After seeing a rise in search volume for ‘SEO’ itself, I had been planning to write a blog post that explains what SEO is and how it works. Aligning myself to the firm marketing adage of ‘giving your audience what they need’, I planned to create the content to answer the most common questions.
But a lot has changed since I undertook my initial planning of this post. Coronavirus (COVID-19) has caused upheaval, confusion and devastation for so many people, worldwide. But you don’t need me to tell you this. I decided that it would be most useful to respond to questions about SEO specifically during the coronavirus pandemic.
Content helps people to find answers
Before we kick off, I’ll explain my methodology. Whilst I work in SEO, I’m also interested in practising wellbeing. In principle, both disciplines have the same aim: investing in your own assets to reach an optimised state of being. To exemplify the relationship, let me share with you the Japanese principle of ikigai.
The people of Japan believe that everyone has an ikigai. It is your sense of purpose and the reason to spring out of bed every morning. In SEO terms, this reflects the unique value that a new piece of content brings to your audience. This purpose, or ikigai, enables you to achieve self-happiness when you are consistently doing:
1) What you love
2) What you are good at
3) What you can be paid for
4) What the world needs.
At this moment, what the world needs is information. We need services that provide people with support, expert advice, creative pursuits, facts and reassurance.
People are still looking for answers. People are still looking for solutions. People are still looking for content.
For people to find your content when they need it, you need to enhance its visibility with SEO. So my purpose, or at least my aim, is to offer some clarity on how to do just that.
Responding to an increased demand for content
In multiple sectors and industries, search volume has increased. Demand is up, consumption is up and there are new, different needs for content.
Of course, as content creators, you should be empathetic and mindful of tone right now. But freezing SEO and content creation altogether would lead to missing out on new opportunities.
I used Google Trends to identify the recent changes related to Google searches in the UK. I discovered that our search behaviours shifted swiftly when the global pandemic led to lockdown in the UK. Increasingly, searchers are looking for what a stay-at-home world needs. Meanwhile, businesses are adapting their models in an attempt to meet these new demands.
The following graphs demonstrate just a few areas where search volume has increased. Now more than ever, people are searching for DIY equipment, loungewear, fitness items and self-improvement opportunities.
SEO Zoom, also reported the highest increase in traffic for Home and Garden, and Books and Literature at 190% and 189% respectively.
Games, Food and Drink, and Computer and Electronics have all increased by over 100% as well.
As might be expected, Autos and Vehicles, and Travel have declined in search traffic. The latter by as much as 64%.
Infographic from SEO Zoom showing search traffic
Now to answer many of the burning questions that people have asked me, my colleagues, and Google in recent weeks:
Should I cut my marketing budget during the lockdown?
I’m sure some businesses have had to, or plan to, cut their marketing budgets.
Before you do so, use data to identify the state of your market. Look for:
- Increases in online orders - The UK public seem to have interpreted ‘lockdown’ as time for ‘self improvement’. Decorating, cooking, taking online courses, and investing in self improvement or career skills are all increasingly popular.
- Competitor shortcomings - If your competitors haven’t pivoted to start selling online, you have a huge market opportunity to get there first.
- New markets looking for your product - Previously you may have sold physically to a local market; or your online service may have been underutilised until now. Now everyone is at home and reliant on online services. New markets for your product may be popping up everywhere.
Some areas of your business will have to change whether you match the above criteria or not.
- You may need to adjust the tone of your customers to support distressed customers.
- You may need to adjust your approach to outreach while many businesses are closed.
- You may even need to scale back on some of your paid media efforts with low conversions.
But now isn’t the time to scale back on SEO or content creation. The content created now can reach new customers, and will add value for years to come. What the world needs isn’t silence.
Will my visibility be damaged if I stop publishing content?
Marketers understand that Google PPC search ads and paid social ads gain visibility through a live auction. But many tend not to think of SEO and organic search as such a competitive bidding sphere.
In fact, organic search is very much a living, breathing, competitive space. If you’re not actively moving ahead, then you’re slowing down and falling behind.
There will be some businesses that scale back or even freeze investment at the moment. However, rather than follow their lead, think about the competitive advantage you can achieve with your continued activity.
SEO is a long game that requires continual investment. This is an optimal time to increase your efforts, not to reduce them. Reallocate time planned for events or cancelled meetings to work on improving your online visibility and providing valuable content for your customers.
Which SEO tasks should I pursue during the lockdown?
As discussed, if your competitors are scaling back, you have the opportunity to overtake them in Google search results. Here are a number of SEO tasks you can tackle to get ahead during this period of self isolation.
Begin with On-Page SEO
‘On-Page SEO’ refers to tasks that optimise individual pages on your site. Rather than trying to tackle your entire site at once, start by optimising at page level. There are some fairly easy fundamentals you can take care of yourself:
1. Optimise your page titles
Page titles aren’t actually seen on your web pages. They appear in search engine result pages and form the link for people to click through to your website.
To view your existing page titles, simply take a look at the names within your browser tabs. Some SEO tools (Screaming Frog and SEMRush, for example) allow you to export and assess all of your page titles at once. To edit, simply find the ‘page title’ field within each page in your content management system (CMS).
First, ensure that each of your pages has a unique page title. The title should describe the page’s content. Aim to front-load your page title with the target keyword that you want the page to rank for. At the other end of the title, always feature your company or website name.
Your homepage is the exception to this rule. Here, your company name itself is the target keyword. So, avoid repetition by featuring your brand name first and foremost, but not at the end.
Aim for titles of 50 to 60 characters. Any more and your page title will appear cut off in organic search results. Any less and you’ve wasted an opportunity to entice organic traffic.
At a fundamental level aim for the following format for your homepage: Company name | Target keywords
Aim for the reverse for all other pages on your site, but maintain the same character limits: Target keywords | Company name
As an example, here’s how CTI’s homepage page title and meta description appear in Google:
2. Create click-worthy meta descriptions
If you’re good at writing persuasive sales copy, meta descriptions provide the opportunity to do just that. This is your chance to say more than you could in your page title. In your meta description, you should:
- describe your page in further detail
- state your unique selling points
- end with a call to action to entice people to click through to your page.
Again, character restrictions are in place to ensure your description isn’t cut off in its prime. Aiming for 150 to 160 characters tends to be an effective rule of thumb.
Assess your Technical SEO
Technical SEO is what makes SEO SEO. Without it, SEO could generally be seen as “just good marketing”. So, in terms of implementing technical SEO fixes I’d always recommend working with a technical SEO expert. But, there are a few easy health-check activities you can try right now.
Getting a better understanding of your site’s performance will help you to plan and prioritise your SEO strategy.
3. Test your site for mobile friendliness
When Google visits your site, it places more attention on how your site performs on mobile devices than on desktop computers. Mobile performance plays an important part in Google’s assessment of where to rank your site in organic search results.
A quick and easy way to understand whether Google deems your site to be “mobile-friendly” is to use Google’s mobile friendly testing tool. Just type in your website address and after a short while you’ll have a confirmed result, direct from Google itself.
Along with your site’s result, Google will recommend actions to improve mobile friendliness. Some of these tasks will likely involve a developer, but it’s important to identify what’s needed.
4. Check your site speed
Waiting for a site to load is something we did in the past. Nowadays, most of your audience won’t wait around. Google PageSpeed Insights is a free tool that can help you to check your site’s speed.
When you get your results, you may need support from a technical SEO expert to fix any site speed issues. However, it’s important to check your site speed as soon as possible, to make sure that your marketing efforts aren’t wasted on a site that won’t load.
A quick and easy way to improve site speed is simply to compress the images on your page. You can use free online tools, or your choice of design software, to shrink the file size of your images without losing any quality. Then simply upload the compressed images back into your CMS.
5. Fix broken or misleading links, to give users a website that works.
We’ve all been there: we’re reading a compelling webpage when a linked headline to another page catches our attention. When we click that link and face an error message stating “Page Not Found”, we’re likely to give up on the site altogether.
Broken links contribute towards a bad user experience on your website. Positive user experience is something that Google cares about dearly, and you should too.
If you have a small site, you can fish out broken links relatively easily. Visit your website and explore the full depth of content, manually testing each link. However if your site is larger in scale, identify your broken links using this handy broken link checker from Ahrefs.
Once you have a list of any errors, you can fix the broken links within the CMS. Redirect any URLs that can’t be found; fix any typos within your links; and, where necessary, change the destination of your hyperlinks.
How can I make sure that my regulars and local customers can still find my business?
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, our world seems to have got a lot smaller. Of course, our local businesses have always existed around us. But recent travel restrictions have led to more people shopping locally. That’s why it’s key to provide local customers with up-to-date information about your business.
Review your Google My Business profile and update it as required. Have your opening hours changed? Do you have new offers to promote? Are you doing anything newsworthy in your local area as part of the fight against coronavirus? Most importantly, always ensure that your contact details are up-to-date - especially if you're working away from the office.
It doesn’t feel right to publish my usual content anymore. What should I be writing about?
Writing and publishing editorial content naturally creates new pages on your site. These new pages enable the site to rank for more terms, leading to more incremental traffic from organic search. Overtime, these pages will gain links and the authority associated with age. As such, any new content that you can create now will leave your site in a more competitive state when the coronavirus crisis has passed.
In this moment though, add new content to your site that provides people with answers in relation to your service. How has the spread of COVID-19 affected your business, services, products and customers? It’s time to reassure your clients.
As we’ve seen in this post, Google Trends provides a valuable opportunity to learn about the topics that are in demand right now. Balance your business priorities with the priorities and needs of your customers.
Shape your content accordingly and satisfy the marketing adage (and your inner ikigai) of ‘giving your audience what they need’.
For more guidance, contact me via our contact page or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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