While the coronavirus has increased internet usage exponentially, it has also caused search traffic to business websites to plummet in many industries. Does this mean that SEO is useless for your business right now? Absolutely not.
This post takes a look at the case for and benefits of SEO for small businesses—even the nonessential ones—viewed through the lens of COVID-19 trends and behaviors. In this post, we’re going to cover:
- The impact of COVID-19 on search traffic.
- Why SEO matters during the coronavirus pandemic.
- Why SEO may be especially important for SMBs during the pandemic.
It may seem like you’re up against some pretty stiff SEO competition during COVID-19, but SEO is not useless right now.
The impact of COVID-19 on search traffic
You’ve heard a lot of people tell you that SEO is important right now because internet use is the highest it’s ever been. The first part of that statement—that SEO is important—is true, but the reason why needs some more investigation. Let me explain.
Yes, internet use has skyrocketed during this outbreak, but don’t forget that “internet use” does not refer exclusively to online search. In addition to search, it includes a wide array of activities such electronic transfers, virtual meetings, gaming, movie streaming, mobile apps, social media, and more.
This chart from Statista (published pre-coronavirus) shows us that internet use includes more than online search.
That is not to say that online search has not increased. In a time marked by so many questions and a significant uptick in at-home pursuits, search volume certainly has, but with a focus on health, news, and other highly relevant industries. As a result, this has caused a decline in traffic to nonessential business websites (many of which are small businesses)—from both paid and organic results.
Paid search traffic decline, courtesy of our COVID-19 Business Trends post.
This means that SEO looks very different depending on the industry.
- For relevant and essential businesses, SEO is important for standing out and getting chosen over competitors in search results.
- For nonessential and temporarily closed businesses, SEO seems a lot less important—pointless, actually.
But SEO is important, and might even be essential, for all SMBs during the coronavirus pandemic. Read on to learn why SEO is a worthwhile focus for your business right now, as well as some tangible steps you can take to positively impact your website traffic.
Why SEO matters during COVID-19
While there has been a lot of misinformation floating around, many facts remain that highlight the importance of SEO despite declines in search traffic.
Fact #1: COVID-19 is trending
Yes, it feels like it’s been forever, and yes, it will have long-term repercussions, but no, the coronavirus will not be at the forefront of search forever. Evergreen questions your customers have, on the other hand, will remain relevant long after the outbreak has subsided.
This is not to minimize COVID-19: It is still a major topic, a serious issue, and an ongoing event. It is simply a reality that, over time, it will subside.
While still a serious and global issue, the decreasing volume of the search term “COVID-19” reminds us that it is nevertheless a trend.
Fact #2: Evergreen content is still key
It’s okay to write about trending topics as they relate to your business, but these pages will naturally decline in traffic over time. They also are less likely to rank in the first place, since leading brands and high authority websites will dominate page one results. Content written on evergreen topics within your niche, on the other hand, stays relevant and accumulates traffic over time. As such, there is never a bad time to publish content on evergreen topics.
Fact #3: SEO is not just about traffic
The purpose of SEO is not simply to increase website traffic but to increase qualified traffic. This means that visitors who are finding their way to your website in the face of opposing trends are most likely very interested in what you have to offer. In this sense, SEO can help you identify highly qualified leads for your business, even if to nurture in the future.
Fact #4: SEO gains are long-term
SEO is about gaining trust from search engines, and the only way to achieve this is slowly, over time, through consistent output. Since significant gains from SEO don’t typically happen until three or so months down the line anyway, there is plenty you can be doing now that is worth your while.
In fact, a study conducted by Ahrefs found that only 1% of pages that ranked in the first position on Google were less than a year old.
An Ahrefs study showed a positive correlation between page age and position (on the first page of Google).
Fact #5: Search is going to become more important
As mentioned earlier in this post, traffic to many websites from search engines may be down, but traffic to search engines is not. People who used to listen to the radio on their commute are now checking Google for updates. Older generation consumers who used to rely on their caretakers are now using voice assistants to get answers.
Not only has our already-growing reliance on search engines accelerated during COVID-19, but our already-advancing search platforms are also now skyrocketing ahead. This makes search engine marketing (whether in the form of PPC or SEO) an even more mission-critical pursuit for businesses down the line.
Why SEO is especially important for SMBs during COVID-19
We’ve covered why COVID-19 has strengthened the case for SEO as a marketing strategy for businesses in general, but now let’s dive a little deeper and look at why it’s particularly important for small businesses.
Local search is crucial
With so many closings and with people unable to venture far, local search optimization is crucial. Local SEO tactics will help you to appear for “open now” and “near me” searches.
“Open now” searches have been on the rise since the pandemic began.
If you’re not open now or able to provide services, you should still optimize your business to get found, because you can direct people to your online services and include important information, including reopening dates, in your content. You also want to be set up for success when your business does open back up again.
People are looking to support SMBs
Another reason local SEO is important during the pandemic is that in the spirit of the #supportsmallbusiness movement happening across US communities, consumers are making an effort to use local businesses over big brands. Your SEO strategy will connect you with people looking for local businesses to support.
SEO gives SMBs a competitive edge
Consumers don’t often become customers immediately; it takes multiple encounters. And the informative blog posts you publish as a part of your SEO strategy make for trust-building, familiarity-breeding, quality encounters. When consumers are able to venture out again and they start looking up businesses near them, which ones do you think they’ll call? The ones that they’ve never heard of before or the ones they’ve seen a few times now during all that web surfing over the past few months…
In fact, according to HubSpot, companies that publish 16 or more blog posts per month generate 4.5X more leads than those that publish four posts (or less).
There are ways to rank during COVID-19
Even though search is dominated by coronavirus terms and results are dominated by name brands and news sites, there are still ways to rank on the first page of Google during COVID-19—which we’ll talk about later in this post.
Small business Beacon Telecom ranks on the first page of Google for both local and organic results.
SEO is free
One of the advantages of SEO over PPC marketing is that it is free. However, it takes a significant investment of time—both to understand it, then produce content, and then stay on top of it. However, with operations slow or halted, SMB owners may now have that time they need to set the wheels in motion.
SEO tactics for SMBs During COVID-19
So maybe you’re convinced that SEO is essential for your nonessential small business right now. Great! But, where do you start? We also have a beginner’s guide SEO if you’re really just starting out. But for a general list of tactics, here are some strategies worth considering:
- Write and stockpile high-quality, evergreen blog posts
- Target both coronavirus-related search terms and unrelated search terms
- Conduct a local listing audit
- Create or update your Google My Business listing.
- Get featured in a local media article with a backlink to your site
- Update already-performing content
Make SEO a priority during COVID-19
We covered a lot in this post, so let’s recap. SEO matters during COVID-19 because:
- There is no “bad” time to publish evergreen content, a staple of SEO.
- The visitors you do attract right now are likely to be highly qualified.
- SEO gains won’t start paying off until three to six months out.
- Search is only going to be more ingrained in our lives after the pandemic.
SEO is especially important for small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic because:
- Travel restrictions are causing consumers to seek out nearby businesses.
- Consumers are looking for SMBs to support.
- SEO is the means by which SMBs can stand apart from competitors.
- It is free and you might just have the time.
SEO may be a potential solution for businesses experiencing the financial burdens and slower pacing of COVID-19. It can help you to become more visible on searches being performed now, and also to set yourself up for success once search behavior normalizes.