Ask an SEO – Paul Delaney on managing clients and their expectations

by Martin Harrison

Paul Delaney, SEO Account Director at MEC Manchester on managing client expectations and resources.

Managing expectations is a vital part of any SEO campaign, and a good account manager will be adept at doing this, by balancing realistic targets with the resource available to them. I caught up with Paul Delaney, SEO Account Director at MEC Manchester and asked him how he goes about this.

Q) Hi Paul, could you maybe start by giving me some insight into what a typical day in the life of an Account Director looks like?

A) A typical day consists of reviewing campaign activity for the clients I’m responsible for. This consists of keeping up to date with communications between internal and external teams, dealing with any queries from clients, operationally as part of the senior team we look at planning and product development to ensure that MEC are continually keeping up with market trends and that our product remains best in class.

Paul Delaney

Q) Tell us about your firm MEC, what does the team and setup look like there?

A) MEC is an all service media buying agency, we have core groups for each discipline and the structure is generally what you’d expect from any agency, an example for my clients would be myself, a Senior Account Manager, account manager and an Executive with touch points from the content team and the wider areas of the business.

Q) When you’re pitching for a new account – what do you hang your hat on, what are MEC’s USPs?

A) The ambition of MEC is “To be our clients’ most valued business partner – famous for inspiring people & exceptional results.” with this ambition, when pitching SEO/organic performance we pride ourselves as a best in class enterprise service and we are also the highest ranked media agency for the last 3 years in The Sunday Times best 100 Companies to work for.

Q) MEC are a media buying agency, does that mean that you can leverage relationships with publishers for links? If so, do you have any insight into this process and how perhaps those without these relationships could go about this?

A) Being a large media agency we do have the benefit of contacts throughout the business, from a link POV it’s not something we go for in isolation, as part of wider campaign activity we ensure that any SEO value is looked at when campaigns are being planned and executed.

Q) Could you share with us some insight into how your SEO campaigns are set out in terms of targets, are these focused on rankings or traffic? Are there any PRFs involved?

A) Each campaign is very different to the next, a typical campaign is set out to ensure the client KPIs are continually measured against be that rankings, traffic, sales, ROI. We ensure a site is critiqued for top to bottom and all angles covered from a technical viewpoint including audits, research as well as the on and off site activity.

Q) Is it easier or harder to do SEO in a full service agency, as opposed to one that simply focuses on SEO?

A) It’s a bit of both to be honest, when solely focusing on an SEO campaign in isolation it can be easier as the tasks in hand are very specific and managed accordingly, with clients with multiple media disciplines co-ordination with wider teams is key in terms of planning and communications.

Paul Delaney managing client expectations and resources

Q) Do you outsource any elements of your SEO campaigns, or is all work carried out internally?

A) We have a very experienced and strong team for our content creation and outreach that means we don’t need to outsource our work, as part of a wider company we can reach out to other parts of the business to co-ordinate anything that doesn’t sit within our team.

Q) My experience of agency-side SEO has been something like this – sales promises the earth to get clients in the door – SEO team then struggles to meet these expectations. How do you prevent this from happening?

A) As an all service media buying agency the process to win new business is a long and thought out one, multiple rounds of pitches take place and all teams involved work together to plan for resource to ensure that new clients are serviced to the full ability.

Q) As an in-house agency copywriter, I was often handed some pretty unrealistic deadlines due to account managers with a lack of understanding of how long things actually take. Does having been at the coal face in terms of actually working on SEO campaigns help you to avoid doing this? How hands-on are you in terms of campaign delivery?

A) Yes indeed, having worked in SEO for 5+ years I fully understand how long things take to produce and part of my role is to ensure that campaign delivery is managed through our content team and ensuring both expectations of the client and internal teams is co-ordinated, so very hands on managing the process.

Q) Prior to joining MEC, you looked after operations for Latitude Express, an SEO service aimed at the SME market – how does that differ to your current role where you are presumably working with much bigger brands? Do you have any tips for SMEs with limited budgets on what to focus on in relation to SEO?

A) Yes the role differs greatly in terms of the size of clients, the pressures are still the same, ROI. With the ever changing face of SEO it’s important that SMEs with limited budgets ensure that their site is in the best shape possible and also ensure the correct agency is chosen if partnering that the advice given is correct.

Q) How do you deal with the issue of getting buy-in and SEO recommendations implemented by your clients?

A) When working with large clients it can be challenging and therefore it’s imperative that any recommendations the team and myself are giving to clients is discussed and the relevant stakeholders are engaged, my role is to ensure that a clear and concise strategy is delivered and maintained, generally a marketing manager is the day-to-day contact and they understand the values of what we are trying to achieve so good communication is important.

Q) Some more general SEO questions now – one of the SEO tactics frequently used in the past is press release syndication, has your approach to this changed recently following Matt Cutts’ recent comments?

A) I still use press releases post Matt Cutts’ comments, a press release can be used to not just gain links but to be used for visibility and get important client information out there, I believe that traffic can be gained as well as any declining link value, a press release generally should be as it’s named and not just created for links.

Q) Who would be your dream client and why?

A) Good question! There are so many brands that would be great to work on it’s hard to say, I suppose brands like Apple and Sony stick out for the range and quality of their products. They would be good to work on from an all-service point of view as the creative options would good.

Q) What are your favourite SEO tools?

A) There are so many out there but my go to tools are Search Metrics, Majestic SEO, Linkdex, LinkRisk, I also develop my own tools for some tasks as well as using proprietary tools we have built.

Q) Who are your favourite SEO rockstars?

A) I don’t really like using the term ‘SEO Rockstar’ but good industry people I follow and trust are Martin MacDonaldBas van den BeldKevin GibbonsJoost de Valk to name a few. I also engage within the Manchester Search and Social community so the likes of Shane Jones and the 3 Door Digital guys.

Martin Harrison

Works at Copify