Managing SEO in Times of Crisis – Jordan Koene // Searchmetrics

Episode Overview: The COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic is changing our lives in a multitude of different ways from closing businesses to moving entire workforces to work from home. For many businesses it’s a frightening, uncertain time, but learning how to manage your business under crisis while leveraging every tool possible is crucial to growth. Join host Ben as he speaks with Searchmetrics’ SEO Strategist and Advisor Jordan Koene about the best ways to manage SEO in times of crisis and the steps you can take t0 maintain or grow your business.

Summary

  • SEO is a channel that can be leaned on during tough times, providing businesses with traffic sources that can be acquired organically without spending marketing money.
  • In a time of crisis, first examine how many resources you have, and carefully prioritize needs based off your analytics, content writing and development resources.
  • Progressing from prioritization to the execution phase requires thinking about what people are actually doing now, how they’re performing search today as they adjust to radically changing times.

GUESTS & RESOURCES

Ben:                 Welcome to the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro, and today we’ll be discussing, well, how to manage SEO through crisis. Joining us today is Jordan Koene who is an SEO strategist and an advisor for Searchmetrics. Okay. On with the show. Here’s my conversation with Jordan Reinaldo, SEO strategist for Searchmetrics. Jordan. Dude.

Jordan:             Hey Ben.

Ben:                 It’s a brand new world. What the hell is happening out there?

Jordan:             Yeah, it’s a scary place, especially here in the state of California where we’re all locked into our home.

Ben:                 All right everyone. Let’s set the context here, Jordan and I were going to get together and we were going to talk about some SEO optimization stuff, but the world turned upside down last week. The coronavirus, as you I’m sure have all heard, is wreaking havoc on people’s lives, their families, obviously businesses, so we’re not going to beat around the bush. We’re going to talk a little bit about how to manage, first off adversity, and then talk about what we think the impact coronavirus is going to have on the search community.

Ben:                 Jordan, let’s start off with managing through adversity. Give me the playbook here. Everybody, excuse my language. When the shit hits the fan like it is now and there are unforeseen circumstances … You know, there was 9/11, we’ve seen in other countries obviously drastic changes, political … Stuff happens. Maybe not to this extent around the world. How have we seen the search community be effective and be helpful? Talk to me about what you see when there’s times of adversity when it comes to search.

Jordan:             Yeah, I mean I think that as a search community, the SEO’s, the operators of search coming together. I think these are times when, like any business, people come together to show empathy for one another in terms of what’s going on and how their lives are changing, creating more flexible environments. But I think the big thing, especially for the search community and for SEOs in particular, as Ben cleans his hands with some hand sanitizer-

Ben:                 It’s actually a hand lotion because I’ve washed my hands so many times today, they hurt.

Jordan:             Exactly. Welcome to the new world. Is that SEO is a channel that’s typically leaned on in these kinds of times because of the nature of the business, right? It is a source of traffic that does not require a paid form of acquisition. It doesn’t require a paid marketing dollar spent. And so there’s a lot of heads being turned to SEO. I’ve been talking to everything from startups to Fortune 100s all thinking, “Well, we’re in a time of crisis and we don’t have the money we used to. What do we do?”

Ben:                 So here’s the thing that I don’t understand is why don’t people have the money they used to? This happened last week. Where did everyone’s marketing budgets go? And obviously SEO is, when you have to be resourceful and drive organic growth, probably the first and most important channel you should be reaching on. Obviously more important than organic social these days. Why does this happen?

Jordan:             Well, I think that one of the things, I’m making some big assumptions here, right? So let’s be all honest, every company is a little bit different. Every operating company has a little different style of handling these things. But when crisis faces a society and it becomes a local, national, global scale, people just go into real hibernation mode, right? Conservative thinking prevails in these scenarios. And that means that people are a little leery about how they want to spend their money, where they want to spend their money, when they want to spend the money. And it just becomes a very cautious type of environment.

Jordan:             And so the marketing dollars are still there. They’re all sitting there. It’s just, how quickly are we tapping into the well, I think is really what’s going on right now. And that’s just part of where we are right now. Everyone’s in a very “Wait and see,” type of atmosphere, attitude.

Ben:                 Hey, on the bright side, we’re not doing an events marketing podcast because that industry is obviously going to get just obliterated. I feel terrible for the event marketers out there. There has to be a therapy hotline for people that are staffing, working, and managing event marketing. It could be worse. You mentioned that SEO gets leaned on, so when the spotlight gets turned on you as an SEO and your CEO comes and says, or your COO comes down and says, we’re going to pull back the reigns on our paid spend. Go be our biggest best channel and do it hot and fast. What do you do?

Jordan:             One second Ben, I’ve got a child in the background trying to break into my room.

Ben:                 So for the record, everybody, Jordan is recording this podcast in his bedroom and there is three beautiful, wonderful children and wife in the other room and there’s going to be some background noise and this is just the way the world’s going to be. Jordan, don’t worry about it. Fire away. Harvey, Hugo, baby Jojo, bring it on.

Jordan:             Yeah, it’s the new reality. Yeah, so there’s a couple of ways that people come to SEOs to lean on them. The first one and the most obvious one and the least realistic one is, “Get me more traffic. Get me more revenue. Get me more anything.” Right? That’s always the talk line, right? It’s always how businesses try to push SEO and marketing channels as a whole.

Jordan:             But I think the more interesting thing in these times is that there is a more holistic view on SEO. What you really see in times of crisis is that you’ve got the product folks who come in, you’ve got the management team, the leadership teams who come in and they say, “Okay, this is really a channel that we need to start paying attention to because it’s going to be part of our survival.” And it becomes that least common denominator, right? It’s the reason why there is no more rice and pasta in every shelf of every grocery store because you know you can always rely on rice and pasta if you have nothing else to eat.

Ben:                 SEO, the Italian food of marketing.

Jordan:             Right. The risotto of the food world.

Ben:                 All right, so potentially the SEOs listening to this podcast are going to have a little bit more resources, a little bit more attention. Pressure’s going to be on to get quick results. How do you think that SEOs can make an impact in the short term, not knowing how long they’re going to have more room to run?

Jordan:             Yeah, so there’s a couple of things to be really thinking about when it’s one of these times of crisis. First of all, what kind of resources do you have available to yourself? Right, so typically in these kinds of situations, whether you’re an ecommerce shop or you’re a news and media company, you’re going to get a flood of resources. How do you prioritize and use them to the best of your advantage? How do you really focus on what it is that’s going to give you the best bang for your buck in terms of development resources, analytics resources, content writing resources, and there’s a slew of other things that you can take into consideration here. But the reality is that one of the often missteps that’s taken by many SEOs in a time of crisis is prioritization. What do we use and what is first on the list? And so I think that that is one thing to really take heart of.

Jordan:             I mean if you’re saying you’re in the news and media category, right? This is a whole new world order. There are a lot of topics that are now brand new. Coronavirus, four or five months ago, was not a search term. And now there’s a billion different search terms that are brand new in our world. And think about if this epidemic continues, this pandemic continues for three, six months, God forbid. You can realize how search is going to evolve, right? How people are going to be looking at remote type queries and how to do video-based type conferences and events to your event marketing suggestion or how we’re going to handle-

Ben:                 Podcast sponsorships, podcast sponsorships, podcast sponsorships, podcast sponsorships.

Jordan:             Podcasts.

Ben:                 Excuse me, sorry. What?

Jordan:             The good thing is that Ben and I are keeping a healthy six foot distance from one another.

Ben:                 I’m six foot away from the screen. It looks like you haven’t showered in days.

Jordan:             It’s all part of being in this state shelter in place order.

Ben:                 Working at home with three children, folks. He’s still on the podcast. I hope you appreciate how much Jordan believes in this show.

Jordan:             So to answer Ben’s question, to go from prioritization to execution requires you to not just look at the same old world order of sell more products, get people to read my articles more, but actually think about what are people doing now? How are people performing search today? It has changed, radically.

Ben:                 Let’s talk a little bit about how Google adjusts in times of adversity and change and maybe think back around what happened after 9/11 here in the United States. Some other political situations. When you see the world get a little topsy-turvy, what do we think about how Google manages it?

Jordan:             Well, this is a phenomenal question. I’m really glad that we’re talking about this because I don’t think SEOs out there are realizing what’s going on in search today. We’re actually in an unprecedented scenario where Google, in particular, has taken some extreme efforts to modify and secure the SERP. They are being very vigilant and direct about how they present information and content. Just do the search for coronavirus tips. Google created a custom graphic and a list in what you would essentially call an answer box to make people realize, these are the tips. This is what you should focus on if you’re looking for the search term coronavirus tips.

Ben:                 So everybody, for the record, the tips are do the high five. Hands, wash them often. Elbows, cough into them. Face, don’t touch it. Feet, stay more than three feet apart. Hey Jordan, we can get closer. Feel sick, stay home. So if you’re not already doing that, everybody do that. Just wash your hands. Use common sense. Don’t lick a door handle. Anyway, go on.

Jordan:             But I mean, they took this content from the World Health Organization. They put it here in a very, very intrusive way, and they’re doing this across hundreds of thousands of search queries to really inform the public. And they’re doing it in a very intentional and direct way. And I appreciate Google doing it. This is not how Google operated in the past.

Jordan:             Just think of our last election. They did not operate this way in the last presidential election and I think this is a cue into how they’re going to handle the November presidential election that’s coming up because they’re going to be very deliberate about how they surface content and queue up content that is in search results to avoid potential misinformation. And I think that this is a really interesting time that we’re living in the United States because this is not something that we’ve faced in terms of search in the past. This has happened in other countries, but it’s been dictated by the country themselves.

Ben:                 One of the things that I appreciate most is that when you just search for coronavirus, I think it’s actually before the first listing, so there’s a bunch of stuff that Google is dynamically inserting into this page. It’s obviously a special experience. But one of the above-the-fold things is, “How to wash your hands,” which is not even a YouTube video. It’s actually Google’s own video, “How to wash your hands.” If I haven’t mentioned it yet folks, wash your hands.

Jordan:             Right. Practice good hygiene.

Ben:                 Jordan, when we think broadly about times of adversity, when we think about the SEO community, is there anything that we should do to band together to help each other out? What can we do? Obviously this is more important than just keyword optimization and metrics and the stuff we normally love to talk about. What can the SEO community do to help out?

Jordan:             So there’s a couple of things here. I think that continuing to support fair practices within the web is something that we should all be really mindful of. I was really happy to see articles about Amazon, de-listing marketplace businesses that were trying to sell things like hand sanitizer and toilet paper for X multiples the normal retail value of that. And I think that that’s really good practice by Amazon as a marketplace to say, “Hey, no, we’re not going to allow that kind of behavior.” And what happens is you get a lot of looters and individuals who try to take advantage of these kinds of scenarios. And it’s a feed off of fear type of mentality. And as SEOs, we see a lot of these things. We use them as examples, we present them at conferences, but what we should really be doing is being proactive. And there’s various ways for us to self-police and police these different situations.

Jordan:             So that’s one component. I think the other component is that we’re living in a very new world order. SMX Munich was supposed to take place today and yesterday while we’re recording here, the 18th and 19th of March. They went all online, right? And I know that that’s had an impact on their business and on their audience. There’s going to be other events and there’s going to be other scenarios where we as a community would learn where we’d engage with one another. And we’re just going to have to take a different approach. We’re going to have to pick up the phone. We’re going to have to call one another. We’re going to have to reach out to one another in different ways to educate, inform, and communicate about what is happening in search and how things are unfolding. And I think that’s something that we just should be really thoughtful of and mindful of as this new world order takes place.

Ben:                 It’s crazy days, and if I haven’t mentioned yet, wash your hands. But you know, Jordan, I couldn’t agree with you more. Things are going to change. There’s going to be more of a shift for the short term and potentially for the long term towards people working remotely, towards people moving their marketing activities to digital. All of the event, all of the in-person sales, all that stuff’s going to go away. At least for the short period of time. People are going to be out of the job. It’s going to get worse potentially before it gets better. God, I hope that’s not true. But you know, for the SEO community, I think that it is a close knit community. We’ve seen that here with the podcast, people reaching out to us. I think more than anything, we wish you all luck.

Ben:                 Everybody stay safe. Don’t be stupid, don’t lick a doorknob. It’s a crazy time. We’re going to talk a little bit more about the actual coronavirus keywords and the actual coronavirus in our episode tomorrow, but for today everybody stay safe. Keep your head up, keep it human, even if it’s on a Zoom conference or whatever you’re using. Skype if you want to go old school. And that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast.

Ben:                 Thanks for listening to my conversation with Jordan Koene, SEO Strategist and Advisor to Searchmetrics. We’d love to continue the conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Jordan, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes, or you can contact him on Twitter. His handle is jtkoene, J-T K-O-E-N-E, or you can visit his website which is jordankoene.com.

Ben:     Just one more link in our show notes that I’d like to tell you about. If you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast, head over to voicesofsearch.com where we have summaries of our episodes, contact information for our guests. You can also send us your topic suggestions or your SEO questions. You can even apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search podcast. Of course you can always reach out on social media. Our handle is voicesofsearch on Twitter and my personal handle is benjshap, B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P. And if you haven’t subscribed yet and you want a daily stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, in addition to the rest of my conversation with Jordan Koene talking about how the coronavirus is impacting search community, we’re going to publish an episode every day during the workweek. So hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feed soon. Okay, that’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data and go wash your hands.