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Coronavirus – SEO Crisis Prevention and Management

 In SEO, SEO Strategy

Understanding Potential Impacts of COVID-19 on Organic Search Marketing

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, known as ‘The Coronavirus,’ governments, communities, and businesses around the world are closing or minimizing operations. Individuals are increasingly encouraged to practice “social distancing,” which means that individuals are increasingly isolated and homebound. The impact on our daily lives is unprecedented.

The combination of fear, anxiety, isolation, and social distancing have a significant impact on an individual’s online and search activity, which may continue to evolve during this crisis.

A sampling of recent headlines paints a picture:

  • “How coronavirus took over social media: The pandemic quickly became one of the most talked-about things on the internet,” Vox, March 12, 2020.
  • “The World Is Falling Apart, But Direct-To-Consumer Toilet Paper Companies Are Doing Just Great, Thanks,” BuzzFeed News, March 12, 2020.
  • “’People need to be supportive’: communities gather online in the coronavirus crisis,” The Guardian, March 17, 2020.

These dynamics threaten even the healthiest of websites, with specific industry niches – such as travel and tourism – having especially weak immunities. While the scale and longevity of its impact are difficult to predict, there are logical expectations and early indications that we all should be mindful of. In this section, we will cover some of the significant shifts, challenges, and troubling statistics we have seen.

This global pandemic has demonstrated several common themes across industry niches and locales:

  • There are significant changes in search behavior. For example, toilet paper is being searched for more than diamonds, vacation, or baseball.
  • There is a decrease in search volume for products and services valueless outside of an end user’s safe zones.
  • There is a significant reduction in end sales, especially in target audiences with less disposable income.
  • All types of industries see an increase in online shopping and shopping from home trends.
  • There are numerous cancellations of events and conferences, in large part due to local, state, and government orders for social distancing. PredictHQ, a data intelligence company, published figures that show a 500% increase in significant event cancellations and postponements due to concerns about the Coronavirus. As a result, there is an increase in video conferencing, with tools such as Zoom and Slack.
  • Imminent product shortages and backlogs.
  • Staffing, resourcing, and logistical concerns across departments, particularly as organizations attempt to shift operations to remote or streamlined approaches.

SEO Planning for the ‘Survival Now’ and the Foreseeable ‘Cured and Healthy Future’

SEO professionals have become accustomed to sudden and sometimes drastic changes to Google’s ranking algorithms, such as ‘Core Updates,’ that threaten to upend a client’s keyword and website organic performance. SEOs who practice ‘white hat’ strategies, optimize sites with quality content, and thoughtfully build trustworthy, inbound links over time, already engage in a form of SEO crisis prevention and management. COVID-19 presents a unique challenge, but one that requires similar management and thoughtful skillset.

We urge you to consider two approaches:

  1. “Survival Now”
  2. “Cured and Healthy Future”

For the ‘Survival Now,’ it’s crucial to understand how Coronavirus is likely to ‘infect’ how you and your company currently define and measure success and a successful strategy.

If you are or were ranked number one for one or more of your priority keywords, this would be a defining success metric – as it was likely resulting in other complimentary results – such as leads and sales. During this time of economic caution, ranking number one may not reflect an accurate measure of ROI.

The 2008 recession can demonstrate another example. Sales collapsed across a wide range of industry verticals. While some managed to keep earning at normal, or close to an average pace, many had to offer steep discounts to retain long-term customers and clients whose own earnings fell due to the recession.

While we often look for low-hanging fruit and short-term gains, adapting a mindset and expectation that some of what was yesterday’s ‘low difficulty, high impact’ opportunities, may need to be focused today around simply protecting the brand.

Here are our top recommendations for protecting your brand today:

  1. Strengthening and expanding on your overall digital marketing efforts will enable you or your clients to sustain some normality while providing a competitive edge over competition that is slow to react to the changing dynamics.
  2. Update your overarching keyword and content strategy to reflect the content, topics, and pages that are currently relevant.
    • Identify what content is and isn’t realistic for the target audience during this crisis and pause/scrap everything else.
    • Utilize any free time to revisit and make updates to the corporate website that may have been neglected in recent months (or potentially years).
    • Create content that assures the target audience that you have their health and safety in mind.
    • Identify if your brand helps mitigate the crisis and create content, as Procter & Gamble’s Clorox did, for products and services that directly improve or help solve negative impacts of Coronavirus.
    • Do not create content that suggests that you do not take this moment seriously. While a percentage of the population will appreciate humor and jokes during stressful times, its best to avoid the impression that you do not care.
    • As negative stories are being written and appear for searches related to and triggered by your target keywords, it will be essential to combat this with positive news stories and mentions, pushing those negative stories down the search results page and off page one results.
  3. Transparency, clear communication, and customer relations will be key:
    • Do not make promises that cannot be kept, such as short-term promos and offers. You should, however, consider and be prepared to have alternative long-term offers if your current systems fail or require change. For example, if whatever reason you cannot fulfill a product order, you could offer an immediate layaway sale.
    • Establish maximum flexibility and proactive nature. Facilitating ease of doing business and adaptability will become invaluable as lives are upheaved. Be prepared to offer discounts and offer un-typical refunds. Now is not the time to be stringent on existing company policies.
  4. Local and Brick and Mortar businesses: Update your Google My Business and other local listing profiles to provide customers with accurate info. Here are several specifics:
    • Update business hours if affected
    • Update business description: Explain whether your business operations are affected by COVID-19. Provide information about any extra precautions your business is taking.
    • Publish a post: Share timely updates about your business through weekly or monthly Google Posts.
    • Update contact info: As always, be sure your phone number is correct so that customers can reach you.

For the ‘Cured and Healthy Future,’ you must plan now to double down on the long game.

Despite our short-term goals, SEO has always been a long-game best played expeditiously. We already know that significant results in rankings and traffic often do not materialize until months down the road. Now would be a good time to double down on that mentality and prepare not just for the now but instant visibility after the crisis ends (and it will end!).

After protecting the brand as recommended above, use remaining downtime to create new content that will be relevant in the foreseeable future (e.g., blogs and newsletters, future press releases, offline printed materials, social media engagement, and multimedia creations like video, etc.) and optimize the company’s visibility and promotional strategy for the recovery phase.

On behalf of everyone at OpenMoves, our hearts go out all those impacted by COVID-19, including not just those diagnosed with the virus, but also friends and family affected. We want to reassure you that OpenMoves, as a virtual agency, remains capable and committed to providing effective support and flexibility to our clients throughout this situation, while complying with local regulations and ensuring the safety of you and our employees. As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please reach out. Thank you for putting your trust in us – we’re committed to working through these challenging circumstances together.

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