Marketing Under Uncertainty

Using SEO and Paid Search Ads to Capitalize on Opportunities During COVID-19

This article was also published by Belinda Young PR in an email newsletter. 

As startups and small businesses seek creative ways to compete in today’s uncertain economy, they are faced with new challenges of weighing the cost and value of every aspect of business, including marketing.  In this situation, should companies be looking for opportunities with Search Engine Optimization and Paid Search Ads in the current COVID-19 driven slowdown?

I believe the answer is yes.  SEO and Paid Search Ads can be a surprisingly effective and low-cost marketing tool for startups and SMBs, and can open up new opportunities for them particularly in these challenging economic times. In this brief article, I want to outline some steps in order to capitalize on opportunities.

Common first steps in any optimization and paid ads marketing program are defining one’s target audience, and then carefully assessing the goals of these audiences.  The audiences searching now may have different intentions than they had in the past.  Don’t just cut everything across the board.  Instead, cut with care.

For example, some travel companies are finding they are getting as much traffic as ever from ads, but many of the searchers may be looking for refunds, not looking for new trips.  What companies should be doing is to adjust the terms in which people click on and re-evaluate where their money is going. If someone is searching for “destination name 2022” and the company has 2022 dates available, then it may be a great time for ads on those terms, or for optimizing that content.

Another tip in defining audiences for both optimization and ads, is geography.  Are your audiences including “located near me” or a zip code in their search?  These could be great phrases for ads or optimization.  

Sometimes searchers won’t specify a geography, but they are still looking for local choices. A major advantage of online search ads is geo-targeting, where the advertiser specifies an area where they want the ads to show.  There are many ways to geo-target in Google and Bing, ranging from a country or state down to something much smaller, such as a specific radius from a given location.   

This presents some unique opportunities for differentiation.  The COVID-19 quarantine restrictions may end at different times in different locations.  Maybe your product or service will see a spike in demand when an area quarantine ends.  Consider running different ads to respond to local conditions.  The time to have a plan, prepare content, and to set up the ad campaigns is soon, not after the reopening.

Another important step is being prepared to make changes to your web site content and to your ads.  Does the structure of your web site, and especially the home page layout, facilitate major announcements?  Many people “set and forget” their web site content.  They don’t have a place on their home page to link to major announcements. Now is the time to be prepared!  Outline the categories of announcements you will want your home page visitors to see when quarantine is lifted.  Where could announcements fit on your home page?

For ideas of possible approaches, check out how Bartell Drugs, Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid and Safeway are structured to enable rapid updates.  For an interesting comparison, look at the current versions of these web sites, and then use to see what previous versions  For example, here’s a copy of the Walgreens home page on Feb 7, 2020.  Note how easy it was for Walgreens to announce new options for delivery as well as other time-sensitive information.

COVID-19 (or at least its aftereffects) is going to be impacting the economy and business for the foreseeable future.  The new “norm” can provide businesses with additional opportunities not only to find new ways to serve customers but also to thrive through a variety of ways, including through SEO and Paid Search Ads.  In a future article, I will discuss how to research what people are searching for and how to gain insights from your web site data.

Contact Stuart to discuss your specific situations and opportunities for web marketing in today's context.