Can you risk pulling your SEO budget in 2020?
Search Engine Optimisation

Can you risk pulling your SEO budget in 2020?

1st October 2020

There has been a lot of budget-scrapping over the past few months. A global economic crisis will do that. Businesses are fighting to keep going and as such marketing has and will continue to face cuts.

When looking at marketing budgets it is wise to spend on the channels that are clearly delivering ROI. The problem some channels have is measuring that ROI.

Organic search is one of those marketing channels where the benefit of the work is harder to define. There are many ways to forecast SEO ROI, but it’s not always about the financial benefit.

The question is, given the increased pressure on business budgets in light of the Covid-19 effect, should SEO budgets be kept? Beyond the obvious financial benefit of SEO, what else does it bring?

Always on

SEO is not like paid media, where money is needed to fuel the campaign. Unlike paid social media advertising or pay-per-click, SEO does not require ad spend as well as management costs. The only cost for SEO, whether in budget to an agency or for your in-house staff, is time. That’s realistically all you are paying for. That means 100% of spend goes to improving your website.

There is longevity to SEO that is not seen in paid media channels. If you stop giving money to Facebook or Google, your adverts will not show. As such, once you pause or lessen the budget you will not notice an immediate drop in traffic from that channel.

This is arguably a reason to pause your SEO expenditure. If traffic will not be lost the moment you stop pushing budget into SEO, then surely a break in activity will not mean a significant loss long-term. Unfortunately this is not the case.

With paid media, you can turn off a campaign and turn it on again with little impact to the success of that campaign. With visibility in the organic SERPs nothing stays still for long. Stop investing in your SEO and your rankings will begin to fall due to your competitors’ content rising. Just because you are no longer investing in SEO, does not mean they are not. As such, all gains you made over the past months or years through organic search optimisation can be lost. Your website’s visibility in the search results will not instantly spring back to its former levels once you start investing again. SEO can take time to build your site’s visibility back up if your website is in a competitive space.

Underpinning other channels

As your website will always be in the search results unless Google is unable to index it (either intentionally or due to technical issues with the site) it can pick up the slack when other channels are not profitable. For instance, if you are running a product campaign for PPC and need to cut the budget, SEO can help to keep your website at the top of the search results for those product searches regardless. PPC and SEO go hand-in-hand and a two-pronged attack on the SERPs might be what’s best for your business under ideal circumstances. When budgets are tight, however, perhaps investing in SEO can help reduce the need to spend as much on your PPC campaigns.

SEO activity can improve user experience

A core focus of SEO is ensuring the right visitors arrive on your website and are minded to convert when there. As a result of that, effort is put into ensuring the on-site copy and calls to action are ones that your audience will respond well to. Keeping your investment in SEO can benefit your website for users beyond making it more visible in the search results.

SEO works as part of a multi-channel approach

The purchase journey is rarely linear. A visitor might land on your website through a social media campaign, leave and return via a Google search. They might click on a PPC advert and convert from that.

Offline

If your audience becomes aware of product or service through other marketing channels, especially offline, they may not visit your site straight away. Consider this; a person sees a billboard ad for a new type of cordless vacuum cleaner. They’re driving their car so they can’t visit the brand’s website straight away. When they return home they decide to look for cordless vacuum cleaners. A competitor has invested in SEO whereas the billboard brand has not. Guess who gets the click. Unless the person took particular note of the brand that was advertised, they might not be searching specifically for it. Therefore, non-branded searches may not yield that advertiser’s website. If the advertiser had also invested in SEO, then the visitor may have been reminded of the brand’s name when it appeared a one of the top search results.

I’ve (unfortunately) seen billboards advertising a brand with simple “search for [brand]” as the call to action, no website mentioned. That’s a risky strategy. There is no guarantee that your website will rank 1st for your brand name, especially if your brand name isn’t entirely unique or is a word in your, or another, language. If you are investing in SEO and using this tactic, it might well be fine. You can ensure you build up another authority, and even look to gain a knowledge panel for your brand name making your website highly visible in the SERPs for it.

If you are not investing in SEO whilst running offline campaigns such as this you are opening yourself up to the competition taking advantage. All they need to do is run some comparison articles, “Why brand Y is better than brand X” and they may get your intended traffic.

Online

Invest in other online channels but not SEO and you may well be losing out on traffic. A visitor might see your social media post, or receive an email from your brand. They may not act on it straight away. If they return to the source of the advert they may find your site that way. However, if they try to find your product or service through a search then your SEO needs to be a part of your total digital strategy to capitalise on this audience awareness.

Google will continue to change

How the search engines rank and display results continues to change. If you are neglecting SEO budget you may not know about those changes, or adapt to keep up. So far in 2020 we have seen the de-duplication of featured snippet websites in Google as well as broad core algorithm updates in January and May. This is alongside and several bugs and many more minor algorithm updates.

Stop investing in SEO and these changes could have an overnight impact on your website’s SERP visibility.

So will your audience

The Covid-19 pandemic has seen a huge change in how consumers live and spend. More people are working from home, balancing home-schooling and work as well as living in a time of very high-stress. Our spending habits have changed. We are visiting physical stores less.

During this time of more activity happening online. According to data from Bazaarvoice Network, via this article from Marketing Week, there was a 21% increase in online shopping in March 2020 when compared to March 2019.

A study by Adobe showed that in the US “e-commerce shopping levels during COVID-19 (April to May) were higher than what retailers saw during the 2019 holiday season (November to December).”

During the global pandemic it is even more important to be found online.

Conclusion

Businesses are facing massive struggles during 2020 as a result of Covid-19. Knowing where best to spend limited resources is critical. So don’t be hasty in pulling your SEO budget. Consider what affect that might have on other marketing channels and your business as a whole first.

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Written By
Helen is Managing Director of Arrows Up, an SEO training and consultancy agency. Helen has over ten years of experience in digital marketing, SEO and analytics. She regularly speaks at industry events and loves sharing her knowledge through teaching and writing.
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