April 17, 2020

SEO in the Time of COVID-19

The following post is an interview with Arshad Rehman, Vice President and Head of SEO at Statwax. We asked him to share his insights on how the coronavirus is reshaping SEO for companies, and the best way to stay relevant and respectful during this public health crisis. 

What are some ways that search engines are supporting businesses that are impacted by COVID-19?

Search engines are not only working to keep the public informed about coronavirus, but they have also rolled out options to help local businesses.

Google has implemented two features to help companies, one through Google Maps and one through Google My Business. For restaurants and fast food places, there is a new feature on Google Maps. This feature enables a business to highlight if they are open for takeout, drive through, or delivery. As dine-in isn’t an option for most food places right now, this distinction is helpful for those looking to grab a bite to eat. Additionally, it helps restaurants let potential customers know what their options are in an effort to keep some sales going during this time. 

Screenshot of Google Maps Covid 19 options for local businesses
Google Maps COVID-19 options for local businesses

Google My Business has also rolled out features that make it easier for businesses to update their customers. These include:

  • Ability to add a temporarily closed status
  • Updates on product stock levels
  • Any changes in business hours
  • Sharing safety precautions they are taking to avoid exposure to the virus 

What should companies be looking for in their web traffic right now?

Online search behavior has shifted significantly across multiple industries. 

Retail companies have especially seen a shift from users. People are no longer seeking out non-essential goods and luxury items. Instead, customers are focusing on essentials, like baby diapers and toiletries. People are trying to conserve their cash for the most important necessities due to lower cash flow and to limit exposure outside the home. 

Web traffic will be and has been heavily influenced by the offering and essential need of the product/service at a certain time. Users are currently limited on where they can travel, to a more liquid cash flow, and in the social component of their lives.

In addition, check to see if your skew between mobile, desktop, and tablet traffic has changed. More than likely it has and is skewing towards mobile as more people are searching at home. 

Statwax graph data on mobile vs. desktop

Are any industries seeing an uptick in the search for their offerings?

Education institutions and similar industries that shift from offline to online may see a similar number of users still visiting the website before and during the pandemic. The main difference is that the users are now searching for the online alternative to what they originally inquired about in-person, such as attending school. 

I addition, any companies that offer products that help with telework or video conferencing are seeing a huge uptick. Zoom, Houseparty and others are being used by both businesses and individuals to stay connected during this time. If a company offers any service or product in these areas they will be seeing an influx of website visitors and/or users.

What do you recommend companies do to be respectful yet visible to potential customers right now?

Providing relevant advice and helpful strategies is the best way to do your due diligence to help your potential customers in this crisis. This content is also a good way to be at the forefront and visible on search results pages. Almost every company has been impacted financially and are looking for tips and tactics to adjust its business strategy. 

Understanding the pain points of your potential customer during an economic crisis is key. Figuring out what the user is looking to get expert advice on will help you craft better content. Sites like AnswerThePublic.com are a great place to understand question-based search queries your potential customers may be researching on the web during this time. Answering user-specific questions on your website, with an emphasis around coronavirus related terms, will put you in a better position to rank for featured snippets.

Another strategy to increase visibility and still provide value for potential customers is to focus on building your video presence. Working from home has created more time for people to watch videos and webinars alongside their daily work. I suggest taking your existing video content and cutting it down into a mini video series and uploading it to YouTube. Doing so will provide you with the SEO benefit when linking back to your site from the video platform. If you don’t have video content, don’t worry about having to spend a lot of resources on producing something fancy. Simply record yourself screen-sharing a few relevant points for your consumers. Upload that content to your site or video sharing services. This enables you to showcase the personal side of your brand while still providing useful knowledge and showing commitment to customers.  

What is an SEO strategy you recommend companies not do in the next few months?

The one thing that I would recommend against is making all your content about COVID-19 in an attempt to rank better. Updates and announcements on a few pages or a dedicated coronavirus landing page is more than fine. However, if you forcibly mix in blocks of COVID-19 content into high-ranked evergreen pieces that causes trouble. You can potentially dilute higher-ranked keywords to lower positions, leading to lower organic traffic. This might not hurt you tremendously in the short-term. But in the long-term, when people are once again searching for non-coronavirus related material, you could be at a disadvantage. 

Searching for more ways to pivot your SEO-strategies during this time? Reach out to our SEO team today for a consultation. 

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