The Covid-19 outbreak and resulting global lockdowns and social distancing measures have ushered in a new era of telecommuting for hundreds of millions of employees, causing a significant change of consumption and lifestyle. Аn ongoing crisis feels like unprecedented times, making us wonder what bits of this new normality, whether mobility restrictions or working from home, will remain. It is the uncertainty of what’s to come that makes it difficult for people to predict how to act and plan ahead. We are slowly learning to adjust and adapt to a world of volatility and changing risks, from economic instability, industry failures, and job insecurity to when we will see our family and friends once again.
As consumers, people underwent behavioral changes due to insecurity, from panic buying and herd mentality to reduced discretionary spending and shift to digital. These changes in behavior have important implications for businesses in all economic sectors. As long-term patterns are still in the process of forming, this is an opportunity for companies to step in and guide what the new normal will look like. Businesses with search visibility and online presence have a key role to play as shopping has moved almost exclusively online. This makes SEO ever more important, especially now that consumers are increasingly turning to brands that provide security in times of continued global uncertainty. Now it is time to build trust as to get back on track post-pandemic, and this can only happen if customers can discover businesses. Investing in SEO is the key to getting noticed online, and here is why.
1. Digital Marketing Is Not Enough
Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are hot and help increase online visibility but organic search accounts for more than 50 percent of all website traffic. A study by Brightedge Research shows that paid and organic search are responsible for 68 percent of traffic, compared to 15 percent for social media and 27 percent for other sources. By sector, the figures are 53 percent for media and entertainment and 41 percent for retail and commerce. In contrast, social visits account for just 5.1 percent in the retail sector and 8.2 percent in the TV, film, and print industry. What this means for businesses is that they need audience-engaging, unique, optimized, and discoverable content to boost leads and sales.
2. Coronavirus Drives E-Commerce Growth
With non-essential businesses shut down and people advised to stay home, it is not surprising that e-commerce has become the main sales channel for businesses across sectors. The main factors contributing to growth before the onset of the pandemic included bulk purchasing at discounted prices, the launching of more products online, and increased Internet usage worldwide. Amidst the coronavirus crisis, with consumers avoiding public places and retailers ordered to close, more and more people are turning to online shopping. In fact, research by Digital Commerce 360 shows that digital sales are forecasted to grow by 40.3 percent in 2020, thus reaching 21 percent of the total retail volume. By category, retail chain sales will see 77 percent growth, followed by consumer brand manufacturers with 42 percent, web only businesses with 37 percent, and catalogue/call centers with 31 percent.
To take advantage of the e-commerce boom, businesses are increasingly offering added incentives such as flexible and interest-free finance, extended return policies, free returns, and free delivery. More companies now use a mix of marketing channels, including social media, contextual, video, pay per click, and email marketing. Search engine optimization is a great addition to this mix as it helps improve traffic and online visibility and thus increase brand awareness.
3. Shift in Consumer Search Behavior
With guidance on which businesses are considered non-essential and essential, it is not surprising that search behavior has changed. Pharmacies and grocery stores have seen an increase in sales volume after the onset of the pandemic. Data by Digital Commerce 360 shows that the online share of the grocery market has increased from 8.8 percent to 12.4 percent in the UK, Spain, France, and China. Not only did shopping increase by 30 percent but buyers are reporting high satisfaction.
When it comes to non-essential businesses and their products and services, a significant drop in search interest is only to be expected. A report by Emarketer reveals that health and beauty and food and beverage are the fastest growing categories, with 32.4 and 58.5 percent, respectively. In comparison, apparel and accessories will post growth of just 8.6 percent.
To stay afloat amidst the Covid-19 crisis, non-essential businesses will need to monitor search traffic which will enable them to update their long-term strategies and forecasting. Tools such as Google Search Console and Google Trends come in handy in allowing companies to look at shifts in search behavior and interest around specific products, topics, and keywords.
A major benefit of using SEO during a crisis is that optimizing your website is more cost-effective compared to running influencer campaigns, hosting webinars and other virtual events, and using paid advertising. With other types of marketing businesses need to keep paying in order to boost their online visibility. SEO takes a little patience, time, focus, and expertise but provides long-term value.
Indeed, while many businesses are cutting their advertising budgets, they are increasingly switching to cost-effective solutions like search engine optimization. The Impact of Covid-19 on Marketing study by Conductor shows that for over half of companies SEO is more important in times of a pandemic. Some 27 percent of marketers state that their advertising budgets will stay the same while 45 percent anticipate a slight decrease. The great majority or 72 percent of businesses are confident that their marketing goals will remain unchanged or will increase. With countries experiencing an economic recession, pressure is on for companies to change their marketing strategies, and only 28 percent plan to invest in paid media. 34 percent will switch to more cost-effective solutions like SEO and only 23 percent will invest more in digital marketing. Only 5 percent of respondents believe that the role of SEO will decrease slightly or greatly while the majority of businesses or 63 percent state that it will increase in importance slightly or steeply. Google also shows increased interest for search engine optimization. Most businesses (66 percent) share that organic search was their #1 performing channel last year, followed by paid search (50 percent), email marketing (50 percent), and content marketing (36 percent). Channels that are least used include in-application messaging, push notifications SMS/text, syndication, and influencer marketing.
5. Choice of Content
The fact that SEO content comes in a great variety allows businesses to choose a format that fits well into their marketing strategy. Common types that marketers use include articles, blog posts, product pages, guides, lists, and video. There are other options to look into such as:
- Case studies
- Long-form content
6. Build Trust
Content is not only affordable and helps improve ranking but enables brands to educate customers about their products and services. When visitors are offered the chance to learn more about a product and its specifications, functionalities, and limitations, they have more realistic expectations about what they can use this product for and whether they really need it. Educating customers also helps reduce complaints and builds trust which is the foundation for long-term brand – customer relationships. Some wrongly believe that offering valuable information empowers consumers by equipping them with skills and knowledge to shop around. To begin with, this can only be true if all customers had the same level of expertise. An article in the Journal of Service Research shows that consumers with preexisting expert knowledge are more willing to engage in a productive dialogue with service providers. Those who lack expertise are more inclined to believe that educational programs are nothing more than another marketing tool.
The effort to help consumers become more knowledgeable also makes them more comfortable asking questions, resulting in more frequent interactions. Informed customers are also more likely to appreciate the personal attention that they get which, in turn, increases their level of trust in the company.
There are other benefits to offering educational content, one being reduced customer service costs. Support teams are known to spend long hours answering the same queries and questions. This results in increased service costs, reduced employee motivation, and low levels of job satisfaction.
7. Boost Your Scarcity Marketing Campaign
Using SEO to complement your scarcity marketing strategy can help drive sales. If you happen to offer such products or services or want to present your offerings as such, it pays to create useful, optimized content that creates a sense of urgency. Think of retailers marketing sales and special promotions as ending soon. Or they offer discounts or coupons with an expiration date. Or their website says “only 3 left in stock”. This is what scarcity marketing is about – it makes potential customers believe that if they don’t act, and quick at that, they may miss out.
The main strategies that companies successfully capitalize on are access-, quantity-, and time-limited scarcity and one-of-a-kind special offers and events. When a service is access-limited, for example, it is perceived as being exclusive, reserved for a specific group of customers, and of higher value. Loyalty programs and priority pass memberships that feature shopping discounts and complimentary food and beverages fall in this category. With quantity-limited scarcity, product availability is unpredictable due to low supply or high demand or both. Think of booking platforms showcasing “only 1 room left” alongside “3 people are looking at this moment”.
Tactics that build a sense of urgency can help improve website conversion as they encourage action. In commodity theory limited supply drives the perceived value of a product that can be possessed, is transferrable, and is useful. Virtually all items meet these criteria, with brands having a variety of marketing tools at their disposal, from next-day shipping and purchasing countdowns to limited production and low stock notices.
8. Capture Traffic
Posting relevant content shows your audience that you have something important to share and helps to position yourself as an authority. The impact of the coronavirus is a hot topic as it continues to wreak havoc across the globe. You shouldn’t miss out on the opportunity to capture all relevant organic search Covid-19 traffic, especially if you are operating in an industry that has been hard hit or your business is considered essential. In the field of healthcare, such businesses are:
- Walk-in-care health facilities
- Animal health and veterinary services
- Elder care
- Biotechnology therapies
- Dentist and doctor’s offices
- Supplying, warehousing, distribution, and manufacturing of pharmaceuticals
Businesses operating in the infrastructure sector are also considered essential, including dam maintenance, trucking, data centers and telecommunications, fuel supply, and power generation.
9. Capture Relevant Traffic
You don’t really need to update people on things like new Covid-19 strains, types of vaccines available, or transmission dynamics. What you can do is show your customers what your company is doing to help your local community and support relief efforts. Or you can explain what precautions your business is taking to protect the health of your employees and customers. If your store is closed due to Covid-19, let people know and inform them that they can find your products online. And if you are a restaurant owner, make sure your customers know that you take the pandemic seriously. Let people know that handwashing is mandatory for staff after cleaning, after smoke and meal breaks, when touching shared surfaces, and between each order. Inform customers that staff knows how to handle packages properly, drivers are given delivery instructions, and staff with cold symptoms is sent home.
10. Increase Online Visibility
An analysis by Path Interactive reveals some interesting trends that can help you to increase search visibility. Websites like Cleveland Clinic, WHO, and CDC have naturally seen a significant uptick. Wellness sites have also experienced sharp increases, especially those with a focus on fitness, mindful activities, nutrition, healthy recipes, and natural home cleaning methods.
These shifts open up an opportunity for companies to create relevant content that drives more conversions. This is a great way to ramp up your impact and increase your brand’s reach.
11. Show up in Local Search Results
Given that restrictions on travel and movement are still in place, it is important that your company shows in detailed searches like “near me” and “open now”. The reason why is simple – demand for local brands is on the rise and likely to continue. A research report by Accenture reveals that 56 percent of people are buying local produce and shopping in nearby stores. Consumers are also trying to reduce food waste and are increasingly focusing on ethical, sustainable, and green purchases. Figures show that 61 percent of consumers are now making more eco-friendly purchases, and 89 percent say they will continue doing so after the pandemic ends. The majority of respondents (72 percent) say they are making an effort to reduce food waste, and 90 percent are likely to continue in the future. Social responsibility has grown in importance, and consumers now expect that businesses contribute toward addressing environmental and social problems such as social exclusion and income inequality. An overwhelming majority of survey participants (77 percent) believe that businesses have a role to play in finding fair and sustainable solutions.
To increase consumer confidence, businesses will need to focus on initiatives that help local communities and have a social impact. These can include sharing information such as health and safety training for staff and in-store measures in place to ensure hygiene and social distancing.
The global crisis has caused a surge in Internet usage but many businesses experienced a significant decline in organic traffic. This doesn’t mean that SEO tactics no longer work, however, and there are plenty of reasons other than the above to invest in optimizing your website for search engines. Now is a good time to evolve your marketing strategy and website to drive sales post-pandemic, but the approach to take depends on whether you are а large, medium-sized, or small business. SMEs will need to put effort into improving their local online presence by offering relevant content and gaining positive reviews. Large-sized businesses, on the other hand, need to focus more on ongoing maintenance to ensure that their website is updated and all processes are streamlined. It is also important to offer updates on how your business is doing because of the coronavirus which will help you to build trust and streamline communication with potential customers. And as we all know, content is still king and posting relevant and targeted content is the best way to ensure that visitors will remember your brand once we transition to a post-pandemic world and return to a normal mindset and the life we knew.