Three months into 2020 and Coronavirus (COVID-19) has disrupted nearly all facets of life. People need to make significant changes to their everyday lives in order to adapt to the “new normal”, while businesses must brace for the negative economic impact that will result from people changing their habits for the foreseeable future.
For businesses to best position themselves through this time of uncertainty, it is worth re-visiting their 2020 SEO strategies and roadmaps to understand the role of SEO in this rapidly changing environment. This guide outlines both short and long term SEO considerations as part of your business’s larger response to COVID-19 and how businesses can adapt areas of their SEO strategies to plan effectively against COVID-19’s impact.
Short Term (Q2/Q3 2020) SEO considerations
Is Your Business “Essential” or “Non-Essential”?
As businesses are closing physical locations throughout the world, they need to be aware of the guidance on what businesses are deemed “essential” and should be open to consumers during a crisis such as this. What is deemed “non-essential” should be closed to encourage social distancing in order to “flatten the curve”. Businesses should follow such guidance and immediately ensure that they actively communicate availability through messaging on their websites and Google My Business profiles.
– Determine the essential nature of your business and immediately update your website, Google My Business profiles, and other digital assets to accurately indicate the status of your physical location and how your business will be available for the foreseeable future.
Adapting to Immediate & Significant Shifts in Search Behaviors
In response to guidance on what businesses are considered “essential” and “non-essential”, consumer and search behavior will change accordingly. Businesses, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, will likely see a large influx in search interest for their brand names, as well as their offered products/services, during this time. Conversely, most brand names, products, and services deemed “non-essential” may significantly drop off in search interest as consumers rapidly shift priorities during this period. Brands should closely monitor organic search sessions and conversion numbers for the foreseeable future and should plan to update forecasting, as well as historical reporting, to factor in the impact of COVID-19.
- Closely monitor Google Trends, Google Search Console, and other keyword tools to understand shifts in search interest and behavior around relevant keywords/topics for your brand and industry during this time.
- Monitor website performance to understand how users are converting during this time and update forecasting and reporting to factor in the impact of COVID-19.
Understanding SEO’s Role in Marketing during Times of Rapid Change
Significant changes in economic behaviors will result in businesses being mindful of their overall performance and budgets for the next several months. While it is currently hard for businesses to predict how long COVID-19 will result in significant economic impact, they should be aware of how SEO fits into short-term and long-term marketing strategies to understand how they can effectively plan for SEO during this period. Unlike most paid channels, SEO often cannot immediately shift short term priorities within organic search. Given the current level of economic uncertainty for many businesses and industries, the long-term nature of SEO should be considered when evaluating both paid and organic marketing priorities over the next several months.
- While the short term may require marketing channels to react in real-time due to the impact of COVID-19, the long-term, organic nature of SEO should be considered when evaluating marketing priorities.
- Evaluate paid and organic coverage for the next several months to understand how both can be balanced as part of an overall marketing strategy in response to COVID-19’s impact on your business.
Prioritize Top/Mid-Funnel Content Initiatives as Consumer Spending Changes
In terms of economic uncertainty, consumers are less likely to spend on products/services that are not deemed essential. With that in mind, businesses should expect that their typical consumer’s behavior will shift over the next few months and investment in top/mid-funnel content can pay off in both the short term and long term. As consumers shift away from actively spending on products/services in the short-term, businesses should best prepare themselves through investment in top/mid-funnel content that helps users that will be shifting back to the awareness and consideration stages of their buyer journey. To influence conversions in the future, focus short-term SEO efforts on developing useful, informative content that can reinforce expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) signals to search engines and customers.
- With consumer behavior likely to shift from actively converting over the short term, capture traffic with top-mid funnel content that can benefit future consumer behavior with information for your business’ product or service.
- Develop SEO-informed guides and other informative content around your products and services to build up E-A-T signals.
Long Term (Q4 2020 and beyond) SEO considerations
Get Started Executing on Your Q4/Holiday 2020 Initiatives – Today
While the nature of COVID-19 requires businesses to consider how they can plan for the next several months, businesses also need to be actively working through efforts for future initiatives to ensure that they are best prepared when the economic outlook begins to improve. Given that consumer spending is likely to reduce in the next several months, businesses should leverage the long-term nature of SEO to ensure that their brands are well optimized and positioned well before periods of increased consumer spending, such as holiday season in Q4. Q4/Holiday season is typically high-volume and high-competition for many industries, particularly retail, that may see performance declines over the next several months. To ensure that your business can make up for potential short term losses, while also ensuring that you can hit future goals, begin to execute on your planned SEO strategies and optimizations for Q4/Holiday 2020 well ahead of time.
- Leverage the long-term nature of SEO to ensure that your website ranks well for high-volume and high-competition keywords that are expected to peak in Q4/Holiday 2020
- While your business may see short term losses in the next several months, future planning and optimizations for upcoming initiatives can ensure that your businesses are best positioned for when the economy is in an upswing
Plan Large-Scale Digital Transformation to Future Proof Your Business
Currently, COVID-19’s main impact on the world is around social interaction and its impact on businesses and people to go about normal life. Physical locations are closed for the immediate future, supply chains are disrupted, and our general ability to go about everyday life is severely impacted. Another potential impact from COVID-19 will be the hastening of businesses evaluating the digital transformation of their products and services. As a result of COVID-19, conferences have shifted to digital video streams, movie companies have made new movie releases on-demand for streaming services, and many other businesses have had to reevaluate how they can reach customers during a time of social distancing. To best prepare for the future and to future proof against other potential emergencies, brands should see the impact of COVID-19 to be an opportunity to expedite their digital transformation to ensure long-term business health.
- Consider ways that your brand can digitize your products and services to future proof for potential emergencies while adapting to future trends.
Example: If your business sells certain goods, can you make something available as a direct download? If your business requires in-person consultations for services, can you leverage teleconferencing as an option?
COVID-19’s Impact on Specific Areas of SEO
Adapting Content Strategy to the “New Normal”
Businesses should be first aware of the direct impact on their specific brand and industry in order to fine-tune their messaging around COVID-19 specifically. Additionally, brands should consider the following areas that COVID-19 and the “new normal” that may impact content strategies for many different industries:
- Consider Having a Dedicated Coronavirus Page – if your business is considered essential or is majorly impacted by COVID-19, consider creating a dedicated page to capture all relevant Coronavirus traffic and can effectively link to key areas of your website
- Develop More Video & YouTube Content – with people expected to spend more time at home viewing YouTube and other streaming services, consider developing more relevant video content to get in front of users. Leverage SEO insights to help inform video topics and be mindful of the top/mid-funnel topics that you can create videos on
- Ensure FAQ Content is Updated Appropriately – evaluate your customer service and FAQ pages to determine if specific language should be updated or if new FAQs related to Coronavirus should be added
- Factor in Isolation and Social Distancing in Messaging – when writing any content or producing any messaging during this time, be mindful of the overall idea of social distancing. Consider some DIY topics around your product or service so that users can direct value during a time of isolation. Be careful with the language that could be seen a counterintuitive with COVID-19 guidelines
- Include Cleaning and Care Instructions for Products – if your business sells any type of physical product, you should include cleaning and care instructions on the product detail page. This can help to capture search traffic as people actively search for ways to clean certain products during this period, while also helping to reinforce E-A-T signals
- Be Mindful of Potential Changes in SERPs & Google Algorithms – businesses and industries that are considered YMYL (Your Money, Your Life), such as healthcare and financial companies, could see significant changes in the SERPS and organic results during this time. Brands within these spaces should be mindful of this when developing content and monitoring performance
Impact on Technical SEO & Website Development
Given that SEO is very dependent on implementation, the particular focus must be given to businesses’ ability to perform necessary technical updates in the short-term. With the disruption of COVID-19, businesses may not have their typical development structures and processes in place in order to face potential short-term challenges. With that in mind, consider the following items when planning out technical SEO initiatives during this period:
- Expect Limited Availability & Bandwidth of Development Resources – businesses may significantly alter how their websites are updated during this time and therefore there may be little opportunity for implementation. Factor in potential long periods of code freeze and determine if planned updates can easily be done via a CMS or would require code change
- Prioritize Fixing Known Bugs and Closely Monitor Site Health – as development resources become limited, prioritize fixing bugs that are directly tied to performance instead of implementing new features. Closely monitor to see if your site is being crawled, indexed, rendered, and ranked by search engines to identify issues that may arrive.
- Leverage new Coronavirus Schema Markup, if Applicable – for businesses that may be directly impacted by Coronavirus, consider implementing the newly announced schema attributes for Coronavirus
Data and Analytics
As previously discussed, data and analytics for businesses will be directly impacted by COVID-19. Brands should be mindful of the following data and analytics areas when monitoring organic search:
- Sessions and impressions may decrease, but if rankings are maintained, then declines can be attributed to COVID-19’s impact on search interest
- Sessions and impressions may maintain, but if conversions are down, then it may indicate that people are still interested in your business but are not ready to convert yet
- Average search volume, a key metric for keyword research, will be significantly impacted as changes in search volume in the short term will impact the search volume as it is averaged out over time