Unfolding global events and shifts in the economy suggest your marketing strategy may need an about-face.
It’s time to find new marketing strategies to protect your business.
A hard look at your search marketing can help.
On April 22, I moderated a sponsored Search Engine Journal webinar presented by Pat Reinhart, VP of Digital Strategies at Conductor.
Reinhart shared tips on how to optimize and best future-proof your search marketing.
Here’s a recap of the webinar presentation.
SEO professionals are used to the search landscape evolving. There are so many factors that we can’t control.
But today, we’re facing even more uncertainties as the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps through the world.
Conductor’s own survey found that:
- 65% of marketers anticipate a decrease in their annual marketing budget.
- 86% of marketers predict that their marketing goals will be harder to reach.
- 35% of respondents say a reduction in marketing budget is their greatest concern surrounding the impact of COVID-19 on their marketing performance.
- 58% of respondents say if faced with a global recession, they will have to lower their budget.
- 47% of respondents say the Coronavirus situation will make their company’s ability to achieve their annual marketing goals more difficult.
- 63% of respondents say SEO will be more important during this time.
While decreased budgets are marketers’ top concern, staff reductions and channel limitations are also top perceived threats to marketing performance.
But more than half of marketers believe that SEO is more important during this time.
Why Should You Care About This?
Search is more important than ever in these times. Here are a few reasons why:
Organic & Content Initiatives Are Always ‘On’
Writing content that’s valuable to your customers and answering their questions will give you a head start for the future and help you win digitally.
Consider it as a long-term investment that can reap rewards even when all this is over.
Easy to Pivot & Reprioritize
It’s pretty much what we SEO professionals are always doing.
Create Content That Customers Need
People are home searching for answers and help.
We can all create content to help our customers.
SEO Is Cost-Effective
SEO is the most cost-effective investment compared to just about every other digital channel.
What we create now will help us in the long term.
What You Can Do Now
1. Address What’s Happening, But Don’t Be Afraid to Not Address It
Create content that addresses what’s going on.
At the same time, don’t be afraid to create content for your customers and users.
For instance, even though you’re creating COVID-19-specific pieces, you can still work on producing general content.
Most importantly, be careful with your messaging.
You don’t want to seem like you are trying to capitalize on the situation.
2. Plant Those Trees Now
SEO takes time, so companies that invest in it will have a cost-effective engine to keep traffic, leads, and sales coming during downturns.
Companies that rely mainly on paid media are hurting through these times.
Help yours not be that company.
Remember that this is a snapshot in time and there is the other side to this that we all need to be planning for.
3. Talk to Other Teams
If you haven’t already, now is the time to start collaborating with other teams within your organization.
- Paid folks.
- Social folks.
- Content folks.
- IT / Tech.
- The execs.
4. Experiment, Break Stuff, Try New Things & Tools
All of us have wish lists and things we wish we can get to every day, get to those now.
Make sure to:
- Try out new tools.
- Try out new processes.
- Try to break something that currently “works.”
- Try something that will make everyone’s job easier, not just yours.
- Uncertain points in time are a given. Be ready to pivot and change. You’re in SEO so this shouldn’t be an issue. Google has made us battle-ready.
- Search is more important than ever during times like these but is also always important. Make sure everyone in your org knows that.
- Address the issues but also be ok not addressing them.
- SEO trees planted now will provide shade in the future on hot days.
- Try new things now that will help everyone in your org, not just you.
Here are just some of the attendee questions answered by Pat Reinhart.
Q: How do you target a very specific group of customers with a website?
Pat Reinhart (PR): This all comes down to doing your research and ensuring you understand what that specific group is looking for.
One of the best ways is to understand what types of questions are they asking and looking back at your site and seeing if you answer those questions.
A lot of folks just focus on transactional terms to go right for the sale and broad terms to try and get the most eyeballs.
Don’t be lured in by high MSV (monthly search volume) keywords, instead think about educating the group you want to target.
Folks who educate their users are far more likely to gain them as customers.
You should have pages that target all levels fo the funnel, but don’t forget about the early-stage educational content which has grown in importance over the last few years.
Q: Have you seen your client’s searches change dramatically in the last 30-60 days? And in what way?
PR: It depends on what industry they are in.
In travel? Absolutely, most of their searches have shifted to canceling reservations and flights and not so much on booking and amenity related searches.
Retail has been a mixed bag depending on what they are selling. Some companies are doing well, some companies aren’t, but people are still shopping.
At a macro level, we have seen the overall volume of searches increase given that everyone is home and have more time on their hands, but the volatility really depends on the industry.
If you want to look into keywords by vertical Conductor created a great resource you can access.
Q: Do you have a great one-liner that will open conversations with clients who simple say “NO” to both maintaining/SEO?
PR: Sure! A couple I always use:
“You’re competitors are killing you organically and probably bringing in $xxx every year. Their market share is rising and eventually you won’t be able to catch up. Are you sure you don’t want to talk about this?” (Bring data with visuals, works every single time if applicable which it just about always is.)
“I’m curious why you’re ok knowing your investment in paid media will continue to rise for the same keyword set and less ROI as time goes on but you won’t consider investing a fraction of that budget into a channel that will continue to build a larger return YoY at basically a fixed cost. Would love to get your thoughts on this.” (This combats the paid search argument really well. Basically everyone can take the bottom of their keyword performance barrel that makes them no money and can pay for SEO services with it, sometimes you just have to shake that tree.)
Q: As we should focus on long-term KPIs of our SEO efforts, what would be a good short-term KPI during these times?
PR: I think a good short term KPI would be things you can see short term gains from. A few ideas here:
- Keywords on Page 2 that are important to your long term business: Can you improve your current content to bump them onto Page 1?
- Page speed: Are there things you can do to make your site faster in the next couple of weeks? Typically there is (i.e., image compression).
- Other technical fixes: These are a lot more immediate than getting something to rank. How much can you improve the technical foundation of your site?
- Creating new content: How many pieces can you get written that target top of the funnel education terms?
- Improving your network: Everyone in your industry is going through the same things you are. Can you create a partnership that will benefit you now and into the future? Maybe contribute to each other’s blogs?
Q: I would like to ask you about how SEO can help in travel/tourism businesses. Due to COVID-19, many people are afraid to travel to different places. What can we do in such scenarios?
PR: You can do a few things:
- For your locations, you should ensure that you are using all of the new features in Google My Business to let your customers know what the status of the hotel is during the crisis. Keeping your customers up to date on what is going on with your business is a must-do and I am sure this has already been taking care of.
- Stay engaged with your customer base. Use Google Posts, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. to keep folks up to date on your property(ies) and stay present in their minds. This is just a snapshot in time and people are thinking about the future so no reason not to try and stay top of mind for folks who will immediately start traveling again once all of the bans are lifted.
- As I said in the webinar don’t be afraid to write content that doesn’t address what’s going on. This is a great time to create content that can help you in the future after all of this is over so it’s a good time to take advantage of the time to focus on this. Answer questions, spruce up current content, add better images, etc. Make sure they are all targeting keywords your future customers will be looking for so when you can open the doors again you will be ahead of the game.
- Outside of content you should also be looking at your website and seeing if there are any technical issues you can address now. Finding time for site maintenance is one of the hardest parts about SEO and now would be a good time to go in and see what you can fix for future performance.
Q: Can you please give some more insights about branded and non-branded? What else we can pitch to prospective clients?
PR: When folks search for a branded term you just want to make sure that the company has something up about what’s going on in the world, their perspective, and what it means for their business.
That is what just about every company has done up to this point along with created some form of impact or perspective artifact so that when folks do search for the brand they are there with information.
On non-branded searches, a lot of folks are asking questions so that’s always a good place to start for prospective clients.
Look into their sites and see if they are answering questions their customers are asking.
It’s also good to look into third-party sites like Quora and their competitor sites to see if others are answering questions they should be answering.
That actually is also true of branded terms as well.
Are other sites answering questions about their brand? Are there competitors?
This is not something folks want to hear and always sparks a good conversation.
Q: If an existing client wants to move in paid marketing from SEO, what is the ideal explanation to retain them? As of now we are only doing SEO, not paid marketing.
PR: I would say that’s a very surprising move as budgets have tightened pretty much across the board.
One of the best ways is to talk about the increased investment as time goes on, it’s not a semi-fixed cost like SEO is.
CPCs are always going to go up, no one can argue that because you can see the trends YoY as competition rises.
The money they move into paid right now will double, triple, quadruple over the next few years for basically the same if not less return because they are buying the same keywords and those keywords have just gotten more expensive.
SEO is a sound, long term, semi-fixed investment, and when done properly is one of the most powerful weapons in your digital arsenal.
I would lead with that but also come with hybrid solutions as well.
If they are dead-set on investing in paid, offer to lower/defer your rate for a period of time to help them make that investment while showing them you are invested in the partnership and care about their business.
In the short term, it will be annoying, but in the long term you will retain a great client and they will trust you.
SEO is mostly about partnering with the brand/client not just being a vendor. That messaging has always resonated with my clients.
Q: Does adding an FAQ to your page improve your SEO?
PR: If you do it right, yes. An FAQ page that is just a long-running list of one-sentence questions and answers isn’t going to do anything for you.
There is a time and place for a page like that, say if you are just answering questions about shipping timeframes and things of that nature.
But ultimately, the sites that do the best here are the ones that ask and answer questions in a long-form manner on separate URLs.
When writing the page make sure that you fully ask the question and answer it.
Q: Do you have any recommendations for post ‘lockdown’ times and preparing for the change?
PR: Everything I said in the webinar, start planing those trees now. Write content, fix your site, create partnerships within and outside your organization.
This is a snapshot in time and it will pass so right now is the time to start preparing for post-lockdown times.
If you start now you can hit the ground running and come out way ahead. Don’t just think about doing it, just do it.
Q: If the future of SEO is in niches, then will the long-tails in aggregate outperform and dominate the search market?
PR: I would argue that’s already the case.
Long-tail has always been where most of the value/conversion is in my opinion, folks just get blinded by high MSVs and think sending a bunch of unqualified traffic is a “win”.
There’s room for both but certainly, the long-tail is where folks should focus the lions share of their time as its closer to the customers’ intent and to the conversion.
Q: What could be an estimated Max/Min time to expect seeing the result of SEO activities?
PR: A lot of it depends on where your site is and what type of works needs to be done.
If you need a lot of technical work done it could take months / a year to just sort all of that out for example.
Speaking in general though, if your site is in good shape, had decent equity, and has a good base to work off of you can usually start to see returns within 4-6 months.
They most likely aren’t going to be massive, hockey stick improvement is nice but not the norm, but you should see a steady rise in traffic and activity.
Q: Do you believe that the traffic of online service websites will drop after going back to normality? How we may keep our traffic while businesses are going back to normal?
PR: I actually think you will continue to see that traffic maintain. The world is going to be different after this and the need for online services will increase.
For example, a lot of folks are going to realize they can work from home and are going to seek opportunities that allow them to.
You should continue to create content that speaks to your audiences to keep them engaged well beyond the end of the pandemic.
Q: We are an entertainment news website related to films, TV and celebrities. How can we help people?
PR: Continue to create valuable content some of which may not be about your typical topics. You are helping folks by giving them an escape from all of this. So they can read about something that isn’t 100% bad news about the world.
There is an opportunity though to highlight good things happening in the world and potentially using your sources/connections to create content that can help people stay informed without all of the doom and gloom. Something to think about!
Q: How do you anticipate the higher education space will be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in the next 3 to 6 months?
PR: You are going to seeing a surge in folks looking for online schooling, you can see the bump here on Google Trends.
For higher education, you should expect people to be looking for more online options than in the past and to see that trend continue even after the world opens again.
Q: As a UX designer, how can designers support our SEO team’s effort?
PR: Please keep in mind that pages have to be functional from an SEO standpoint as well as beautiful and intuitive.
Plan for content, plan for the need of heading tags, and most importantly involve the SEO folks when you are building something. The collaboration is so important.
Q: Is there a tool that can search how to optimize all pages on a site at once and not have to test each individual page?
PR: SEO doesn’t really work like that as you need to look at the site as a whole, but also need to roll up your sleeves and look at your pages individually to see what they are targeting and how to optimize them. There are no shortcuts in SEO.
My advice to you is to get a tool that allows you to see your site as a whole from both a content and technical standpoint and create a plan.
Some of it can be done en masse, for example if you are a retailer you can optimize your PDP meta data formulaically, but for the most part it’s a mix of individual efforts and en masse ones.
Q: RankScience wants a signup before revealing price points. Can you reveal cost estimates to us?
PR: Their model is based on how much organic traffic you get, I believe, but overall their solution is very cost-effective. We only pay a couple hundred bucks a month.
Q: Please tell me is there any tool that can find backlink sites easily?
PR: The two I would suggest are Ahrefs and Majestic. Please do not buy links. =)
[Video Recap] The Future of SEO: How to Safeguard Your Brand in an Unpredictable World
Watch the video recap of the webinar presentation and Q&A session.
Or check out the SlideShare below.
Join Us for Our Next Webinar!
Register now for the next sponsored Search Engine Journal webinar. Paxton Gray, CEO at 97th Floor, will discuss the keys to building a productive relationship with your marketing agency, as well as some of the warning signs to look out for when hiring one.