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Working from home - COVID-19

Gavin Hirst - Tuesday 5th May 2020


SEO in a post-COVID-19 world – 9 top tips

We have been mulling over this post since we first heard that New Zealand was going to go into a Level 4 lockdown at the end of March, however finding the right words at the right time is not always easy to do.

We work with many businesses large and small, and not a single one of them has not felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. From our clients in the tourism sector who have been hit the hardest to our e-commerce clients who are starting to see a small light at the end of the tunnel, these have been unprecedented times.

For the last month, we have all been trying to get to grips with a different way of living – firstly as humans but also as professionals. Whilst trying to write this post, we have often come up with more questions than answers.

Unprecedented means just that. We have never seen anything like this before so there is no playbook for how we need to move forward.

However, here in New Zealand, as we navigate our way through Level 3 of this lockdown, we think it’s the right time to start thinking about a way forward for businesses online. Level 2 of the lockdown means that New Zealand could soon be back to some form of normality. Whilst travel restrictions will still be in place, local and regional travel will more than likely be possible and most businesses will be open with appropriate measures in place.

With that in mind, it is time for many businesses to turn their attention to the performance of their websites. Understandably, many businesses have had to put SEO work on hold during this uncertain time, however moving forward, your website could be more valuable than ever and those that have managed to maintain their SEO activity throughout the lockdown have really reaped the rewards – one of our clients has seen a 231% uplift in organic traffic year on year in April.

Whilst this is not the case across all sectors, there are things that most businesses should be thinking about as we head out of lockdown. Here are nine of our top tips for SEO in a post-COVID-19 world:

1.      Create content that builds trust

Forrester released a report this past month to measure how consumer sentiment has been influenced since COVID-19. The report stated, “Consumers are less optimistic that people and companies will follow through on the promises they make.”

That’s why creating and promoting content that helps to build trust with your existing audience and potential customers are essential to building the long term future of your business.

Now is not the time to be pushing content with a ‘hard sell’ focus. Now is the time to demonstrate how you are supporting your staff and your existing customers. This support can come in a wide variety of formats – educational content has been important in helping brands to build trust. Offering free upgrades or access to content that is usually behind a pay-wall has also helped many brands to engage with customers in this difficult time with no pressure for them to continue with a paid account once the dust settles.

Customers need transparency and they want to trust not only the brand but the people behind the brand. Make your content personal and draw on your own experience of COVID-19.

This is a crucial time for so many businesses and whilst the urge may be to go out and try and acquire new customers as quickly as possible, customers need to be earned and not acquired at this time.

Bonus: If you want to learn more about searcher behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic, make sure you check out this in-depth post from Venngage which looks at how you can use SEO data to fuel your content marketing efforts post-COVID-19.

2.      Develop on-point offers

Understanding your customers and what they need during this time is essential to not only building trust, but to earning new customers as we move forward.

You need to make sure you are asking the right questions during this time to understand and match what your customers need with what you as a business can offer them during this time.

It’s important to try and answer all of your customer’s questions either through the content you are creating or the offers you are providing. Don’t make it about the hard sell. Make it about meeting your customers’ needs with offers that are on-point.

Things like free trials, membership upgrades and subscription discounts can all help to ease the strain on your customers at this time. Flexible opening hours and home delivery options are another great way to build brand loyalty as well as meeting the needs of your customers. Even extending refund and return options whilst customers are unable to physically view and feel products.

FAQ content is important at this time. Use it to drive the content you are creating to help meet the needs of your customers.

3.      Provide guidance and answer key questions

We’ve already touched on this above, however tackling the key questions your existing customers have, or answering the questions that any prospective customers might have is crucial at this time.

FAQ content is extremely valuable and with the markup options that are now available (see 4), it’s also a great chance to increase your visibility within the search results.

People have never spent so much time online. Make sure the content you are creating answers to those key questions but does so in a way that engages your customers and feeds there need to consume media during these uncertain times.

4.      Utilise relevant schema markups

Schema markup is a way to add a lot more information to your website without exposing it on your website to your customers.

It’s data that is for the crawlers to pick up and use that information to add you to their Knowledge Graph.

There are lots of different schema types available and as a good general practice, you should already be using the ones most relevant to the content on your website, however, during this COVID-19 crisis, there are some specific types of schema that can really help with your visibility in the search results as well as helping your content to rank better.

Here are some of the best schema markups to use during this time:

  • Opening Hours Specification – keeping customers up to date with your opening hours is an important way of communicating with them
  • Frequently Asked Questions – As mentioned above, trying to answer all your customers’ questions is important during this time and a dedicated FAQ page with markup will really help your visibility in search and help to answer customer questions
  • Q&A – as well as FAQ schema, there is also a markup for Q&A content where customers may be the ones who supply the answers to questions
  • How To – part of the same release as FAQ and Q&A schema, if you have any specific how-to content on your website, make sure you mark it up using the How To schema

5.      Focus on your local markets

The local space has been a strange one throughout the COVID-19 lockdown period here in New Zealand. With many businesses marked as temporarily closed, we have seen a reduction in the number of local map pack listings within the search results as well as seeing some fluctuating results for clients who are usually consistently appearing on the top three results within the map packs.

Google My Business continues to be a key tool in managing your local presence and our advice would be to update this on a regular basis.

We use GMB Posts for a number of clients and have found them to be highly engaging throughout this period. Keeping customers up to date with developments within your business and letting them know your future planning means you help to build the trust we talked about in point 1.

Keeping your hours of business up to date and using Posts to showcase what you as a business are doing to protect the wellbeing of your staff and customers is a great way to build trust and showcase the more personal side of the business.

As we move through the next levels of COVID-19 here in New Zealand, don’t expect to see many international visitors any time soon. That’s why it’s crucial for you to focus on local markets starting right on your own doorstep. Engaging with your local community on and offline is crucial to building up brand affinity and in the long term, securing new customers.

6.      Focus on E-A-T

Now more than ever is the time for you to focus on E-A-T – Expertise, Authority and Trust.

This is what your audience wants to see. A brand that demonstrates their expertise, authority and trust around the topics that your customers are researching.

E-A-T supports points one and three – as more and more people are online and looking for answers, it’s your job as a brand to provide them with your knowledge and expertise on the areas that are most relevant to your business.

When creating content, make sure you link out to trustworthy sources. There has been as much misinformation around COVID-19 as there has actual answers to it’s important to align your own messaging and the links you provide within your content to trustworthy and reliable sources that will add value to your customers.

7.      Evaluate how paid campaigns support organic

One thing that we have seen during this COVID-19 pandemic is a huge drop off in the amount of paid advertising in many sectors. As is often the case, marketing budgets are some of the first to be cut in a time of crisis and for many businesses, it has made little sense to carry on advertising when they have not been able to sell, either online or in-store.

However, just because you might not be in a position to sell your product or service right now doesn’t mean you don’t have content that wouldn’t benefit from some paid advertising.

Let’s say you have created a highly engaging piece of content that meets the needs of customers and potential customers looking for information at this time. Realistically, it could take some time for this piece of content to rank high enough organically to drive traffic.

That’s where paid comes in. Use paid campaigns to support your organic efforts at this time and reach your customers with the content you are creating. This will help to build up the trust in your brand and whilst this might be a real top of the funnel encounter, the more people you get into the funnel now, the more you are likely to convert once we get back to some sort of new normality.

8.      Review top performing content and update

We understand that this is a difficult time for all businesses. Staff may have been laid off or be working reduced hours, limiting the resources you have available for creating content and carrying out marketing activities.

That’s why it’s important to understand the content you have already created and establish how existing content could answer some of the questions that are being asked today.

The freshness of content can really help you to rank better – especially if that content really answers the questions that are being asked today. If you have created content that you think answers the questions your customers are currently asking, consider refreshing those content pieces, bringing them up to date with relevant information pertinent to what’s going on in the world today.

It doesn’t need to be COVID-19 specific content either. As long as it answers the questions being asked, is well researched and provides an opportunity to showcase E-A-T then you have a valuable piece of content waiting to be refreshed.

9.      Focus on UX

With more and more people spending more and more time online, it’s important that your website delivers a great user experience.

Following good SEO practices will help to ensure that you are also delivering on UX.

A good site architecture, simple navigation, markup and alt tags can all help to improve the UX of your website whilst also benefiting your SEO efforts.

Take this time to evaluate your own website and look at it from a customer’s perspective. Is information easy to find? Is your content easy to navigate? Are the headings clear? Have you used images and other visual media to help break up the content?

Now is the perfect time to optimise alt text, add relevant headings and subheadings, add relevant internal links and add clear calls-to-action to help customers to navigate through your site and engage with your brand.

Summary

Whilst SEO does require an upfront investment of resources, earned search engine rankings can persist for years. The content you create, optimize and publish today will serve your brand in the future and can be updated to reflect evolving business goals throughout the economic recovery.

Likewise, you have an opportunity now to review your top-performing content, updating and optimising for the current conditions.

Depending on the sector you are based in and the extent to which your operations have been affected, this might not be the time when you can try and convert prospects into sales. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other conversions you can target at this time. Contact forms, newsletter sign-ups and social follows are all conversions that can help to deepen your relationships with customers and prospective customers and enable your brand to stay front on mind when it comes to the time when people are ready to purchase again.

 

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