Search marketing agencies are losing clients because of the coronavirus crisis. This is similar to the 2008 recession. Successful marketers who made it through the recession offer their advice on how to survive this difficult time.
A Moment for Altruism
Respected marketer Jon Henshaw (@henshaw) is one of those people in our industry who I admire because he consistently offers meaningful insights.
He published an article titled ATTN: Digital Marketers and Webmasters, Storefronts and Restaurants Need Our Help
In the article he advocates that this is our moment to stand up and help our local community. Furthermore, he states this is not the moment for profiteering but for helping our neighbors.
“My next-door neighbor owns a restaurant, and one of my best friends manages a storefront. The COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is currently crushing their businesses.
They don’t need to be your new client. They don’t have money to pay you. They do need you to help their small business stay alive. This is a moment for altruism, not opportunity.”
Jon then lists a few things that search marketers can do to help local businesses stay afloat.
Your community is an ecosystem that you are a part of.
We are uniquely talented to be heroes in our communities.
That advice is personal to me. I myself have recently worked for free on behalf of a nonprofit that was affected by the coronavirus crisis.
What does it hurt to help make your corner of the world a little better?
How to Retain SEO Clients
I asked three of the smartest people I know in search marketing for advice on how to survive based on their experiences right now as well as the 2008 recession.
I asked International SEO expert Aleyda Solis (@aleyda) what she was doing to hold on to customers.
Aleyda is someone I respect for her out of the box thinking and ability to create innovative solutions.
Her advice has a great insight about adjusting SEO goals so that the client stays relevant to their customers in this moment in order to hold on to customers and be there when the crisis is over.
She related that she only has one client in the travel industry and that they’re keeping her on because they understand that there is value in engaging potential clients even if they’re higher up the sales funnel.
Her strategy is to identify the real results she can help the client achieve.
This is how Aleyda explained it:
“SEO: is a long term game and they know now is all loss for the next three months from a conversion perspective. But, I have been helping them a lot on optimizing their landing pages for coronavirus.”
So you’re seeing SEO as more than just ranking for sales related keywords but rather, as creating content that keeps potential clients engaged through the crisis?
“Indeed! For all those informational queries about the brand/service they provide plus crisis/coronavirus/cancellations to help them keep those customers instead of cancelling and also, even if it’s only a very top of the funnel query, for people researching, that they can get them into the funnel with alerts.
It’s about changing/expanding the targeted queries to rank for the most meaningful/popular/relevant queries that are being asked by existing customers during these times, which are different, and being there for them: to explain what they’re doing as a business during these times, showing their values and responsibility towards their customers as well as employees and community, while also giving customers alternatives to avoid them from just cancelling”
Christine Churchill (@ChrisChurchill) is a widely respected search marketer who was involved in the creation of the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO).
Here is her advice based on her experience:
“One of the things that helped our company in the 2008 recession was having a diverse mix of industries in our clients. That is a philosophy we’ve continued to this day.
Right now our hospitality clients are having a tough time but thankfully we also have some in the medical space that are doing great.
I look at the client mix like I look at stocks. Being diversified spreads out the risk.
Interestingly, some of the clients who were hit hard during the last recession are still clients. I think back about that time and I remember some of the things we did to help them.
In some cases we actually paused or cut back work for short periods. We also helped them prioritize their marketing efforts so we focused on efforts that got the biggest return in the fastest period.
By working with the clients and helping them in their time of need, they became very loyal customers who have stayed with us.”
I next asked Debra Mastaler (@debramastaler) about her experience as a search marketing consultation during the 2008 recession.
Debra is involved in search marketing and is an authority on link building. I have a huge amount of respect for her work.
Here is Debra’s advice:
“I offer very specific link building and content strategy services so most of the clients we serve come well versed in SEO.
They’re educated in the discipline and understand the need to continue services in order to remain visible especially when there’s an economic downturn.
But everyone has a financial and emotional threshold. When the time comes to look for ways to cut back, we meet to discuss focusing on core competencies and how to best promote them.
If product A produces the most revenue, I’ll retool our marketing efforts behind those areas and lighten or eliminate them in others.
When it comes to my agency, one of the benefits of being small and online is low overhead. Besides tools, newsletter subscriptions, and some basic office costs, my biggest expense is payroll.
After struggling in 2008, my CPA husband suggested I keep three months payroll squirreled away in an account for down times and I’ve done just that! I sleep better and never have to furlough anyone between contracts.
I am often asked if there is an SEO tool I can’t live without and my stock answer is always the same: Invest in a kick-ass copywriter and hire the best accountant you can find.
One may not be an SEO tool but a good accountant will help navigate the tough times, claim every expense you have coming and plan for the future.”
Solidarity With Clients and Community
A common thread in the above advice seems to be one of feeling solidarity with clients. As Jon Henshaw stated, this is a time for altruism.
Altruism is defined as the “selfless concern for the well-being of others.”
Altruism doesn’t mean giving away services for free. It means feeling concern for others.
Something I did for clients who experienced an income drop was to renegotiate the services provided to something they could afford and was still helpful in that it kept them in the game.
When business picked up everything returned to how it was before. But most importantly I had earned their loyalty.
I didn’t renegotiate my services to buy their loyalty. I offered it out of concern for them, to see what I could do to help them.
As Jon, Aleyda Christine and Debra illustrated, a concern for your clients and your community means reaching out and mapping a strategy that can help sustain both entities, the client and the consultant.
Businesses are hurting. Agencies are losing clients. It’s happening right now.
It’s in your interest to be proactive see what you can do to help them survive they way Aleyda, Christine and Debra did.
Additionally, there is value in helping your local community get through the crisis, as Jon Henshaw suggested.