SEO During COVID? Start Here
Posted by Emery Ross on Mar 26, 2020 6:00:00 AM
No industry is untouched by the current situation with Covid-19, which means most businesses are rethinking their approach to marketing and sales. For many, this change has prompted an interest in Search Engine Optimization, or SEO.
In this post, we'll cover what we know about the current state of search, some short-term strategies to undertake right now, and some longer-term projects that you can start planning out for when things calm down.
Search Engine Optimization: An Overview
SEO is, essentially, setting your site up to be found by search engines. There are many aspects of optimization, both on-page and off-page. Most often, SEO is focused on Google, which means many of the guidelines and rules of thumb are based on what the search engine giant has said about how it ranks pages and evaluates sites.
A common misconception is that SEO is a one-time or "set-it-and-leave-it" task. The idea that you can optimize and clean up a website once, and then focus your efforts elsewhere, is a hopeful mindset that can create poor results for your digital marketing.
However, even though you should be approaching SEO as a long-term strategy, right now is a great time to dive in. Some of your SEO tasks may bring some quick results, but for the most part what you'll be doing will help set you up for future success.
SEO and the Coronavirus
Google's SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) have always been unpredictable. Newer features like 'featured snippets' (which provide a snippet of a website that answers the query so users don't have to leave the SERP), 'people also ask' boxes, and local packs (the map preview) have continually disrupted SEO tactics. Google SERP features are always meant to better serve searchers, but it does mean SEO is constantly evolving.
With the coronavirus, websites have an entirely new world of unpredictability. Here are a few of the major changes and constraints that are impacting local businesses, ecommerce sites, and all other websites.
- Changes to GMB: Google My Business has become key for local business SEO. However, Google has restricted some features that may affect companies.
- Disruptions in search trends: It's no secret that the world has moved almost entirely online. This has shaken up search trends in ways that both positively and negatively affect websites. Online sales are booming, but folks are also looking for info like DIY projects, recipes, and homeschooling.
- YMYL & EAT: Two factors in Google's evaluation of websites are known by these acronyms. They stand for Your Money or Your Life and Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness. These mean that A) Google pays particular attention to anything that might impact someone's money or health and B) Google factors in authors' and sites' knowledge and accuracy.
- Changes to SERPs: Covid-19 has caused Google to make some significant changes to SERPs on queries related to the virus. Searchers looking for anything even slightly related to Covid are shown top stories, health information from reputable sources, and alerts. Anything beyond those top results are pushed down the page and into the second page and beyond.
- Structured data updates: Google is working on developing more structured data options for businesses that need to add special announcements related to the pandemic. See more on the options and how to add them here.
So what does that all mean for you? It depends.
While we recommend going forward with traditional SEO tasks, the impact of your hard work might take some time to be realized (which is the case regardless of pandemics), or it might make a difference right away. It all depends, but it's a smart move to keep in mind the current context -- both to avoid missteps and to take advantage of opportunities.
If you want a way to accelerate your way to the top of search engine results, adding Pay-Per-Click advertising to the mix is a good way to do that. We wrote a whitepaper on how to use SEO and PPC together to increase the effectiveness of both tactics.
Short Term SEO Strategies
If you're just starting out or looking for easy ways to start optimizing and learn as you go, there are quite a few things you can do.
Start With an Audit
Conducting an SEO audit is a must for identifying problems and opportunities. You can use free tools like Screaming Frog to crawl your site and see issues that should be addressed. You can also manually go through your site's content, determine what needs refreshing, and keep an eye out for design/usability issues. There are many ways to conduct an audit (just google it!), so figure out which strategies make the most sense for your site.
Get to Know Google's Tools
Some of the most valuable tools for SEO are FREE. Google Search Console and Google Analytics should be your go-tos for data. Search Console lets you submit a sitemap so Google knows what to crawl, and you can get insights on what pages are showing up for what queries. It also shows any errors that Google has found.
Analytics gives you an overview of all your web traffic, plus has lots of options to drill down and get even more information about who is using your site and how.
Bing's Webmaster Tools are less known, but also provide some great data about websites, so it's worth checking out.
Work on Metadata
Make sure your titles, headings, image alt tags, and meta descriptions are doing their job. Titles and meta descriptions appear on the SERPs, so they should be informative and entice searchers to click. Headings help organize a page's content, and they can be useful for search engines to understand what your page is about. Image alt tags should describe the image accurately. These are necessary for visually impaired visitors and having good alt tags is good practice -- they can also be used by search engines for context.
Make Updates to Key Pages
Your most important pages and blog posts can use some polishing. Make sure they have unique, quality content, well-optimized data, and keywords (used naturally). This might even be a good time to go through all of your website's content and create a content strategy to maximize your visibility.
There are plenty more tasks you can take on, but the key is to determine what aligns best with your long-term goals, as well as what's sustainable for long-term strategy.
Not sure where to start? Feeling like these tasks are outside your expertise? Though you might be hesitant to spend money now, allocating some of your budget to SEO experts (even if it's a small amount!) is one way that you can harness the power of inbound marketing and set yourself up for success when this current crisis is over.
Long Term SEO Strategies
The more in-depth strategy is more incrementally based and aligned with Google's SEO trend of engaging the searcher. By being informed and aligning your SEO tactics to match what your business needs right now, you can see more progress that directly impacts your business.
So this process is more about saying, "What are the top-level company and marketing goals overall? What are we as a company trying to accomplish this year, this quarter, the next five years? What is the goal we are trying to achieve?" Next, figure out areas where SEO can best contribute to that work. From there, you create tactical lists of projects that will move your digital marketing efforts toward your goal. These lists will be evaluated, prioritized, and aligned with goals that have been set by the company as a whole.
Some examples of these list items might be:
- writing a new blog section for a particular piece of content to engage a new audience.
- building up some community around a section that would attract your optimal customer base.
- outreach to certain kinds of publications to bring awareness to a new demographic.
- or building up social statistics in these groups that will expose the company to the right people who can earn us the amplification we need to rank higher.
This is a "tried-and-true" process that you're going to want to do at least annually, and maybe even think about it quarterly.
Generally, long-term strategies for SEO include things like:
- Technical SEO
- Link building
- Regular keyword, topic, and LSI keyword optimization
- Content audits, pruning, and cropping
- Pillar pages and content
- Site audits and error management
- Strategic internal linking and navigation
As we mentioned above, if you don't have the time or resources to take these on long term, allocating some budget for SEO is a smart move (contact us if you want to know what any budget amount might look like). However, if you decide to keep this in-house, just make sure you don't make this a one-and-done project. Ultimately, you'll eventually lose out to your competitors who are prioritizing SEO.
For some tips to help in your daily SEO routine, here are some informative blogs:
Written by Emery Ross
Emery is an inbound marketing specialist in search engine optimization and content writing. She earned a Master of Arts in rhetoric and composition from Boise State University. In her free time she writes about birds (mostly geese).