April 3, 2020

Don’t Quarantine Your Marketing

There’s no question these are uncertain times. But how we as businesses and leaders react to situations and proactively prepare for the future will set us apart.
We are also in unprecedented times with social distancing. Yet quarantine or self-isolation doesn’t mean we’re cut off from all contact with one another. Technology is allowing people to carry on in many areas of their work and lives. It also presents new opportunities for businesses to engage with their audience and consumers.
The question for many remains how to adjust creatively now to survive — while also preparing for a future “normal” in which something like this could happen again.

While some predict the warm weather will curb the novel coronavirus transmission, others believe it’s here for the long haul. Of those who believe it will stick around, some think it will become just another seasonal cold
Of course, time will tell how serious the pandemic really is, how prepared we will be to handle it, and how it will impact our daily lives.
That said, I want to share some real-time and forward-looking strategies for businesses and search marketing companies to understand how to face this pandemic. In this article:

  • The Impact of the Novel Coronavirus on Marketing
At the time of writing, conferences and any gatherings of more than 10 are being avoided or outright canceled. 
Working from home and self-isolation are the new norms until further notice. So there is less traffic on the road, in the air, and walking into businesses.
Companies that invest marketing and advertising budget into things like signage, billboards or airplane magazines will find they’re getting less visibility than ever before. And organizations that rely on events and gatherings to generate new business and revenue may struggle to make up the difference.
It is entirely possible that radio and TV advertising spend will go up. It’s also likely that companies will hold on to cash, including marketing budgets, to brace for impact. 
Some industries will fare worse than others during this crisis. For instance, as this article points out, if a business can’t get a product to market, they may cut marketing.
Reports from Search Engine Land show that industries like travel, events and restaurants are pausing their PPC campaigns altogether. Amazon has all but turned off its Google Ads campaigns, and instead is focusing on the demand for specific in-demand goods. 
If you are in one of those most-affected industries, your search traffic may also have tanked in recent days.
Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg recently echoed the sentiment many people are feeling — that no one knows how big of an impact the coronavirus pandemic will have on marketing.
Is there a silver lining for search marketers? Yes, but we have to look for it.
We can assume that the more people are working from home, the more flexible the “workday” becomes. This means that people may be doing personal or business types of searches at any hour of the day or evening.
And of course, search behavior will vary by industry and query. For example, coronavirus is dominating searches on top news and social channels as of late. And the query “toilet paper” has gained popularity since the beginning of March.
What does this mean to search marketing? For some industries, some marketing budgets and certain queries, the need for SEO and PPC will be greater than ever.

Don’t Quarantine Your Marketing

As with any crisis, how an organization responds is key. Are you calm and taking action, or panicked and paralyzed?
Two things people should not be doing right now: hoarding toilet paper and hoarding search marketing budget.
How a business treats marketing can make or break them. The answer in these times is to not stop marketing. For many though, it may be a good idea to reallocate the existing marketing budget (like the budget for events or billboards) to different digital channels.

10 To-Dos for Marketers in the Current Crisis

Here are 10 things businesses should consider when faced with the current situation or future situations like it.

1. Know search trends.

To be more relevant for short-term SEO and PPC campaigns, be aware of what’s being searched for now (I suggest using Google Trends). As a retailer, you might have huge gains from your SEM campaigns if you have the products people are searching for. On the other hand, if you know what type of search results are showing up for a query right now (remember: query deserves freshness), you can create relevant content to answer it.

2. Create timely and relevant content.

What does your audience or consumer want to know from you right now? Take this opportunity to communicate and give branded, unique insights on the situation. Make sure you have a good mix of content that’s both “business as usual” and relevant to the crisis so that you don’t look tone-deaf.

3. Ramp up your digital content.

Consider setting up your business now to produce more digital content like podcasts and webinars in both the short and long term. If you are a business with a lot of in-person consulting or training, now is the time to explore online training. By 2025, research estimates the e-learning sector will be valued at about $158 billion, so it’s not a bad time to get in on it. Lessons learned now about these strategies will prove useful should you need to continue to make them a part of your business.

4. Shift offline to online or modify.

If you are a local business or retailer, you’re going to have to think long term. Is it possible to shift a portion of your business online or change your business model? Can you shift in-store experiences to virtual or in-store shopping to delivery?

5. Optimize your content.

If you are creating content about the coronavirus or anything that’s trending, you want to ramp up your optimization efforts so that it can be found in the search results. Schema.org recently added COVID-19-related structured data types, for example.

6. Use search marketing for branding and crisis communications.

Even if the sale of your products and services is slowing down, you can use search engine marketing for branding purposes. For example, ads could point to landing pages with key information on them.

7. Use search marketing for reputation management and trust.

Corona beer, for example, may need to do this based on people’s perception of its relation to the coronavirus. You also should monitor how online sentiment may be impacting your trust signals during this time.

8. Stay ahead of your competition.

If you pause your search marketing campaigns, and your competition doesn’t, who will be set up for success when this whole thing passes? Which brands will people follow through all of this — those that stay in contact, or those that shut down?

9. Remember that SEO is a long-term strategy.

Unless it’s critical, you should not divert your SEO budget. You should keep calm and carry on because Google’s algorithms are not taking a break during a crisis. In fact, this slower period may be just the opportunity you need to do the back-burner projects (such as new content creation or server improvements) that can position you for SEO wins down the road.

10. Don’t buy cheap SEO.

When budgets are tight, the tendency might be to go with cheaper SEO programs or buy bundled marketing services instead of using experts that specialize. In times like these, companies cannot afford to implement anything less than expert SEO. After the dust settles, they will be dealing with another crisis: no rankings, no targeted traffic, and possibly Google penalties.

What Will Be the Impact on Search Marketing Vendors?

This will likely not be a fun time for marketers. Unless you’re on the right side of things. For many search marketing firms, staff cuts are inevitable.
A search marketing agency cannot survive as a company of interns. Many large agencies that are used to thriving on less-experienced professionals will not succeed. That’s because for a portion of this workforce, the work-from-home approach will not be successful. Lack of experience without close mentorship does not produce stellar results.
For this reason, I speculate that a lot of search marketing firms will not make it. Tougher times do not bode well for agencies without a majority of senior staff.
Agencies will also need to do what is necessary to continue servicing new and existing clients. For some clients, budget cuts could be a concern (although the hope is that they see the value in continuing search marketing for all the reasons outlined in this article).
That means having to modify current campaigns and programs to focus on what is necessary now. Some may have new strategies while others may choose to do baseline tactics but not be as aggressive as before.
Some clients may consolidate vendors in these times. They may choose to bundle all their digital marketing services with one agency for a discount.
What we learned in the last recession was that these agencies weren’t experts in everything. Some of them even subcontracted to us at Bruce Clay Inc. for the SEO portion of their agreements.
Unfortunately, businesses that didn’t have SEO experts working in the background realized they had shot themselves in the foot with mediocre services after the recession ended. Many of them came to us to fix what was done in that time period.
At the end of the day, search marketing professionals, especially SEOs, are no strangers to reinventing themselves at the mercy of rapid changes (like algorithms). So I am confident that many vendors can rise to the occasion and survive.

Closing Thoughts

Now is the time for all of us to be leaders — businesses and search marketing vendors. We need to create short-term solutions and future-oriented strategies for our businesses and our clients. 
We need to be creative with our products, services and communications. We need to send the right message: that we can carry on in the face of a crisis.
In the eye of the storm, it can be hard to see anything but chaos. The best defense is to do what is necessary to still be standing after the storm.

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