There’s an ongoing pandemic, we’ve hit a bit of a recession, and here I am trying to convince you that SEO is still super important. I’ll hit you with an early summary: it is, SEO is still super important even in the face of economic instability.
Whether it’s a pandemic, oil prices plummeting, or something else that leads to an economic downturn, marketing remains a key factor for successful brands and businesses.
Marketing budgets, which should include SEO, are also prime targets for early cuts as businesses struggle with shutdowns and purse strings tightening up. Unfortunately, SEO is sometimes not well known because there’s so much going on behind the scenes that makes it ‘easy’ to cut.
As many companies wrestle with shutdowns and pulling on the purse strings, they might eye their marketing budget as an early cut. Usually, SEO is a major part of that marketing budget, so it’s at risk when a company decides to trim the fat.
We know that shifts in ad spending and marketing can greatly boost or impede the popularity of a brand during and after any form of recession, based on past recessions and during major historical downturns. In almost every case , firms continuing or enhancing marketing efforts saw higher sales
Think of marketing and SEO like a race. Even if everyone starts at the same spot, certain brands will go faster and farther based on budget, advertising, or talent, and whatever other tools they have at their disposal.
But if several companies take a 6 month pit stop because of a pandemic, even smaller budget cars will get ahead as long as they keep moving.
60% of large-sized businesses and 29% of medium-sized businesses noted a reduction in marketing budget during the 2008 recession.
And as we see in this study on how businesses invest during a recession, larger firms are more likely to slash their marketing budget during tough times. This offers rivals and smaller companies the ability to get some space if they keep up their marketing and SEO efforts.
Competition Doesn’t Stop, And Neither Should Your Marketing
The key reason why you want to carry on marketing and SEO during a pandemic or recession is simple: it won’t stop competition. Even though we see in studies that bigger corporations will invest less on ads during tough times, it does not exclude corporations from the field entirely.
That means after the recession or pandemic, that business will be back on the track racing at full speed again. Maintaining your SEO efforts through a pandemic as your competitors pull back gives you a big advantage.
Conceptualizing Your Advantage
Keeping up your SEO isn’t just about the short term boost you might see during the actual downturn. It also gives you an opportunity to carve out a larger niche, the effects of which could last long after the economy stabilizes and returns to normal.
Let’s look at this from a super simple perspective. What are the main benefits of running a successful SEO campaign in the first place?
- Driving traffic and improving sales
- Branding and reputation management
- Direct marketing and lead generation
Using COVID-19 as an example, we see how something like a pandemic can significantly shift traffic and sales for a number of industries.
Retail, hospitality, travel, and service industries all saw a major dip in business, while online services like food delivery, streaming platforms, and e-commerce websites noted an increase.
The big shift to online services shows that people are still studying, shopping for, and contemplating goods and businesses even despite uncertainty. Even if they don’t buy, they will definitely remember what was open, and what was not. Obviously, availability can be influenced in all companies, but preference will still play a major part.
Typically, there are a few main reasons people will leave a brand or service for another:
- A bad experience with the current product or service
- A bad service or product (can be price, quality, or support related)
- Mismatched views in terms of politics or brand direction
- A better offer from another brand (better prices, promotions, increased value)
For example, perhaps a customer notices and likes your advertising and tries your brand of toilet paper or delivery service during the pandemic.
If they find that your service has more value than their previous option, they’ll be more likely to remember and repeat business even after all brands and products are available again.
You want to take advantage of the continued interest online by holding or doubling on your SEO efforts. If someone is stuck at home and turning to the internet, you need to ensure that your company continues to rank high on the SERP.
Long Term Benefits of Constant SEO
Now that people are spending more time online, you’ve ramped up your SEO to meet that demand. It allows you to leverage your SEO and improved online presence right in the middle of a boom in online interest.
But the long term benefits of SEO and marketing shouldn’t be ignored, even during a recession.
Looking at Kellogg’s and Toyota during past financial downturns, we see the effects of ongoing marketing in action.
Not only did these companies benefit in the immediate moment by surpassing their competition with constant ads and marketing, they also secured a place in the market after the recession.
Returning to our racing example, those companies managed to gain and maintain a significant lead by staying in the race instead of taking a pitstop. In the case of Toyota they also managed to overtake Volkswagen in the years following the recession as the top imported car brand.
Build More Than Sales: Brand Growth and Recognition
Often overlooked in favor of raw revenue generation, SEO also offers a boost to brand recognition and brand presence.
If we think about a standard Google search, most users will not go beyond the first or second page when looking for information on a product or service.
SEO will bring you closer and closer to the first page, or further up the first page, which when it comes to online searches is a major factor in brand awareness.
But we have already discussed the value of good results from the SEO and organic search. Let’s instead contextualise the benefit of improved SEO and better brand recognition during a pandemic.
Be There When Customers Need It
Though brand loyalty is dropping off a bit these days, brand recognition hasn’t fallen off near as much. Even though brand alone is no longer enough to secure ongoing business or customer loyalty, it’s still true that people tend to buy things they’ve heard of.
Neil Patel talks about this here, where he highlights the significance of building a recognizable online brand and presence.
Owning your own website, owning related domains, being active on blogs and social media, essentially creating a relatable and present crowd-facing persona for your business.
These are already things businesses should do as part of their SEO campaign. Another author on Patel’s blog also delves a bit into the psychology of why customers value that presence.
To summarize, people want to recognize and relate to the brand providing their goods or services. Customers that feel recognized by customer service are more favorable towards the brands or companies in question.
Why Does This Matter In a Pandemic?
Being front of mind relies on two major factors: being seen and being remembered.
Being seen is the first part of SEO. It’s all about boosting rankings, which is what we talked about in the first section.
Think Kellogg’s and Toyota again. They managed to get seen more because their competition stopped advertising. In turn, whether it was due to scarcity or finally being able to communicate their value, they were also remembered.
If you continue to outperform rivals, you have to double down on all facets of SEO and leverage this time to leave a strong impression on any new leads you ‘re receiving.
That means improving and sustaining the quality of content, maximising the pace of your site and everything else that goes into good web design and SEO.
It’s not enough to simple be the only game in town, you need to give people a reason to stick around after your competitors are back in the race.
Maintain Company Consistency
Though less significant than the other points, SEO is also an important part of projecting consistency and stability within a company. Responding to and handling a pandemic or recession is part of your company’s image.
Because SEO efforts have a small ramp up and wind down time between 1 to 12 months, the decision to stop SEO could add another 1 to 12 months of downtime on top of whatever time is lost to a pandemic or other scenario.
Failing to respond or disappearing in the midst of a crisis can leave current customers and potential customers questioning the brand.
Particularly in competitive markets, where other brands choose to continue marketing or have a higher budget for faster recovery, the choice to stop marketing could damage your rankings and potential for business.
That doesn’t mean every company needs to run out and make a big, grand statement about COVID-19 and “how we intend to help” and all that. We talked a bit here about how to maintain productivity and adapt to work from home conditions, where we also talk about handling B2B and B2C relationships.
Essentially, during a financial crisis, don’t forget that your partners and clients exist, or they may forget you when the economy recovers.
People like accuracy and reliability, brief public statements or private statements to potentially affected parties can be more than adequate to make people feel comfortable with your business when investing.
The SEO Factor
Another way to reinforce your presence is by maintaining a strong SEO campaign in the face of a recession. Keep the ads rolling, keep pushing for higher rankings, and keep producing content for your users.
Track how the situation is affecting your work flow, turn that into a case study, do whatever it takes to reassure people that your business will survive and continue providing value before, during, and after hard times.
You gain a competitive advantage and an opportunity to push ahead of your competitors that choose to stop ads and SEO, while also reinforcing your brand through consistent presence and messaging.
Even if your rivals are forging ahead during a slowdown, you will need to keep up with the SEO to keep momentum even. Either you get an advantage, or you keep your company running. The only negative choice is full stoppage of marketing and SEO.