Morgan Flores, Search Marketing Manager
Are we going to be okay? A common thought as we face these uncertain times and most unusual challenges. Should we double down on our marketing budget or gut it entirely? Let’s be honest, the marketing budget is typically first on the chopping block. When faced with such tumultuous times business owners and executive leadership are forced to make some very difficult decisions. Get rid of this, cut that—we don’t know what tomorrow brings and therefore we should ‘err on the side of caution.’ Not so fast, the decisions you are making, are they backed by data or are they a knee-jerk reaction to the uncertainty that awaits? If your answer is the latter, consider this; how many successful businesses operate by a system of purely gut feelings? While intuition certainly has its place, you should always have baseline data to defer to.
MARKETING IN A DOWNTURN
Adapt to survive. While wise to contain certain costs, failing to examine core customers’ changing needs can jeopardize performance over the long-term. Take a scalpel, not a cleaver or a sledgehammer to the marketing budget. Recognize the need to adjust strategies and product/service offerings in order to not only survive but thrive in times of an opaque future. While this particular health crisis may be new, this isn’t the first or last time the world will face an economic downturn or volatility in the market. One thing remains the same, customer psychology. Businesses that aim to survive a crisis will focus on customer needs and position themselves as helpers, not opportunists.
PIVOT, PIVOT, PIVOT.
Imagine you’re moving a couch up several flights of stairs. The elevator is out. Left. Left. You’re lifting the couch over your head. You’re turning, turning, turning. Then, along with a couple of your friends you pivot. Pivot. Pivot. Pivot. Pivot. Pivot. Nope, won’t fit. Things don’t always go according to plan. You may even cut the couch in half or scrap the idea entirely.
So, how should you pivot your search initiatives? Where do you begin?
TAKE A MICROSCOPE TO YOUR DATA
If you’ve been paying attention to the shift from print to digital, your website should have a Google Analytics account (at minimum). Print media is declining—that’s an indisputable fact. What is your business doing to shift to expanding consumer behaviors and what mechanisms do you have in place to track success? A perq of digital marketing is that you can effectively track conversions and engagement, it’s not some antiquated estimation built on counting new paper clippings or media impressions.
Let’s begin with the basics. The OG (original), no I don’t mean wading through server logs, I’m referring to Google Analytics. Consider viewing not just overall conversions or users, but also cost per conversion and conversion rates, broken down by campaign. If you're noticing conversion rates falling by 10% or more when looking at the same campaign performance, start digging deeper and determine if that's a campaign that should be paused or funds can be allocated in different directions. Consider the audience being targeted, the amount of users, and other on-page characteristics.
Every phone number clicked, every email address, every form filled out on your website must be tracked. Analyzing your conversion tracking, making informed decisions using data, and specifically honing in on key performance indicators will guide this decision making. Just counting the number of sessions or users year over year is not an efficient measurement of achievement nor does it allow you to strategically plan for the next few months or years. For example, it is critical that you view CAMPAIGN v CAMPAIGN, not just overall spend when analyzing paid ad success so you’re comparing the same audience performance.
Read, ‘Top 5 Takeaways on Coronavirus (COVID-19) Communications.’
EXAMINE PAID EFFORTS
If you’re running any pay-per-click (PPC) ads, now is the time to review them. Is the ad copy still relevant to your audience and sensitive to the current situation? Are you able to fulfill orders or deliver services that you’re advertising? If the answer is no, then turn off those ads immediately. Determine what products or services you can deliver. For example, if you’re a hair salon, shift to online product sales. Build your messaging around how these products solve an immediate problem. With salons shuttered across the nation, many individuals will be forced to perform their own haircuts and manicures at home.
REVISIT THE BLOG CONTENT CALENDAR
Much like with your email campaigns, evaluate the content you are pushing out on your blog. To quote one of the most influential hip-hop artists of our time, Ice Cube, ‘check yourself before you wreck yourself.’ And to quote another famous figure, the legendary investor Warren Buffet, ‘It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently.’
Is your message commiserate with the current climate? The blog posts you had scheduled to promote, are they still relevant although many businesses are closed? Take this opportunity to generate new blog posts that your target audience will connect with and find valuable. A successful blog post will engage your target audience online through multiple mediums. Your blog content should function as an anchor pulling people from various channels online back to your website.
HAVE A PLAN
It is imperative that you have a two-month flexible plan for future messaging given the pandemic. While COVID-19 is a fluid situation, you should plan for this time of isolation to go through the end of May and have tertiary plans just in case stay-at-home orders extend past then (in many states this is quite possible). If you did not have a business continuity plan previous to this, consider reaching out to a local company near you for guidance.
SEARCH MARKETING, CUT OR NOT TO CUT?
There are winners and there are losers. Many of the winners will double down on search engine optimization (SEO). Thinking about creating a lead-generating download enticing visitors to give their email for a case study, white paper, ebook, template, or guide? That’s a great idea! But how are you going to drive demand? The users that were once searching for you by brand name are now occupied with other activities at the moment. Creating a profitable demand on an opt-in email list or lead-gen download is dependent on organic and paid strategies led by the needs of consumers. People still need products and services, the key is to understand how your products/services can fulfill an immediate need, articulate that need, and package it in a friction-free way for mass consumption.
As a business owner or executive leader, you are forced to get creative with tackling new obstacles and your employees look for you to lead the charge. The critical component is to know when to shift strategies and to do so with conviction. One thing to remember as you remain nimble is that SEO is a marathon and not a sprint. Stay true to strategies that are working, laying the foundation for future success, and focusing on conversions at all levels of the funnel.
You can't make decisions based on fear and the possibility of what might happen.” -- Michelle Obama
If you find yourself in need of a gut check on your current marketing strategy, please feel free to reach out to us. We’re here to help.
Eileen Kennedy, Social Media Manager
Many of us are looking for the “right” answers about how we should be handling coronavirus (COVID-19) and what we should be communicating to our clients. At the onset of the pandemic, many of us decided to pause our communications to figure out strategic next steps.
If you’re still in that phase, we’re here to tell you now is not the time to go dark.
Your doors may be closed and services may be paused, but there are plenty of things you can be doing on social media to foster connection and support within your community.
First things first, people are on their phones, computers, and other devices more than ever with shelter in place orders across the country. According to eMarketer, Facebook saw a 70% increase in its app usage in March. During this time of social distancing, people are looking to increase connections, so meet them where they are already spending most of their time - on social media!
Be transparent. The media can be very overwhelming and sources of anxiety for many and people are looking for distractions. Social media is the place for your business to share your truth, be a beacon of hope, and a place of information and inspiration for your audience. Let your audience in on what you are doing during this “downtime,” how you are supporting your employees, and share your plans for the future.
Any resources within your community or elsewhere that could be helpful for your audience (like work from home tips, at-home family activities, medical information, donation opportunities, etc) should be considered share-worthy even if it is not directly related to your business. Be discerning, don’t just share everything you find, but sharing accurate information from reliable sources or information relevant to your audience will be well-received. If you want more guidance, read our Top 5 Takeaways on Coronavirus Communications.
NO SERVICE? NO PROBLEM.
With many doors closed and some services on hold, the reality is we may not be getting as many conversions as we’d like to see on social media, but this is time to focus on growing and strengthening your community and brand sentiment. Your goal should be to frame your business as a resource and thought leader.
Social media “live” capabilities are a great, creative way to communicate in real-time with your audience, answer any question they may have, allow them to see your face, see that you’re working, and see that you are there for them during this unprecedented time. Don’t try to hard-sell your products or services - just be there to relate to your audience, educate them, and offer support.
If you have customers asking how they can support your business during this time, Instagram recently rolled out its gift card option. Stay tuned for more fundraising opportunities from Instagram.
KEEP YOUR FINGER ON THE PULSE
Instagram has created a sticker series for users to not only stay connected during this time of social distancing but also to gather important information on the virus.
There is also an abundance of hashtags that you can search or use to find conversations and connect with others during this time. This is a helpful tool for joining discussions already in progress.
Your customers want to hear from you. They want to see you and they want to know that you're optimistic about the future. Give them updates, resources, and support. Social media is a great tool to connect with followers and provide them with quick updates and valuable information.
People are home. People have phones, tablets, smart TVs, laptops, and desktops. People are working remotely and might have a few extra minutes on their hands. They're turning to the internet - online video gaming, streaming services, social media, and browsing the web. I know in our house, Disney+ might be streaming every minute the kids are awake, so we're definitely contributing to the increased usage for streaming services. In residential areas across the country, we're seeing a surge of 20% of internet browsing activity.
If your website was redesigned in the past 4-5 years, your business is likely using responsive design technology to respond across all devices appropriately, built on a content management system that allows you to make updates as necessary. It likely has a modern design that won't offend a visitor when they land on your site and is hosted on a reliable server that can withstand a traffic surge. So, in this scenario, you're likely ready for a surge in traffic, but you should still make sure that your website and all of its functionality responds accordingly on mobile, tablet, and desktop views.
User Experience = Customer Experience
Websites, much like businesses, need to continue to innovate and expand their customer experience. In a traditionally focused in-store, retail environment, you can make face to face customer connections, develop relationships, and foster positive brand sentiment. Why can't you do that online through your website? Provide your customers with an experience that matches what they would see in-store. Allow your customers the ability to see products, purchase merchandise, connect with a staff member virtually, or request more information. For B2B companies, focus on telling your story, sharing what separates you from your competitors, and inform why someone should work with you. What's unique about your company that would make someone want to convert and work with you? This content is relevant and necessary to answer the questions of those who are already online and landing on your website.
Bells and Whistles or Necessary Functionality?
There is a lot of debate among website designers of what add-ons are too much and what is necessary for businesses to include on their website. Our take is really what does your business need in order to be successful, and before that, what is the overall purpose of the website. Your website should be the foundation of your marketing strategy and initiatives, digitally and offline.
That being said, you want your website to be the foundation of all of your marketing efforts - online and offline. The website should be configured to allow for conversions to happen (even when no one is around to answer the phones at the office).
A few opportunities to consider:
1. Develop a content strategy that provides responses to the many frequently asked questions your business receives from potential clients.
2. Consider adding a chatbot or live chat feature to your website to allow questions to be asked from those who are almost ready to convert.
3. Look into a book a consultation or calendar integration to allow for customer meetings right through the website. These strategies will help you filter out unqualified leads as well as streamline the conversion process.
However, if you're a retail storefront that is looking to increase revenue consider, taking the customer experience a step further and add an online store to your website that provides a new revenue stream opportunity. You don't have to add all of your inventory at once, perhaps it's five to ten products to test the market. When built on a scalable platform, this could easily take less than a week to implement and go live with an opportunity to convert customers after hours.
SEO v. User Experience
Myth: you have to choose one or the other.
Fact: you don't have to compromise the user experience on your website with a solid search engine optimization (SEO) strategy.
The two components of your website are not mutually exclusive. Don't compromise your design, don't forget about being found through search engines. Rather, some designers do not have the SEO knowledge and know-how to successfully implement a solid SEO strategy on a beautifully designed website.
Revisit the keywords that you optimized for previously. Times have definitely changed and the keywords you are ranking for might have dropped off significantly. Develop quality content over quantity of content - focus on long-form blog posts when necessary. Or take some time to add case studies, white papers and client testimonials throughout your website.
Making sure that your website is updated with the right content, will convert with a spike in traffic, and strategically positions your company for growth should always be a priority.
Ensuring that your website is technically sound is an integral part of both SEO and user experience, marrying the two together. Your website needs to load quickly for end users on mobile devices, tablets, and computers. A timely load speed encourages users to interact with the graphics and content on the website, and ultimately impacts your search rankings. One common issue found is a lack of image optimization that slows down your website’s load speed. Check with your designer or use a plugin to address image compression and cacheability.
Not sure if your website is equipped to handle the new demand? Want a complimentary website assessment? Click here to get your FREE analysis.
It's been 11 years since the United States economy has seen anything even close to what we're going through right now. Eleven years of fairly consistent growth with some bumps here and there, but nothing prepared us for COVID-19 to hit the United States and change everything nearly overnight.
While it's easy for businesses to completely cut marketing spend in times of crisis, we in the industry look at these times a bit differently. There are hard decisions that are going to need to be made, but I'm hoping this can shed some light on strategies to explore that can get you through hard times, and come out the other side in a strong position to rebound efficiently.
So what's the solution? What we suggest companies do to combat a sales and lead drought is to look at where potential customers are now spending their time. What we have observed already is that more time is being spent indoors and online. Diverting marketing funds from travel, conference fees, sponsorships, and wining and dining potential buyers and putting them towards digital marketing efforts (PPC, organic SEO, etc.) will continue to produce leads in the absence of in-person networking events. If you let your sales and lead funnel completely dry up right now, it's going to be exponentially more difficult to fill up when the world economy is starting to move again. Don't stop your momentum, shift it to a new medium.
B2B Industry Shifts
In the B2B industry, we're seeing more content being consumed than ever before, whether that be in the form of case studies, white papers or videos. This makes sense because potential consumers have more time on their hands, and with a lot of businesses tightening their purse strings, at least for the time being, sales timelines can be increased. It's worth noting that for many of our clients, we've noticed conversion activity that used to be done M-F from 9-5 occurring sporadically at varying times throughout the week and weekend with the line between work/life balance becoming increasingly blurred.
To capitalize on this shifting environment, reconsider the goals you're asking users to complete. Instead of hoping a user will Request a Demo or Sales Call, shift to producing content designed to collect email addresses and names, and putting in place a lead nurturing system designed to stay top-of-mind for potential buyers. When things eventually normalize, having a list of leads can make or break the rest of 2020 and how your company is positioned to grow in the future.
B2C Industry Shifts
In the B2C industry, we're noticing some of the same patterns, but some notably different ones as well. The after-work or weekend conversions that we were once used to seeing are moving to mid-day. Companies aren't filtering websites for workers stuck at home, and users aren't in an environment where a boss or coworker might look at their computer screen throughout the day. There's also a huge shift to shopping local that we're noticing now more than ever. With "non-essential" shops shutting their doors to the public and restaurants ceasing dine-in service, now is the time for smaller, local businesses to ensure their e-commerce stores are up and running with clear messaging on their websites and across social channels.
Speaking of social channels, the consumption of social content is also spiking across Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Etsy and almost every other platform. Small businesses that have an active presence can stay top-of-mind for local customers now and in the future. Consider using your most engaging social channels in new and interesting ways, such as restaurants going live to teach how to make a famous dish or a yoga studio going virtual once a week for a beginners class catering to masses. Now is a great time to tackle the projects you've been putting off, even if it seems unconventional or if it might not have an immediate impact. Often is the case that in times of crisis (and honestly, in times of stability), businesses that can innovate and pivot quickly are the businesses that not only survive, but thrive. After all, Venmo, Groupon, Instagram, Slack and Uber are all businesses that were born during and came out of the 2008 financial crisis.
The search environment is changing. It sounds obvious, but keyword volume around external events like movie showtimes and sporting events are plummeting, but Instagram Live, Facebook Live and Zoom are skyrocketing.
People are hungry for content - not just written, but live content, videos and how to's, and DIY/at home projects.
I can certainly understand how the day-to-day change in business dynamics can be overwhelming, but now isn't the time to shut down all marketing. Unforeseen hurdles are part of every business' existence. The adaptable will survive and the current crisis is a new opportunity for creativity, fresh ideas, and new strategies to maintain your momentum. You can capitalize on that momentum when things get back to normal - because they will get back to normal.