The current global pandemic of COVID-19 (CV) is the biggest challenge to face mankind for many generations. It has irrevocably changed the entire world. Alongside the personal, social and cultural impact, there isn’t a single business, sector or industry that won’t have been affected to some degree.
As the world begins to emerge from the peak of the crisis, all businesses are faced with the challenge of navigating these unprecedented conditions, and surviving through this unpredictable transitional phase.
- So, what does COVID-19 (CV) mean for SEO agencies?
- What will the SEO industry look like post-CV?
- And most importantly, what do SEOs need to do to adapt?
What Does CV Mean For SEO Agencies?
All SEO agencies will be analyzing the impact of Covid-19, and asking how it’s likely to affect SEO and digital marketing, at least for the foreseeable future.
In the short term, one clear outcome is that the role of online search in modern life is as vital as ever. As lockdown restrictions were imposed worldwide, the scale of online activity increased substantially, with search one of the core components.
Increased online searches obviously bode well for the SEO industry. However, the sudden and dramatic shift of search topics was completely unexpected and changed the face of online commerce almost overnight.
There was a massive shift of searches away from sectors like hotels, travel and dining out, with a surge in enquiries for online groceries, delivery services and tools to support remote working, such as video-conferencing, etc.
The search volatility we saw is likely to be a result of the combined work Google has been doing on Expertise, Authoritative, and Trustworthiness (EAT) and Your Money OR Your Life (YMYL) searches, as well as the drastic changes in search behaviour and how Google’s algorithm adapted to this in terms of the results shown, searcher-intent etc. This shows just how much attention SEOs need to pay to these factors in future if they still want to rank successfully.
In the short term at least, it’s possible for SEOs to learn from what happened, in terms of how Google reacted to factors such as the increased searches for deliveries and growth in YouTube use, as ad spends fell.
Studying these dynamics can help agencies adjust their set-ups, so that this kind of thing is more manageable in the future. For example, making changes such as diversifying into different markets, and relying less on a small number of big accounts, could help to mitigate the effects of unpredictable digital trends.
What Agencies Need To Do To Adapt
In terms of ‘future-proofing’ your business, now might be a good time to incorporate complementary services, such as social media and paid advertising, that can create faster results while longer-term SEO strategies take effect. This is also a good way of harnessing the trend of increased use of social networks.
You might also consider diversifying your client base. Even if a certain niche is still thriving, recent events have shown how quickly things can change. Being flexible and open to new market sectors will enable you to adapt to the continuing changes as well as any unexpected shifts.
As an investment in client relations, look at ways you can help your clients with aspects above and beyond your usual remit. For example, can you help them improve their conversion rates, to enable them to maximize their existing traffic? Supporting your clients during this transitional phase is likely to increase brand loyalty when budgets begin to open up again.
How your business responds during this challenge can significantly impact its success in the near future and the years ahead. So, look for ways to strike the right balance between the essential selling that will ensure your business survives, and the opportunity to serve clients more compassionately.
Profitability and sensitivity need not be mutually exclusive. With some creativity and innovation, there may be ways to find a sustainable and viable middle ground. Though this is undoubtedly a difficult and unprecedented challenge, it is the only option for businesses who want to emerge stronger in the new landscape.
It might also be wise to review your current clients, your strategies and your fee structure. Are they still viable, or do you need to refocus or broaden your new business goals? Similarly, look for ways to reasonably reduce excessive overheads and costs, so that your business is in as strong a financial position as possible for the foreseeable future.
Finally, if the current climate has reduced your business activity, one positive approach would be to use this time to do things that tend to get neglected during busy periods, i.e. site maintenance, speed optimisation, even SEO for your own site. You could also devote this time to building up a ‘stockpile’ of new evergreen content in preparation for increased marketing efforts at some point in the future.
What SEO Will Look Post COVID-19?
Amid the uncertainty, there are undoubtedly some opportunities that are already emerging, with the potential for even more in the near future and beyond.
It’s likely that more business will embrace digital marketing. Whether they’ll want to increase budgets that were already there or be open to investing more in services like SEO when they may previously have been hesitant, the future of online marketing looks hopeful. This aspect may be increased further as other advertising mediums could be unavailable for some time, such as sports advertising, or they offer less value for money, such as ads on transport services that are reaching fewer passengers.
Platforms such as YouTube may represent an even bigger marketing opportunity due to the increase in both online activity and searches on a wide variety of topics. These trends are clearly beneficial for the SEO industry as a whole.
One of the most unusual opportunities to emerge from the CV pandemic is the chance for all businesses to cultivate Emotional ROI.
In the space of a few weeks, the driving force of commerce shifted from a purely ‘get business/make money’ focus, to a more inclusive, compassionate and unified approach that included the bigger picture for humanity. In terms of both marketing and customer care, the prevailing theme of business during this crisis has become one of unprecedented sensitivity, understanding and empathy.
There is no doubt that people will remember which businesses supported them during the pandemic, both individually and in terms of the larger global needs. So, while sales and revenue may be forced to take a back seat in the short term, using this time to foster loyalty and engender a positive, sensitive and caring brand image is no longer an admirable goal – it is essential for continued viability in the post-CV world.
And on the human level that we have all been forced to face in the recent weeks, it’s also the right thing to do.
Why Agencies Need To Prepare Now
In the still-shifting landscapes of global commerce and digital marketing, SEO agencies need to consider the best ways to quickly adapt to the changes, as well as harnessing the opportunities and preparing for an uncertain future.
It’s looking increasingly unlikely that things will simply go back to business as usual, so now is the time to start reviewing which changes need to be made, to be ready for the Post CV landscape.
It’s essential to prepare as soon as possible, as people are already planning ahead. For example, driven by the prospect of good deals and bargains, we’re already seeing increases in searches in sectors like travel and car hire.
Search may now be more important than ever before, as many businesses are restricted to operating online, and more and more people are searching for what they want online. The way people ‘shop’ has undoubtedly changed and could remain changed for the foreseeable future.
The tactics behind SEO need to adapt in order to capitalise on the changes and be in a better position to help both existing and new clients. For your agency to thrive in the new business world, you need to align with the recent shifts and be ready to respond as quickly as possible to further changes.
Additionally, given the nature of SEO as a longer-term marketing strategy, any changes need to be made sooner rather than later.
Though a clear vision of the Post-Covid 19 future for SEO agencies may take time to emerge, there is cause for optimism. Even if things still seem uncertain at the moment, the world will get through this challenge. Business will continue, albeit under new and, at least in the short term, more unpredictable terms, and given the increasingly digital nature of life and work, the need for SEO will remain strong.
Historically, some of the greatest opportunities have come out of the greatest adversity, especially for businesses that have the right approach. So, despite the shocks of recent months and the resulting setbacks or losses, there is hope.
A great many businesses will survive this challenge, some will even emerge stronger for it. And as we’re already seeing certain sectors witness unprecedented success, such as e-commerce and virtual conferencing, there are undoubtedly opportunities for new business.
Though we will all need patience, perseverance, optimism, sensitivity and a new, more human-centric approach, not only is there a place for SEO in the Post-CV world, the global shifts may even provide an opportunity for a new phase of increased success for the digital marketing companies who can adapt and act now.
Matt Kirkman is the Director and lead SEO at Grapefruit Digital SEO Agency, a London-based agency that focuses on understanding what clients need to grow their business, and then finding the best way to deliver that via the search engines. With tried and tested methods that deliver improvements in rankings and traffic, Grapefruit Digital is helping more and more businesses transform their presence on the Internet.