There’s an ongoing pandemic, we’ve hit a bit of a recession, and here I am trying to convince you that SEO is still super important. I’ll hit you with an early summary: it is, SEO is still super important even in the face of economic instability. 

Whether it’s a pandemic, oil prices plummeting, or something else that leads to an economic downturn, marketing remains a key factor for successful brands and businesses.

Marketing budgets, which should include SEO, are often prime targets for early cuts as companies wrestle with shutdowns and tightening the purse strings. Unfortunately, SEO is often not very well understood because so much happens behind the scenes, which makes it ‘easy’ to cut.

As many companies wrestle with shutdowns and pulling on the purse strings, they might eye their marketing budget as an early cut. Usually, SEO is a major part of that marketing budget, so it’s at risk when a company decides to trim the fat. 


(Image by ocreative

We know based on past recessions and throughout major historical downturns, changes to ad spend and marketing can significantly improve or hinder a brand’s success during and after any kind of recession. In almost every example, companies that continued or improved marketing efforts saw higher sales

But why?

Think of marketing and SEO like a race. Even if everyone starts at the same spot, certain brands will go faster and farther based on budget, advertising, or talent, and whatever other tools they have at their disposal.

But if several companies take a 6 month pit stop because of a pandemic, even smaller budget cars will get ahead as long as they keep moving.

60% of large-sized businesses and 29% of medium-sized businesses noted a reduction in marketing budget during the 2008 recession.

And as we see in this report on how companies spend during a recession, larger companies are more likely to make cuts to their marketing budget during rough times. That provides an opportunity for competitors and smaller businesses to get some distance if they maintain their marketing and SEO efforts.

Competition Doesn’t Stop, And Neither Should Your Marketing

The major reason you want to carry on marketing and SEO throughout a pandemic or recession is simple: competition won’t stop. Even though we see in reports that larger businesses will spend less on marketing during hard times, it doesn’t remove businesses from the field altogether. 

That means after the recession or pandemic, that business will be back on the track racing at full speed again. Maintaining your SEO efforts through a pandemic as your competitors pull back gives you a big advantage. 

Conceptualizing Your Advantage

Keeping up your SEO isn’t just about the short term boost you might see during the actual downturn. It also gives you an opportunity to carve out a larger niche, the effects of which could last long after the economy stabilizes and returns to normal.

Let’s look at this from a super simple perspective. What are the main benefits of running a successful SEO campaign in the first place?

  • Driving traffic and improving sales
  • Branding and reputation management
  • Direct marketing and lead generation


(Image by Moody’s)

Using COVID-19 as an example, we see how something like a pandemic can significantly shift traffic and sales for a number of industries.

Retail, hospitality, travel, and service industries all saw a major dip in business, while online services like food delivery, streaming platforms, and e-commerce websites noted an increase.

The major shift to online services reveals that even in the midst of uncertainty, people are still researching, shopping for, and considering products and businesses. Even if they’re not buying, they will certainly remember what was and was not available. Availability may be impacted across all businesses, of course, but preference will still play a large part.

Typically, there are a few main reasons people will leave a brand or service for another:

  • A bad experience with the current product or service
  • A bad service or product (can be price, quality, or support related)
  • Mismatched views in terms of politics or brand direction
  • A better offer from another brand (better prices, promotions, increased value)

For example, perhaps a customer notices and likes your advertising and tries your brand of toilet paper or delivery service during the pandemic.

If they find that your service has more value than their previous option, they’ll be more likely to remember and repeat business even after all brands and products are available again. 

You want to take advantage of that continued online interest by maintaining or doubling up on your SEO efforts. If everyone is stuck at home and turning to the internet, you need to make sure your business is still ranking high on the SERPs.

Long Term Benefits of Constant SEO

Now that people are spending more time online, you’ve ramped up your SEO to meet that demand. It allows you to leverage your SEO and improved online presence right in the middle of a boom in online interest. 

But the long term benefits of SEO and marketing shouldn’t be ignored, even during a recession.

Looking at Kellogg’s and Toyota during past financial downturns, we see the effects of ongoing marketing in action. 

Not only did these companies benefit in the immediate moment by surpassing their competition with constant ads and marketing, they also secured a place in the market after the recession.

Returning to our racing analogy, by staying in the race instead of taking a pitstop, these companies managed to gain and maintain a significant lead. In the Toyota example, they even managed to surpass Volkswagen as the top imported car brand in the years following the recession.

Build More Than Sales: Brand Growth and Recognition

Often overlooked in favor of raw revenue generation, SEO also offers a boost to brand recognition and brand presence

If we think about a standard Google search, most users will not go beyond the first or second page when looking for information on a product or service. 


In this image, we can see that across all age ranges, less than 10% of users make it to the second or third page of search results.
(As seen on Moz, by Path Interactive)

SEO can push you closer and closer to the first page, or further up the first page, which is a huge factor in brand recognition when it comes to online searches. 

But we’ve already covered the importance of good SEO and organic search results. Instead, let’s contextualize the benefit of better SEO and better brand recognition during a pandemic.

Be There When Customers Need It

Though brand loyalty is dropping off a bit these days, brand recognition hasn’t fallen off near as much. Even though brand alone is no longer enough to secure ongoing business or customer loyalty, it’s still true that people tend to buy things they’ve heard of.

Neil Patel talks about this here, where he highlights the significance of building a recognizable online brand and presence. 

Owning your own website, owning related domains, being active on blogs and social media, essentially creating a relatable and present crowd-facing persona for your business.

These are already things businesses should do as part of their SEO campaign. Another author on Patel’s blog also delves a bit into the psychology of why customers value that presence.

To summarize, people want to recognize and relate to the brand providing their goods or services. Customers that feel recognized by customer service are more favorable towards the brands or companies in question.

Why Does This Matter In a Pandemic?

Essentially, you want to stay relevant. 

Being front of mind relies on two major factors: being seen and being remembered.

Being seen is the first part of SEO. It’s all about boosting rankings, which is what we talked about in the first section.

Think Kellogg’s and Toyota again. They managed to get seen more because their competition stopped advertising. In turn, whether it was due to scarcity or finally being able to communicate their value, they were also remembered.


Here we can see Toyota’s growth trajectory as a company. 1973 is where new MPG reports and an oil crisis impacted a large number of industries, with the auto industry being among them. In spite of these huge changes, we still see a period of growth, even in overseas sales for Toyota.

If you manage to surpass competitors, you’ve got to double down on all aspects of SEO and maximize this time to leave a good impression on any new leads you attract. 

That means improving and maintaining content production, optimizing your site speed, and everything else that goes into good web design and SEO.

It’s not enough to simple be the only game in town, you need to give people a reason to stick around after your competitors are back in the race.

Maintain Company Consistency

Though less significant than the other points, SEO is also an important part of projecting consistency and stability within a company. Responding to and handling a pandemic or recession is part of your company’s image. 

Because SEO efforts have a small ramp up and wind down time between 1 to 12 months, the decision to stop SEO could add another 1 to 12 months of downtime on top of whatever time is lost to a pandemic or other scenario. 

Failing to respond or disappearing in the midst of a crisis can leave current customers and potential customers questioning the brand.

Particularly in competitive markets, where other brands choose to continue marketing or have a higher budget for faster recovery, the choice to stop marketing could damage your rankings and potential for business.

That doesn’t mean every company needs to run out and make a big, grand statement about COVID-19 and “how we intend to help” and all that. We talked a bit here about how to maintain productivity and adapt to work from home conditions, where we also talk about handling B2B and B2C relationships.

Essentially, don’t forget your partners and customers exist during a financial crisis, or they might forget you when the economy recovers. 

People like consistency and reliability, short public statements or private statements to potentially affected parties may be more than enough to help people feel secure in their investment with your company. 

The SEO Factor

Another way to reinforce your presence is by maintaining a strong SEO campaign in the face of a recession. Keep the ads rolling, keep pushing for higher rankings, and keep producing content for your users. 

Track how the situation is affecting your work flow, turn that into a case study, do whatever it takes to reassure people that your business will survive and continue providing value before, during, and after hard times.

You gain a competitive advantage and an opportunity to push ahead of your competitors that choose to stop ads and SEO, while also reinforcing your brand through consistent presence and messaging.

Even if your competitors forge ahead during a downturn, you’ll still need to keep up SEO to maintain an even pace. Either you gain an advantage, or you maintain your business. The only negative option is to stop marketing and SEO altogether.

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