Conversations in Search: Claire Newton-Simonnet

Claire Newton-Simonnet leads the SEO for Moonpig

Claire Newton-Simonnet has been an SEO for more than a decade, and worked in a number of agency roles with Publicis, Digitas, iProspect and now leads the SEO for online cards and gifting company Moonpig.

Claire was born in France, and graduated from Dublin Business School in 2007 with a IBC in Business Communications. 

When Claire is not obsessing over communicating the value of SEO within her business, she is a wife and mother to a beautiful 4 year old boy.

This post is part of a series called ‘Conversations in Search’. I discuss the current state of SEO practice with other SEO experts and discover their views on the future of SEO.

Damien: Thank you for taking the time to have a chat! Before that though, how are you with this COVID-19 time we’re living in?

Claire: It’s a bit crazy at times. We’re juggling, the kids, work and limited meeting spaces at home, it’s a bit like rock, paper, scissors! Aside from that, It’s fantastic to spend so much time with the family, and I’m lucky enough to have a strong family around me. It’s been a tough few months for everyone, and I’m fortunate to be working at Moonpig which has been amazingly supportive during this incredible time.

Damien: I wonder if you could tell us a little more about you and your background, Claire?

Claire: After Uni, I ended up in SEO by chance. I moved from Paris to London, and my first job was with a small agency. I continued on the agency side for several years and worked with clients like BUPA UK and Etihad, as well as international brands which were both challenging and extremely rewarding.

At the time, I was an all-rounder with good knowledge of all things SEO, managing clients, and specialised in research and content strategy. I became more technical focused at Moonpig, something I didn’t expect. It’s so exciting to see the differences you can make by implementing technical recommendations while being embedded in-house in the engineering and product teams.

On the agency side, I was making strategic recommendations, delivering roadmaps for clients to execute. They would then manage their backlog internally. I’d see when a recommendation was implemented but after the fact and not early enough in most cases to rectify implementation errors.

Having very little control over the process after the audit was handed over was a point of frustration for me. After going in-house, I found I have much more control to drive the delivery and actually execute the strategy intended.

For example, we’re now nearly finished moving to a new platform with SEO at the heart of all product considerations. Businesses are continually changing, and I think when companies don’t have SEO embedded effectively in-house at the time of change, such as migrations, costly errors will be made. 

Damien: Tell us about your role and doing SEO at Moonpig?

Claire: At first, SEO was part of the marketing team. As our roadmap became more and more technical with all our focus going into migrating our sites to the new platform, our group moved to the product team allowing all key stakeholders involved in the project to align at a very early stage.

SEO requirements wouldn’t have been considered nor thoroughly followed if our team weren’t directly in contact with Product Managers, Engineers and integrated within the product team at the time of migration. When you’re embedded in the product team, you can have the space to give recommendations to drive the implementation, well before it goes out. 

The business decision to keep SEO at the heart of the platform migration is one of the drivers of our current strong growth and has proved to be a long term investment for the business. Our achievements didn’t stop at the technical side. For instance, we didn’t have an editorial platform, so we created one from scratch in the space of a month. We started small with a minimum viable product, proved the value of it to the business and as a result, have more authority to act on improving it in our new platform.

Damien: What impact is COVID-19 having for you and the team?

Claire: Right now, it’s an extraordinary time for a lot of people, and Moonpig is having a massive impact on how people can show love to each other. We have a big mission to help people to stay connected. 

What we’re trying to do is manage the demand to really help people stay at home and keep in contact. We have to change and adapt our marketing plans very quickly, reviewing our focus sometimes daily.

We are a very agile team. Right now, with Covid, we are changing our plans weekly and adapting to the market more so than ever before. As mentioned earlier, the step-change for Moonpig this year was the re-platforming. With our new platform, we are now able to turn around innovations much quicker and eCards, which we turned around in a few weeks, was the perfect illustration of our agility.

Damien: Can you talk us through the frameworks you use to help with prioritisation of SEO recommendations versus and business initiatives in the queue?

Claire: We use a RICE prioritisation framework. After each audit completion, we would score each recommendation based on four dimensions: reach, impact, confidence and effort. 

We would consider how many customers a change would reach, what the perceived impact of the change would be, our confidence in the difference being successful based on our collective experience, and the ease of implementation. Some of those estimations are educated guesses. After a bit of experience, you know what is going to move the needle.

Damien: What are your views, Claire, on the current state of SEO?

Claire: I think everybody, every SEO wants to have more information from Google, we want to stop guessing. Although it’s imperative to test and learn, we need more transparency from search engines. 

Also, I hear it from a lot of people that ‘SEO is dead’, but I don’t believe it for one second. The fact is that businesses need to adapt constantly to market and search engines evolutions. Having more tools than ever to inform us of how our sites are performing, our ability to influence changes in our companies and support broader business efforts makes me think that we’re more essential than ever. 

Damien: Are there challenges you’ve seen come up again and again in your SEO career?

Claire: Yes, on the link building side of SEO. It is very much looking like it’s becoming the domain for PR and social influencers with Google against even the whitest of link building. Adapting is vital and having a joined influencer approach with social and PR is crucial.

When pitching new outreach and engagement ideas to clients when I was still on the agency side, the difficulty was and still is to quantify the impact of said campaign. 

The question we always get is: What will be the impact on our revenue? Which for an outreach campaign is hard to quantify. Agencies today are reluctant to do SEO revenue forecasts; however, it is nearly impossible to get sign off without one.

Adding an estimate, which is heavily caveated, generally does the trick as long as the methodology is clearly explained to the client, the caveats clearly stated and explained. 

Damien: Many SEOs believe Google is going to rely on different signals in the future to rank web pages. What do you think about this and the future of SEO?

Claire: For me, there’s no way Google is going to stop looking at links because it gives them a powerful way of gauging the authority of your website. It’s tougher getting exciting content out there, which cuts through the noise and actually gets valuable backlinks. 

What works for us is working with influencers directly, finding natural brand advocates who create unique content. We’re making them feel part of the brand and share our values. 

Where I see a significant change in SEO is our ability to learn from our data. For example, I use Botify, and I love it. The amount of information I get from their tool is impressive, especially since I added log file analysis. It’s a dream. 

Logfile analysis is a great way to understand what is going on with your website. When they [Google] tell you that you’ve switched to the mobile index, you can look at your log files and found out the reality. Turns out it’s actually a 50% mobile and 50% desktop crawl. If you’re not sure what activities will work for you – the only thing you can do is – test, learn, iterate.

Damien: When you’re analysing your log files, does it help you to prioritise effort and resource on those different initiatives?

Claire: I don’t take Google data verbatim, and I don’t think anyone should. Testing and learning are so important. The logs file will tell you much more about which pages and sections are most important to your customers, to search engines and the site’s architecture improvements, speed optimisation and the effort that should be spent to improve performance. It allows us to be very clinical. 

The log file analysis means we shape our resources and efforts in the best way. It’s so important to see what works for your site and not only rely on third-party data for that.

Additionally, there’s a synergy between SEO and PPC, which is more important now than ever. SERPs are ever-changing and reducing organic clicks in favour of paid clicks for apparent reasons. Have patience, continue to learn from the data you have, like click through rate, bounce rate, clicks, and consider the little things that are going to make a big difference. 

Damien: In your time as an SEO, what’s the thing that you’re most proud of?

Claire: I’ve worked on the UK, US and Australian migrations this year at Moonpig. I’m incredibly proud of the work we have done so far. Not only because of our amazing results but because it was an all-company effort, but we put together a cross-disciplinary team of more than fifty people together from all parts of the business to do the migrations.

We all worked collaboratively, cross teams/squads, which ensured we had all the perspectives needed & sufficient requirements gathered to make it a success. It made our approach more robust. I personally spent hours mapping 100,000s of URLs – till my eyes were ready to explode – so I can only be happy when I see how well everything is going. 

Damien: What would your team members say your best quality is?

Claire: My attention to detail. When something is essential, it’s critical to persevere and be meticulous otherwise it’s likely you will have to fix it down the line. I am also very impatient. Patience is a virtue, and it’s a valuable quality for any SEO to have. Without passion and drive to push a project forward, you don’t get anyone excited or get much done.

Damien: is there a lesson have you learnt in your career to date which you value, if so what was it and why is it of value?

Claire: As an SEO, there’s a lot you don’t have control of which can be extremely stressful, especially when you are responsible for the channel. At first, when I was seeing bugs being released, I tended to panic. 

My boss, André Rickerby, at the time, taught me a valuable lesson ‘Control your controllables’. You can’t control changes made by Google on SERPs, search engine results pages, or algorithm changes so focus on what you do have control of. That really helped me manage my stress levels, and I hope that it will help other SEO managers. 

Damien: Is there anything you see the world of SEO that you want to talk about?

Claire: I see more and more groups and learning forums opening up such as ‘Women in Tech SEO’ led by Areej AbuAli, which I’m really impressed by and can’t wait to contribute to. Shared learning is key to growth.

Damien: Thank you for your insights, Claire, speak soon!

Follow Claire on Twitter @Claire_Sim and check out Moonpig.