I will pull no punches here. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of small business owners who depend on the Internet have been forced to shutdown because of the 2020 Covid-19 viral outbreak. As I write this article at the end of March Reflective Dynamics is still in business but I’m not gloating – I’m grateful. I have friends in the business who have lost all their clients. I know yet more people in the industry who have also lost many clients.
For those agencies and consultants who continue to operate this may prove to be a golden time. History teaches us that many of the most well-known brands of the 20th century survived the Great Depression. Their survival strategies were simple, innovative, and still viable today. But they would not have worked for everyone then and they won’t work for everyone now.
The Internet changes many things. Any company with sufficient cash reserves or cash flow should be able to keep at least a care-taker workforce in place. And those companies – if they have been working with SEO agencies or contractors – should consider renegotiating contracts with their service providers to launch a low-cost maintenance strategy for the next few months.
What that strategy can or should be is up to the business decision-maker. I would resist any of the usual “let’s build more links” or “you need more content” proposals. Publishing new content would be a better way to manage this crisis because the last thing you need is a manual action for hiring someone to build spammy links. Ask for and accept content proposals that are modest and which are accompanied by projections of potential returns on investment – and those returns could be sales but might be something else.
Many Companies Have Opened Up Their Paid Services
Right now anyone who wants to invest in Web marketing skills and technology can find a lot of providers have made their courses and some tools free. Reflective Dynamics does not endorse the tools and tutorials offered by those companies because there are no SEO industry standards by which to judge them.
Good or bad if you want to know how other people think you should do SEO this is a great time to begin studying. As always, I strongly recommend that you first read the Bing Webmaster Guidelines and Google Webmaster Guidelines. Those guidelines are ignored by most people in the marketing industry. I know this because every week I answer simple questions in online marketing forums where all people have to do is check the guidelines.
Instead many marketers prefer to get their information from tool vendors, SEO forums, video tutorials, and conferences. Much of the information that these sources SELL you is wrong. So the fact they are giving a lot of it away for free doesn’t impress me.
If you know the search engine guidelines and see some expert telling you anything contrary to those guidelines, just remember that the search engines will punish you for violating their guidelines and all the gurus and experts will do is stand to the side and curse the evils of search engine policies.
Always put the search engines’ opinions ahead of Web marketer opinions, even if you don’t agree with the search engines.
With that caveat in mind, go study what the SEO industry has to teach you while it’s still free.
And remember – there is no Google E-A-T algorithm or signal. Be glad you didn’t pay for a course or tutorial that tells you how to improve your rankings by focusing on E-A-T (expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness). It’s never that simple.
Non-Marketing Business Owners Have New Priorities
In the United States and Europe, and hopefully elsewhere, national governments are passing stimulus legislation to help businesses of all sizes. Clearly you should be checking to see what your government is doing for you. Your business pays (at least some) taxes so you might as well benefit from them.
Keeping workers employed is vital to all economies, but if you cannot do that – and if your legal advisers allow you to – you should maintain a strong connection with the employees you must lay off. Think about it: if you have to replace them when the company starts up again, you’ll have to train new employees.
I think it’s inevitable that some people will look for new opportunities when they can go out and work again. But if you can maintain a close bond with people who have worked with you for months or years, providing such support and guidance as you can, they’ll be more likely to come back to work for you in the future.
No one has calculated the cost of replacing knowledgeable employees on such a large scale.
We’re in completely new territory.
As much as is possible, any business with an Internet presence should keep that presence alive while inactive. If you have a dedicated employee who was responsible for the Website, the Google My Business account, or social media, see if there is a way to keep that relationship going. There may not be but you should attempt to determine what can legally be done without endangering anyone’s legal rights to government aid.
At the very least, get back control of the accounts so that there is no confusion about how to restart things once the doors open again.
You Can Still Operate a Marketing Campaign, Even for a Closed Business
While advertising budgets need to be shut down for the near future there is no reason to stop promoting a business you’re confident will open its doors again.
Do this by:
- Updating the Website
- Publishing something to social media
- Sending out regular emails to subscribers
That may be easier said than done but take a few hours to think about how you can stay in touch with people for as little expense as possible. Merely publishing a blog post once a week is better than nothing.
You can still fulfill commitments that cost you little or nothing, and when building brand value and audience relationships you create a commitment to communicate with the public, or your customers.
Whether you own a bicycle shop or a restaurant, if you have a customer mailing list find a way to stay in touch with people. Share anecdotes about how your business has helped someone in the past. Share industry insights. Be human and informative.
If your community were silenced by a snowstorm or a hurricane, an earthquake or a tsunami, people would be pitching in to help each other right and left. Maybe you can still do that by helping to promote pleas for help by community social agencies and medical facilities.
Share what you can. Do what you can to help. Be the best local business your customers need.
People Still Search for Things During Disasters
They may not be looking for your gym’s phone number today, but people still want to know how they can exercise during a recession when money is tight.
They may not be able to visit your pet store this week, but people still have to take care of their pets.
The companies who ensure they are found in the new explosion of queries around shelter-in-place and quarantine conditions will be first and foremost in the searching public’s minds.
Set aside all the standard assumptions about “what is best for SEO”. Don’t worry about keyword research. Don’t look at rankings or other metrics.
Create content that you know would be helpful to your customers during this time of crisis. They may need to know how to take care of things themselves until you can come out to their properties. They may need to know how to do things for themselves until they are free to pay you to do those things again.
The world did not shut down when your community closed its doors. Everyone is still doing something. And a lot of that activity occurs online.
Dentists may not see themselves as bloggers but the dentist who goes online and provides home care advice for his patients (always explaining when to seek emergency assistance and how) will be greeted warmly when the patients are allowed back into the office.
If Your Community Is Not Locked Down, Change Customer Habits
Once the order to stay at home goes out you have no choice but to obey the law. But for many small businesses there may be other ways of delivering goods and services.
If customers are still allowed to drive to your location and pickup merchandise, does your mobile app or Website explain that to them clearly?
If you are partnering with delivery services to get goods to your customers, does your mobile app or Website explain that to them clearly?
Do your customers know everything they should to continue doing business with you?
That’s what blogs and social media accounts are for. And if you’re still running advertising, make your ads as informative as possible. Don’t just tell people you’re open for business. Show them what they’ll get from doing business with you.
Search engine optimization need not end when you temporarily shutdown a business. Any seasonal business that relies on tourist traffic every summer should be thinking about its next marketing campaign by mid-winter. It takes time to plan and launch a comprehensive marketing strategy.
Whether you are a freelancer or a major corporation, if you depend upon online visibility you should not abandon that just because everyone was set home. Find a way to remain relevant to the online search experience. Do it meaningfully, not gratuitously.
Making an effort to communicate during a disaster is better marketing than waiting for the good times to come back. SEO begins with the communication. Don’t worry about all the fine tuning that normally goes into it. First create something to be optimized later on. That way you’ll be ahead of the game when everyone gets back to work.
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