How to approach SEO in a COVID-19 world
With the clear and sudden shift in the world’s mentality, and reliance on the internet never being higher, it’s certainly a time for considering your digital marketing efforts. Often bringing the lion’s share of traffic to a website, SEO should feature highly in this thinking.
Each industry is facing direct and indirect COVID-19 repercussions. We explore how best to adapt your SEO strategy and get the most out of this situation.
Jump to section
|People are still searching online|
|Search engine algorithms still exist|
|Appreciate existing customers|
|Re-evaluate search behaviour|
|Make use of your industry's 'downtime'|
|Oh, and links still matter...|
|Still feel a bit unsure?|
You aren’t alone in wondering what the best marketing steps are right now and when things will become a bit more normal. First, though, it’s important to realise that there isn’t much of a protocol to follow here. Previous wide-scale epidemics happened at a time when the world wide web wasn’t even in existence, nevermind practices such as search engine optimisation.
Some parallels have been drawn to the recession of the late-2000s, due to the effects that had on consumer behaviour. Interestingly, the same questions that were being asked back then, can be asked right now too:
- How can we acquire new customers in this climate?
- What avenues still offer opportunity?
People are still searching online
A very small percentage of industries are booming in this current crisis. Think online pharmacies and teleconferencing companies like Zoom.
While the word “booming” carries positive connotations here, COVID-19 has likely presented more of a logistical nightmare than an economic one for them. For example:
- Google Ads budgets may have needed to be paused, simply to lessen traffic spikes and allow orders to be fulfilled
- Customer support teams may have needed a rapid expansion at the same time as making the switch to remote working
Then there’s the other end of the scale; certain industries have all but shut down, with many notable companies sailing close to financial collapse. This was demonstrated by Flybe’s recent statement on their website.
Most companies though, will fall somewhere in between. They’ll have been affected, sure, but they’re likely to be in a position where their target audience - or at least some of it - will still be searching to find their services.
It’s more important than ever to be visible when they do, and to accommodate their interactions with your website in this climate.
Search engine algorithms still exist
Despite some calls for Google to halt any algorithm updates, it’s extremely doubtful that a company so reliant on providing the best possible output for their users (the searcher) will put a stop to their constant tweaking.
Should Google stop pushing out search algorithm updates during the COVID-19 outbreak?— Barry Schwartz (@rustybrick) March 16, 2020
But even if the act of updating the algorithms did stop - the algorithms in their current state are still there, enabling search robots to crawl, interpret and index your web pages. This means you can still make a multitude of improvements to your website that can benefit your organic visibility.
Appreciate existing customers
Let’s hang on a second though. Before looking at how you can use SEO to bring in additional traffic, have a think about your existing users - the people that are already trying to find, use and purchase from your website. Can anything more be done to make their experience better? Here are a few quick things you could look at doing if you haven’t already:
1. Update your Google My Business
Like many other businesses, Google has taken steps to protect the health of their employees through the COVID-19 crisis. This has meant they’ve needed to limit some of their Google My Business support features - namely their ability to monitor new reviews and non-critical information edits.
Despite this, a lot of the important edits you can make for your business should still be passed through very quickly, if not automatically. Make sure any changes to your opening hours or areas of service are reflected on your profile.
There’s also a new option to create a Google Post that is specific to COVID-19. Taking advantage of this will allow you to inform your audience of the below:
- Hours of operation and temporary closures
- Changes to how the business operates, such as takeout or delivery only, call for details, or others
- Updates to how the location is being managed as it relates to safety and hygiene
- Requests for support
2. Consider making a COVID-19 statement
Google isn’t the only avenue to your website - far from it - so not everyone will see the Google Post, if you choose to create one. It may be wise to inform people of any key changes via a specific page on your website too.
First of all, consider whether this is even needed. Are there specifics you need to share which change the way you operate? Simply telling everyone you’re working from home, or you're washing your hands shouldn’t really be necessary - it’s an assumption that will already be made.
The key here is to be subtle enough to not irritate (there are a LOT of statements and emails that have been going out over the last few weeks), but be clear and concise enough to get your important points across.
A clear message at the top of your page, with a link to a page with more information, is likely the best shout. This is demonstrated by trusty old Ikea below:
When doing so, make sure to avoid using an intrusive interstitial which can create a really poor experience for mobile users. Unless you feel you have a legal obligation to get a specific message across (more from Google on this).
Examples of intrusive interstitials
3. Improve FAQ section
Where there are changes, there are often questions. To save your phones going off the hook with the same few questions, it’s definitely worth updating/adding to the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ area of your website.
It might even be wise to introduce a COVID-19 specific section. That way it can simply be removed when no longer required.
4. Give alternative options
Everyone is spending huge amounts of time at home, often with plenty of time to spare. People might not be ready to purchase, but this is prime ‘browsing’ time.
With that in mind, can you give any additional options to encourage a purchase? Failing that, it’s a great time to try and engage with your users and build up an audience primed for retargeting when things are more normal.
BrewDog’s timely adaptations are a brilliant example of this. They brought in a fresh-look ecommerce website which is perfectly acclimatised to the changes in consumer behaviour.
BrewDog website on March 15th 2020
BrewDog website on March 22nd 2020
The change in dynamic is clear - huge emphasis has been put on purchasing their products online and they’ve provided clear information on deliveries.
As well as that, they’ve launched an online bar which hosts a pub quiz, alcohol tasting and even yoga classes!
Once you’ve made some short term adaptations, try to think ahead as much as you possibly can. This is a very difficult time, there are no two ways about that, but it’s ultimately a very small period in your website’s full existence so planning for future success isn’t something you should shy away from.
Re-evaluate search behaviour
There’s been a lot of playing around with the Google Trends tool in recent weeks. While that can be very interesting, it can be somewhat misleading, as its numbers represent relative search interest over a period of time. So if a search term was previously searched for 10 times per month and that has now doubled to 20 times - it’d show a real upward trajectory. Whereas in reality, the search opportunity is still not all that lucrative.
Nothing beats getting a solid understanding of what precise terms are being searched for. Google’s other tools in Search Console and Keyword Planner are your best options here.
Keep a particularly close eye on your Search Console data during times like this to see what users are actually finding you for. And be ready for when those search volumes update in Keyword Planner - this should define any further adaptations required.
Make use of your industry’s ‘downtime’
Cash flow problems for many companies have led to pauses in their marketing efforts. If you can, try to view this as a window of opportunity.
Not in a callous way, but if you can afford to keep your SEO activities moving then you most definitely should. This is a time where you could make improvements that help set you apart from your competition for years to come.
Improve on-page copy
Users are either still trying to find you, or will start trying to again in the future. Anyone that does find your page should be greeted with content that well and truly demonstrates your offering.
Try to describe that product a bit better. Give more context around the service you provide. These improvements are evergreen and could benefit you in the short, medium and long term.
Run through that backlog of technical fixes
Sometimes there are important, but perhaps not business-critical, SEO fixes. Typically such fixes might be put to the bottom of the development queue or ignored for a while in favour of more tangible changes.
Where website traffic and orders might be at an all-time low, this presents an ideal time to rectify those little niggles and get your website closer to perfect than ever before.
Find new things to improve
If you haven’t had a chance to find out what those niggles are, then now’s the time. Have someone that really knows how to navigate a website conduct a thorough technical SEO audit, potentially identifying:
- Barriers to effective crawling and indexing
- A suboptimal site structure
- Consolidation opportunities
- Struggling page load speeds
- Other usability and accessibility issues
Assess use of structured data
Structured data implementation is commonly overlooked as an SEO task, especially when it’s not immediately obvious how those extra annotations will be used to improve your organic search potential.
The list of different ‘Rich result’ enhancements that can be achieved is ever-growing. Formatting your information in the right way and marking it up can benefit now, but also set you up for future success too.
It’s certainly worth exploring the huge database of Schema.org vocabulary, to see if there are any opportunities specific to your niche.
Start creating those complex content assets
Have you been toying with the idea of doing something incredibly outlandish and/or time-consuming in the name of great content (and some links, if they come - why not)? Now could be the perfect time to put those plans into action!
Your ideas may have felt overzealous before and you decided that time could be better spent supporting elsewhere. Now, it's worth a re-think. The next few months could be the ideal space required to put something amazing together, ready to be launched once the world has returned to a relative normality.
Develop your video content strategy
Even before the Coronavirus shutdown, a video content revolution was upon us. The rise of TikTok exemplifies a consumer desire for faster, shorter and more authentic (user-generated) content.
Creating videos that are useful, easily digestible and have believability about them is definitely a strong way to position your business as one that’s friendly and relatable to your target audience.
It’s 2020, the world has pretty much gone into lockdown, but yes, links still matter to Google’s ranking algorithms.
However, as experienced link-getter Carrie Rose explained to her Twitter followers, “trying to get pick up during this time has been hard”. Follow up tweets showed how with some determined and imaginative thinking, strong results can still be achieved.
Uswitch study lands over 30 placements looking which apps are killing your phone battery https://t.co/bS504eCDWj— Carrie Rose (@CarrieRosePR) April 3, 2020
Bring something positive
Think about if you can bring something different to the table that’s heartwarming or entertaining. In times of horrific daily news, people, and therefore journalists, are looking for uplifting stories, but be cautious of getting it wrong.
If gaining a link or two is your only (or even the main) reason for you exploring this angle though, it’s probably best not to bother at all.
Provide expert opinion
Are you genuinely in a unique position whereby your opinion, or that of someone in your business, can say or do something that could be of interest to other people?
Please don’t play on people’s fears
There are a lot of worried folk out there at the moment and a lot of confusion over what can be done, what can’t be done, what should be said and what shouldn’t.
It’s important that any marketing efforts don’t add to this. Misinformation and scaremongering is poor to see at the best of times and I’ve no doubt it’ll be especially unwelcome during this period.
Still feel a bit unsure?
Evoluted MD Ash Young is offering free digital advice around what you should be doing during the crisis and how your business can best prepare for a post-COVID-19 world.