April 8, 2020

Cosmin Negrescu and Kevin Gibbons debate top agency questions & advice in the COVID-19 context [with VIDEO]

SEOmonitor's first edition of Office Hours, a weekly live Q&A with and for SEO agencies, tackles client retention, crisis strategies, cashflow and more.
April 8, 2020

Cosmin Negrescu and Kevin Gibbons debate top agency questions & advice in the COVID-19 context [with VIDEO]

April 8, 2020
Published on
April 8, 2020
Updated on
January 8, 2021

Cosmin Negrescu and Kevin Gibbons debate top agency questions & advice in the COVID-19 context [with VIDEO]

April 8, 2020

Cosmin Negrescu and Kevin Gibbons debate top agency questions & advice in the COVID-19 context [with VIDEO]

It’s true that we live in times when not talking about the pandemic is not an option, as the new context is affecting all businesses. Last week, we did a quick data analysis on 4000 clients of our SEO agencies on total traffic impact and realized that:

And these numbers almost doubled in the meantime, on the negative. 

As the face of the current SEO industry is shifting and we need to adapt to challenging times, we wanted to hear your concerns and keep the conversation going with and for the SEO community. #weareallinthistogether, after all.

We listened to your questions and our guests from #OfficeHours - Cosmin Negrescu, our founder and the founder of one of the biggest SEO agencies in Eastern Europe and Kevin Gibbons, founder of Re:signal, a successful UK SEO agency, and UK Search Personality of 2018 - answered them together.

Here’s a breakdown of their top tips and insights:

How can we estimate the impact and optimize for a longer runway for our SEO agency?
  • You have to be on top of your day to day trends as that’s the pace they’re changing at the moment. And you have to reforecast quite frequently for all your clients. 
  • Do scenario simulations and keep revisiting every client. What’s the revenue impact? What are the stock levels? For instance, there are retailers that have good search volumes still. However, people are going to be more cautious with their money, looking for discounts, more comfortable clothing and so on. There’s a lot of variables that you need to consider. Prioritize short term.
  • How do you play the long game? "As an agency we have to put our clients first, focus on retention and overcommunicating with them - showing them the trends and the impact. We have to do what’s right for them! If at the moment it’s right to pause as there’s no demand, we’ll do that." (Kevin) It’s not just how you maximize your revenue short-term, it’s more about how you can manage the relationship.
  • Also, four your own business: estimate how many months you can continue like this extrapolating the data you have. Do the analysis and cut unnecessary costs. 
  • Think creatively and try to find new opportunities, even in these times. How can we adapt our agency services or bring new, different value to our clients now? Constantly ask these questions and try to find new avenues to answer them, in accordance with your client portfolio.
  • Be a consultant. Look for hidden opportunities in the current SEO data and support your clients in their pivoting, adapting strategies and so on.

Should we accept delayed payments or offer discounts?
  • It’s a case by case basis depending on the business you’re working with. If you delay payments, it may be a fair compromise for now, for the clients that are really affected, maybe increasing the payment period from 30 to 45 days and such. Will it affect your team? Yet, with discounts, the worrying part is that it can set a precedent, so it really depends on the client relationship you have and how it might impact the long run. It needs to be right for both short and long term.
  • What’s important is to have more financial control now than you would normally. You really need to understand what’s going on with your cash flow.
  • “Accepting delayed payments exposes the business to some threats. At SEOmonitor, we didn’t accept that. It’s a harder answer because you want to help, but that significantly increases your risks, especially for your team.” (Cosmin). As an SEO agency, you might have freelancers and collaborators, so you have to make sure you can pay them. This can be kindly and fairly communicated.
  • Be careful with this as you can create a vicious circle of delayed or even non-payments.
  • Think about a portfolio strategy & where you can renegotiate terms. “We’ve asked some of our clients for better terms since singing with them. We’ve had positive reactions to that. They don’t want you to pause work, they want you to continue actually.” (Kevin). In these times, the team needs to move quicker and show fast results, so it’s important to be paid on time and have more favourable terms.

How can we provide more value to our customers in this context?
  • The question is: where did the search volumes move? One opportunity with SEO is helping their clients find new trends, adapting the strategies and moving into a different kind of consultancy. They can plan together for the short term and help clients for this particular context: look at various ranking scenarios on new types of demand, do content marketing etc. 
  • You need to be able to answer the “exam question” for your clients: How can we get through the coronavirus as successfully as possible from an SEO perspective? Giving them the 12-months roadmap and telling them SEO is a long-term investment isn’t useful right now. It’s more about the short-term impact in this context: “What are the trends now? What are the things that people are searching more aggressively? What information do they want to see? Human needs are where the customer demand is.” (Kevin)
  • Focus on squeezing a bit more out of what you’ve got already. For instance, think about how you can take page 2-3 rankings and make tweaks to on-site content and internal linking that helps you push results to page 1. The effort is small, the reward is potentially large here. Prioritize the quick impact now.

Should we continue to do sales or upsells? If yes, to whom and how?
  • You should do it. “You can’t regain your MRR by trying to keep your old clients. You still have to find new clients. But it’s about what clients - which are the ones thriving?” (Cosmin). There are growing industries that need SEO now. Also, regarding upsells, you may have clients that need more of your help or a different kind of help now, so if that’s the case, again, the answer is yes. 
  • “You can’t upsell to an unhappy client.” (Kevin) You make your clients happy through your work, but also through building a solid relationship: having alignment on targets, showing opportunities to do more etc. 
  • Always back up your proposals with a strong business case: “There’s normally no shortage of SEO things to do, but you have to justify the value of every action and get the buy-in. In an economy like this, it’s even more important.” (Kevin)
  • Analyze each client. Get all their data and see where the hidden opportunities are. Living in a new context means having new questions and an opportunity to answer them. There’s a great space for content marketing, but you need to time it well and do the in-depth research.
  • Optimism versus positivity. Positivity is just everything is going to be fine. Optimism is about studying all the data, figuring out what to do and doing it. From an agency perspective, you’ll always have ups and downs. What you can do it put yourself out there: write content, speak in events, enter conversations, help people and you will uncover opportunities. There is a sense of perspective here, even while we’re struggling.

Should we try to convince clients not to cancel or downgrade and how?
  • Yes. Explain the value of your work and really help them before anything else.
  • Pick a strategy and go with it. But do what’s right for your clients, otherwise, they’ll sense you’re just trying to sell. 
  • Put the effort of understanding each client’s context now, when they’re struggling. You convince them not to cancel or downgrade if you really have something valuable for them today, not in a year from now. So first have the conversation and then see what’s the best case to continue or, maybe, not.

pitch new SEO clients in the covid climate
  • Who’s the client? Are they growing? Are they severely affected? If the statement’s not true, don’t do it. If it’s true, then explain the value behind it in the short-term.
  • Think about how you help them with the specific problems that they currently face. One thing that is constantly coming up is that people do need to digitalize their services more. So if you can also help them with this, then do awareness content, capture customer information etc. Whatever has a real impact now.

And here’s how we adapted our own business strategy so as to be proactive in the COVID-19 context and answer current needs and pains that SEO agencies have:

  • We created different percentage scenarios and prepared for the drop in MRR. We wanted to have as fewer surprises as possible.
  • We’ve adapted our business strategy in accordance with the new needs and pains of SEO agencies.
  • We shared our Year-over-Year data and created a new tool for SEO agencies: Search Trends after COVID-19. We’re currently working on improving the product and including filters for particular verticals.
  • We’re, also, currently working on a Client Health Tracker for agencies, so you know how your clients’ business is affected along with how their campaign is going. 

If you want to watch the whole event, here’s the recording as well

Cosmin Negrescu and Kevin Gibbons debate top agency questions & advice in the COVID-19 context [with VIDEO]

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