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You can’t ignore the impact COVID-19 is having on the economy worldwide. As such, businesses are facing challenging decisions on maintaining their online presence in a world which is currently dominated by Coronavirus.

Econsultancy’s stats roundup states that “62% of UK respondents said that marketing budget commitments are delayed or under review, and a further 42% said that planned technology and infrastructure spending is also treated in the same way.”

Whilst COVID-19 is understandably causing panic from a health and economic perspective, there’s no better time to remember that “when times are good you should advertise, when times are bad you MUST advertise”.

As you would expect, we have seen a considerable change in online traffic since the pandemic took hold. Neil Patel demonstrates the huge drops in organic traffic for the majority of industries in his most recent study of the current online climate during COVID-19. It’s important to remember that the outbreak is moving at such a speed that any stats that are published today are almost certainly out of date by tomorrow. However, the graph below gives you an indication of the industries which have been hit the hardest.

Neil Patel What COVID-19 Means for Marketers

There’s no doubt that the Coronavirus is a concern for all of us. However, even for the worst affected industries, there are still ways in which to maintain visibility online and put preparations in place for long-term profitability.

We have put together a 7-step guide to help your business survive online during the COVID-19 outbreak:

  1. Be flexible in your strategy
  2. Remember your existing customers
  3. Ramp up communication
  4. Do even more to be seen online
  5. Tighten up your targeting
  6. Measure and monitor everyday
  7. Look ahead to the future

We always tell our clients that SEO is a long-term strategy and investment, and what you do now will dictate how your business will be visible in three to twelve months. Completely pausing activity and spend as an immediate reaction to the current climate is understandable – but certainly not advisable.

This could have a massive impact on your revenue in a few months – when the effects of Coronavirus should (we hope) have lessened worldwide.

Let’s take a look at the steps you need to take in more detail.

1. Be flexible in your strategy

In these unprecedented times, ‘business as usual’ is almost impossible to maintain. Every business has been impacted in some way, and this impact will continue to change daily. That’s why it’s so important to be flexible with your online strategy, keep on top of what’s happening in the search landscape and re-allocate your budget, time and resources in the places where you will benefit from the most.

Henry Ford, a man who knew a little about marketing and growing a business, once said, “a man who stops advertising to save money is like a man who stops a clock to save time.”

When difficult times arise, businesses need to look at every area of expense where they can save money, but the last place they should look is at their marketing spend, as cutting this will typically cut their revenues, thus worsening the situation.

Research going back nearly 100 years reinforces this thinking. Those companies who expand their advertising in times of adversity not only grow during the recession but find it easier and quicker to pull away once the recovery starts. Kellogg’s built its market leadership during the Great Depression in the 1920’s by doubling its ad spend, whilst the existing market leader cut its own. A McGraw Hill Research analysis of 600 companies in the 1980’s found that those who maintained or increased their advertising grew their sales significantly both during the recession and in the following 3 years.

Forbes’ message is clear; when a recession comes, don’t stop advertising.

“Often, when a recession happens, businesses, fearful of declining revenue, begin to cut back in various areas, including their ad spending.”

We completely understand our clients’ fears of the declining economic market during this challenging period. When they have asked for our advice, our response echoes that of those at Forbes. In essence, survival will require sales to be maintained at a viable level, and a flexible digital marketing strategy is essential to deliver those sales profitably.

2. Remember your existing customers

Sustaining customer loyalty is essential during the pandemic. It’s also much more cost-effective to hold on to an existing customer than to try and convert brand new ones too.

It’s vital to keep in touch with your existing customers and tailor your messaging in a way which builds long-term brand affinity. Don’t go quiet on your regulars and share your thoughts and ideas in the form of helpful content. Including:

  • Creating an informative FAQs style page which collates any customers queries asked over the last few weeks and any relevant search queries discovered through keyword research.
  • Sending out targeted email campaigns, avoid any automated messaging and generalised template, speak to your customers on a human level and they’re more likely to listen.

3. Ramp up communication

In a time where we are told to self-isolate and work remotely wherever possible, communication is now more vital than ever.

Businesses must increase communication with their customers old and new and update them regularly on any changes to service, products or delivery. That means keeping website landing pages, blog posts, social messaging, ad campaigns and every other marketing channel as up to date as possible at all times.

For example, here are a couple of ways to use social media to connect with customers and communicate directly:

  • Using your social channels to update users with any immediate changes to the business, including opening times, delivery changes, company procedures and stock changes.
  • If you have a large, regular customer base who need to be updated regularly on the changing situation – consider setting up a Facebook group or online networking forum to enable communication. 

However you decide to keep in touch with customers, it’s essential to do it consistently and regularly.

4. Do even more to be seen online

Econsultancy comments that COVID-19 “is forcing a rapid evolution and reinvention of infrastructure and processes as almost everything shifts online: from food orders to grocery shopping, business meetings to entertainment.”

Their recent survey with Marketing Week dug deeper and discovered that of the 500 marketers studied at major brands in the UK, “91% predict an increase in the use of online services by consumers in the midst of the outbreak.”

However “43% of the same respondents admitted that planned technology or infrastructure spending in their own companies was either delayed or under review.”

Building brand awareness and online visibility are essential during this critical period, not only to continue to drive traffic to your website and maintain sales but also to build the best SEO foundations for when businesses come out of the other side. We have mentioned the importance of micro-moments in an earlier blog post, and the premise remains:

People are led by thoughts, experiences and influences during the smaller moments of their day, searching in want-to-know, want-to-do and want-to-buy moments. Each of these searches represents an opportunity for a brand to influence and shape customer decisions.

More people are moving online during COVID-19, and your business must be appearing in every relevant moment that users are searching for something you are offering.

There are several cost-saving ways to do this, including:

  • Update your existing content. Recycling older blog content enables you to use the foundations of a good blog post and make it relevant for the here and now. Google’s search algorithm considers many factors when ranking content and often prioritises freshness in the search results.
  • Explore cost-saving techniques to keep you visible. Budgets may be tighter, so it’s crucial to invest money into their areas of digital marketing which will keep you visible in the right places throughout this period. Create high quality, shareable content that is likely to have a more significant impact rather than content from a content plan created months ago that will have less bearing in the current climate.
  • Echo the biggest conversations happening online. Everything is centred around Coronavirus right now, and it’s important to plug into the conversation and offer meaningful input for your users. That means, sharing advice from experts, urging the adherence to government guidelines and informing users how your business is operating during these extraordinary times. 

5. Tighten up your targeting

Going back to our thoughts on focusing on your existing customer base, we’re advising many of our clients to shift a large proportion of their ad spend from prospecting to retargeting.

The beauty of PPC and other forms of biddable media is that you can choose exactly where to target your spend and it’s essential to spend it accurately. Here are some other ways to tighten up your targeting and limit any wasted spend:

Ensuring budget is being utilised on campaigns and keywords where you can meet:

  • Evaluate your current KPIs and how they stand up against the opportunities and threats within the current climate.
  • Review your sitelinks and ensure they are directing customers to the most important pages, such as delivery information and FAQ pages.
  • Amend your ad copy to ensure your tone and messaging is in line with the competition and speaks to customers in the right way.
  • Limit spending to areas where you can realistically meet demand.
  • Use ad scheduling to ensure that your ads are only shown during times where your customers can speak to someone if they require help.

6. Measure and monitor everyday

Measuring performance has always been vital for any campaign to inform an ongoing strategy. After all, you can’t measure how well your campaigns are performing without tracking the results of what you’re aiming to achieve.

You need to be measuring your campaign performance against your core objectives relating to leads, sales and traffic. During this time, you need to stay vigilant to your customer behaviour, so you can understand how COVID-19 is impacting buyer journeys to alleviate any issues and spot new opportunities. Here are a few ways Google Analytics can help:

  • Monitoring the key metrics via Google Analytics will give you an up-to-date impression of how people are using your website. For example, they could be seeking out different products or services or reading specific landing pages (delivery, terms and conditions, etc.). This sort of information can help you establish if you are providing users with what they need during this time.
  • You can set up notifications and alerts for what is considered irregular website activity including things like significant drops in traffic, blog post page views, surges in enquiries etc.
  • As we are making more changes than usual during this time, we must keep track of what we have done. Use annotations in Google Analytics to better understand how your changes have impacted your website. Example annotations include “guideline changes marketing email sent”, “ad spend reduced” and “office hours changed/reduced”.

Marketing budgets need to be focused in the areas which are delivering a return on investment and knowing exactly where that is, is critical for maintaining sales and activity.

7. Look ahead to the future

Although it seems particularly scary at this moment in time, the coronavirus outbreak will eventually stabilise. Once we see this happen, consumer habits in terms of spending and online activity will return, perhaps, bigger than ever before.

You need to prepare your business for what many are calling the ‘bounce-back surge’ and looking ahead to a brighter future online. Consider and research how you could adjust your products or service to meet customer demand once the pandemic is finally under control. Now is the time to be proactive rather than reactive and think about how your business will recover any lost ground and discover new opportunities post COVID-19. 

All we can hope for is that the Coronavirus outbreak will pass sooner rather than later. In the meantime, we should all adhere to the verified information and advice from NHS and World Health Organisation and follow the government guidelines as best we can to keep the country safe.

As for your digital marketing, this is the time to invest in a better future for your business when all this is over (and it will be).

Stay safe and if possible, stay indoors.