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Typically, it takes about 66 days for someone to acquire a new habit and continue doing it when not coerced, according to consumer psychologist Paul Marsden. The longer shelter-in-place recommendations persist, the more likely it is that the changes we’re seeing in consumer behaviour will stick.
Consumers that may have been leery about ecommerce or online payments previously have had no choice but to adapt as wide swaths of the industry have transformed in light of COVID-19. Ecommerce, curbside delivery and pickup, and buy-online-pick-up-in-store have become the new normal as the world struggles to maintain safe physical distancing.
As of late March, 95% of consumers planned to avoid public places. Media consumption is exploding—Nielsen expects video consumption to rise by 60% and already, daytime viewing of streamed content is up 39%. Seventy-five percent of consumers are now using their social media daily, and only 4% want brands to stop advertising right now. Most are actually looking to brands for helpful, useful information.
At the very heart of this shift is – search and the optimization of content that delivers the best search results. As the shift from offline to online accelerates during these times companies are being asked to do more with less. As consumers seek information about how businesses are handling COVID-19 restrictions, evaluate their options for buying essential needs, adapt to remote work and education, and try their very best to stay informed and entertained, search is now more important than ever.
The insights that SEO provides with regard to consumer behaviour is essential in times of volatility and demand fluctuation – especially when looked at in real-time. In fact, SEO will guide companies through the economic storm Coronavirus leaves in its wake, from pivoting to protecting the brand and on through to positioning its products and services for success in the future.
According to a BrightEdge Channel Share Survey, 53% of all traffic to websites comes from organic search. When we looked at search as a whole, 83% of search traffic is organic and 17% comes from paid search. Many companies have halted paid search due to Coronavirus-related business interruptions. This is the time to revaluate how your paid strategy supports organic, how can you drive more traffic to your best content, feeding consumers’ need for media to consume while furthering your brand goals?
While SEO does require an upfront investment of resources, earned search engine rankings can persist for years. The content you create, optimize and publish today will serve your brand in the future and can be updated to reflect evolving business goals throughout the economic recovery. Likewise, you have an opportunity now to review your top-performing content, updating and optimizing for the current conditions.
Applying SEO best practices as you optimize your site and content for the new customer journey has the additional benefits of improving UX. Your site becomes better organized and easier to navigate as you properly mark up, structure, tag and otherwise optimize content. Evaluate your site today from a user’s perspective; are there opportunities to improve navigation or accessibility? This is the time to act and correct missing image alt text, lack of internal links, unclear calls-to-action, etc.
Throughout the processes of planning and creating content, we’re constantly thinking of how it will help a prospect take the next step in their path to conversion. With consumers’ media needs so high due to COVID-19, it’s a great time to fill gaps in your customers’ journey with quality content.
Depending on the type of business you’re in and the extent to which your operations have been affected, this may not even be the time to convert prospects to a sale. However, you may be able to re-optimize for the time being to convert them to another action that will deepen your relationship and enable you to stay top of mind until sales become possible once again.
Recency matters. Google wants to see EAT content — expertise, authority, and trustworthiness. But we also know the search giant wants to show searchers the most up-to-date information, as well. Continuing to regularly publish quality content — well researched, properly cited, optimized, original content, gives you that much more opportunity to appear in front of motivated searchers even in “noisy” search results.
Update your most popular evergreen content, too. You don’t need to add COVID-related content but can ensure any statistics, information, recommendations, media, and calls-to-action are up to date.
You have the opportunity to build share of voice right now in your industry by providing expert advice and accurate information about COVID-19 to consumers. People are looking for guidance and help. Focus on the utility of the information you’re putting out and make sure you offer a method by which readers/viewers can stay connected with you. Include an email opt-in, invitation to join you on social, link to a useful download, or some resources on those lines.
When linking to external sources, make sure you are sharing the most reputable information. Remember that content you curate or recommend is a reflection of your brand, as well. This is especially important when it comes to sharing health or safety tips. Look to sources such as the CDC or WHO to confirm any COVID-related information before sharing or linking.
Whether you’re a local retail store or a global franchise, your customers are using search right now. Are you positioned to appear in response to their relevant queries? Depending on the resources available at the local level, this could be a great time for local stakeholders to invest in better optimizing existing content for their specific city or region. Or, you might find that resources are available at corporate to support the brand with thought leadership content that can be distributed and promoted globally.
If you had never had the time or resources to work on translation before, this could be a good time to optimize content for your Spanish, French, German or other customers. This could be a great opportunity for businesses with multi-national operations looking to keep their workforce employed and productive during a slowdown. Guided by SEO and marketing professionals, local employees from any department can help provide the hyperlocal context needed for great local content.
Unless your operations have completely ceased, you are investing in other channels that generate demand. Those channels inspire people to search for products and services like yours, to learn more about the brand, to read reviews about you, and more. Channel synergy is a delicate balance and it’s important that you maintain your SEO strategy even in (in fact, especially in) uncertain times. SEO is front and centre of digital marketing strategies that span across channels such as paid media, local, mobile, video, email and verticals such as Amazon and ecommerce.
It is particularly important right now that your content delivers consumers to the answer or information they expected to see when they clicked on your ad or listing. Make sure outdated landing pages are updated or removed and redirected. Go over your social accounts with a critical eye to ensure the information in your business descriptions is accurate in light of COVID-related operational changes. Ensure your local listings have the correct hours and methods of contacting the business for service or support. Where and whenever a searcher finds your brand, make sure you’re still offering an experience that instills trust.
Organic search is part of nearly every consumer’s research process—it’s often the very beginning of the research process but will be used again and again throughout the consideration phase. This is particularly true of long sales cycles. Remember that this is a huge adjustment for many types of consumers and businesses right now. As their own operations are interrupted by COVID-19, your customers may be compiling lists of potential solutions, reading and watching videos as they consider their options, looking for testimonials and reviews, and more.
Focus on legitimate link building and PR opportunities today to get captive audiences consuming and sharing your content.
The data collection and analysis inherent to good SEO has value across the entire brand. Right now, search data can put you in your customers’ shoes and provide deep insight into how COVID-19 has changed their lives. What are customers searching for now that they weren’t before? They may be searching more for video conferencing tips, grocery delivery, activities to do at home, or online learning. Hotels, flights, vacations, and things to do in the local area likely aren’t top of mind right now.
This is the time to make sure you have systems in place to gather and activate all of this insightful data in real-time, so you can adjust and respond as needed throughout the impending economic recovery. Search data tells you not only what your customers need, but why it’s what they need. It can reveal pain points, motivation and intent that not only helps you optimize content but drives smarter business decisions at every level.
Given the uncertainty, SEO is our best option for responding to ongoing COVID-19-related business interruptions with speed and agility. Search is critical not only for discovery but as the channel that provides the greatest insight into consumer behaviour in real-time, as it continues to evolve in response to the pandemic.
Search insights will inform every stage of COVID-19 brand response:
While we don’t know when the current restrictions on travel and commerce might end, we do know they will end—or at least relax somewhat. However, the lasting impact Coronavirus will have on consumer behaviour remains to be seen. As the situation changes, SEO remains our most effective method of understanding and responding to our customers’ needs now and in the future.
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