In a world that’s become increasingly remote, making sure people can find your website is more important than ever, but this can be more difficult than you may realize. Though internet usage has increased since the pandemic hit in early March, there’s been a decline in traffic to nonessential businesses.
Search volume has been focused on relevant topics that include news, health (including COVID-related searches), and politics, but other categories, including retail, travel, and home/garden have seen a decline in search activity. As consumers’ needs change, their search behavior fluctuates. For example, searches for the term “lipstick” declined precipitously in March, while searches for “hair dye” spiked. That makes sense since people stayed inside and hair salons shut down.
Source: Think With Google
It’s not just what people are searching for that’s shifting—it’s the way they’re searching. For example, COVID-19 searches tend to spike in the morning and late at night, this is relevant if you’re running paid search ads since you may want to concentrate your ad scheduling to the middle of the day.
But it also has implications for organic search because if your ads are down in the morning and evenings, you’ll need to rely on your organic search ranking more during those off hours. Rapidly shifting search behaviors make it nearly impossible to plan your SEO strategy too far in advance, which is why search needs to be something you weave into everything you do.
SEO as the foundation of everything
When we say search is the foundation of everything, we mean everything, including offline marketing materials. We recently highlighted a print catalog project we completed for Harney & Sons, a tea company located in Millerton, NY.
Each year, the Harney catalog design is focused on a central theme. This year’s theme was set around the song Tea for Two, with the visuals and copy woven around the lyrics of the classic song. Relevant keywords are used throughout the catalog’s copy in section headers, product titles, and product descriptions.
It’s no accident that the language used throughout the print catalog is highly descriptive and evocative of Harney’s product. keywords help guide readers browsing through blocks of text, whether that’s on a printed page or a web page.
Making SEO the foundation of every project means that it’s addressed across channels. It ensures consistency of branding and messaging, but it also makes it easier to repurpose print materials for the web and vice versa.
SEO can help mitigate business impact of COVID-19
Since SEO doesn’t require a commitment to buying media, it’s a good long-term strategy to focus on—along with organic social media outreach—to help mitigate the impact that the virus is having to your business. But it takes planning and a bit of creative thinking to create an effective post-COVID SEO strategy.
First, focus on creating useful content. That is, content that helps people answer a question or solve a problem. An example of this is the term “lemon ginger tea benefits” which has seen two distinct spikes in search activity in the US this year—once in March and once in November.
An article about the broad health benefits of lemon ginger tea will attract users throughout the year, but is also poised to bring in lots of traffic when searches for the term spike, particularly if it’s ranked well in the organic search results.
Another quality of evergreen content is that it’s not tied to any specific event, season, or time. It’s content that sustains, bringing people back to your website again and again. Timeless, useful content also attracts backlinks, which contributes to your overall search engine ranking. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, ideally referring traffic to your website long after you’ve made the initial investment in content creation.
Evergreen content can bring traffic to your website long after it’s been posted. Two of the most popular posts on our own blog in 2020 include this piece explaining the difference between CMYK and RGB colors and our brief history of typography and typefaces—both of which were written in 2014.
SEO goes beyond the written word. It should also incorporate search engine friendly design and mobile readiness. Today, more than half of all web traffic comes from mobile devices, and mobile usage is predicted to grow 25% over the next five years. In March, Google announced mobile-first indexing for the whole web, meaning that Google will use the mobile version of your website to rank pages from that site.
What this essentially means for you is that you should have one web site that’s mobile friendly and works across all devices, including desktops. Again, this is part of what we mean when we say that SEO is the foundation of everything. Every website we build is device responsive; it works seamlessly across all channels, is fast loading, mobile friendly, and its design and navigation pose as little friction as possible for mobile users.
The benefits of prioritizing SEO
When you prioritize SEO, you ensure that your website can be found by users whenever they’re searching and from whatever device they’re using. SEO should not be an afterthought or an add on. Approaching it conscientiously, as the foundation of your digital outreach, makes it easier to pivot and respond to changing consumer preferences and needs.
One final note—staying on top of SEO trends is just as important as implementing the tried and true SEO techniques we noted above.
For example, artificial intelligence is increasingly playing a role with how Google ranks web pages. A month ago, Google introduced Bidirectional Transformers for Language Understanding (BERT), a technology that helps Google understand and parse conversational queries. BERT uses a neural network-based technique to process natural language queries, and processes words in relation to other words in a sentence rather than as a list of words in one-by-one order. BERT also looks at the context of your content and makes ranking decisions based on relevance in new and more advanced ways.
This change in how Google interprets and processes searches has huge implications for the way we write content and optimize websites. It compliments the current trends in how people search, such as using natural language queries that are driven by questions and voice technology (there are over 100 million smart speakers in the US).
The content you create to address the shift in how people search and how Google processes these searches, will look different than the content you created ten years ago. As we move into the new year, there will likely be even more shifts in how people search and what they search for. Putting your SEO strategy at the forefront of your 2021 marketing initiatives is a great way to stay relevant and get a jump on your competitors.