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SEO During A Recession (Does It Still Work?)

December 28, 202210 min read

Search engine optimization can be one of your most valuable tools in an economic downturn. Here’s what you need to know.

It doesn’t take a professional economist to predict the global markets are headed for a downturn.

In the past year, inflation rates in the United States have hovered around 7%, with the IMF predicting the worst is yet to come. People everywhere feel the crunch of high gas prices and rising food costs.

And as expenses rise, many businesses are preparing to tighten their belts, cut unnecessary spending and ride out the storm until the global markets turn back around.

As you’re looking to cut the fat in your own company, it can be very tempting to slash your advertising and marketing budget.

This is a huge mistake.

By eliminating or even scaling down your marketing efforts, you’re hurting the growth and maintenance of your customer base. New customers will be harder to reach while existing customers will be unaware of new products, services, and deals.

Remember, marketing is an investment – not an expense. And in an age dominated by the internet, this is especially true of search engine optimization.

So, if you are considering cutting your SEO budget, DON’T DO IT.

Seriously. Don’t even think about it.

SEO can continue to move the needle for your business, even when other growth initiatives are coming up short.

In this piece, we’ll look at why that happens and show why SEO should be an important part of your marketing plan, no matter the economic conditions.

Why Does SEO Do Well In Economic Downturns?

When times are tough, you need to find a better value for your dollar. Your money needs to stretch further and work harder.

In marketing, few channels work harder than search for most products and services.

How do we know this? Because economies are cyclical, and this isn’t our first recession rodeo.

In the SEO era (i.e., since roughly 1991), we’ve had three significant recessions. During these times, it’s been discovered that SEO still performs. This can be attributed to a few reasons, namely:

  • It’s flexible: Even if you’re a small fish competing with an industry-dominating competitor, SEO gives you the flexibility to attract new customers. Long-tail keywords help you target highly specific searches. Local search helps people in your area find you, and a regularly updated website lets visitors know that you’re thriving (or at least maintaining), despite the larger economic environment.

  • It’s integrated: SEO fits in with your Facebook, Snapchat, or any other to help your business appear in search results. This creates an inbound marketing funnel just by taking an optimal approach to things you’re probably already doing.

  • It’s budget-friendly: Aside from your computer/internet/electricity costs – all of which you’re already paying for – SEO is primarily a time investment. Even if you’re outsourcing your search engine optimization, you’re paying for your expert’s time and not hard costs like billboards, paid digital ads, and television commercials (all of which also require a labor investment).

To reap the benefits of SEO, you don’t need to buy anything; you only need to do your homework, create great content, and optimize your site for web crawlers.

Now that we’ve established that SEO can work in times of economic uncertainty, let’s look at what you need to do to make it work for you.

How To Prepare For SEO In A Bad Economy

Whether you are a freelancer, an agency, or an in-house SEO, there are things you need to do to prepare your decision-makers for an economic downturn.

If you skip this, there’s a good chance you’ll get cut with the rest of the marketing budget.

When the economy takes a turn for the worse, the key to keeping decision-makers on board with search marketing efforts comes down to effective tracking and communication about the value it provides.

The first step is to ensure that you and your client are up to date on how the campaign is performing.

If you don’t already know your customer lifetime value and customer acquisition costs, now is the time to figure them out. This will give you a metric to keep in mind when calculating the value of your SEO work.

You need to adopt attribution modeling if you are still looking at last-click metrics for search.

Your goal is to make your work irreplaceable. This means communicating your value early and often.

You also need to let decision-makers know that even if someone comes in offering to do the job cheaper (and they will), your results will more than makeup for any additional costs of hiring you.

But to do that, you need to be on the same page with the decision-maker.

To be on the same page, you must agree on the results.

Goals Are The Key To Reducing Churn During Downtimes

Once you agree on the results, you can start setting smart goals for what the results will be.

Set the goal and get the decision-maker to agree to it. This helps you set yourself up for long-term success.

And get it in writing (either on paper or digitally), if possible, with both parties signing off.

This establishes in no uncertain terms that the relationship will continue if the goals are met.

It’s definitely a risk if you don’t hit the goals, so don’t set a goal you don’t think you can hit.

If the decision-maker wants to set an unrealistic goal, you need to push back.

Suggest making the unrealistic goal a “stretch goal” and setting a more realistic actual goal.

Don’t get pressured into agreeing to something you can’t deliver.

And make sure your plans are tailored to your specific situation, whether that’s as a freelancer, SEO agency, or B2B marketer.

As A Freelancer: Diversify And Focus On Core Competencies

For people who make a living by selling their services and expertise to businesses, recessions can be scary.

And it’s not just about an inability to find new clients – it could be existing clients who decide to reduce their costs by taking SEO in-house or even old clients who suddenly don’t have the money to pay you.

There’s no guaranteed way to keep your clients, and unfortunately, attrition is part of the game. That said, there are a few things you can do to set yourself up for continued success.

The first thing you should do is diversify your client base. Certain industries are going to be hit harder by recessions than others.

While this can be great if your clients are largely unaffected, it can be downright disastrous if they’re struggling in an industry. And it can be hard to predict which fields will struggle and which will thrive.

You must also find measurable ways to prove your value and expand your core competencies. That means clearly defining your goals (see above section). It also means changing the queries you’re targeting to reflect economy-driven changes in customer behavior.

For more information, we have an excellent article from the COVID-19 recession in which SEO experts gave us their tips for keeping SEO clients when things are rough.

As An Agency: Manage Relationships With Existing Clients

If you’ve been at a digital agency during a recession, you already know marketing budgets are usually one of the first things to get cut. And that makes good client management absolutely vital.

Communication and personal touch can go a long way to demonstrating your commitment to your clients. Of course, getting measurable results doesn’t hurt either.

You should use the recession as a chance to find new opportunity areas. What has changed about the client’s target customer’s behavior because of financial strain? How can you help the client position themselves as the perfect solution?

Focus on enhancing your relationships, offer timely advice, and, when in doubt, over-communicate. These are surefire ways to stay in your clients’ good graces.

You also need to understand where your agency is at risk. If you’re afraid you’ll lose clients, identify specific actions you can take to mitigate that risk.

Review your software subscriptions and other tools to see if you can afford to cut one or more if need be.

Because everyone is worried about their business, it can also be a good time to renegotiate with vendors.

And don’t forget about your team. Your employees are going to be just as stressed as everyone else. Have a tangible plan for keeping them motivated and productive.

For more ideas about how to sustain your SEO agency during a recession, be sure to read this piece.

As A B2B: Prioritize The Right Marketing Strategy And Platform

In a shaky economy, business-to-business (B2B) marketing needs to work harder and do more. And search engine optimization is a key area where you can outwork your competition without stretching your budget.

While you may be tempted to switch all your resources to areas offering short-term results like sales promotions or performance marketing, abandoning your SEO strategy is a big mistake.

For one thing, you’re forsaking all the hard work you’ve already done to get your site to rank on Google, which allows your competitors to swoop in and steal those clicks from right under you.

Not to mention, you risk being forgotten once the recession ends.

Instead of panicking, reevaluate your SEO strategy.

How were you performing before the recession? What keywords were you strong in, and which were you weak in? Are there any related queries you can start targeting that will bring in visitors others in your field may be overlooking?

Give potential customers or clients confidence in your offerings by prominently featuring reviews, testimonials, and case studies on your website. These tend to use the vernacular of your industry, which helps your ranking too.

You should also rethink what platforms you’re using. Obviously, your SEO strategy is going to be primarily focused on Google, adhering to the latest best practices to increase your search engine ranking. Still, it’s also important not to neglect your social media presence.

These are an often-forgotten way to rank in search results for specific keywords, often without much extra work. This is one of the few exceptions where it’s okay to use duplicate content for SEO purposes.

For example, you can share your recent blog post to LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter and generate traffic, all with just a single piece of content.

Be sure to take a close look at your integrated campaigns and how they’re performing.

Are you on the same platform your audience uses? And are you positioned correctly on each one?

For example, if you’re selling scrap metal to industrial companies, posting a video of your employees doing a viral dance to TikTok probably isn’t doing you a bit of good.

For more information on developing a sustainable B2B digital marketing plan, be sure to read this article.

The Bottom Line Is The Bottom Line

Business is all about revenue – and hopefully profit. But in lean times, you can’t adopt the same tactics that you used in the salad days.

You need to make smarter decisions allowing you to operate more efficiently without sacrificing quality. And this is especially true of your SEO strategy.

Just remember, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. No recession will last forever, and neither will any boom period.

That’s why it’s important to consistently find new ways to add value with search engine optimization. Set your goals, identify your strengths and weaknesses, and don’t lose heart.

If you can do these things, you’ll be set to come out of the looming recession even stronger than you went in.

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