Positioning Your SEO for Growth Amidst the Pandemic

2020 began as an ambitious year for all businesses. Then Taal happened. Then COVID 19 happened, and essentially turned the country and the world on its head.

As a business that deals with Marketing, we sort of expected to get parked as a priority. After all, many businesses remain closed, and those that are open are seeing fewer customers. Usage of recreation and retail facilities such as restaurants, malls, resorts, and cinemas plunged 82 percent in the country from February 29 to mid-April, compared to the baseline period covering January 3 to February 6. Filipinos also frequented pharmacies and groceries less often, with mobility dropping to 60 percent during the same period.

The flipside to that coin is that we dealt in Digital Marketing – and we knew the digital industry would be big winners in a situation where we were all locked down. Shopify – an e-commerce platform had been seeing Black Friday levels of traffic even before lockdowns began. A few weeks in and Amazon was all over the news as the clear winner in a quarantined economy.

Why SEO Still Matters During COVID-19

If you’ve asked yourself, “Should I still continue with my SEO?” the short answer is: absolutely!

Why? The same reason why other businesses are closing: it’s because everyone’s still indoors. And when people are indoors, they’re usually online.

Ever since the nationwide lockdown was implemented, mobile data usage has surged in the country. According to Rappler, there was a 13.4% jump in mobile WiFi use during the first week of the enhanced community quarantine. That’s no surprise as social distancing and mobility restrictions have pushed people to stay connected to the outside world through their smartphones.

Online shopping has also become the new norm. While it isn’t new and people have been doing it for the past decade, the current health crisis has pushed people to purchase both needs and wants online. There are also products that have seen major increases in sales that weren’t very popular pre-pandemic. For instance, according to The ASEAN Post, some of the products that have been selling online like hot cakes in the Philippines include computer equipment and gym equipment. Search activities for dumbbells increased by 80 percent within only the second half of March.

We’ve even seen clients in the condo space begin at 40% sold pre-pandemic all the way to 96% sold during the downgrade to MECQ.

These trends show if brands want to stay afloat during and after COVID-19, they’ll need to stay connected with their audience. But how do you adjust your SEO efforts for success during these trying times without hurting your wallet?

How to Position Your SEO amidst the Pandemic

As the world shifts to the new normal, consumers are spending more time online evaluating the items they want to purchase, adapting to the work from home setup, and reading updates on the pandemic.

As a result, this is the best time to evaluate your SEO strategy. Here’s a quick guide to crafting a COVID-proof SEO strategy that will help you stay connected with your target audience without putting a strain on your budget.

Update All Your Listings, Especially Google My Business

This mostly affects businesses that rely on some sort of local presence online and brick-and-mortar businesses that rely on foot traffic for their revenue. Listings are typically a user’s first touch point via Google Search or Google Maps when conducting branded searches, and it’s important to provide searchers with accurate information, especially if they don’t make it to your website.

The listings also serve as citations for your website. Google looks not only at the accuracy and quality of your listings, but also their consistency with your website and with one another. Google also announced that they will start prioritizing reviews of critical edits to business information on a Google My Business listing, especially for health-related businesses.

Here are ways to provide searchers via Google My Business with the most up-to-date information:

  • Change your Business Hours to reflect closures or any changes to store operations.
  • Add information to your Business Description explaining how your business has been or will be affected by the pandemic.
  • Create a Google My Business Post with business changes and additional details.

If you’ve got extra time on your hands, it’s also a good time to conduct an audit of all your other online listings.

  • Make sure all business information is identical across platforms. Check Yelp, Yellow Pages, Manila Craigslist, and other popular free listing sites.
  • Check for any new listings that may have been user-generated or auto-created.
  • Conduct a reputation check. Catch up on reviews and respond to them — both positive and negative. Customers look at responses just as much as the reviews.
  • Moving forward, set up Google Alerts to stay on top of auto-generated listings and reviews.

Target Trending Themes and Build Content for Current Searches

It’s safe to assume that consumer spending has become somewhat volatile in the past few months.

Essentials like food, toiletries, protective clothing, and disinfectants are prioritized over non-essential products and services. While certain non-essential e-Commerce stores will undoubtedly experience hits to their bottom line, it’s crucial to understand how your customers’ needs have changed and learn how your offerings can still provide value.

There are quick and effective ways to monitor the changes in search behavior:

Constantly track your website’s search traffic via Google Search Console. A few points to look for:

  • Are users still searching for your brand, or are searches shifting to non-branded?
  • Which products or services are experiencing the biggest changes in search volume or traffic?
  • Check out Google Trends to keep an eye on any emerging patterns in industry-relevant search behavior that you can address with fresh content on your site.
  • The current search landscape boils down to two things: understanding the new questions your customers have, and making sure you have the solutions or answers to those questions. If you can’t answer their questions, it’s likely that somebody else will.

However, while you can certainly adjust your messaging on certain products or services, do not instill fear in your customers. There’s a huge difference between being relevant and fear-mongering.

Nurture Relationships by Educating Prospects

Despite the nationwide quarantine, there has been a notable increase in web traffic, email marketing open rates, and customer-initiated conversations. This suggests that online users are interested in learning new things about your brand and what you offer.

So instead of focusing on promotions, consider nurturing your relationship with customers by turning your website into a reliable source of valuable information. Start putting out educational content like how-to guides.

Additionally, you can also have a page or an entire section of your website dedicated to the COVID-19 pandemic. You don’t have to update visitors about the current COVID-19 on goings.

Rather, you can focus on how your business is contributing to COVID-19 prevention and the steps you’ve taken to combat the pandemic. For instance, if you’re a restaurant, you can explain the precautions you’ve taken to ensure safety for both employees and customers. Creating pandemic-centric content will help instill trust in your brand — long after COVID-19 is over.

Build Better Evergreen Content

Have you got any industry experts on your team? Now is the perfect time to capitalize on their expertise and create engaging, well-researched content about your products or services. For example, if you’re a company that offers digital marketing or SEO services, put out articles such as Social Media Marketing 101 or How to Measure the ROI of SEO.

When you pair your newfound understanding of your customer’s changing needs with your team’s expertise, you’re laying the framework for your brand’s long-term success. A few examples:

  • Build a long-form content page explaining in great detail various applications of your core product(s) or the benefits of your services. Don’t forget to include infographics and high-res images.
  • Create and post informational videos. As users consume continue to consume more content on YouTube and other video sharing platforms, this is a great way to talk about your offerings and let your experts shine during a time of social distancing.

Building a robust library of content is crucial to any successful SEO strategy. When you invest time and effort up front, you’re giving your business a major competitive edge, setting you light years ahead as consumer habits and search habits eventually normalize.

Focus on Conversions

Your website traffic may be declining during COVID-19, but that also means that those who are still visiting your site are highly interested in your brand and what you have to offer. This leads us to the last SEO strategy your business should focus on: optimizing for conversion.

While this is more CRO than SEO, they’re closely related. If you can’t get more users to visit your site, it’s better to focus on getting more conversions among actual visitors. A ways to increase conversion rates from organic search traffic:

  • Install a plugin that creates non-intrusive popups for content downloads. Good options include Omniconvert or OptinMonster.
  • Create a sidebar widget where visitors can easily sign up to your email newsletter.
  • Try A/B testing the language or placement of the CTAs on your home page
  • Run a limited-time offer with discounted or free services.
Final Thoughts on SEO in the Time of COVID-19

SEO is a marathon, not a sprint. The people that wind up winners in this situation will be the ones that ride that momentum forward. In the time when your competitors are second guessing their marketing – you shouldn’t be.

In short: while it may be necessary to cut on some short-term costs during these trying times, don’t sacrifice your ROI-generating channels and long-term strategies such as SEO. Investing in SEO, especially during a time when everyone’s on the Internet, will help position your brand as an authority in the industry, until you emerge victorious in the post-pandemic economy.

Bernard San Juan
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