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Growing your online presence: Why is SEO so important during COVID-19?

The pandemic outbreak in 2020 has had a significant impact on how companies run their businesses and how people interact with brands. Non-essential retailers and service providers find it challenging to run their businesses during lockdowns and comply with the strict social distancing rules and other COVID-19 guidelines.

However, 2020 was not a downhill ride for my digital agency nor my clients with well-established search engine optimisation (SEO) strategies. Additionally, I saw an increase in clients looking for ways to transform their business process online, leverage technology-enabled solutions and optimise their digital presence. Why is this? Well, because brick and mortars or companies that offer services need to find other ways to reach out to their customers and stand out from the competition.

In this article, I will discuss why SEO is important to your business. You will learn ways to improve your online presence, rank higher in Google search results page, and maximise your marketing budget. 

Why invest your time and efforts in SEO during COVID-19?

  1. Consumers are forced to shop online during lockdowns and to avoid close contact with others in malls.
  2. Consumers still need goods and services and look for local providers instead of doing business with international brands due to travel restrictions.
  3. SEO helps companies build trust with online customers and enhances brand loyalty.
  4. SEO is a long-term process which continues to bring new customers even after COVID-19 is over.

Whether it be bringing the physical store to an eCommerce website, or creating a website to promote/operate a service business, the need for online shopping and online branding is crucial. Therefore, brands should create high-quality content and an interactive user experience to reach out to their customers who are in isolation at home. And a bonus? When the pandemic is over, not only will your website rank on the first page of search results, you will by then have built trust and brand loyalty with your customers, giving you a competitive edge.

1- Consumers are forced to shop online during lockdowns and to avoid close contacts with others in the mall.

As non-essential stores and service providers are closed during lockdowns, eCommerce websites and online branding have become more important than ever. In New Zealand, eCommerce sales almost doubled during the Alert Level 4 lockdown in 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

During the lockdown, online purchases of food, groceries and liquor peaked at 105%. Online fashion merchants saw 62% growth, and online spending on homeware, appliances, and electronics had an increase of 135% compared to the same period in 2019. 

So how do you keep your business operating during the lockdown period? You must have a website to advertise your products or services and get your website appearing on the first page of search results. After all, who looks at page 2, 3, or 4 of the SERP?

Interactive user experience

Regardless of whether you are a goods or services provider, your business’s focus is your customers. There are several factors that Google looks at to determine the overall user experience your website provides and to rank your website on its search results pages. By designing a website that is easy to navigate, you can engage users, increase your website’s conversion and build a satisfying user experience. 

Talk to your website designer and developer about the interactive elements you can feature on your website to make it stylish and add a wow factor. Interactive elements to consider include:

  • A video header that demonstrates your products or services
  • Attention-grabbing animations to make your site more exciting
  • A 24/7 chatbot so that users obtain an immediate response and information

Optimise website loading speed

Your web page loading speed is also important to user experience and is one of Google’s ranking factors. Pages with a longer load time tend to have higher bounce rates, lower average time spent on the page and lower conversions. You can analyse your page speed using Google PageSpeed Insights. Here are some suggestions to make your site load faster:

  • Compress images and videos
  • Improve server response time
  • Minify CSS and JavaScript
  • Check if you are using the latest website libraries
  • Cache your website regularly
  • Reduce landing page redirects

2- Consumers still need goods and services and look for local providers instead of doing business with international brands due to travel restrictions.

The pandemic in 2020 has also driven customers to buy from local businesses due to travel restrictions and less international shipments from overseas suppliers. Research by NZ Post in May 2020 showed a 53% increase in NZ domestic online sales and a 5% decrease in international online sales compared to May 2019.

Additionally, the shift to buying from local businesses is a reflection of people supporting local retailers and service providers during the pandemic and helping to boost the economy. 

Prioritise local SEO

As consumers turn to domestic online markets to address their needs, it is crucial that you adjust your SEM efforts to include location SEO keywords. For example, a security company in Auckland should use keywords like “security company near me” or “security company Auckland” to target customers in a specific location. These local keywords can be easier to rank for because they tend to be less competitive. 

You can also improve your business’s local ranking by updating your business information on Google My Business

Niche keywords research

Another type of keyword that is easy to rank for and captures the searcher’s intent is a niche keyword. Niche keywords are highly specific long-tail keywords that better describe your product or service or the stage of the buyer’s lifecycle your customers are at. For example, if you are an accountant, instead of using “accounting NZ” as your keyword, a more focused keyword such as “chartered accounting service NZ” or “small business accounting NZ” will better match your skills and service with what the customer is looking for. 

Alternatively, if you are a clothing retailer when a customer searches for “buy party dress NZ”, you want your website to show in the first page of search results. This type of customer is ready to make a purchase, compared to those who are at an early stage of the buying cycle searching for “dress NZ”. 

3- Build trust with online customers and enhance brand loyalty

By delivering consistent search engine marketing messages and content optimised for SEO, you build online brand awareness and customer loyalty. Plus, Google can recognise your website’s quality and relevance and use that to rank it on the first page of search results. 

Engaging content gives credibility

Consumers do not often become customers as soon as they see your brand or website. Multiple brand exposures are needed to increase customers’ brand awareness and trust in your brand. As a part of your SEO strategy, write informative blogs and articles about recent changes in your company, how to’s, or trends in the industry to stay relevant to customers’ searches and improve website traffic. Before you start, think about your SEO strategies, use keywords naturally in your writing, and make sure you engage your readers. In this way, your content appears both highly relevant to Google and your audience. 

Even if the reader is not yet ready to become your customer, the opinions and advice in your blogs and articles will demonstrate your wealth of knowledge and position you as a thought leader in the industry. In this way, you can build familiarity, credibility, customer loyalty and engagement with your potential customers.

The next time your potential customers are ready to make a purchase, they are more likely to come to you as they’ve seen your website a few times when surfing the internet over the past few months.

Keep your website content up to date

Not only do you need engaging content on your website that tells a good story about your brand, people, products and services, you also need to update the content on your website regularly. Here are some updates to make:

  • Revisit blog posts that have lost their relevance, or update data/statistics on top-performing content to make it more relevant. 
  • If you have content published on a third party website, make sure you embed a backlink to this on your own website. 
  • Link the articles you’ve recently posted to your previous blogs because good internal links are crucial to SEO. 

4- SEO is a long-term process which continues to bring new customers even after COVID-19 is over

A successful business is one that can be found by the right customers at the right time and place. Successful search engine marketing and SEO strategies are critical for long-term growth and place your website on the front page of search results. Brands that worked on high organic rankings months ago are enjoying the high traffic benefits now. Make sure you don’t lose your spot in the competition!

Typically, you see results from your SEO campaigns within 3-6 months. However, if you want to see immediate results, you can choose to promote your business with paid Google Ads. Over time, as your website gains a higher organic ranking, you can stop using Google Ads as the cost per click can be very high.

Embed SEO into your marketing plan

Even if you are not able to run your business during lockdowns, you should use this time to work out your SEO strategies and align them with your marketing objectives. Define your marketing goals – are they to create awareness, drive website traffic, or increase conversions?  Work out the next steps or speak to your marketing specialists. 

The results from your SEO campaigns will help your business recover quickly from potential losses during your closing down time and sow the seeds for marketing and advertising success for many years to come. 

Key Takeaways

As COVID-19 impacts businesses worldwide and shifts consumers’ behaviour on the internet, companies need to make themselves visible to customers online. With that in mind, it is time to design and develop your website and optimise it for Google’s search engine. As Google continues to change its algorithms to rank websites, there’s always more to learn about SEO. 

In this article, I’ve covered tactics to:

  • Enhance your online user experience
  • Improve page loading speed
  • Develop a local SEO strategy
  • Find long tail keywords
  • Create engaging content with blogs and articles
  • Update content regularly
  • Build a long-term SEM and SEO strategy

The tactics I’ve covered may sound basic, but they really are the foundation for building a better digital presence, achieving a top spot on Google and doing business online during and after COVID-19.

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