Is SEO still relevant in a world plagued by the coronavirus pandemic?

The coronavirus pandemic has upended just about everything that we call normal, routine life. It is definitely not business as usual, and won’t be for a long time to come. 

Global economic recession is pretty much a given right now, with businesses big and small alike struggling to survive. 

Consequently, there have been gigantic shifts in the world of marketing as well, of which digital marketing – and SEO (search engine optimization) is a part.  

With half of the world’s population staying at home due to lockdowns or “circuit breaker” measures imposed by various countries across the globe, internet activity expectantly is on the rise. 

Even as more people stay online longer than before in the midst of this Covid-19 crisis, there has been a noticeable behavioral change, one that could impact the effectiveness of your digital marketing efforts. 

Specifically, how does the current online trends affect your business’ SEO strategy and performance? 

And more importantly, what can you do to adjust to the new reality and still ensure that your business comes off better at the end of it all?

Let’s find out. 

Is SEO still relevant in a Covid-19 world?

SEO has for the longest time being touted as a long-term strategic instrument for asset and branding building objectives. 

Nevertheless a major challenge to search engine optimization is that of time; it typically takes months – sometimes even years – for SEO to achieve the desired results and deliver impact. 

With the coronavirus, businesses are struggling to stay afloat every single day, facing a triple whammy of vanishing revenue, straddled costs and depleting cash. 

You may be wondering, if it is still worthwhile to pursue a SEO-centric digital marketing strategy? 

Wouldn’t it be more effective to reallocate money and efforts to more tactical activities such as social media advertising?

Well, the answer is no. 

Here are the reasons why. 

SEO can deliver results fast, if you do it right

Let’s tackle the most crucial argument right out of the gate. 

Yes, it is possible for search engine optimization to achieve some level of results within weeks, even days. 

To do that, you need to perform your keyword research at a very granular level. 

But more importantly, you need to rethink the entire conventional approach to SEO, which has been largely keyword-driven. 

Trying to rank for broad search terms (e.g. “hand sanitizer” or “online food delivery”) won’t cut it. Your website will just drown in an ocean of me-too competition and the firepower of larger, established sites that have dominated the market even before the coronavirus outbreak. 

Focus on questions and answer them

Instead, you should be looking at fulfilling users’ questions with specific, spot-on answers with the content that you put up on your website. 

For instance, questions such as “where to buy alcohol free sanitizer” or “where to order alkaline water filtration system” are highly purpose-specific and indicate a clear search intent. 

Webpages with content that can succinctly answer questions like those above have very good chances of rising to the top of the search results, in a relatively short time. 

This is because Google tends to display answers for question-based searches directly on the search results page, which effectively provides a shortcut to let your content leapfrog to the top of the pack. 

Depending on how well the content is structured and the level of competition, we have seen clients’ websites popped from seemingly nowhere to the first page of Google search within a week. 

Accumulate the traffic crumbs from search results

Invariably, question-based search phrases are long tailed in nature and generally do not carry high traffic volume, as compared to the head terms. 

Therefore, the approach is to identify as many questions that your target audience may be asking as possible, and craft precise answers to those questions on your website. 

All the bits of viewership and clickthrough traffic that comes from this method can sum up to be a rather significant volume. 

And the best part about such traffic is that the searchers are already primed to buy. So your conversion rate will increase. 

Make your answers short and to the point

Unlike the Skyscraper technique, answers to the identified questions need not be lengthy.

Google typically picks only not more than 2 paragraphs of your content that best answers the question to display on the search results page. 

Or, you can frame and format your answers in the form of a list. Such content tends to be favoured by Google to show on up search results more often than not.

Content precision and relevance is definitely more important here than mere length. 

SEO makes more financial sense

One of the most critical challenges many businesses face right now is dwindling cashflow and a large number of them are predictably cutting costs, with digital marketing expenditure usually among the first to be slashed. 

Even if some form of digital marketing activities remain active, you may be tempted to divert your SEO investment to other channels such as search or social media advertising, thinking that you may acquire immediate results. 

The problem is that in the current pandemic climate, people are less likely to buy and part with their money regardless. 

So your conversion rate is going to be lower no matter what. 

As such, in search or social media advertising (on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn among others), where the pricing is based on a cost-per-click (CPC) model, a depressed conversion rate vis-a-vis the click-throughs means that you are actually getting a lower ROI during this coronavirus period and worse off financially. 

Search engine optimization however is usually a fixed-cost investment that will only give you increasingly stronger ROI as time progresses and your SEO performance improves. 

Adopt a two-pronged strategy for maximum impact

At the end of the day, digital marketing channels work best not in isolation from one another but in a complementary way that delivers impact that is greater than the sum of their parts. 

So while SEO is always preferred as a standalone strategy for its stronger net impact on the bottom line of a business, you can amplify the overall effect by combining SEO with an advertising-driven brand awareness campaign for a broader coverage. 

What this means is, for instance, run an ad campaign on social media to heighten your brand’s exposure to your target audience, priming them to recognise your brand and the products or services that they should associate your brand with. 

So, if your audience doesn’t get converted by the ad campaign, some of them will subsequently search for your brand on Google, or your brand plus a product term (e.g. “Rocksmith aircon service”).

And your brand should really show up to acquire and convert these subsequent traffic, which is made possible by a strong SEO process that lays the foundation for your business’ online visibility.  

SEO builds credibility

In times of crisis and uncertainty, people always look towards assertive leadership to help them navigate through the troubled waters. 

The psychological and resultant buying behaviour is also the same during this Covid-19 pandemic period. 

Every buying decision becomes more cautious and measured, with more questions asked. 

After all, everyone is trying to conserve cash and refrain from spending unless absolutely necessary. 

More authority, more sales

A psychological obstacle must be met with a psychological response and the good thing about SEO is that it gives your business a strong psychological upperhand when performed effectively. 

B2B and B2C buyers alike tend to regard businesses that appear on the first page of Google as credible and authoritative. 

This is not a surprise, given that statistically less than 1 in 10 searchers ever bothered to browse search results beyond the first page. 

What this all means is that if your business is showing up on the first page of Google for your targeted search terms, you are automatically perceived as a trustworthy one, and more likely to attract enquiries and sales. 

Establish authority with strong content

From a SEO perspective, authority is established on the back of high quality content, not just optimised to Google’s preference, but more importantly to the needs of your target audience. 

Authentic content with fresh perspectives and unfiltered opinions will be the main drivers of acquiring your audience’s attention. Sameness and “me-also” narratives aren’t going to cut it anymore. 

One of the best ways to do this is to maintain a blog that consistently projects your narrative to the world. 

You don’t have to publish content every single week if your schedule doesn’t allow it. Once a month is perfectly fine too if that is what your resources allow. 

The key here is consistency and discipline.

Sticking to a calendar to push out content regularly is a surefire way to build a loyal following and push your way up Google’s search rankings. 

SEO is your best bet to rebound fast post Covid-19 

While the situation looks extremely dire now, one thing is certain. 

At some point, the coronavirus pandemic is going to go away. 

As with all previous crises in human history, the world will always rebound with vigour and speed to back where it was, and more often than not, exceeding and reaching new heights. 

So the real question you need to ask yourself is: 

Will your business be ready to ride the wave upwards once it comes? 

When the world economy recovers – and it will recover – and all the traffic and buying interest come rushing back, will your business be ready to take advantage and capture them all?

You would be, if your business is the first thing that pops up on Google search results when people start looking for products and services to buy. 

But if you don’t start building now, chances are your competitors are going to reap the benefits instead. 

As Warren Buffet said: “be greedy when others are fearful”, at a time when your competition may be hesitant to commit marketing resources, the opportunity to build your brand and emerge stronger than ever is now or never. 

If you’re going to invest in your business, the best and only thing that you should invest in right now is its future, and the key to that future is SEO. 

Start building today for tomorrow’s recovery.