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Host: Isaline Muelhauser

Guest: Heba Said

In this week's episode, Heba Said shares how she has started her SEO Consultancy after working several years for world famous brands as an in-house SEO. She shares how she leverages her knowledge about multilingual SEO to convert clients, how she adjusts her language and offer during the pitching process to her client’s needs and current knowledge of SEO. She also discusses the Arabic-speaking markets and how getting organised has helped her get her SEO consultancy up and running. We find out what inspires Heba and what empowers her to be the brilliant woman she is today.

You can connect with Heba through her LinkedIn, Twitter and website.

Follow Women in Tech SEO on Twitter.

Episode Transcript

Heba: Dear everyone, we had a very special podcast with Isaline. Go on, Isaline, tell them what happened.

Isaline: Yes. We have a very special podcast prepared for you because we faced technical issues and we tried twice to record the podcast.

Heba: Yes, I had to say my words twice and I'm saying too much. I hope you enjoy it but I'm enjoying Isaline so much and I love this community, so I am sure you're going to love it too.

Isaline: Yes. Heba said such interesting things that I decided that even though it's not a full conversation, I will use the bits in post production to give you the chance to listen to what Heba says and not just keep all of this knowledge from me. So, I hope you will enjoy it as much as I enjoy talking to Heba.

Heba: I enjoy talking to you too, Isaline. It's been a privilege talking to you for two days.

Isaline: Yeah. We talked together two days in a row. That was actually really cool. 

Heba: Yes.

Isaline: Of course, everyone, we love you and if we did not answer all of your questions about starting a consultancy, please do get in touch. We are on Slack and we are on Twitter, so just write to us. We will answer everything.

Heba: Yes. Thank you, Isaline.

Isaline: Okay. So, enjoy the listen. Thank you, Heba.

Starting as an SEO consultant with Heba Said.

Hey, it's Isaline. Do you wonder how to start as an SEO consultant and develop your own client's portfolio? That's exactly what we will be discussing today with our guest, Heba. Heba will share how she leveraged her in-house experience to develop her own client's portfolio.

Hi, Heba.

Heba: Hi, Isaline. How are you? Thank you for having me.

Isaline: Thanks. I'm great. I'm really happy to have a chance to talk to you.

Heba: Me too.

Isaline: Thank you for taking the time to answer all of my questions.

Heba: Thank you.

Isaline: You are a senior SEO specialist, after working in-house for world-famous brands, I think everyone probably used at least once one of the brands you worked for, you recently started your own SEO consultancy, and today you work with international clients in the U.K., in the U.S. and the Gulf region.

Heba: Yes.

Isaline: Tell me, Heba, what is the number one thing you have learned while at your last in-house position that you can leverage today and that you use to develop your portfolio?

Heba: In my last in-house position, I worked for them for three years in-house and they were an international brand that wanted to expand their service into the Arabic community. It was great to know that the Arabic community are in many countries, not just one. We all speak Arabic, yes, but we have second languages. Some countries speak English or French. It's been amazing to divide everything we're doing for each country. We have the MENA region. It's the Middle East and North Africa as a whole, or the Gulf, which is Saudi Arabia, United Emirates, and Qatar, Bahrain. Each country of these was a target for this business. They started with Egypt and then they realized that Egypt is not the only market out there that they should seek other countries as well in the Arabic community.

This is where we examined our product and services and we thought that each country of these needs different products and different services, different design and templates and landing pages, and so on. It was a tough job, but we managed to grow in these countries and now they are very famous in the Arabic community just as elsewhere.

Isaline: I expect much about dealing with multilingual SEO.

Heba: Yes, yes. Whenever a company or a service wants to expand their brands into other countries, even if they speak the same language, there is a difference. Every country got its own culture, its own traditions, and their own slang in language, of course. You shouldn't translate this content into the language and just leave it there and expect it to rank and to prospect and so on, you need to work on your content and actually on your strategy to follow up with these people to target the right audience and to make them by your service or your product. You can have the same language, but you really need to target each country as itself.

Isaline: You are very specialized in the fields like multilingual SEO and international SEO. Is that the type of clients you're targeting now as a consultant, like the type of project?

Heba: I like to target projects that are expanding to other countries, but I also work with national projects in the U.S. or the U.K. I once worked for a Canadian company or an Australian company, so it doesn't have to be like someone is trying to reach the international market. I like to explore different markets and try to work as a local because that's how I learn about other cultures and the other search engine, the search engine itself in the local country that I'm working on, how it's giving results, what is the difference between U.S. or U.K., what is the difference if I'm searching from Egypt or searching from Saudi Arabia or what, so on.

Isaline: Tell me more about the local clients. Do they know about SEO? Is that a usual budget that they have in their marketing mix?

Heba: SEO in Egypt or the Arabic community as a whole is a new strategy for marketing because here in the Arabic community, they rely mostly on social media. It's a hard job finding a good client here that is willing to spend that much of the budget on SEO because it's very hard to find results within a week or two as they see with paid ads and social media ads, and so on.

When I reach a client or a client reaches me and asks for my help in SEO and he's an Arabic, I told them you have a timeline. You need to be devoted to this strategy that I'm doing. We need people and team members that can help me. This is going to cost you at first, but you're going to get revenue afterwards, and it's going to be net revenue, not ads and social media and so on. I'm educating them that they have a lot of potential if they seek the search engine if they seek organic search engine, and that they are missing out a lot because a lot of users, lately after COVID especially, are using the internet and not only social media but people are expanding their knowledge into the search and searching about everything right now. It's been different five years ago, but now people are introduced to new platforms and so on.

Yeah, I like educating my clients before I started working because it can be hard to start a job and then you realize that your client is not willing to help you with the budget or the team and so on.

Isaline: It sounds like, as a consultant, you need to have a very different approach and language depending on the clients you're talking to, depending if it's an international client who knows or if it's a local who knows nothing about SEO.

Heba: Exactly, exactly. You need to reach the mind of whoever is talking to you. "Are you known of this SEO or is it new to you? Are you willing to pay for it? Are you willing to work hard to get what you need or what?" Because if he's not, it's not my job to take money and I know this client is not going forward with my plan, so yeah.

Isaline: For someone who is faced with a similar type of market where the clients do not really know about SEO when they're not used to spend this in their marketing budget for another consultant in this situation, what is your best advice to have debuting -- can we say debuting clients in SEO?

Heba: Just to talk to their client before making any changes or before applying any strategy plan, look into the project and see what this project needs, and talk to your client's transparency. Not just give them a dream about ranking for this keyword and that's it. That's not how SEO works actually. So, you need to study the project and talk to your client, make sure he's ready to go forward with you and in a long-term relationship because it's kind of hard just to work for a month or two and then leave the project. It's not good for your image or the client.

Isaline: Do you do a lot of local SEO types of Google business profiles? I can imagine if nobody does that. The results can be interesting.

Heba: Yes. I always advise them to do, but I don't really manage Google business profiles. But, it's something advisable for any local business, of course.

Isaline: About your international clients, do you work mainly, so you said with international clients who are not necessarily trying to reach Arabic-speaking markets, but also other multilingual types of similar markets? Do you see common mistakes your clients are doing or common tasks you have to do for them all the time?

Heba: Yes. Actually, I start with auditing their website, making sure the technical SEO is good, their parameters, and their edge length are doing great because sometimes they are messing everything up, especially if they are targeting the same language but in different countries. And then, I start by keyword research because they always mistaken that maybe because they have the same language, they should target the same keywords for countries, but they are different competitors, different products and they should learn about the market. 

So, that's how I start by doing keyword research and competitor analysis for them. Then, I start to expand their marketing gross and tell them, "You know what, you need to target these keywords and these products for these countries." I guess, this product is not working for that country, so you need to work with other products.

Isaline: Do you have clients both internationally who want to target other multilingual-specific markets? Do you also have clients who target the Arabic-speaking markets?

Heba: Right now, I have clients for the Arabic-speaking markets specifically and other clients international. They are targeting their local markets. So, nothing big like the brand I used to work with, but I'm trying to find this client again. This is my dream client because I love working with a big client like that and spending to other countries. But, right now, no, as a consultant, I'm still building my profile, so I'm still searching for the right client right now.

Isaline: Does this mean that you sort of have to fight for marketing budgets that would be otherwise attributed to another task or literally another industry?

Heba: Yes, exactly. They always wonder when can we have revenue from what you're doing because SEO is costing, we have tools and we have people working under me, content and developers, content writer, and developers, so this is money-consuming for them. They think that when can I get revenue back? Because it takes time to rank and it takes time to convert your user into customers. 

If they are not a heavy client with a good budget, I would not work with them because it's time-consuming for me. Sometimes it's spending out my resources and they always like seeking revenue rather than the quality of work and how much time it takes. If they are not ready, I give them timeline. If you are not ready to see outcome after three to six to one year, then I don't think you should spend in SEO.

Isaline: Yeah, I see. It means that you really have to identify which clients can benefit from working with you and also educate them about the stretch of time because you and I know that it can take long to see the actual results.

You mentioned earlier how different it was between local clients and international clients where local clients, you need to educate them more because they are starting with SEO in their marketing process. What is the main difference while you do the pitching between these two types of clients? What do you need to do?

Heba: When I'm pitching for any local clients, actually it always starts with me with networking, so the client comes to me and tells me I need help with this. If he is a local client, I would say, "What do you know about SEO and how do you think this will help your business?" Because I want to know how far can he see what I'm doing. From there, I know that he needs to be, let's get a meeting and educate him about my business and how my business will help him and if he's ready to go on with the process because when I do a strategy plan for a client, it takes some time to get implemented. And also team, because mainly we will need content team and developers around, designers. Sometimes we need to migrate everything. 

So, it's very important to educate local clients of what I'm doing and it can exceed because mostly they know that I do keywords and some tags and that's it. It's a little more of that, so I need to educate them. No, it's more than that. But, for international clients mostly they just go into business like, "Let's do this. I need some audits and some implementation and please help my team," and so on.

Isaline: It sounds like, for local clients, there is a longer acquisition cost. It takes longer to start really doing tasks. Yeah.

Heba: Yes, it is.

Isaline: But then, all of the time you are actually teaching them about SEO, all of this is unpaid?

Heba: Yes, it's time-consuming. That's why sometimes I get tired to tell you the truth, I just seek international businesses. If they want to expand to the Arabic community, these are my target clients. My local clients can be my friends and family members and these people I can help out. But yeah, it is tiring. But, at the same time, I like educating people about it because sometimes they find people that can promise them something and it's a fraud and I need to educate them that not everyone says I will do SEO is a good SEO. You need to check their background, see their portfolio, make sure he's following the guidelines and everything.

Isaline: It sounds like the part where you educate the clients, it's nearly you being sort of a digital marketing consultant helping them. It sounds like your job has two parts before being a consultant like as SEO, you're doing tech consulting and teachings.

Heba: Yes. I might change my title, marketing strategist, I don't know. Yeah. It is tiring, but it's a process that I have to go through because this is people around me and maybe one day I'll find the perfect client because nobody does. But, maybe one day, the client that is very helpful that knows everything that follows your guidelines and follow your strategy, that developer that hears you out, and so on. It's a dream for every SEO to find this. 

Every project got its ups and downs, and sometimes we differ and you need to communicate with people that are non-tech. This is something that can be hard, but you need to learn that skill to go on with your consultancy, especially if you're independent like what I'm doing right now and you're not in-house or anything. Because in-house, you can find team members that can help you out. But, if you are alone, this is something you need to work on.

Isaline: I hear that it sounds tiring because it takes lots of energy to teach, but how do you manage this aspect of energy level of how much you're giving out and how much you're taking care of yourself to keep going? 

Heba: It's actually tiring that this is how I learned SEO in the first place. I've been working in SEO for seven years, so I've been depending on myself to educate myself and start working with people and testing everything I do. 

For seven years, I've been studying and working at the same time, and some people help me out through this process, a lot of people actually. This is how I bait them back. I say, "I need to educate people like people who used to educate me." This is something I need to give back. It's very helpful actually for me because this is how I go on. I brainstorm through my head with other people, and this is something very refreshing for you to keep track of what you're doing and why you're doing this and how can you let people know what you're doing. This is something very refreshing and motivating actually. I'm passionate with SEO, so this is something I love to share with people. 

I'm actually very active in social media. I share a little bit of tips every now and then because this is how I like people to get to know what I'm doing and to learn. If they find it difficult to find someone to help them, I'm always there. With Women in Tech SEO, I've been into mentorship lately and it's been very helpful for me and it teach me that I need to give back what I'm having. So, I started mentoring people around me, and this is something I find it very useful for myself and for others.

Isaline: Do tell me how do you let your potential local clients know about what you're doing. Does it also go through social media?

Heba: Yes, yes. It's always social media for me. LinkedIn and Twitter are my main platform to advertise my business. But, yeah, networking through groups and communities like Women in Tech and the Digital Marketing Union, I love these and they are amazing by finding prospects that can lead afterward. So, getting to know more people, communicating with more people, helping out others, like I said, this kind of stuff returns back to you with good clients, this is how I advertise myself. I'm also planning to make a website.

Isaline: Do you also acquire clients while you network? Are they type of in-person events and do you recommend doing that?

Heba: Yes, I do recommend in-person events. I never been to one, which is very drastically sad for me, but I always attend online events and I like networking with people. I book every week to talk to someone within our community just to get to know each other. Networking is my number one channel for finding good prospects.

Isaline: Heba, for someone who is in a similar position who is starting out and building their client's portfolio, as an SEO consultant, what is your number one advice?

Heba: To be organized. This is my number one advice. I was messing around for five months until I get to this point. I need to organize myself. I need to make time as if I'm working full-time. You have to make the time to build your own portfolio, to build your own networking, and collecting all your leads and all your networks into one place. This is the first thing I did. I made a very big spreadsheet. I pointed out what is my scope of work, who do I want to work with, what kind of work I want to do, and how is the contract, how many hours do I want to work, how many clients do I need to have, and so on. You need to put everything in this spreadsheet and then start out by educating yourself about freelancing work and how to balance your life and work together because this is something can be stressful at first.

So, what I do is wake up every morning and I start doing my job as a freelancer. I sit on my desk and I point out everything I need to do daily. I would recommend Notion. It's very good platform to put on task and it's very good for resources as well. I would recommend a spreadsheet and startup. You can do it.

Isaline: It sounds like there is lots of clarifying for yourself about the things you want to do before you actually do the things, right?

Heba: Yes. You need to do this. You need to have a plan.

Isaline: Tell me what is the number one mistake people always make when they think, "Let's target the Arabic-speaking markets"?

Heba: They don't think about the people as a whole new different people within their countries because in the Gulf countries, we are mostly Muslims that sometimes we have different traditions, different cultures, so you don't need to -- I mean, you can't target these people with the same design you're doing for European countries or the same language and the same products. Maybe you need to change a product a little bit to target these countries and maybe you need to change how you do the service. This is number one mistake because when I started out with this brand, I was like, "You need to keep these services because they're not helpful and very offensive to the Arabic community. So, you need to stick with the culture guidelines and the language guidelines and so on." So, yeah.

I would advise just study the market before you go through it. And talk to someone from the countries. Yes.

Isaline: Hey, so how was it? Did you enjoy everything? Of course, as promised, you can answer any question on Twitter and any social media.

Heba: My LinkedIn profile is /HebaSaid and my Twitter handle is @HebaSaidSEO.

Isaline: Of course, Heba also answers very quickly on Slack. I've been messaging her. Yeah.

Heba: I'm always online.

Isaline: Thank you so much for your understanding for this special podcast and I hope you liked it. Please do share, do ask anything we hear and I'm looking forward to seeing you anywhere anytime soon.

Heba: Thank you.

Isaline: Bye, everyone.

Heba: Goodbye.