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Covid-19: What is the impact of coronavirus to SEO?

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We ran a Zoom call this morning with 18x senior in-house SEOs, to discuss the impact of coronavirus to digital marketing. I wanted to share the common themes / insights to help everyone.

How does the Covid 19 pandemic impact business and what is the knock-on effect?

  • A lot is changing day by day as new information arises, and decisions are being made quickly based on the insights we have. For now the focus for everyone has to be short-term on how to come out as strongly as possible.
  • Hopefully Government grants/loans will help, but companies are needing to make cutbacks – sadly with digital team redundancies already, frozen/reduced spend and up to 50% salary cuts / unpaid leave across teams so that companies will see this out. That said, there is still a demand for specialist talent from those that need it.
  • Intense focus on customer service and reputation management. Some brands are creating coronavirus content hubs, to keep information in one place and easy to answer FAQs / tap into popular search demands.
  • Increased need for digitalisation within teams – and how that impacts short/med/long term SEO plans for the SEO teams.
  • The businesses that manage to survive will be in a much stronger position when it passes – similar to previous digital recessions. Potentially will see more mergers and acquisitions activity as inevitably companies will struggle to stay afloat.

How does this impact different sectors?

Some sectors are clearly more affected than others:

Retail:

  • Store closures are now wide-spread, with a shift in focus from offline to online – right now advertising such as London underground, The Metro newspaper, event or sports team sponsorship isn’t going to be viable, so the focus has to shift to online.
  • Make sure you update your store opening hours for local search listings Yext have a nice feature which can help with this.
  • Businesses making a push with discounting to try and support sales. Being mindful of buying behaviours moving away from full price items. Also adjusting strategy to take into account the disruption of product production/stock delivery.
  • Expect changes in demand for products – outdoor/communal products dropping but an increase in demand for products that you can use at home.

Travel:

  • The whole sector has been badly hit – with cancelations, refunds and no-one booking right now.
  • Focus is on managing customer support / reputation, not acquisition. Often there are issues with individual countries which disrupt countries or even continents, but not the whole world in such a way at once.
  • Domestic market: amended booking rules so they are more flexible, e.g. still offering travel options but with shorter notice cancellation periods.
  • Trying to reassure customers that their booking/event/trip will still be available further down the line – people still want to go on holiday, to events etc – but obviously at the right time.

Financial services / property:

  • Demand in insurance/healthcare is understandably high, government announcement will see influx in business loans.
  • Mortgages/property are going to need time to recover, so it’s about providing informative content and reassurance in the meantime.
  • Any company that is people-facing is affected. They have to quickly reimagine user journeys in order to fast-track digitising the business model.

Do you need to cut/push-back on budgets?

  • Customer service is so important and many making it their primary focus to utilise people in these areas.
  • Pulling back on offline media where people can’t see ATL/paper publishers.Sports sponsorship is less effective at the moment.
  • The UK has a ‘flexible workforce’ and jobs are being cut already. Not seeing the same in Europe, where there are stricter employment rights.
  • Spend money on what can have a measurable short-term impact – those who can afford, now is a good time to invest in longer-term plans, and get access to top talent / leverage agencies for specialist strategies.

Are there opportunities from this?

  • The UK government support package is beneficial to the banking industry, and is likely to see an influx of B2B loans.
  • Informational covid-19 content can be very successful, e.g. online health industry: washing hands video, advice for the elderly on how to live digitally. As the infected curve changes, keywords and content strategies will need to change.
  • Consider re-focusing your digital PR efforts, but don’t just jump on the bandwagon – if you have a coronavirus story, ensure you can provide informative, data-driven or educational content in an emphatic tone. Likewise, maybe use time to produce future creative campaigns now, but hold off on outreach.

Where’s the growth/drop in search traffic and revenue?

  • Brands need to consider how popular keywords might not have changed but the intent behind those searches may have. 
  • Will mobile traffic drop because no one is on the move?
  • As the development of the virus in different locations is at different stages, strategies will have to be adjusted. e.g. UK about to enter where Italy was four weeks ago. Interesting to look at how their keywords/strategies changed over the last few weeks to spot future trends.
  • Pay close attention to Google Trends, new keyword spikes are happening daily and if it’s related to your market, you should think about how your can provide informative content to help your audience + potential customers. Some brands are building a coronavirus content hub.

How do you even deal with hitting targets?

  • We’ve all got targets to hit. You’re likely going to need to re-forecast, the challenge is where to start given the context/uncertainty. You have to have an agile approach, and adapt to the situation as best you can to reflect what’s realistic for the business.
  • Can you compare with similar historical circumstances? It’s difficult, it’s a unique, global event with many unknown assumptions needing to be made.

Sharing any concerns, challenges, learnings, expected timings amongst the group…

  • UK media has been quite good at spreading helpful advice in comparison to the US/Europe.
  • Recruiting/training remotely is difficult and time-consuming, when you’re not setup for this – but will be an important focus to ensure teams are well aligned.
  • Google isn’t going to be altering the update release or algorithm changes – people need search results to be as accurate as possible more than ever right now.

In summary, everyone has different situations – but we’re all in this together and as an industry we each have to do our best to help each other and come out the other side in the best shape possible.

To keep communication high, we’re keen to keep running Zoom calls, so if you’d like to be involved in future events, please leave a comment below and we’ll add you to the invite list. Likewise if you have any specific learnings, challenges or questions around the digital impact to coronavirus, people feel free to ask, either publicly or privately and I’m more than happy to try my best to help.

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