No-Nonsense Ways COVID-19 Is Changing Digital Marketing & SEO
I don’t like fluff. It’s why I don’t write articles with titles like 5 Ways to… or 10 Tips for… . It just irks me, I can’t do it. Of course, not every article that begins with a number is spam. There are plenty of good pieces of content that rely on numerics within their titles. At the same time, there are a lot of opportunists out there hoping you click on their enticing titles. While I don’t like the practice of creating fluff to drive clicks in general, it infuriates me when the content relates to a crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
There’s been an abundance of content production on how the Coronavirus changes marketing, content, and SEO practices. Unfortunately, I’ve found that a lot of it is simply fluff meant to capitalize on fear in the hope of driving clicks. I personally think a topic like this should be addressed in a careful and considerate manner.
To this, I’ve reached out to some of the industry’s top marketing and SEO professionals. I’ve asked them to share nonsense-free, fluff-free, agenda-free ideas on how COVID-19 is changing the digital marketing industry, both now and moving forward.
How Does COVID-19 Change Digital Marketing & SEO?
Look for Changes in How Users Are Accessing Your Content
SEO Director at the Motley Fool
I think now is a great time to take a deep dive into how your audience’s behavior has changed during this pandemic. For example, we’re seeing a shift in how our website visitors are accessing our site. In March 2019, we had slightly more than 50% of our users coming from desktop. One year later, in March 2020, we saw a pretty big shift to 66% of our audience being mobile users. We also had a huge surge in Google News referrals compared to March 2019. I think all of this suggests there are a lot of people at home who are reading more on their mobile phones than they normally would (as opposed to reading our content at work on a laptop). Interestingly, The New York Times reported just the opposite. According to them, Netflix, Facebook, and YouTube are seeing stagnant mobile numbers in favor of preference for larger screens. This means it’s definitely worth checking your own data to see how users may have shifted how they consume your content right now and adjusting your strategy accordingly.
Also, there’s a huge opportunity with newsworthy content in Google Discover right now. Our Google Discover traffic has increased by nearly 2X in the last 28 days. It makes sense why this would be the case – we’re creating timely stories related to COVID-19 and your finances all day long. Suddenly, anyone who has recently been doing some searches for COVID-19 information or financial information could potentially be served related content in Google Discover. That is a much larger audience for us than during “normal” times.
Think People First and Marketing Second
Founder of Optimisey
This is a horribly difficult time for people for all sorts of reasons. Struggling to keep your business afloat can be plenty to cope with at the best of times, never mind during a global pandemic with kids, partners, elderly relatives, immuno-suppressed loved ones and more to think about.
So don’t add to the burden.
No-one cares what your mattress client’s CEO thinks about the crisis so daily email updates from them are not ‘it’ – no matter how many clicks you want.
Keep a cool head. If your mattress client is panicking and thinking that daily updates are the way, advise them otherwise.
These horrible days will pass but the long-term damage some brands are doing to their reputations may last a lot longer. Don’t be one of them.
Help your clients and help them help their customers. A friend of mine runs his own brewery. Dream job, huh? And it was… until huge chunks of his business dried up when all the pubs, restaurants and bars closed. He needed to pivot to direct-to-customer sales (with kerb-side drop offs) and he needed to do it quickly and get the word out.
That’s where digital marketers can help.
If your customers cannot use your service now, how else can you help them? Think about where they are now? Maybe they need some advice on how to string out the life of their old product whilst they wait until they can buy a replacement? Maybe they have a house full of kids needing homeschooling? Could you digitise those colouring in place-mats your café always has? Make a downloadable activity resource?
And think about your local businesses. They’re suffering. Those businesses you’re really looking forward to visiting once lock-down ends? Make sure there’s a business to return to.
Buy a voucher; book an appointment for 2021; switch your big orders from that big multi-national to a local firm.
And pay your suppliers! If you use freelancers or contractors: pay promptly. Many of them are drowning right now. Your bill paid ahead of time could be the difference between them making it to the other side of this thing or not.
Be a good person. Good marketing can come after that.
P.S. Remember other people are fighting to keep their jobs too. If you’re gratefully gobbling up all those freebies someone, somewhere is paying. If you can’t be generous with your money can you be generous with your time? Maybe now is the time to loosen your ‘No, never, shan’t’ stance on a lot of things. Help the people that are trying to help others. OK maybe not the spammy ‘I hope you’re fine and fit!’ link builders… but help others where you can.
Don’t Give in to the Temptation of Super Sales Talk
Founder & Lead SEO at Search Hermit
I think too many people are focusing on how to make their business work for themselves in these times without really understanding what the client is going through. I’ve gotten a few pitches about how “now’s not the time to skimp on social media/email marketing/etc.” and it seems really out of touch when so many companies are laying off large chunks of their staff and worried about closing down. Yes, if you can make it work, then it’s important to keep investing in at least the bare minimum when marketing. However, if your clients are struggling to make basic ends meet, it’s not the time to guilt them into sticking with your product or service.
Pivot & Automate to Get More Work Done Faster (& with Fewer Resources)
CEO at RankSense
As companies cut budgets and trim down teams, leveraging speed and automation is more crucial than ever.
Here are some quick tips to get you started:
- Document repetitive and mind-numbing work
- Learn to write workflows and pseudo code that you can pass to a developer
- Stitch together open source solutions
- Focus on short-term, high-value and high-impact work
- Take advantage of fast indexing techniques like those supported by Bing
Embrace Agility with Data-Driven Decision-Making
Group Connections Director, Discoverability at VMLY&R
The main thing we are helping our clients do is to set up custom data “command centers” where we can keep a pulse on the evolving situation and make rapid, agile decisions day-to-day. We capture information about how consumer behavior is changing overall, which geographies are moving to shelter-in-place orders, how the brand’s industries (and their customers’ industries) are changing, how competitors are responding, as well as how demand, engagement, and purchase is changing for the brand themselves. This allows us to make informed, data-backed recommendations to adjust to their marketing mixes or messaging rapidly when new developments emerge.
Every single industry, clients, and customer marketing objective is unique and requires a custom-tailored approach. With how frequently the situation changes, and how emotionally charged it can be, we need to make sure to use up-to-the-minute information to make the best choices amid the uncertainty. I have been so impressed at how our client brands in different verticals are responding to the crisis in creative, innovative, and unique ways that are valuable to customers and completely authentic to their brands. It will help nurture relationships with customers even through the crisis, and hopefully put them in a better position to stabilize and recover well when things begin to normalize again.
Think Like an Investor & Assess Risk
VP Growth at Investing.com
COVID-19 surprised us all. Whether its business impact has been positive or negative (too often negative), we now understand that the world we knew until very recently is totally different. The way it has changed alters how we now look at marketing and SEO in that it requires us to think as investors who are estimating risks.
We must slow down a bit, and without panic, understand the market around us. It means asking where your market is going in both the short and long term in relation to your business and the online trends around it. In the short term, it means thinking if you can pivot or if you can only invest today in the day after?
When thinking ‘longer-term’, I think COVID-19 means we understand that our industry, whatever it is, can be affected by factors that are way beyond our control. Is your business ready for the next time something like this happens again?
As a direct result of this current crisis, I think we’re going to be seeing more companies both thinking long term and about diversification to lower risk. This shift in mindset has far-reaching consequences on how commerce will be done.
Use Organic as a Way to Supplement Diminished Ad Budgets
VP of SEO & Content at G2
I see three distinct ways the COVID-19 crisis impacts SEO and content right now.
First, as consumer behavior changes, search volume or demand does too. That means we need to constantly update our keyword research with fresh volumes or leverage trends because most 3rd party tools update search volume once a month.
Second, as many companies need to cut costs and save money, the awareness of SEO hopefully rises. SEO is a low-cost channel with high returns (if you attribute correctly) and I hope that many companies and executives will realize how much power that can give you when you have to cut ad spend.
Lastly, more companies will lean on SEO and content to drive business. The second-order effects are more competition, higher demand for content, and technical knowledge, as well as increasingly aggressive link building.
Practice Pragmatic Customer Love
Director of Paid Media at Hennessey Digital
Customer love has never been more important – brands need to ensure all messaging is really focused on helping their people, rather than just making the sale.
For our clients, we’re seeing this manifest in content and social strategies, as well as how they invest their marketing spend.
Content has shifted away from generic question answering – adapting to the new and difficult questions in the market. These include:
- How to access necessary services
- Monetization strategies
Shortcomings in infrastructure
By adapting content to meet these needs (provided the service is in the same sphere as the question), brands are able to be useful and build upon natural intent and volume.
Paid media buys are focused on solidarity and community over straight forward sales. Brands are investing in display and YouTube spots that celebrate their community.
Overall messaging focused on virtual appointments/consultations are on the rise and thriving. Service-based businesses are starting to set-up consultations through Zoom, Google Hangouts, and other free resources to communicate with prospects/customers!
Rethink the Sharp End of the SEO Agency Business Model
Managing Director at Type A Media
Frivolous sales and “nice to haves” are gone forever. Things can change in a heartbeat. You will need to be able to be even more agile than before.
SEOs are cockroaches – we survive against all odds. If it’s not Google trying to kill us with algorithm updates, it’s cash flow or staffing, or sales throwing us a curveball.
Our marketing strategy should ultimately remain the same but the tactics that we use to fulfill the strategy will change drastically. Agencies are taking a very hard look at fixed recurring costs in the business and making active moves to kill them off – this means no more fancy offices in city centres and more remote working.
The idea of fitting client deliverables in a monthly retainer and dripping them out over time will also go away. As we do the analysis and look at a client’s fixed monthly costs, we will start to realise that large, batched project work is the best way to drive results. Further, you have to think that clients will get very nervous about long-term fixed contracts and start negotiating hard on retainer duration.
The SEO industry has had it really, really good over the past 10 years and we’ve got fat and complacent. This pandemic will bring competition into very sharp focus and will see the surviving companies doubling down on their marketing and running their agency the same way an FMCG business runs – with advertising and branding leading the way.
In times of economic downturn, people take comfort in the big conservative corporations. This will be true for SEOs working in agencies and clients looking to buy services. If your branding and approach do not exude security and trust – you’re out of business.
The Quality of Your Message Matters Now… & Forever
I want to add a final word here only because it’s a point that really resonates with me.
When I started in marketing I felt like I was going to have to sell my soul. After all, marketing means triggering people’s emotions in the hopes their minds will take a backseat, doesn’t it?
I quickly learned that this is marketing at its worst. What you really want to do is give your potential consumers an understanding of who you are and what it means to be you. It’s more an existential question than an emotional one. You want your consumers to trust you, to think you’re reliable and attentive. You want them to see that you’re innovative and insightful. You can do that by either dispensing all sorts of marketing gimmicks or by showcasing who you are. The former speaks to vacillating moods while the latter creates a bond between brand and consumer.
I think COVID-19 showcases just how silly, absurd, fool-hearted, and fruitless gimmicky marketing is. As some of the experts above have mentioned, there’s nothing worse than being aggressively sold to right now. I think people have finally awoken to the notion that brands that take to gimmicks are somewhat repulsive and I don’t think this is going away any time soon. Even after the stupid virus subsides, people are not going to take well to slick shellac. Brands, to whatever extent, have gotten away with less than authoritative marketing practices for far too long and I think that time is finally over.
Oh, and on the SEO front… check your traffic not just your rankings. It’s highly possible you’re ranking #1 for a query no one cares about right now (such as Flights to Wuhan… you might be #1, but I don’t think many folks are searching for anything remotely similar).