Consumer interest is in a constant state of flux.
Today’s splurge purchases can become essentials the next, and purchases that used to be commonplace can quickly become out-of-the-question.
And nothing has made that more apparent than COVID-19.
Where the SEO industry may previously have viewed keywords as constants (e.g. “black running shoes” monthly volume = 1,500k), we’re seeing the collective opinion of the group slowly start to shift.
Keywords, as a direct reflection of consumer interest, are always changing.
I spoke with Amy Elmayan, SEO Specialist at Tupperware Brands, to get her take on how SEOs need to respond.
“In March, searches for ‘hair salon near me’ dropped way down as hair salons were forced to close,” Amy explained.
The need for haircuts didn’t go anywhere though, which is why “searches for ‘how to cut your own hair’ rose in popularity” and are now already trending back down as many salons have begun to reopen.
This is an obvious example of how keyword data is user data, directly reflecting the real-life, volatile interests of consumers.
It’s why we believe so strongly in real-time keyword data — SEOs need to be able to see how clicks and impressions on keywords change month-over-month, week-over-week, and even day-over-day, as well as see brand-new keywords as they pop up.
Data is only as useful as the insights we glean from it and the actions we take as a result, so I asked Amy what SEOs should be doing right now to help the sites they manage adapt.
She gave me four main actions to consider:
According to Amy, there are a few options for businesses with a local presence.
“Mark your business as temporarily closed or indicate reduced hours, if applicable, post a COVID-19 update via Google posts, and for restaurants, mark if you are open for delivery, takeout, or dine-in.”
For queries with local intent (e.g. “shoe stores near me”), SEOs know that Google prioritizes the local pack on the SERP, which is why we place such a heavy emphasis on making sure our GMB profiles contain the most up-to-date information for customers.
Although we know this, Amy said, COVID-19 has made that importance even more apparent.
“GMB is often the first place customers find information about your business, including contact info, location, and hours. Especially during a time like this when customers are more stressed than usual, you want to make sure the information they find in your GMB listing is accurate.”
To drive that point home, Amy encouraged us to “imagine someone seeing on GMB that you’re open and driving all the way to your business to pick up a much-needed item, only to find out when they got there that you were actually closed.”
In addition to updating your information on your website and social media, don’t neglect to update GMB accordingly. See Google’s guidance for businesses affected by COVID-19 for additional information.
COVID-19 has drastically increased the demand for certain products — everything from toilet paper to home office desks and trampolines.
This has led to certain products being out-of-stock more often than usual.
“Because of this, it’s important to use structured data such as schema.org to show in the SERP if products are in-stock or out-of-stock,” said Amy.
“Google also recently announced ‘Special Announcement’ structured data to support businesses showing important COVID-19 updates in the search results.”
Structured data helps search engines like Google understand your content better, and in some cases, can even enhance how your snippet looks in search results — such as “showing users from the SERP itself if a particular item is in-stock or out-of-stock,” according to Amy.
So, be sure to take advantage of structured data, especially in times of heightened consumer uncertainty.
As a result of the pandemic, Google accelerated their plans to offer free product listings in Google shopping.
“This is a great opportunity for retailers to take advantage of increased visibility on Google,” said Amy.
Already running paid listings? Now you can augment them with additional free listings. Additionally, this is a great reminder that SEO teams have the keys to audience insights (real-time searcher queries) that have the potential to take e-commerce product feeds to the next level.
As COVID-19 has shown us, keywords are in a constant state of flux. New queries are constantly popping up, popular keywords can decline in volume overnight, and keywords that are obscure one day can begin trending the next.
A fixed content strategy will fail to fully capture these changing consumer interests.
“For example,” said Amy, “with people staying home, clothing retailers should consider focusing on promoting loungewear vs. businesswear. Another great example of adapting content strategy is how Disney posted virtual park tours, shared park recipes, and fun facts about the parks to keep the magic alive for fans, even though the parks were closed.”
Searchers aren’t just our potential customers — they’re Google’s customers too. For that reason, it makes sense that they’d adapt to provide their customers with the best experience in light of these changes, but how quickly they did that was still surprising.
“Google stepped in to provide additional ways for businesses to communicate important COVID-19 updates with their customers,” commented Amy. “For example, rolling out the ‘temporarily closed’ status on GMB, creating an option for COVID-19 update posts, and starting to offer free product listings in the Google Shopping tab.”
This underscores an SEO truism that deserves repeating — since Google’s goal is to provide the best experience for the searcher, the best way to optimize for their search engine is to focus on the searcher (playing by the search engine’s rules & minding its limitations, of course).
“I think the pandemic has really highlighted just how important it is to have a user-centric SEO strategy,” she added. “I believe the businesses that will be most successful during this time are the ones that have been able to adapt their digital strategy to their customers’ evolving needs. I’ve always believed in putting the user first in SEO & content strategy, and now more than ever, empathy for the consumer has been brought to the forefront of marketing strategy.”
COVID-19 led to some pretty drastic revenue loss for certain businesses, prompting executives teams to make some tough decisions about where to cut expenses.
SEO teams were certainly not immune to this — in fact, we heard of so many SEOs that were laid off or furloughed that we put together a resource of companies still hiring for SEOs during COVID-19 to help out-of-work SEOs find jobs again.
While I’m sure it wasn’t an easy or desirable decision for brands to cut any programs, I still couldn’t help but think that cutting SEO resources would be dangerous, so I asked Amy for her thoughts.
“If you cut back on SEO now, it could potentially harm you in the long-run and you could find yourself behind the competition when things shift once again,” she said.
As a long-term strategy (unlike PPC, which requires a constant investment in order to run), a good SEO strategy can “pay off for years to come.”
So, cut your SEO program and risk being behind when demand picks back up again, or continue your investment to “set your business up for future success,” as Amy says.
“I think this is such a pivotal time for SEO,” Amy told me. “It’s really important to adapt to the changing ways consumers are searching.”
COVID-19 is unprecedented, but we’ve certainly experienced major world events like this before, and can expect to see them in the future too.
We should all be thinking about the lessons we learned during COVID-19 and how we can take them with us into the future — especially since many habits formed during the pandemic will likely stick with consumers into the future.