05/05/20 // Written by Samantha Beckham

The Impact of COVID-19 On SEO: How Can You React?

“How is coronavirus impacting search behaviour?” The answer keeps on changing. Despite technology being a great enabler, right now, nothing is truly business as usual. Brands are reviewing and shifting strategies to accommodate changes, but it’s important to remember knee-jerk reactions could create long-term struggles with difficult recovery.

If your business is dealing with downtime during the pandemic, investing resource in an SEO campaign could continue generating results for years to come. In this blog, we will share our insight into the SEO landscape amidst COVID-19 and the importance of continuing with your organic search marketing strategy.

What have the changes been so far?

Search engines are a changing competitive space and reflect human behaviour. The virus is affecting each industry differently, something we can help you understand for your sector.

Being confined to our homes by government restrictions is the biggest change the world has seen to our daily lives in a long time. As people rely on technology to keep them connected and informed, there has naturally been a significant change in online behaviour.

As a result, many businesses are experiencing a drop in organic revenue and traffic, largely due to a change in consumer interest as priorities shift. Unless it’s for essential items, consumers have generally moved towards the top of the sales funnel, spending more time researching than converting. Customers have also been concerned with how businesses are adapting at this time. Whether they have products available, if they’re able to deliver or whether they’re even open.

Increasing uncertainty around job security and financial worries has naturally made people more wary of what they spend their money on. Some businesses are seeing a decrease in conversions. If this is you, we recommend adjusting your strategy to focus on brand awareness, ensuring your brand is the first your audience reverts back to when purchasing their non-essential items.

Online traffic

Online traffic has seen a spike of 23 percent globally across different age cohorts since lockdown.

  • Gen Z + 18%: This younger audience has the lowest increase in time spent online. This could be due to the fact that they already spent a lot of time online. They are particularly active on social media, following celebrities and influencers during the shutdown.
  • Gen Y + 24%: These individuals are particularly interested in accessing news sites for updates and articles on working from home.
  • Gen X + 24%: This group is concerned with the impact of working from home including childcare and finance.
  • Boomers + 22%: This audience is concerned about the impact on finance and pensions. They are also searching for how to control the spread, the economic impact and how to stay healthy.

In line with the increase in online activity, there has been notable interest in specific sectors including health and wellness, fitness, video games, parenting and entertainment. 63 percent of marketers have changed their messaging to reflect this. So, how can you apply this insight to your SEO efforts?

What does this mean for your SEO campaigns?

Your audience still needs you

As the stats show, people are browsing online more than ever. This means your website needs fresh, informative and relevant content for your audience to engage with. Consumers are turning to search engines, looking for answers, reassurance and distraction.

In the current climate, while search behaviour is frequently changing, staying up to date on market and local conditions has become increasingly important. Google Trends is an effective tool to help you better understand the context of local markets and your customers’ mindset. You can apply this insight directly to your content and SEO campaign to ensure your campaigns are relevant and of interest to your audience.

SEO is long-term

SEO is a long-term strategy. While many brands are reducing campaign spend, SEO remains one of the main digital marketing channels to create the largest ROI over time.

If you stop optimising or pause your campaigns to save budget in the short term, you may lose rankings and visibility when search demand returns. This will make it even harder for your business to recover when customers begin spending again, especially if your competitors have maintained their campaigns during the pandemic.

It may be hard to think about the future while the present is so uncertain, but SEO could be the helping hand your business needs when normal life resumes. By getting ahead, you will put your brand in a stronger position, possibly with even more momentum than before the outbreak.

Monitor the situation

With some products sparse on the shelves, users will relentlessly search for product availability online, looking for alternatives. Ensure your business is visible in the SERPs to benefit. Being forward-thinking is key to capitalising on the scarcity of specific items and, where relevant, businesses will be working hard to rank for those terms and related topics.

SEO helps you reach people with buyer intent, no matter their stage in the purchase funnel. Whether they are looking to buy now or in the future, people tend to do their research first. Gathering as much organic data as you can while individuals are browsing means you’re ready to implement remarketing campaigns to improve the chances of conversion..

Even if your sales drop during the pandemic, you can offset some of your losses by investing in a comprehensive search marketing strategy to improve your rankings and put you in front of those that are still interested in buying.

Optimise your content and website

Now is not the time to give up on optimising your website and your content. If put to one side, it will be significantly harder to pick back up again when the circumstances return to normality.

As spending habits and behaviours change, you may want to adapt your strategy to focus on keyword phrases with stronger buyer intent or promote useful content that will support your audience at this point in time. In line with this, take the opportunity to optimise your meta data too including title tags and meta descriptions to clearly communicate with your audience.

Have your delivery timescales changed? Are you now offering free delivery? What about an extended returns policy? Have your opening times been affected? Or, maybe you’re only operating online now? Include these changes where relevant to keep your audience updated.

As more people spend time online it’s important to ensure your technical SEO is also in tip top condition. Now is the perfect time to clean up any technical issues that you may have. Identify and fix errors flagged in your Google Search Console such as 404 errors, broken schema and duplicate meta data. These quick wins help Google crawl and rank your website.

People are searching for answers

Right now, users are searching for answers. You need to keep your customers satisfied by continuing to provide trustworthy, reliable and comprehensive information. Whether it’s through E-A-T style content, FAQ content or even light-hearted and empathetic stories, with effective content writing can still build a connection with your audience, helping to make them feel safe and secure.

Many brands, particularly local businesses, will need to address questions their customers have on how they are responding to COVID-19. Some effective ways to do this include:

  • FAQ sections: can work well to quickly and clearly answer pressing questions and satisfy search intent.
  • Dedicated pages: linked to COVID-19, these can explain exactly how your business is responding to the situation.
  • Google My Business: Local businesses should update their page to reflect any changes such as opening times.

It may not feel like it now, but a new normal will eventually be restored. While results from SEO campaigns are unlikely to occur overnight, you can start to see the positive impact in a short period of time.

There is a lot of uncertainty around the potential economic impact and that in itself is worrying. However, SEO should remain an integral part of your marketing strategy during these unstable times. You may have spent years working on and continuously optimising your SEO – don’t let these efforts go to waste by shutting off optimisation now. If you need help with adjusting your organic search strategy or advice on where to invest your digital marketing efforts right now, contact our expert team.