We currently find ourselves in a situation beyond “office hours” and “business as usual” as we’re facing a pandemic that came out of the blue, bringing a lot of uncertainty. No two days look alike as we adapt, react, problem-solve while trying to keep our pragmatic hat on.
As leaders of SEO agencies, you’re probably assessing resources and client portfolios as we speak. You’ve penned the first fast measures to make sure your team is safe, and now you think of strategic scenarios to navigate the current stormy waters with a firm hand and not too much damage.
Being proactive and thinking fast seems the way to go to secure clients and manage relationships.
But there’s a silver lining amongst the turmoil. There’s a past we learned from and can still learn from.
The years of 2007-2008 became a staple for understanding how businesses can react in such scenarios.
If that financial crisis started by subprime mortgages in the U.S. and developed into one of the most severe banking crises since the Great Depression, today we’re faced once more with economic instability, although the cause is a natural one this time.
So, we know from the many studies and business measures taken in 2008 that usually marketing budgets may suffer cuts up to 30% in downturn scenarios.
Yet, we also know from the same studies that strategic marketing and good, constant communication are key to taking care of your clients and your business.
Companies that cut administrative and production costs fare better in mid- and long-term periods than the ones cutting marketing budgets now. It’s more a question of repositioning and optimizing the way you reach your clients in these times both as an immediate response and the aftermath of the virus.
After rapidly consulting with SEO agencies and from our own experiences, we gathered the main directions to consider as you reposition your business assets on the go.
What Recession Psychology Looks Like
In 2009, Harvard Business Review analyzed how to market in an economic downturn period, taking into account the types of psychological reactions consumers may have as opposed to moments of financial abundance when consumption is more straightforward.
They defined four groups that we can, still, follow when thinking about our own clients and businesses:
- The slam-on-the-brakes group: This is the most vulnerable and anxious group, so they reduce consumption to a bare minimum while postponing all other purchases.
- The pained-but-patient group: They are less anxious than the first group, so they maintain their long-term optimism, but reduce costs for the immediate time.
- The comfortably well-off group: They feel secure and know they can pass through economic uncertainty, for they have the means to do it. They may get a bit more selective in their consumption, but they don’t necessarily reduce it.
- The live-for-today group: Usually younger, this group lives mostly for experiences and will be more mindful about spending, but not reduce their consumption of said experiences.
Also, HBR classified the types of goods that people address at a psychological level in terms of necessity as essentials, treats, postponables, and expendables.
In our own scenario, that means looking at our business both in terms of necessity, but also thinking about what groups we usually cater to and what we can do to meet their needs, concerns, and life views in times of unrest.
An SEO agency works with clients from a variety of industries that may, also, map their own customers in accordance with the analysis above, so there may be a hidden opportunity to support them in that sense.
Transparent, constant communication is vital for client retention and your business now.
What to Do First for Your SEO Agency?
As the essayist Samuel Johnson once stated “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed”, so hopefully this article and what lies beneath will remind you in ways that make it easy to put in practice.
Lead with Empathy
Take the proper measures for your team to maintain their productivity and create space for them to put their personal life in order.
If you already have remote protocols or are even doing that with part of your employees, just extend them for all your employees, if you haven’t managed to do it yet.
If you’re just getting started with working from home, be sure that everyone in your team has the needed set up to do their job, and create new processes to accommodate your internal workflows:
- Daily video calls for every team to know the status at all times. You can do them once in the morning and once in the evening, or even 3 times per day.
- Daily management check-ins to iterate fast on your business strategy and tactics. You can do them once in the morning and once in the evening, or even 3 times per day, as well.
- Daily short reports to keep everyone accountable.
- Daily task and project management with your preferred tools.
Every step taken for prevention is a contribution to the greater good and showing care is vital for any business right now.
Also, keeping your team morale high and closely communicating all business decisions is the way to go, as insecurities and frustrations are bound to appear.
The team comes first. You need to make sure that you can assure salaries for as long as possible, in these uncertain conditions. So you need to act fast and start reassessing your finances to find the most cost-effective solutions and secure your team.
You can start analyzing your suppliers and evaluate them as must-haves or nice-to-haves for your daily productivity.
What are the tools of the trade that are necessary for your business and what are costs that have no real value at the moment?
You can look at your P&L and decide:
- How to restructure your expenses.
- Which acquisitions you genuinely need and which can be postponed.
- What subscriptions you can use.
- What alternatives you need to start searching for.
These measures help you further build your financial reserves and a back-up plan, to weather a recession and keep your team productive.
You can, also, think about:
- Your services and evaluate them as well in terms of musts and add-ons for your current clients, while doing strategic assessments.
- Even your current projects and their status: maybe it’s time to postpone research and development, maybe it’s time for different ways of innovating for your clients and so on and so forth.
It’s the right moment to run scenarios and see what a 25%, 35%, or even 50% decrease means for your agency, and what actions you need to put in place so that you have the adequate resources to push through.
But, most of all, you need to manage your client portfolio with utmost care and efficiency.
Your clients need you as a partner and advisor now more than ever, as you can highlight business opportunities and create a solid plan even in a difficult market.
Focus on the Relationship You Have With Your SEO Clients
Cater trust. Especially now when your clients’ significant concerns revolve around what happens when you start working remotely, if you can maintain your productivity, your level of performance, and so forth.
Reassure them your new workflows and processes, adapted for the current crisis, support you in delivering the same results as they are used to. Show them how you work, what your measures are, and what your next steps are to ensure the agency rhythm is sustained.
Be consistent in the way you communicate with them and the messages you deliver.
Effective communication with your SEO clients is a must, in general, but it is even more so when unknowns are appearing one day after the other as global currents shift.
Transparency and constant information fluxes between you and your clients fuel loyalty now:
- Set meetings for short term strategic planning and understand the dimension of the global impact for their industry, business, or types of products and services. Do in-depth research of business models and verticals, and share all your relevant insights on the matter.
- Do daily video calls and be proactive with your information about current SEO campaigns, tasks, strategies.
- Keep your clients in the loop and answer all their questions. Be honest about all that is currently happening, so that you both find the best solutions.
- Be a consultant for them and show them the value of your work and the deep understanding you have for market psychology during a recession.
- Give them access to certain tools and agency dashboards, if you have the capacity, so they can have real-time data when they need it.
Creating reassurance and a sense of stability in a fuzzy situation is something to strive for.
Don’t forget to create a communications master plan for your account, sales, or customer success teams to follow when managing client relationships which include:
- Questions that clients can have.
- Types of answers.
- Scenarios with steps to address for a positive outcome.
Again, being honest, transparent and fully consistent every day will deepen the trust and the collaboration.
Strategy in the Face of Adversity
SEO agency clients might be asking questions like “Do we still need SEO now?” or “Should we still invest in marketing?”. These are legitimate questions, and for some clients, the answer is probably no. Be kind and patient with them and focus on the ones where a fast and smart shift in strategy can yield good results.
After all, an optimized SEO strategy can prove the needed support for their marketing crisis plan, as businesses focus on being top of mind for their customers. You can re-evaluate opportunities alongside them following their strategic changes, search for trends and rehash a plan that takes into account various scenarios within their industry.
Focus on short-term tactics, show them the data you base your decisions on and think about how a proper content marketing plan aligned with the current context can generate impressive results. Offer personalized solutions, while your clients may discover new avenues (products and services) they can address in the current climate.
You can be the driver of such avenues and also address slight changes in their business models, if the chance arises and you know there’s an important value for them to gain, in accordance with your own market/industry analysis.
For instance, as some of their products and services may see a drop in demand, you can spot other areas that are growing or show a positive trend – from “perfumes” and “professional make-up” to “care cosmetics”, “soaps” and so on.
And this is just one small example of how current consumer needs change and create new demands in times of upheaval. People are at home, heavily using the internet and its offerings, so watch the trends and be one step ahead for you and your agency clients.
Moreover, branding is still essential for your clients, as they want to improve their “share of minds” in the online environment.
As everything quiets down a little, you may find windows of opportunity in building better messages and positioning together, to gain a significant distance from their competitors.
Is There a Silver Lining for the SEO Industry?
There are two sides to any situation, and an economic downturn can be seen through a different lens: some industries are more stable than others.
As social isolation is one of the main components of the pandemic we’re experiencing, that can mean online demand and ecommerce are on the rise. The same goes for tools that support remote work, online education, online sports, delivery, shopping, and services such as the above.
Some industries flourish these days, so there is this opportunity for research and strategy as well. It may be a stretched goal, but it is something to keep in mind nonetheless for mid-term.
What matters is to keep your flexibility and indeed be a strategic conversation partner with every new piece of information delivered. Client retention is your most significant advantage now.
And then, after your portfolio is secured, you can start exploring new lead generation sources.
Bonus point: Don’t be shy about communicating your way of doing things and your vision with the world. Offering empathy and thought leadership could also be influential in times where people need to talk more, to be understood and to connect.
It’s hard to make a precise prediction for how the economy will be and what impact a pandemic has on our global landscape, but it’s critical to be prepared.
SEO agencies can address the following points to get ready for an uncertain period and create a sense of reassurance for their teams and their clients:
- Streamline processes to be able to work fully remote if needed. Daily video calls, daily reporting, project management tools come in handy for that.
- Make sure the teams are safe and have a healthy context to keep up their productivity.
- Build empathy for both your teams and clients. Transparency, honesty and constant communication will have a big impact on good collaboration. There is no overcommunicating in such circumstances.
- Reassess costs and create a financial plan for various recession scenarios. The team comes first, so focus on securing their salaries.
- Be proactive with clients and highlight the advantages of SEO work for their current needs. Act as a partner and as a consultant, answer all concerns and identify the proper fast tactics for their business and industry.
We understand what it means to stay on top of client communication and be flexible for them, so we strive to be just as flexible for you.
We believe in only paying for the resources that you use because it’s fair to do so. That’s why, since we launched SEOmonitor, we strived to create the most efficient processes and infrastructure to develop a better and better SEO product, while keeping it cost-effective.
Furthermore, retention is key during uncertainty.
One way to do that is to change the reporting schedule to at least weekly, for fast and consistent communication purposes.
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The opinions expressed in this article are the sponsor's own.