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How to Improve Your Web Presence During COVID-19

19.05.2020
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Coronavirus has brought business as we know it to a grinding halt – and if, like many business owners, it’s negatively affected your sales and operations, you’re probably facing tough choices about where to continue your usual spending and in which areas it can be reduced.

Marketing is often one of the first areas to suffer budget cuts, but studies from past recessions have shown that continued marketing through difficult times has significant benefits for business recovery. If you’re able to retain some budget – or staff hours – to invest in marketing, it can pay off in the future.

There are numerous digital marketing tactics, ranging from instant results like Pay-Per-Click (PPC), through to longer-term results like Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).

Whilst PPC can be turned on and off as budget allows, SEO requires a more consistent effort for results. As much of SEO involves working on improving your website, it’s also a great tactic to focus on if you’re still not able to deliver your current services – helping you improve your online presence and visibility ready for the ‘new normal’ – and whatever that becomes!

Table of contents:
What is SEO?
Why does my business need SEO?
Why is SEO important right now?
What can I do to improve my online visibility?

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What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. It’s an area of marketing that does just that – optimises your website for search engines, such as Google, YouTube, Amazon, Pinterest…which one(s) you’re targeting depends on what’s appropriate for your business and where you expect or want your customers to find you.

Effectively, SEO is the process where you get your website to rank higher on your target search engine or platform, pulling in more traffic from people looking for services or products like yours.

Want to find out more about how SEO works? Here’s our blog explaining the basics.

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Why does my business need SEO?

Whether you run a product- or service-based business, you’ll have a constant need to find customers from somewhere. In normal times, this could be from a mixture of sources, such as word of mouth, physical adverts and signs – alongside digital platforms such as appearing in search results, paid online advertising and from one or more social media channels.

In the current situation, with many businesses closed and people spending much more time confined to their homes, more and more activity is happening online. And so, to retain a similar level of custom – or even find more – businesses need to be able to compete in the online space.

Many businesses use paid advertising, or PPC, where a website can be listed in search results or on social media for a fee. For many businesses this is an important marketing tactic with quick returns, but the downside is that you’ll have to pay every time someone clicks on your link – and that can get expensive, particularly if it’s a competitive keyword.

SEO, on the other hand, is an ‘organic’ – or unpaid – digital marketing channel, and so you won’t have to pay for any website visitors that find you in search results. There are no upper limits on this, so even if you attract hundreds (or even thousands) of visitors from Google Search, you won’t have to pay Google anything for getting these potential customers onto your website.
This makes SEO a really valuable part of a longer-term marketing strategy, as it can reduce the cost required to acquire a new customer – leading to a better return on investment for your business’ marketing activities.

Why is SEO important right now?

Even though business looks different for many people right now, continuing with SEO improvements and work on your website is an important part of getting ready for the return to some sort of normality.

Why? Here’s some of the main reasons:

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  • SEO requires playing the long-game. SEO is a great strategy, but it’s not for those looking for quick wins. It can often take up to 6 months to begin seeing success with the strategy (and sometimes several years in higher-competition spaces). The opposite is also true: if you’ve actively been working on SEO and that momentum stops, it’s likely your website will begin to drop in rankings again. It might not happen immediately, but a few months down the line when you’re starting to build up business again you might find that decision comes back to bite you.
  • Covid-19 has shaken up the online marketing world. Usually, businesses competing with each other for rankings are probably both maintaining relatively consistent levels of marketing, even if there’s a switch-up of tactics in there. But the coronavirus crisis has completely shuffled up the playing field. Your competitors might have stopped marketing in an effort to cut costs, giving you the chance to make some headway on important rankings. Or they might have invested more heavily in marketing as a recovery method, potentially knocking your website down the search results page if you stop marketing. A recent survey commission by IAB UK found that 70% of SMEs in the UK believed that marketing is more important than ever, amid the current crisis…are your competitors among them?
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  • More people are searching for – and reading – content online. With around 7.5 million workers in the UK furloughed, consumption of online content has soared in recent weeks. Whether it’s streaming films and TV, reading magazine articles or looking for online courses, many people have turned to the internet for entertainment, distraction and connection during these difficult times. This makes for a more willing and time-rich audience for businesses putting out high-quality pieces of content marketing.
  • Maintaining visibility will play a part in business recovery. Although it’s a different situation, research from past recessions – the closest data we have right now to estimate recovery – has shown that the brands who’ve continued with their marketing throughout the recession have recovered quicker and better than those who haven’t. Now isn’t the time to stop your marketing and disappear from view. SEO is one way of continuing to maintain a presence in search results – giving the impression that your business is stable and can be relied upon to still be there when the crisis is over. This point is also an important consideration for maintaining a continuing presence on your social media accounts.
  • SEO can’t be switched on and off at will. “But that’s not true”, you might think, “I can stop paying my SEO agency tomorrow!” Well yes, maybe you can, but the actual results of that work can’t be switched on and off when you feel like it. Compare it to PPC (or pay-per-click paid advertising). You could set up a new campaign and be getting traffic in a day – or even a few hours. Switch the campaign off and the traffic will drop. Switch it back on again when needed and – voila! – traffic!

SEO doesn’t work like that. As above, it’s a long-term strategy. You could stop all your SEO efforts today, and you might not see a dip for a few months – but then when that dip becomes noticeable and you want to do something about it, it could take several more months after starting SEO work again before the results begin to show – leaving the ‘bounce back’ point where you most need the visibility (and customers!) at a low.

What can I do to improve my online visibility?

 

1. Use data to help you prioritise

Have you got Google Analytics installed on your website? If not – that’s your first job.

Google Analytics will provide you with data to show which pages have had the most visits, as well as visitor behaviour throughout your site, such as how long people have spent on different pages and which ‘pathways’ of pages they’ve followed throughout your website.

Take a look at:

  • Pages which have more visits than normal. Are these pages well-optimised? Fill in gaps in the content by using Google search tools such as ‘Related Questions’ and ‘People Also Ask’ to give further value to your visitor. Check the information provided is up-to-date, interesting to read (you can use images, videos and different text formats such as headings and bullet points to help format it), and that there’s a clear call-to-action – or requested next step – that you want your visitor to take.
  • Pages with high traffic that are ‘bouncing’ – The bounce rate refers to the percentage of people that have visited that particular page of your website and ‘bounced’ off – in other words, left your site completely at that point. A low number is better – this means that you’ve lost less website visitors. If you’ve got any pages which start with a lot of traffic and then lose it, take a look at the content and update or rewrite it if necessary. Is the content interesting – are you using different media formats to keep people involved? Are there internal links to other relevant pages of your website that the visitor might find interesting? Have you got a clear call to action to direct people to the most appropriate next step?

2. Do some keyword research

Keywords are the gateway for your website appearing on search results, and keyword research should come near the start of any SEO campaign. Research will show you what terms people are using to search for things within your niche – including which keywords are driving them to your competitors’ sites.

You can do some basic keyword research yourself – using our beginner’s guide to help you if it’s something you’ve not done before.
A professional SEO agency can also offer you some useful insights in this area. Digital marketing agencies have access to expensive tools, which are often an unjustifiable cost to small non-marketing businesses. These tools can offer in-depth insights into the competition for each keyword and the traffic it could produce, as well as digging deeper to examine what your competitors are doing. A digital marketing agency could help to find you new search terms that you’ve not yet targeted, guiding you with an effective strategy for some new content that will pull in more customers.

3. Optimise your images

In a well-optimised web page, images aren’t just there to make your page look pretty. They can play an important role to help explain a point to the end user and make your page more interesting to read – plus, the way you optimise your images can help Google better understand what your page is about.

  • Ensure the file size is small enough to load quickly. Images that are too big for your web page will slow it down. This means it takes longer for an internet browser to load the page, and in that time your potential website visitor might get bored and go back to the search results.
  • Google can read the text of both your image file name and the ‘alt’ text. Both of these are a great opportunity to provide descriptive, keyword-rich text which will help to reinforce to search engines what the content of your page is about. It’s a quick job which can have a positive effect on SEO.

4. Boost your local SEO

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If you serve customers in a particular geographical area, Local SEO should absolutely play a part in your marketing strategy.
There are a couple of important strands within local SEO:

  • Create, optimise and maintain a Google My Business profile. This is the result that appears in Google Maps. You may already have an auto-generated listing that you can ‘claim’ in order to edit, or if not you can create one from scratch. GMB offers the opportunity to create descriptions of your services, images, costs and descriptions of your products, booking systems, uploading videos and photos, answering questions and collecting reviews.
  • Develop listings in relevant directories. These act as a confirmation to Google that your business really is operating where you say it is, which develops more trust and authority for your website.

5. Update your meta data

The meta title and meta description of a page are what appear on a Google search result. They don’t play a direct role as a ranking factor, but if well-written can help persuade people to choose your results from the options given on a search results page.

You can use a tool like SERPsim to see what your current meta data looks like and experiment with editing. If you can’t keep everything within the cut-off, aim to place the most important information at the start of the title and description. The title should captivate an audience’s attention, whilst the description is an opportunity to explain what can be gained by reading your web page or blog.

Updating this information is a quick job to do, but alongside having a positive impact on the amount of web traffic visiting your site, it also helps to project a professional image when your website appears in search results.

6. Ensure you have detailed product information

With more sales and searches for purchases currently taking place online, make sure that your product information is up-to-date and detailed to ensure your customers have all the information that they need. This can help to convert visitors into customers and lower the number of ‘abandoned carts’.

Depending on what type of products you sell, this could include accurate information about dimensions, weight, uses and applications of the product, alongside a variety of photos. For best results, include both the ‘technical’ information and a user-friendly version written to ensure the information is accessible to as wide an audience as possible.

Reviews also play a big part in converting a visitor into a customer. If you have the capacity on your website to include customer reviews, encourage these reviews by sending post-purchase follow-up emails with a link to write a review. For service-based businesses, use testimonials either collected directly or shared from a review site to demonstrate the social proof behind your offer.

7. Build good-quality backlinks

Backlinks are one of the ranking factors with the highest impact – alongside high-quality content and a positive user experience. Backlinks are links from other websites to yours, and signal to Google that your site has been recommended by the owners of these other websites.

Don’t be tempted to buy backlinks – it can look like a quick win, but many sites selling links are spammy and can end up damaging your online reputation rather than improving it.

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Instead, look for opportunities for natural and quality backlinks – such as mentions in the local press and links from other blogs and websites in your industry – either by you ‘guest posting’ a blog post or referencing one of your relevant blog posts.

Building high-quality backlinks takes time, but even a few hours a month will add up over time and gradually improve your website’s presence.

8. Look for content gaps

The content on your site is both a way for potential customers to find you and a means to engaging and converting your current audience into customers.

To fulfil this role, content needs to be well-written, helpful and covering the variety of topics your services and products are linked to.

Looking for gaps in your content can help you find new readers – for example if a gap helps you target a new keyword that’s relevant to your business – or fill in a missing ‘step’ in the buyer’s journey.

There are a few ways you can look for content gaps, such as:

  • Visit competitors sites and do a brief content audit – are there any areas they’re covering that you’re not?
  • Use Google Trends to highlight popular searches. You can look up keywords in your niche to find related searches which are gaining in popularity, and create new content for any you’re not already covering
  • Look for any recent customer enquiries which have come through time and time again – is there information going into these responses that it would be useful to put directly on your website?

Whether you try all of these steps – or just a few – they all provide a valuable way to help improve your online presence, remain competitive during the current crisis and reach new and existing customers online.

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For more in-depth marketing support, HeyYou! Digital provides flexible, bespoke marketing services to help small businesses succeed online. We’d love to have a chat about how we can help you – drop us a line at hello@heyyou.digital.

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Hannah Wade

Founder of HeyYou! Digital. Avid drinker of tea.

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