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Winter Is Coming: SEO During Economic Downturns

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Winter Is Coming: SEO During Economic Downturns

I started my agency in 2008.

That year, I attended the SMX conference at the Javitz Center in New York City.

It was during this conference that the Dow plunged, suffering its worst points loss in history.

I sat looking at the New York skyline, expecting to see stockbrokers jumping out of windows.

Fortunately, I didn’t see any.

As I continually checked my phone looking at the plummeting stock indices, my brain was panicking.

Why did I start a business in what was beginning to look like the worst economic situation of my lifetime?

I found out that direct marketing, specifically search engine optimization, not only weathers economic downturns, it thrives in them.

Winter Is Coming

If you listen to the economic wonks, we are due for a significant financial downturn.

It’s impossible to predict if the coming downturn will be significant enough to define itself as a recession, or will merely be a blip on the radar.

But one thing is certain, eventually, the economy will head south.

It always does.

Why Does SEO Do Well in Economic Downturns?

When money is scarce, people want the money they have to work harder.

In marketing, few channels work harder than search for most products and services.

This doesn’t mean that search is a panacea, or that it is for everyone.

In fact, I wrote about why search might not be for you here.

I frequently tell a story about my days managing Gateway Computer’s search marketing, both paid and organic.

Our program was extremely successful. We had a better ROI than any other channel, including print and television.

The marketers and Gateway saw our results and decided they needed to shift their marketing budget to search. Almost all of it.

I did a dance and prepared to show Gateway what search could do.

It worked for about 6 months.

Then the bottom fell out.

Without the assist of television, radio, and print, the search volume for everything went down.

I don’t care how good your search marketing is, if you don’t have search volume, you don’t have customers.

In the end, Gateway was bought by Acer and I lost the contract.

But I’ve never forgotten the lesson that search doesn’t live in a vacuum.

But Back to the Economy

Search can live in a vacuum for a short period of time.

And when the economy goes bad, branding goes out the window.

When your profits are down, you don’t want to spend money on a long-term strategy.

In down times, for many businesses, it’s about survival.

Survival means leads and sales.

And search provides leads and sales, even if it’s less effective when sitting in a non-branded vacuum.

How to Prepare for SEO in Bad Economic Times

Whether you are an agency or an in-house SEO, there are things you need to do to prepare your decision-makers for an economic downturn.

If you don’t prepare, there is a good chance that you’ll get cut with the rest of the marketing budget.

When the economy takes a turn for the worse, the key to keeping decision-makers on board with their search marketing efforts comes down to effective tracking and communication of value.

The first step is to make sure that you and your client (or boss, for you in-house folks) are up-to-date on how the campaign is performing.

If you don’t know the lifetime value of a customer, now is the time to invest in finding out.

If you are still looking at last-click metrics for search, you need to adopt attribution modeling.

I just did a two-part series on attribution modeling for SEMrush that can give you some good insights on the nuts and bolts of creating an attribution strategy using only Google Analytics.

Take a look.

As a search marketer, you are only as valuable the decision-makers perception.

Your goal should be to become irreplaceable.

That means that you need to communicate your value early and often.

You need to celebrate every win.

You need to let the decision-maker know that even if someone comes in offering to do the job cheaper (they will), your results are going to more than make up for any additional cost they incur by employing you.

But to do that, you need to be on the same page with the decision-maker.

To be on the same page, you have to agree on what the results are.

Goals Are the Key to Reduced Churn During Downtimes

Once you agree on what the results are, you can start setting smart goals for what the results will be.

And once you can set smart goals, that’s when you can become irreplaceable.

If you can set realistic goals that the decision-maker agrees to, you can set yourself up for long-term success.

Set the goal and get the decision-maker to agree to it. Get it in writing, or in an email.

I’ve found it can be effective to put the goals on paper and make both parties sign the paper, agreeing that if the goals are met, the relationship will continue.

It’s definitely a risk if you don’t hit the goals – but don’t set a goal you don’t think you can hit.

If the decision-maker wants to set an unrealistic goal, you need to fight back.

Suggest making the unrealistic goal a “stretch goal” and set a more realistic actual goal.

Don’t get pressured into agreeing to something you can’t deliver.

Goals Are Not Guarantees

Even if you don’t hit a goal you can save the relationship by communicating why the goal wasn’t hit and what’s going to change in the future.

But when the marketing budgets are being cut left and right because of a down economy, having stated goals with monetary numbers backing them up can save your job.

The Bottom Line Is the Bottom Line

The economy will tank.

It may not be tomorrow, or next month, or even in the next two years.

But the leading economic experts are warning it could happen sooner rather than later.

When that happens, SEOs can thrive because what we do contributes to the bottom line, even if the economy is in the dumps.

But in order to survive, we need to prepare now.

Set goals with your decision-makers.

Agree on what success looks like.

Become irreplaceable.

If you do these things, you’ll weather the upcoming financial storm just fine.

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Tony Wright

CEO at WrightIMC

I am a 19-year veteran of the digital marketing world with previous experience in journalism, public relations and advertising. I've ... [Read full bio]

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