Why You Should Keep SEO During An Economic Downturn

Jun 30, 2023   |   Clock Icon 10 min read

Two things are certain: The U.S. economy is constantly shifting, and misery loves company. If you’re responsible for your company’s marketing spend and you’re feeling plagued by budget woes and decision overload, you aren’t alone.

According to the recent CMO Survey that interviewed more than 300 marketing leaders at for-profit U.S. companies, 58% of B2B product CMOs and 51% of B2B services CMOs reported inflationary pressures were causing a decrease in digital marketing spend. Spending dropped 45% from September 2022 to March 2023. Spend is predicted to rise slightly over the next year, however, one thing is clear: Marketing efforts often get turned off to save money during times of economic uncertainty.

In challenging economic times, it can be more difficult to find new business opportunities in your industry. We all know that having dependable outcomes is crucial for putting you—and your leadership— at ease, especially when the market is not as favorable. Therefore, it's important to develop a marketing plan that can still achieve positive results.

Is your SEO helping or hurting your business?

Get a complete assessment of your website's SEO with this free SEO Scorecard. Our analysts take a look at how well your website attracts, engages, and converts new business so you know where and how to make the improvements you need to see results.

SEO is a key support for every other digital marketing channel. So what’s the key to consistent digital marketing results? Developing a strong SEO plan.

Easier said than done, right?

Don’t worry! We’ll go over SEO strategies you can apply to stay competitive and keep your business in a position to connect with new customers, clients, or visitors whenever they are ready to do business. Need a hand? We’re always here to help.

How SEO is a lot like farming

I spent many years living in North Carolina where I had many-a-farming friend. Note: I have never personally farmed, unless you count the cycle of regularly neglecting and then nursing basil back to health in a container by my kitchen sink. However, I spent many days on farms and I learned a thing or two about what a farm needs to thrive. Unfortunately, I still know nothing about how to build a raised bed, but I’ve come to peace with that mystery.

Let’s compare an always-on SEO program to successfully maintaining a farm.

Think of technical SEO as the quality of the soil and the farm's overall condition. Just as you need good soil and a well-maintained environment to grow crops, you need a healthy website to grow your online presence. You have to take care of pests (technical issues), maintain the pH balance of the soil (information architecture), and ensure the farm is easily accessible (found and indexed by search engine crawlers). Even in times of economic uncertainty, you cannot ignore the fundamental health of your farm (website), or else nothing will grow successfully.

Next, on-page SEO can be compared to the actual process of farming, which involves planting the right seeds (keyword targeting), providing the right amount of water and sunlight (creating quality content), and ensuring the crops are growing properly (a frictionless user experience). This is what you do on your farm (website) every day to make sure it's productive and fruitful. Neglecting these practices would be like leaving your fields unattended, resulting in unhealthy or non-existent crops.

Off-page SEO, then, is like the reputation of your farm in the wider community. This includes how other farmers talk about you (backlinks), how often your farm is visited by others (social media mentions), and your reputation at the farmer's market (brand awareness). These external factors can significantly impact your farm's success.

SEO investments made now will minimize the downside risk during uncertain times. If you stop maintaining your soil (technical SEO), stop growing and harvesting crops (on-page SEO), or stop engaging with the farming community (off-page SEO), you're essentially allowing your farm to wither (much like my late basil). By continuing your efforts, you're making sure that when the economy rebounds, you have a fruitful farm ready to meet the demand.

Some SEO is always necessary

When the economy slows down, companies look for ways to reduce spending. Marketing budgets are often among the first to fall under the microscope, so you want to ensure you protect those elements of your program that are necessary for your website to function.

These are the SEO fundamentals that we see as must-haves for a successful marketing program:

1) Keep regularly monitoring your site health: Leverage paid tools like Ahrefs or Semrush to check your site’s health. Don’t have subscriptions? That’s okay! Google Search Console is a treasure trove when it comes to diagnosing page experience issues and page indexing problems. The Screaming Frog SEO Spider will crawl the first 500 pages of your site for free, which is a great start in discovering unexpected 404s, orphan pages, crawl traps, and other items you’ll find in a typical Site Audit checklist.

Pro-tip: Developer resources are often needed to solve technical issues. Either have a dev on deck for ad hoc questions and work, or a plan in place to reach one when you need them. Set up Custom Insights alerts in GA4 to get notified if organic performance drops.

2) Be strategic with net-new content production and page updates: Google values helpful content. At the very least, your SEO program should be providing long-term growth as you optimize your site with new and more targeted content around your products and services. That means your business shows up in searches more often, and you are always adding more and higher quality leads into your sales funnel.

Expanding your messaging, or the keywords and terms you are targeting, can start to introduce you to different audiences. Keep in mind that these expansion targets should still be closely related to your core products and services to see the best possible results in the shortest period of time. This way you can leverage the authority you’ve built for your current content to introduce and complement these fresh perspectives on your business.

If you’re still riding the wave of previously published content but it’s drying up a bit, look for high impact, low effort opportunities by identifying search shifts and content decay (pages declining in organic traffic). We love Aleyda Solis’ handy Looker dashboard called the “SERP CTR Evolution Analyzer.” You can easily identify the terms ranked in top 10 positions that have the worst click-through rate (CTR)—despite improvements in position—and high impressions by page/device/country. Then you can decide if there’s anything you can do to improve CTR (e.g., updating the meta title and description, changing the angle).

Pro-tip: Revisit keyword research and audience trends to identify changes in search patterns during economic downturns. People may be searching for these modifiers more frequently, which could create content opportunities: "brand X alternatives,” "cheap product Y,” "free product Z,” "open source", etc.

3) Create content, but don’t forget a content promotion plan: Ross Simmonds put it so well when he explained to a room of SEOs: “A blogging calendar is not your content strategy.” Do research using platforms like Reddit and Facebook groups to figure out the kinds of content your audiences are looking for. He explained you must create a content culture that extends beyond content production. You must consider the distribution of assets once they're published, exploring avenues like Twitter threads, LinkedIn decks, social videos, and email newsletters. Think like a media company: Research, Create, Distribute, Optimize.

Pro-tip: Check out Ross’s Twitter thread with 20 of his favorite distribution channels and tactics for spreading B2B content after hitting publish.

4) Experiment with guest blogging or comarketing efforts. Find social accounts, media platforms, and influential folks who share audiences with you. What connections does your team already have with outlets or other leaders in your niche? How can you create mutually beneficial relationships with those folks?

Pro-tip: Sparktoro is our go-to for finding spheres of influence for your target audiences—and they have a great free plan to get started!

Combine SEO with these programs to boost your success

You’ll get even better results by supplementing your SEO program when you make decisions based on reliable data, and when you know you are getting your message in front of the right audiences.

Analytics

This is likely already a part of your SEO program, and there are always a few adjustments that can be made to both increase your chances for acquiring new traffic (and new business). The data you receive from your analytics program will tell you exactly where those adjustments can be made, so you don’t waste time or money optimizing the wrong items, or even making changes that hurt your website’s performance.

Analytics are also your best option for sharing the success of your marketing programs, especially when translated into common metrics important to your larger business objectives.

Here are some of our favorite GA4 training videos that can help you get the most out of your data (hat tip to Ryan Levander and Jess Joyce for bringing these to my attention!):

Paid Marketing

The best way to ensure you are reaching audiences that are looking for your product or service is through the targeting provided by paid media. Your SEO can inform the keywords and terms you use to create your ad messaging and assets, and the results of your ad campaigns can in turn show you where to lean into your current approach or pivot to match changing trends.

Even modest paid media additions to updates and new content on your site can help boost the success of that content in the long term by showing search engines that this is valuable content. That means higher SERP placement and more visibility for your business.

When it comes to paid media spend during an economic uncertainty, it’s more important than ever to keep your paid branded campaigns on and to ensure you retain (or even expand) your share of voice amongst your competitors.

Wrap-up

Your SEO program will help you establish the consistent drumbeat of traffic you need to fill your sales funnel and help your business stay relevant and successful in any financial climate. Knowing where and how to make changes will help you remain efficient and on-budget, and the right complement of integrations with other programs will help your marketing program exceed your targets and expand its value to your business.

If you would like us to help you with any aspect of SEO strategy, contact us today for a conversation (no strings attached) about your digital marketing. We specialize in finding custom solutions that meet your unique goals—all year long!

Portrait of Leah Shapiro

Leah Shapiro