Search Engine Marketing isn't going anywhere - in fact, it'll be particularly essential to businesses well after the pandemic ends.
September 25, 2020 7 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Still unsure about whether to invest more of your marketing efforts in SEO during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Want to know why some brands have been increasing, instead of cutting, their SEO budgets amid all this uncertainty?
Let’s take a look at how the unique strengths of search engine marketing (SEM) have helped a few discerning businesses stay afloat while others have faced extinction. As you’ll see, SEM isn’t going anywhere — in fact, it’ll be particularly essential to businesses well after the pandemic ends.
The impact of Covid-19 on marketing spend
First, let’s take a look at what exactly happened to the world of marketing as the Covid-19 pandemic shut down entire countries worldwide.
Related: Want to Rank Higher on Google? Learn SEO Strategies From an Expert.
The panic surrounding the novel coronavirus early this year caused many businesses around the world to cut back their marketing and advertising spend. Given travel restrictions and lockdowns (as well as decreased spending in the wake of unprecedented furloughs and layoffs), shutting down or severely limiting Marketing functions seemed like the best way to "cut the fat" for many struggling businesses.
In fact, eMarketer predicted an 8.7–14.8% decline in search ad spend during the first half of 2020 (compared to the same period in 2019), while the World Economic Forum reported a 9% decline in ad spend across Europe by June, with the cut going as deep as 12% in some regions.
Meanwhile, a survey conducted by Marketing Week and Econsultancy on 447 brands across the UK revealed that only 7% of businesses realized the opportunity that lay in the crisis and increased their marketing spend. According to the survey, a further 29% of businesses planned to maintain their marketing budgets, while 50% wanted to make cuts.
Data from one report by AIB showed a similar trend, with 70% of ad buyers adjusting or pausing their advertising accounts. Interestingly, 16% of the respondents were still undecided on what to do.
In a world still grappling with the “new normal” dumped on us by the pandemic, inaction could be just as harmful to your business as budget cuts (if not even worse).
1. SEO: The low-cost alternative to paid advertising
Rather than cutting their ad budgets, forward-looking businesses redirected their money to more cost-effective strategies. And SEO remains at the forefront when it comes to cost-effective marketing strategies.
Related: Start Learning SEO and Social Media Marketing for $30
According to one report by marketing analysis firm Conductor, more than 50% of marketers believe that SEO is even more important during COVID-19. Another 63% are of the opinion that the role of SEO will increase during this time (against a paltry 5% that thinks it will decrease).
There’s no denying that the pandemic has taken a financial toll on businesses across the world. But your business doesn’t have to go offline. While budgets might be tight, it’s not necessary to shell out big bucks for paid advertising, Many businesses have managed to maintain high visibility without heavy expenditures thanks to the low cost and high effectiveness of SEO.
The best part? Unlike paid advertising (the ads stop running as soon as you pull your money), once you’ve implemented a strong SEM strategy, SEO will continue to drive traffic to your business without you having to lift a finger.
2. Ecommerce continues to dominate
Online shopping is convenient. It saves consumers time (and, often, money), not to mention that it brings nearly limitless options (and, therefore, competition). It’s been the go-to way to shop for many since its rise to popularity.
But during the pandemic, as we’ve faced stay-at-home orders and limited commercial reopening, even consumers that previously preferred in-person shopping have resorted to online shopping. This has created a trend that has seen businesses with an online presence reap the greatest rewards. What’s more? Customers are doing more of their shopping online—even with the easing of restrictions.
A survey conducted by PYMTS revealed that 7% more retail shoppers are buying their goods online as physical stores have started to reopen—that’s compared to mid-April when most brick-and-mortar stores were closed. And according to another study conducted by McKinsey, consumers are expected to shop online at higher rates even as lockdowns continue to lift.
Related: Want to Rank Higher in Google and Amazon Search? This $29 Course Can Help.
If consumers simply “liked” online shopping before the pandemic, now they love it. Or, more realistically, they’ve realized that they depend on it now more than ever.
Either way, the winning business is the one that can be found online. And the best way to be seen online—especially before your competitors—is with SEM and SEO-optimized content.
3. Local businesses are in the spotlight
With restricted movement, we’ve seen consumers doing more of their shopping as close to home as possible. A surge in local searches with an emphasis on “near me” queries is evidence of this, as is research conducted by Deloitte showing that 59% more consumers in the UK have patronized local businesses since lockdown was enforced.
Interestingly, it’s not just the travel restrictions that have made consumers choose to shop locally: Customers say their shopping trends have been motivated by a desire to support local retailers and service providers during the crisis.
As local search has become a crucial link between businesses and customers, location-specific SEO has been a lifeline for those who were able to maintain their SEM efforts during the pandemic lockdown.
To help businesses take full advantage of the increase in local search volume, Google optimized Google Maps and Google My Business to help meet consumer demands. Attributes such as “Dine-in,” “Takeaway,” and “Delivery” are now available in search results.
4. Previous SEO efforts are still making money
SEO isn’t a quick fix—it’s a long-term strategy. Brands that have been consistent in their efforts are reaping the benefits of their hard work more and more each day. Those that restricted or stopped their marketing efforts when the pandemic hit, however, may not enjoy as much success as those that stayed on course.
That said, businesses that have only recently recognized the benefits of SEO and began adopting and implementing SEO strategies may not be as far behind as they think. The long-term benefits of smart decisions made today will, aside from increasing the chance of growth during COVID-19, sow the seeds for marketing and advertising success for many years to come.
What every business should do ASAP
With over a decade helping enterprise-level businesses successfully reach and grow their online audience, I can tell you a few facts about SEO:
i. It’s about driving conversions, not ranking higher just for the sake of it.
ii. It’s a very data-driven discipline where everything can and should be measured. Very little SEO has to do with "gut" instinct.
iii. It’s like a tree: It takes time and tending. But once it grows, it will bear fruit for a very long time.
You know, just 10 years ago, the companies that now dominate organic search traffic today may have also thought that they were falling behind the competition. The last thing you want is to feel like that 10 years from now, too.