During an economic downturn, a lot of businesses think about cutting marketing costs. The first on the chopping block are tactics that don’t have a clearly understood return on investment (ROI), and unfortunately, those can be some of the most valuablein your marketing mix. Many CMOs and high-level executives value tactics like paid advertising, social media ads, and email marketing because they demonstrate a clear ROI. For example, you execute an email campaign and can easily see the opens, clicks, and direct sales brought in.
One of the most common marketing tactics cut first in a downturn is search engine optimization (SEO), even though data shows many people use search engines to find products and services in all economic conditions. In fact, Google found that mobile searches for “online shopping” grew 180% over the last two years. Additionally, the pandemic accelerated online sales to an unprecedented degree. According to Gartner, B2B website transactions will overtake human-led sales by 2023. Finally, eCommerce sales increased to $870 Billion in 2021—a 14% increase over 2020 and a 50% jump over 2019. Many of these sales are generated from searches.
Organic Search Traffic Is the Most Undervalued Marketing Tactic
Studies show that 53% of shoppers always do research before buying a product. Search engines play a role here by helping shoppers look up reviews and testimonials, find prices, and land on a company’s website to help them make better purchasing decisions.
One reason the value of SEO tends to be misunderstood is because a piece of content, like a blog post, can take anywhere from 2 to 6 months to rank well in the search engine results pages (SERPs) whereas a paid search ad can generate conversions within a day or two. However, companies that invest in optimizing their website and creating new content regularly can build brand awareness, generate new and repeat customers, and implement a recession-proof marketing approach that has the flexibility to keep up with constant changes in search algorithms and economic conditions.
SEO Benefits During a Recession
Here are a few SEO benefits worth knowing and why you should invest in SEO during a recession.
1. People Have Adopted a Search-first Mindset
Economic changes shift buyer habits. During the pandemic, we saw consumers adopting a much greater search-first mindset. For example, Google’s search engine processed 3.5 billion daily searches before the pandemic. That number increased by 60% to a whopping 5.6 billion daily search queries by the end of 2021.
When times get tough, consumers tighten their belts and are reluctant to spend money, particularly on non-essential items. That can lead to a decrease in conversions, sales, and profit. When every dollar counts, SEO becomes even more important to make sure your brand shows up as the best and most-trusted option for what cost-conscious customers are looking for.
2. Organic Efforts Can Reduce Dependency on Paid Channels
SEO is perceived as relatively easy to cut because it’s easier to demonstrate ROI on an ad campaign rather than on website content. Executives feel more comfortable seeing the number of clicks or leads that come from each ad and have a harder time understanding how organic traffic affects their business in the short term.
What many people don’t realize is organic search results have a click-through rate (CTR) that’s 10x higher than paid search ads. The top results in Google’s organic search results yield an average CTR of 31.7%. Compare that to paid search ads, which only get a CTR of 3.17%. So, whoever stays on top of the organic search results gets much better performance than what is generated from paid search campaigns. And, the more content you publish, the better your site ranks. So, there’s a cumulative effect to SEO that continually improves your CTR over the long term.
3. SEO is Affordable
Virtually any marketing tactic requires a constant flow of marketing dollars to maximize its performance. This is not so with SEO. SEO clicks do not incur any direct cost, making SEO one of the most economical marketing tactics to double down on in a recession. SEO can be time intensive, but the out-of-pocket costs are relatively low. Search engine optimization tools cost about $200 per month, a good SEO strategy could cost you around $5,000, and ongoing content writing is affordable as well. Even if you hire an agency to help you with SEO, an ongoing retainer can still be small in comparison to other media expenses within your organization.
Once you have a steady flow of content posted and optimized on your site, you can slowly increase the number of keywords you rank for and, as a result, increase the amount of traffic you get over time. As you publish more posts on a certain topic, Google begins to see you as an authority in that niche, and your rankings slowly increase. Then every new article you publish on that topic gets an automatic boost and has a higher chance of ranking on the SERPs. All of this can be accomplished with a minimal financial investment.
4. SEO Data Enriches Your Marketing Mix
SEO is a great way to drive traffic to your site. However, that does not mean these people will necessarily
buy from you. In fact, average website conversion rates range from 2-5%. This should not be surprising since many first-time site visitors are just looking for information. Once you know the areas of your site or the types of information your site visitors viewed, you can re- engage or target them with relevant ads on other sites they visit (also known as “retargeting”).
Companies that run retargeting campaigns see increased time on their websites and lower bounce rates.
The data that you get from your SEO efforts can and should inform the rest of your marketing mix, including paid search, online display, email marketing, and even social media. Understanding which keywords convert best and what kinds of content are most engaging can help make media initiatives across the customer journey more effective. Conversely, using performance data from paid search campaigns to improve SEO is also a beneficial move.
So, while cutting SEO might seem to make sense in a downturn, its elimination can have a negative impact on overall media performance.
5. You Can Seize the Opportunity When Competitors Cut Back
As we have discussed, during a recession customers become much more price-conscious and take extra care to make sure they are spending their hard- earned dollars with companies they trust. If you stop your SEO efforts, you most likely will see a drop in your ranking on the SERPs. The same is true for your competitors. When they pull back on SEO, their rankings slip, but by saying the course, your rankings rise. Consistent high placement in the SERPs communicates to potential customers that your company is alive and well and ready to serve their needs.
When the economy heats back up, your competitors will be scrambling to reassert themselves in the SERPs. However, your business will continue to thrive, and it will take less effort to maintain your strong SERP position because you have been in front of customers throughout the downturn and are a trusted authority in the eyes of Google.
SEO is the Best Hedge in an Economic Downturn
Don’t put SEO on the chopping block when the pressure is on to cut spending. Yes, SEO is less showy than other media types, and the ROI from organic traffic is harder to track. But in a recession, SEO helps keep your brand front and center, connect with price- sensitive customers, and grow your business for five simple reasons:
- Both business-to-business and business-to- consumer customers are adopting a search-first mindset
- Organic search can help offset dependency on paid channels
- SEO is affordable
- SEO can help improve the performance of your entire marketing mix
- A consistent approach to SEO when competitors cut back can pay big dividends