SEO Advice for Local Businesses and SMEs During COVID-19

Author: Stephen Kinsella

Last Updated: September 8, 2020

Key Takeaways

  1. Continue to optimize for SEO. Even though the Covid-19 pandemic has created a  massive economic shock globally and highlighted the financial fragility of many small businesses, now is not the time to discontinue your SEO planning.
  2. Create more SEO focused content. Building trust with consumers is the predominant way forward for your business, especially in times of uncertainty and fear.
  3. Build on trust. Mentally subscribe to the E-A-T principles to manage your web reputation.
  4. Improve the quality of your website. Take this time to evaluate the condition of your site and what improvements need to be made. Ensure your business is ready for the “Bounce-Back”.
  5. Local businesses and Community. Investigate ways in which you can integrate with your local community.
  6. Benefits of SEO during a crisis. SEO has major benefits compared to other marketing channels.

This is not an enjoyable time for any business, but it’s alarming for many local businesses and SMEs. Some companies have already shut down, many more have no customers. If they are staying open, they run a tiny workforce or trying to cope with remote personnel.

There is no actual idea of how long this will continue. Sadly, for some small business owners, this pandemic has already proved too much for them.

If your company is a physical store, you may already be transitioning your operations online or at least adding an online channel. Or you’re already an online business. Either way, SEO is crucial to your success.

Even allowing for this the vast majority of small businesses do not have any SEO strategy. It’s clear why this is. Perceiving SEO as a long-term initiative and therefore putting it to one side in favour of quick-win scenarios. By using paid-for ads.

In tandem with this, we see other businesses that embraced SEO prior to COVID, now pulling back on their spending, cancelling contracts with SEO agencies, closing down marketing operations, and attempting to wait the situation out.

For savvy small business owners who can financially weather this perfect storm, there is light at the end of a gloomy tunnel.

This article will explore sound SEO Advice for Local Businesses and SMEs During COVID.  And the need to step-up your SEO efforts by putting your company in prime position when the bounce-back occurs.

Think in the long term

COVID is having a catastrophic effect on the bottom line of almost every business out there. People look for answers online now, more than ever.

In uncertain times, SEO focused content is by far the most cost-effective way to put your business in front of customers. It’s long term, low investment, and while other businesses turn off their marketing, you need to be taking advantage and moving ahead of them.

1. Create content to build trust

According to a study by Conductor, which found consumers are 131% more likely to buy from a brand immediately after they consume early-stage, educational content.

Early-stage content has a major impact on purchase decisions and brand trust. Consumers are much more likely to buy from brands that produce superior-quality, early-stage educational content.

If budgets permit, you should create more content. Consumers are searching online in numbers never seen before and they want relevant, helpful answers to their questions, from brands they trust.

Consumers have had their confidence rocked by the amount of misinformation and outright lies both online and in the printed press. They want transparency and truth.

If budgets have been cut and you have time to invest, review your current content and see what opportunities are to give it a bit of a refresh.

2. Improve trustworthiness

Continuing the theme of trustworthiness. In 2013 the first murmurs surrounding E-A-T EXPERTISE, AUTHORITY and TRUST) first began to appear on SEO industry blogs.

On 29 March, 2014 YMYL (Your Money Your Life) cropped up in Google’s Search Quality Ratings Handbook (version 4.1).

In version 5 more priority is given to E-A-T.

August 1, 2018 saw Google’s Medic update. Most believed this was when E-A-T came into being, however by then Expertise, Authority and Trust was 5 years old.

So well before COVID, trust was a major factor. The more the customer trusts you, the more likely they are to click on your search listing.

It’s imperative to manage your online reputation. Inaccurate or plain worthless information will hurt your visitors and your brand.

3. Website quality

If your business is slow, you probably have extra time on your hands. Take this time to improve some aspects of your website.

a) Site structure

Boost your site by improving your internal linking. The site owner determines the structure of internal links. Using linking wisely will direct Google to the most important pages on your site and get them ranked.

b) Visual appeal

Your website design and appearance reflect directly on your business. First impressions are everything. If your site looks outdated and is difficult to navigate, potential customers may be “put off” by the look and click away. Now would be the perfect time to give your site the “facelift” it deserves.

c) Website usability

Gone are the days when website design focused on the desktop computer. Now it’s a mobile-first environment.

Ensure your site is 100% optimised for mobile. On November 4, 2016 Google announced they were experimenting with making their index “mobile-first” meaning they intended to use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site.

By March 5, 2020 Google believed “most sites were good to go for mobile-first indexing”. In fact 70% had already been moved over. Furthermore, they will switch to mobile-first indexing for all websites starting September 2020.

d) Load times

One thing we have in common is we all hate waiting around for sites to load.

Run your site through free tools like PageSpeed Insights and discover some actionable ways to increase site speed.

It seems to be very difficult to get a straight answer from Google about which areas of page speed they factor in. But one thing is certain visitors will not wait around for your site to load.

e) Schema updates

Ensure Google is only showing current information about your company. Include event-status schema to alert customers to exclusive announcements. Update postponed or cancelled events.

4. Update your Google My Business page

Any important changes to operating hours, or if you decide to offer local or home delivery, etc. should be reflected on your Google My Business page. Google also offers guidance to small businesses struggling through this.

5. Monitor your Google Search Console

Traffic from organic search will tell you what is happening to the demand for your products and services. An increase or reduction in traffic is a good indicator of what your customers believe is important to them. Are you seeing any new search terms? What are Google trends telling you?

If you pay for any third-party SEO tools, now is a good time to deep dive into the data. The information will be invaluable for deciding your ongoing content strategy.

6. Audit your SEO content

Successful companies create content well in advance. But in times like these, it makes heightened consumer sensitivities worse because of such drastic world events. You may have created an entire catalogue of content prior to the pandemic.

Your content needs to show understanding and empathy towards customers, now more than ever.

Insensitivity and a lack of cognizance of what is going on around you is a surefire way to not only lose customers but to create a firestorm of adverse publicity about your brand.

In-house SEO managers and agencies should know what consumer’s sentiments are, and they should share this knowledge with other marketing elements in the organisation.

In the short term or through the other side of COVID adapt your SEO to become the voice of your customer within the company framework.

Current, valuable, and exclusive content is an essential component of SEO. But, through this dire situation, regular publishing of current, well-researched, optimised, original, and re-purposed content provide an ideal opportunity for it to be front and centre on Google’s SERPs.

Play the long game with your content. Maybe no-one is buying right now. But let’s not forget organic search is the first step in any online research process.

Not only is it the first step, but consumers constantly revert to organic search through the consideration phase. This is constant in long sales cycles.

7. Keyword Research

Any successful content strategy has keyword research at its heart. If online search behaviour is changing, it’s necessary to revise your keyword research. Updating keywords is normal but, if you are trying to adapt to developing content strategies, it’s crucial.

8. As a local business connect with the community

Where do you feel your business fits with your local community? How can you ensure it maintains importance within the community?

One solution is joining many of the local groups on Facebook. This is a great way to feel part of the community and understand how COVID is affecting them. You will then know how to position your company to be a positive force.

By doing this, it will become obvious how you can use creative ways of helping. Coming together with fellow local businesses to bundle products and offers, for example. This not only helps locals but opens up new business opportunities for you now and into the future.

Showing some originality of thought and resourcefulness will propel your brand and business ahead of any competitors.

9. Record more video

Video is an excellent way to improve your SEO

  • A simple way to target even more long-tail keywords
  •  Activate Featured Snippets
  • Enhance search results by appearing in YouTube searches

Video allows you to produce different content. Transcribe video and embed your video in a blog post along with the transcript.

We mentioned earlier how important trust is now. Well, creating Q&A videos is an excellent way of building trust and attracting more traffic. To maximise the effects of your video content, repurpose and promote on different platforms.

Benefits of SEO in times of crises

SEO is a long-term tactic, and search engines show little to no transparency for understanding the ranking process.

Their algorithms are forever being fine-tuned, so where you had some success a few short weeks ago, now struggle to get similar results.

It’s a challenging environment and brands may not have given SEO, the priority it deserves.

Now, in the throes of a major worldwide crisis, SEO is showing real tangible results. Brands that are utilising SEO are seeing increasing engagement compared to other brands that are not.

Benefits Of SEO

  • Cost-Effective
  • Long-Term Growth
  • Building Trust
  • Important Audience Metrics

Improve Your SEO Strategy

  • Keyword Research
  • Create Better and Useful Content For The Moment
  • Update Content Frequently
  • Keep Prioritising Local SEO

Want to find out more? Let’s organise a call

Stephen Kinsella

Stephen Kinsella

Founder / Head of SEO - We Love SEO

Stephen's managed SEO campaigns for over 400 clients since 2006 ranging from start-ups and SMEs to large multinational companies including Brave Software, eBay, Lonely Planet, AXA and Samsung.