Blog Post

Marketing During Coronavirus: Leveraging Local SEO For COVID-19 Recovery


There’s no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has thrown us for a loop. With countless businesses forced to close or operate with restrictions, it’s no wonder that the economy is in a precarious state. Whether you’re among the nearly 50 million Americans who filed for unemployment between March and July 2020 or you’ve had to make major concessions in order to keep your organization afloat, it’s clear that we’re all struggling to adjust to this new normal.

Now that summer is winding down, you may be already back in the office or continuing to work remotely. In many cases, you may have a smaller staff than before or you may be making do with a more limited budget. In terms of marketing coronavirus may have really thrown a wrench in your plans. But as our nation continues to reopen, it’s time to start looking toward economic recovery -- and that means reinvesting in marketing for both your own business and for your clients.

The Challenges of Marketing Through Coronavirus

We understand the concerns and challenges of marketing during the pandemic. In fact, we held an SEO reseller roundtable earlier this year to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on our customers (and, by extension, their customers). Early on during this international health crisis, one of our resellers told us they had lost 90% of their SEO business due to widespread closures within their immediate area.

Because this scenario was so common, particularly between the months of March and May, it’s not surprising that both end clients and resellers alike were forced to slash their operating budgets. In many situations, marketing is one of the first things to be cut. And if a business is physically unable to operate due to circumstances outside their control (or even if a particular industry has come to a temporary standstill), spending money on marketing doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

However, we know from prior experience that continuing to market your business during uncertain times can come with a potentially big payoff. For example, U.S. ad spending decreased by 13% following the 2008 financial crisis, which is understandable. But we know that maintaining or even increasing advertising budgets in the midst of a weak economy can result in higher sales and a more pronounced market share during the recession that comes afterward.

The problem is that this often sounds counterintuitive. When you’re focused on keeping the lights on and your team employed, you may not have the means to keep -- much less increase -- your current marketing budget. But if you’re in a position to make other budgetary cuts for the sake of maintaining your marketing going, you can stand out from your competitors by emerging as an industry leader and taking advantage of affordable advertising options. What’s more, you can provide a source of stability for consumers during a troubling time, which can bolster customer loyalty and trust during a period when other businesses have seemingly disappeared from the marketplace.

But regardless of how you handled marketing challenges at the start of the pandemic, you probably know a lot more than you did just a few months ago. It’s become clearer how consumers have responded to the pandemic and what might be in store for your industry. At this point, many businesses that initially paused their marketing and advertising have started up again. So now, it’s important to have a plan that will support the recovery of your own business -- and if you’re part of an SEO reseller program, that means supporting the recovery of your clients’ businesses, too.

SEO = Cost-Effective Coronavirus Marketing

As you’re already well aware, search engine optimization is one of the most cost-effective forms of lead generation. The cost-per-lead of SEO is lower than that of social media, webinars, search engine advertising, referrals, and display ads. And unlike paid ads, which can easily be paused in order to save money, SEO can’t really be stopped. Because it’s meant to be a long-term strategy, it just keeps building on itself. Of course, it helps to stay consistent with your optimization -- but it doesn’t really pay to stop your SEO out of the blue.

That’s sometimes a difficult concept for small business owners to understand. SEO is notoriously complex and if a client is hands-off about most of their digital marketing needs, it may seem simpler to completely stop all work on a campaign to reduce financial hardship. Many of our resellers were motivated to educate their clients on the importance of continuing their SEO -- not only to mitigate their business losses but to give the best possible recommendations.

When determining the best strategy for continued marketing coronavirus hardships do play a factor. But it’s essential to take a closer look at every facet of marketing, rather than dismissing the entire category as an unnecessary cost. Ultimately, SEO was already affordable -- and any savings that come from stopping content generation and onsite optimizations aren’t likely to make a huge difference in cost. However, ceasing these activities could be a detriment to businesses as they attempt to recover from the blow of COVID-19. In other words, continuing with SEO -- particularly a strategy that’s been tweaked with coronavirus challenges in mind -- can be one of the best things for your business and for your clients.

Focus on Local Marketing For Coronavirus Recovery

Google has had a vested interest in local SEO for quite a while. In fact, several search engine algorithm changes have been made to facilitate more relevant results for web users searching for local solutions.

Local search has become even more important during COVID-19. With so many rapid changes to contend with, focusing on local SEO is one of the best ways to communicate with prospective customers and help your business be prominently featured in search results. And although many consumers still rely on global corporations to get the goods and services they expect, many are even more eager to support businesses within their own community during this time. In addition, when international providers can’t meet basic needs (due to product shortages or extensive delays), consumers are more likely to rely on what’s nearby. That could be to the benefit of your clients and to your own agency in different ways.

If you primarily provide services for small businesses, a focus on local search engine marketing can be a great way to keep a client’s target audience updated on their hours of operation, new services (like curbside delivery or remote meetings), COVID-19 safety precautions, and more. And for your own business, making sure that you’re positioned to be found in local searches -- particularly those conducted on mobile -- can be huge. When you can make connections with locals who are looking to save and eventually grow their own businesses during this challenging time, you’ll both stand to benefit.

Tips For Local SEO Marketing Coronavirus Success

Now that you understand how turning to local SEO can be beneficial for your own business and for your clients, how can you properly execute a local SEO strategy to facilitate financial recovery? Here are just a few local SEO tips you’ll want to keep in mind as the pandemic continues (and as we brace ourselves for a second wave).

Treat GMB Like Your New BFF

Google My Business is an incredible tool that’s free for you and your clients to use. Under normal circumstances, these listings are a good way to show up in a more featured way in SERPs. But during COVID-19, your GMB listing is a vital resource.

GMB already allowed business owners to make updates to hours of operation and services, but Google also rolled out a bunch of features specifically to help small businesses during this time. For example, Google has allowed businesses to add information directly to their name without penalty, to offer curbside delivery, and to book directly via search results. Google’s shopping tab has also been updated to show information pulled from GMB, including location data and product availability.

One case study compiled by Search Engine Journal actually showed that when a local bank changed its operational hours frequently on GMB and used the platform’s Google Posts feature, the bank’s GMB listing experienced 10 times the amount of views. In addition, actions from GMB viewing increased by 31% and calls to the bank increased by 63%. This shows that GMB listings are seen as incredibly helpful to customers -- and these listings are being shown to them on a frequent basis in search. So if you haven’t updated (or even claimed) your GMB listing, you’re doing yourself a major disservice.

Get in the habit of updating your own agency’s GMB and recommend GMB optimizations and regular updates for your SEO clients. While onsite blogs are still important, think about shifting focus to the posts feature on GMB in order to share important announcements and new details.

Ask the Community For Reviews

As we mentioned earlier, there’s been a huge outpouring of support for all kinds of local businesses during this time. Consumers want to know how they can ensure their favorite restaurants, independent retail shops, and Main Street mainstays will survive. Although providing financial support addresses a more immediate need, monetary hardship is pretty ubiquitous at the moment. Fortunately, there’s a way for local residents to extend a helping hand without having to spend a dime: online reviews.

Online reviews are highly valued by web users. One survey found that 91% of consumers between the ages of 18 and 34 trust online reviews just as much as personal recommendations. However, most customers want to see at least 40 online reviews for a given business before they actually trust its average star rating.

It’s to the benefit of your business -- or your clients’ businesses -- to ask supporters to leave an online review. Keep in mind that even having a couple of bad reviews is actually a lot better than having no reviews at all. And while you can’t offer incentives for leaving positive reviews, many customers will probably be willing to leave you a rating and make a quick comment if they know it can have a positive impact on your ability to keep your doors open. Be sure to direct them to your GMB page or your Facebook page to leave a review; while other review sites like Yelp can be helpful, your GMB listing and social media accounts are best for SEO purposes. Encourage your clients to take this time to reach out and ask for reviews, as well.

Address Your Mobile Customers

Optimizing your website for local search isn’t a new concept, but it’s become more important during COVID-19. And while you should make a point of using geo-targeted keywords on your site, that’s not the only action you’ll want to take to improve your online hub.

You should take this time to ensure your website provides an excellent user experience, particularly for those who come to your website using their mobile devices. Now that Google has rolled out its mobile-first indexing, your mobile site is the first one that is indexed. If your site isn’t mobile friendly, you could be hurting your rankings and alienating prospective customers at the same time. And since local customers are more likely to want immediate results that are nearby (and are often ready to make a purchase), you’ll want to do everything you can to appeal to them.

Make sure your site is fully navigable and legible on mobile devices and that there are no barriers that could result in abandonment (like poor-functioning checkout features or hard-to-find customer support options). Basically, you should do everything you can to keep visitors on your site or on your clients’ sites for as long as possible; this can increase the time spent on page while reducing bounce rate. You’ll also want to optimize for voice search, as more mobile users are now likely to use Alexa and Siri to find search results nearby. It’s a good idea to recommend this as part of your long-term SEO strategy for your clients as it is, since voice search is here to stay. And if you’ve been ignoring this trend for your own SEO, this might be a good time to start incorporating long-tail keywords and focusing on mobile-responsiveness.

Although businesses are opening back up, it’s clear that the pandemic is far from over. Financial struggles will continue throughout this first wave -- and as we brace for a second, it’s essential we take what we’ve learned so far and grow from it. We now know that continuing with marketing efforts can make a lot of sense from a business standpoint. Understanding how to leverage SEO -- and local SEO, in particular -- during these uncertain times can strengthen businesses for the long haul. To learn more about how we can grow together to be more, do more, and have more, please get in touch with the Semify team today.

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