As SEO pros, we’ve been here before.
Flat times. Downtimes. Budget cuts. Challenges that impact our plans and what we need to get the job done.
In some ways, we can lean into the past for wisdom, as well as to find ways to be leaner and smarter with our strategies.
SEO isn’t immune to budget cuts in uncertain times (yes, I’m tired of that phrase, too).
Whether it is a recession, pandemic, or other local or global situation, a downturn can have an impact on marketing budgets and what we’re able to do for our organizations, brands, or clients.
Regardless of a downturn or other factors that impact SEO budgets, there are seven things to do when you’re faced with a smaller SEO budget that I want to share.
My sincere hope is that you don’t have to face that scenario, but if you do, leverage them to get the most out of what you have to work with.
1. Demand Analysis
The most important thing to understand if factors impacting budgets are tied to business and market conditions, is what the impacts are on demand.
If you’re on the brand side or are in an agency or consultancy that focuses on a single industry, you likely have some ideas.
However, if budgets are being reduced or cut for SEO, and you have to do less with more, you need to do some analysis to understand if demand is down overall for your product, service, or market.
Are fewer people searching? Are fewer going through the funnel or customer journey? Is there some new drop-off point that didn’t exist before?
2. Revisit Goals
Similar to demand analysis, you need to revisit goals more broadly. Even if the market is the same, if you’re receiving less budget or fewer resources to work with, you need to reset your own expectations – and those of stakeholders.
Can you do as much as you were before with fewer dollars? Can you work with fewer internal and external resources and still make SEO successful?
If you’re having to cut content, cut technical support, or even SEO research and strategy, even if the market demand hasn’t taken a hit, you can assume that the outputs and results won’t be the same.
Revisit your goals, communicate them, and make them as objective and tied to budget and resources as possible. If you’re being asked to do more on less, that’s ok, but know that going into it!
AI is a great tool right now that can help you do more with less, so leverage it where you can in smart and quality ways.
3. Narrow Digital Footprint
I hate this tip, but it is important. I’m typically all about more being better – if it is high quality. Whether that is content, features, functionality, or aspects of customer journey paths and funnels.
However, in lean times or on limited resources, you do need to limit your digital footprint.
Whether it is due to streamlining resources or your own focus and budgets, you have to scale back. If market demand is diminished, zero in on where people are still searching and have needs.
That could mean shortening your topic and keyword list to address the part of the funnel you want to be strong in or on the most profitable product or service offering.
With a narrower focus and fewer resources, you can also narrow your website resource needs.
Whether it is getting really detailed with a certain section, sub-section, subdomain, or microsite, you’re likely going to have to make some decisions and strategic and tactical choices you wouldn’t in abundant times.
You may not be able to optimize a full site, so get as narrow as you need to and focus your attention there.
4. Focus Resources
SEO is impossible to do as one person wearing all the hats, unless you’re in a unicorn situation. It requires resources like IT, web developers, UX, content writers, brand strategists, legal/compliance, and/or management approvals.
And I might be missing something from the above list!
Back in the day, when I started doing SEO in the mid-00s, I was able to do about 80% by myself. Now, for good reasons, much more collaboration is necessary.
However, when budgets get reduced, you have to be very focused on where the remaining money goes.
In some cases, you might have that dictated to you. However, if you still have enough control, you’re going to have to prioritize where you put the budget and deploy resources.
That means possibly prioritizing content over technical updates.
Or technical over UX. Or CRO over link building.
Be smart, utilize your updated strategy and goals, and deploy your resources in ways that don’t stretch you too thin.
5. Short-Term Focus
What can be gained in the short term? Your market conditions, goals, and the ultimate extent of how restrictive budgets are will help you dictate this.
Are you down to just a few dollars? Put it on the highest opportunity and priority items.
I know that sounds obvious, but SEO is big and complex. We’re prone to go down rabbit trails.
There are a lot of distractions. Stay disciplined, know what you need to do and achieve in the short term, and do your best to forget about the long-term items.
If you’re trying to keep the lights on, achieve ROI in the short term, and get through this season to see budgets increase again, go for things that have the best chance of short-term success.
That could mean local SEO, partnerships/affiliations with content, going bottom of the funnel in the keyword and content focus, or full SEO scope/scale but on a very short list of topics/terms.
6. Long-Term Focus
If you have the luxury of thinking about long-term strategy, or more likely, are hit by decreased demand but still have some SEO budget, then you can do things that will build for the future.
With a long-term focus and strategy, you can get ahead of competitors who are cutting budgets entirely or are focused on short-term thinking even if there’s no demand there.
I can speak from experience with clients in past downturns who we collaborated with even when their demand slowed down, choosing to invest in building longer-term plays that put them on top when demand picked back up.
Things to invest in if you have some budget, even when you don’t have the demand and want to be future thinking: website tech, infrastructure, the base of content, your thought leadership platform, and how you serve the full funnel as the authority in your industry.
If demand is down short term, I’m willing to bet that your competitors are taking their foot off the gas, giving you an opening to pass them and come out stronger on the other sid – if you’re not already in the top position across your key focus topics and terms.
7. Measure Efforts
Never stop measuring what is happening. You want to have your own set of performance data to objectify everything you can.
That means being able to draw correlations where you can between reductions in budgets, markets, and other resources and performance.
It will allow you to continue (or start) knowing the true impact of downturns, reductions in investment, and market factors on your SEO efforts now. It will also give you benchmark data for the future.
If you have past data from downturns or budget reductions, use that as guidance too!
Don’t do anything without projections, expectations, and measurement. Whether you’re in a publicly traded company or a small business, data is an objective that removes as much gray area as possible.
Again, I hate writing articles on this topic.
I’m a realist, though, and have personally seen the impact of economic conditions on my clients and ultimately impacting my agency in the past few months.
If you’re faced with a reduced budget for SEO, that’s better than no budget.
In fact, I’d fight for some level of budget and investment if you go back and read my “long-term focus” section above.
Regardless of your situation, I know it is tough. I’m there with you.
It can be hard mentally and physically. Stay strong, friend.
SEO is important, and by focusing on it, being objective with it, and doing what you’re able with the resources and opportunities you have, you can make it through and come out stronger on the other side.
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