Proactive businesses which work on their online visibility have the edge

Our company provides advertising and marketing services to all kinds of businesses to help them find new customers and boost business. It’s normally a straightforward process to develop strategies for our advertisers. But these are not normal times.

There has never been a more important time to be visible to searchers online. Businesses which are doing SEO should keep going.  Those which are not should consider starting now. If all a business can do is add information to the site to help answer consumers’ search needs, they should do that.

Understanding the challenge. In a recent survey of the economic experts that make up the IGM Forum, almost half responded that the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to cause a major recession, primarily because of reduced consumer spending.

Eighty-nine percent of U.S. businesses with employees have fewer than 20 employees, according to the Census Bureau’s 2016 Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs.

Tens of thousands of U.S. businesses have closed (hopefully temporarily) or are operating on a much smaller scale. Businesses that depend on foot traffic have seen the most dramatic drop in sales. A partial list includes:

  • Restaurants
  • Private event venues and event managers
  • Wedding-related businesses
  • Restaurants and pubs
  • Retail stores except those deemed essential
  • Salons
  • Hotels and other travel-related businesses
  • Dentists and orthodontists
  • Childcare centers
  • Sporting venues and their athletic teams
  • Concert and live performance venues and their performers
  • Movie theatres
  • Public transportation and ride sharing companies

Everyone is hoping for a return to normalcy as soon as possible, but the disruption will last for a few months at least. Some of these businesses can pivot and salvage a portion of that lost revenue by serving customers online or via pickup and delivery of products. Those businesses may be able to continue operating and set themselves up for a faster recovery in the future. The key is to work on their online visibility.

What is online visibility? 

A business has good online visibility if they can easily be found in search and social media. There are specific strategies for getting found in organic and local (maps) search in the current climate. If a business’ website doesn’t show up well in search, they cannot be considered by the consumer who is researching the product or service they need. This is more important now than ever before.

Our lives have changed, so our searches have changed, too. To help limit the spread of coronavirus, many are working from home and their children are staying home. Very few are going out for entertainment or shopping in stores. They still need the daily essentials of living, from groceries and pet supplies to household products and even some essential services. They also need essentials to help them with their changed routines, such as home office furniture and supplies. They want to be entertained, educated, connected, and comforted.

Businesses that are highly visible to consumers looking online for those things will be in position to provide them now. And looking at the big picture, businesses that retain their overall visibility online will be able to rebound faster when things get back to normal.

Organic search. One of the most important ways to be visible online is through organic search results (not the paid search ads but the regular search results in the middle).

Just over 45% of Google searches on desktop and mobile combined result in clicks to non-Google websites such as a business site, and about 41% of those clicks are from organic search, according to a 2019 study by Jumpshot / SparkToro.

Both have their purpose in the customer journey – organic search helps most when customers are researching and considering alternatives, and paid search helps most as customers get ready to take action.

How businesses can re-align with changes in search intent. Consumers often turn to search to meet one of four types of desires (called Micro-Moments by Google):  I want to know, I want to go, I want to do, I want to buy.  But what happens when few consumers “want to go” right now?

Businesses and the marketers that help them can watch how searches are changing for clues about how to meet customers where they are. Using Google Trends, we know that searchers who “want to go” are now searching for online concerts, meetings, and entertainment to pass the time, and some are searching for places to go when things are back to normal.

For example, a local Beaverton winery just had their virtual wine tasting as a free online meeting (with optional purchase and delivery in advance, of course). The winemakers and their expert speakers had some good wine conversation with a group of people who will remember this moment and later visit the business in person.

Search trends in the last 30 days show there is much more demand now for:

  • Online meetings and video calls
  • Online games
  • Food or beverage delivery
  • Takeout
  • Learn at home, home schooling, etc.
  • Hand sanitizer, toilet paper, etc.

Most of these trending searches show an increase in interest that looks like this one for “toilet paper”:

Future-thinking businesses may have realized that if they turn on a new aspect of their business, such as virtual events, pickup or delivery, they now have an additional revenue stream and way to stay connected to customers from now on.

For businesses that are ready, here are some tips for getting and staying visible online.

  • Retool for currently available offerings.  Businesses which cannot operate their retail stores or offices but can do pickup and/or delivery have a way to continue making money, with some effort.
  • Keep local presence strong.  Changes in hours or available offerings need to be correctly updated in Google My Business and other listings. Doing this wrong causes poor location trust from search engines like Google, which impacts local search rankings.
  • Take advantage of slackening competition. With many businesses slowing down or stopping their SEO during this time, those that keep pushing will outpace them in just a few months.
  • Avoid sliding backwards because SEO was stopped. It’s the law of entropy – things like links and business listings naturally break down over time. Only consistent work on regular basis will maintain a website’s authority and relevance.  
  • Prepare for the tidal wave. Once people have returned to work and can travel, there will be enormous pent-up demand as consumers start making those purchases they have been putting off. Having a prominent place in search results means being considered earlier and more often.
  • Invest in the future.  SEO isn’t something you can simply “pause” and resume later without disruption. There is a lag effect after the work is done to a website before it shows up more prominently in search.  Continuing to work on content and backlinks will stabilize search-based revenue months down the road.
  • Continue to reach customers with buying intent.  Having good rankings in search results is the best way to reach consumers with buying intent. More than 40% of clicks from Google to business websites are from organic search results. When combined with the fast visibility Paid Search provides, businesses are well-positioned to get higher conversions.

Companies that focus on these details will find opportunity even in challenging times and for a long time afterward. Advance Local’s digital marketing experts can help them adjust their strategy for a successful future.