because, sometimes, it takes lots of time to collaborate with the web developers, and also to budget the timing for that is very important. And, to ask them what kind of reports they would like to see. So, I defined the KPIs with them. And then, the reflection in terms of reports, I ask them what resources they have, and just to make sure that we agree on the resources from that, and what would be my scope and the collaboration that I will be taking with the sources.

So, I plan for the project, for the communication, for the resources. I usually keep regular meetings every two weeks. Once, maybe at the beginning with some clients once a week. We thought that was maybe half an hour, sometimes, 45 minutes. So that they are on track with everything. The first briefing, and also before the project ends, I also do a debriefing. Prior to the debriefing meeting, to finalize all pending issues, and then the debriefing. 

Isaline: In a discovery call, what are the things that you think you have to share with the clients to start with a healthy expectation? You mentioned that you have a list of things. At the very beginning, what do you mentioned?

Nadia: At the discovery call, I just learned from them what they know about SEO, what they have done. I go visit that website. I ask them what they think the competitors are and what are the most important services. What drags them money, what has worked, what has not worked at it earlier. And then, according to that, I explain the process. I explain the milestone. Like, this is like timelines. This is step one. It will take one to two months, for example. This is the milestones here, I need to communicate these. Usually, when we are finalizing the collaboration and we are about to sign the contract, I have the timelines and the contact points, and the process already in place. So that when we signed the contract, they have it already. They have it as a visual as well. 

They have it already in front of them. We go through it together so that they understand what's the process. Because some of them, they just receive keywords after. For example, you do a keyword research and then you need the client to sign off to make sure that those are relevant to the business and that's exactly what we can be targeting the clients with. For them, they think like, "Oh, that's the keyword recession. That's the content optimization. How can we have it in our web pages?" So, it's very important to explain things ahead of time because things can be thought of in ways that you can think of actually sometimes.

Isaline: To finish this podcast, because we've already spoken a lot. What would be your four most important learning about clients' expectations during the last three years as a consultant?

Nadia: I found it's always useful to think about SEO process. SEO, as a service, is a promise. Like each service is a promise. And, the promise for the SEO project doesn't only contain end results and return on investment. It also includes communication, touchpoints, resources, timelines, and each need to be clarified at the beginning. The second, as I mentioned, to have really the agreement and the contract are well thought of and drafted with the help of our professionals but protect yourself. The third is that you're not supposed to know everything. Sometimes, it's very useful that you intervene and you can bring experts in that field to help you with certain specific things. Because as you work with different websites, you can know all technologies together. Don't be afraid to shout out for help to get other experts on board with you. Last, always think of how would you like to leave clients with, not only in terms of information but how would you like your clients to feel after they communicate with you, after having the interaction with you. It's very important as well that you feel good together. You agree on certain values on actually the core of the collaboration together.

Isaline: What do you see for SEO Transformers in 2022? What's coming next for your consultancy?

Nadia: That's a very exciting question. I find that maybe for next year would be more of collaboration in terms of events. I see more of events in the community and local events as we started this year, to continue on that. More experimentation when it comes to SEO tools, AI, more of using and trying different -- playing around with different technologies to see how to improve and optimize processes further. 

Isaline: Nice. So, I see we can expect from you events and new optimized process. That's really exciting. If someone wants to continue the conversation with you, where can they find you? 

Nadia: I would love to hear from people on social media, on LinkedIn, with the name "Nadia Mojahed." On Twitter as well, or through my website, the contact form. I will be happy to answer questions, to keep in touch, and to discuss about SEO collaboration, new opportunities together. 

Isaline: Great. I'll make sure to add the links to your social contact. Of course, add a link to your website. Thanks a lot for being here with us today and for sharing some of your experience as a consultant.

Nadia: Thank you so much, Isaline, for having me here and for this great effort, and putting on together, bringing people in the SEO and those great community efforts. We need more women in SEO and you're helping a lot and encouraging lots of women to join the ship. 

Isaline: Thanks a lot. Well, I really hope so. If you have one thing to remember if you're listening to this podcast is that we are seriously all learning in every field. So, you completely belong and you just carve your path and you'll be fine. Reach out to us. To Nadia, if you like, or to me. I'm on Twitter @WorkInSEO.

Please, if you have any feedback, or comments, suggestion, get in touch with me. I'm really happy to hear. Also, this podcast, you'll find the transcripts on WorkInSEO.com blog, and you'll have a link in the description, and yeah, that's it. Thank you for listening to us. It was really exciting to have Nadia here with me. See you in the next podcast. Thanks a lot and goodbye.

Nadia: Thank you, Isaline.