Search is a proxy for consumer intent and behavior, and the COVID-19 crisis is having a dramatic impact on search behavior, consumer mobility, media consumption habits, supply chains, and budgets.
With these changing circumstances, businesses need to adjust their next marketing campaigns to alleviate risk strategically.
Consumers and Companies Turn to Organic Search
In a recent survey, 1 in 3 consumers indicated that the news of coronavirus has already changed their shopping behavior. 47.2% of US internet users polled last month said they are currently avoiding shopping centers and malls.
Marketing channels, such as PPC, already see a reduction in budget. Google search ads lost 7% of their impressions from January 13, 2020 to March 9, 2020. SEO, however, is seeing a sharp uptick: brands like Daillyburn.com are seeing a 300+ increase in organic search visibility from January 19, 2020 to March 19, 2020.
With these shifts, there is an opportunity for SEO professionals and content marketers to ramp up their impact, creating content that drives conversions now and builds their brand long term.
Savvy marketers are already making shifts in their strategies and investing more SEO. According to Google Trends, the search term “SEO” and related terms have seen a spike in interest in the United States since February 2020.
“SEO-focused content is the most cost-effective and direct path to maintaining your business during economic downtimes.” -Pat Reinhart, Conductor
SEO Is a Cost Efficient Investment During COVID-19
People are searching online more than they ever have before. Regardless of the economic climate, you want your brand to be top of mind for searchers when they are making a buying decision.
So why are companies ramping up SEO now?
During economic downtimes, SEO is an especially smart investment in the future of your business. One of its key advantages is how cost effective it is compared to other channels, such as media.
I spoke with Pat Reinhart, VP of Digital Strategy at Conductor, and he agreed, “SEO-focused content is the most cost-effective and direct path to maintaining your business during economic downtimes. It requires a lower investment. And, it doesn’t have an on/off switch like traditional paid media campaigns, so it pays off long after the investment.”
Well, I’ve shared a few tips on what to prioritize while we’re all weathering the storm. Read on.
4 Tips to Build a Strong SEO Program to Weather Uncertainty
Tip 1: Create Content That Builds Trust
Forrester released a report this past month to measure how consumer sentiment has been influenced since COVID-19. The report stated, “Consumers are less optimistic that people and companies will follow through on the promises they make.”
Ford Motor Company provides a standout example. According to AdAge, Matt VanDyke, director of U.S. marketing for Ford Motor Co. said, “It’s important to be reassuring right now and not trying to say to people ‘Rush into your car dealership for a sales event.’”
The new campaign does away with the sales pitch entirely to focus on a message of comfort and hope. As Forrester noted, the campaign is designed to counter feelings of loneliness, skepticism and powerlessness with competency, integrity and Ford’s ability to help people feel more in control of their lives.
A study from Conductor shows that brands that deliver educational content are more trustworthy than brands that don’t.
The study found that one week after reading a brand’s educational content, customers are 48% more likely to buy from that brand.
Early-stage, educational content strengthens brand affinity, trust, and conversions.
Now, in a time of crisis, you want to move your content efforts toward educational content that establishes trust.
Put yourself into your buyer’s shoes to understand what they want and need.
I spoke with Lindsay Boyajian, Senior Director of Marketing at Conductor, who shared additional insights: “With so much uncertainty, consumers are looking for more answers than ever. They are looking for helpful and relevant answers to their questions from brands they trust. That’s why brands need to focus on building trust by creating content that answers these questions.”
Here are some examples of ways brands are building trust during the COVID-19.
Time Out London released a digital copy of its magazine for free.
Mailchimp is offering free Standard accounts for organizations trying to share public health information related to COVID-19.
Conductor hosts a daily web series to connect search marketers and industry experts to share insights, best practices, and support. They’ve also released Covid-19 industry keyword lists to better understand what your customers are searching for during the pandemic.
Consumers want and need transparency to help cope with today’s new normal. They want to trust not only the business but also the people behind the business.
Customers need to be earned, not acquired right now. And, the only way to do that is establishing trust through content that delivers answers and knowledge.
Tip 2: Proactively Manage Your Web Presence
In July 2018, Google updated their guidelines to include E-A-T, also known as Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.
The key word here is “trustworthiness.” Again, the more trust you build with your content, the more likely users will click on your content in the SERPs.
That’s why managing your online brand presence is your essential during these times. Dated or inaccurate information can confuse and even hurt consumers.
Here are a few tips for managing your online reputation during COVID-19:
- Update your schema. This ensures that Google is showing accurate information about your company in this fast-changing environment and that users only see the latest information. If you’re an e-commerce company, help meet consumer expectations by updating product availability schema to provide real-time information to consumers. You can also add event status schema to update customers about changes to events and special announcements.
- Update your Google My Business page. Keep customers in the know about changes to your business’ operations like changes to operating hours by updating your Google My Business page. Google offers more guidance here.
- Keep an eye on Google Search Console. Web traffic, especially traffic coming from organic search, is a massively important indicator of where demand for your products and services has shifted. Spikes or declines in traffic can show you what kind of information is most important to your customers and can shape your response.
- Add monitoring of search demand and social media mentions: Monitor COVID-19 related topics that are relevant to your business using Conductor and Talkwalker. Use search data to understand search and audience intent, and social data to analyze audience demographics, content tone, and sentiment.
Tip 3: Audit Your Upcoming Content & Campaigns
If you’ve already built your pipeline of content, now is the time to audit any upcoming campaigns for Q2.
You don’t want your campaigns to be tone-deaf to consumers. You want to show empathy and compassion for your audience during times of crisis.
Corona received some backlash on Twitter after launching its Coming Ashore Soon campaign for its new seltzer line.
Other big brands have adapted by hitting the brakes. KFC suspended its ‘Finger Lickin’ Good’ campaign. Hershey’s pulled its ‘Hugs and Handshakes’ ads. And, Coors Light stopped its ‘Official Beer of Working Remotely’ ads.
Search being a proxy for customer intent means that SEO managers should have a heightened awareness of consumer sensitivities. This is valuable insight that SEOs should share with other marketers in their organization.
During this time, SEO is more than technical SEO— it is also about being the voice of the customer across the organization.
Focus on adapting in the short-term to give yourself a chance to build long-term brand equity.
Tip 4: Ramp Up Security
As I mentioned previously, trust is a significant factor for success right now.
However, hackers are taking advantage of the current situation. Hackers are using malicious malware to promote coronavirus discount codes and specials.
For example, there was a “corona special offer” for a MacBook Air that only cost $390 USD, which was a scam to get sensitive information from consumers.
Cybercriminals are also using the branding of “trusted” companies in phishing attacks. Even trusted companies like the World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are being exploited by hackers to establish credibility.
According to the Check Point Software’s Global Threat Index for January 2020, “cyber-criminals are exploiting interest in the global epidemic to spread malicious activity, with several spam campaigns relating to the outbreak of the virus.”
With security being a top priority, here are a few things to sure up your website’s security:
- Monitor log files for crawl errors. If you’re an SEO professional, you know log file analysis can help identify how search engine crawlers are accessing your website. The analysis can also reveal if spambots are trying to infiltrate your site.
- Implement SSO. SSO (Single Sign On) authorizes users to use one set of login credentials (ex: name and password) to enter separate applications. It’s more secure. And your IT team will be thankful.
- Secure your site with SSL. Back in 2014, Google announced HTTPS as a ranking signal to encourage site owners to make their site more secure for visitors. Implementing HTTPS protects things like credit card numbers, browsing history, and more.
- Update plugins or apps you use. Hackers tend to look at old plugins or tools for vulnerabilities. Make sure you regularly update, so you’re not an easy target.
For SEO marketers, cybersecurity does not stop at HTTPS. It’s vital to take preventative measures to secure your digital assets today. A hacker can have a permanent negative impact on your SEO efforts. Safeguard your website for the future.
SEO Is a Needed Investment to Build Trust Right Now
In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, getting your content to the top of a Google SERP will be more important than ever.
Because that’s where your consumers are looking for answers to sensitive questions from brands they trust.
“I must be able to trust the brand to do what is right.”
That’s what 81% of consumers say, according to the Edelman Brand Trust Report 2019.
That means trust is the most valuable commodity in these unprecedented and changing times.
If you want consumers to choose you, they first must trust you.
What’s the best way to build and strengthen that trust now – and protect your brand reputation – now and in the future?
- Continue to create SEO-focused content on topics that are relevant to your audience.
- Keep your site, content, and messaging up to data and relevant.
- Audit your current campaigns to be mindful of your messaging.
If you’re investing in SEO and content, this is just the beginning.
Need help creating that relevant, optimized content?
Conductor offers a free SEO site analysis. The site analysis will help discover the most relevant topics to your audience, uncover technical site issues, and optimize your website for the best possible performance.
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The opinions expressed in this article are the sponsor's own.