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Should You Invest in SEO During an Economic Downturn?

should you invest in SEO during a recession or economic downturn?

With inflation concerns on the rise, an ongoing global pandemic, geopolitical conflicts, significant competition in talent recruitment, and ongoing supply chain issues, it’s natural for businesses to take pause when it comes to their budgets in 2022. While it still remains to be seen if the plethora of current global issues will ultimately lead to a full-on recession, it’s worth taking a look at how marketing teams might adjust their budgets in the months to come — and how marketers should approach their SEO efforts during this time of economic uncertainty.

During downturns, marketing leaders might consider adjusting their budget allocation between paid and organic marketing channels, look for new ways to reduce customer acquisition costs (CAC), and evaluate which are their most cost-effective marketing efforts.  

So, is it worth it for marketers to continue to invest in SEO during an economic downturn? 

We think so. Here’s why:

  • 89% of marketing leaders surveyed in our report with Econsultancy felt that organic search will drive more revenue in the future.
  • People have adopted a search-first mindset in their daily lives, pulling up Google as their first, go-to resource for just about any question they may have. (To put this shift into context, before the onset of the pandemic, Google processed over 3.5 billion searches per day, but in the first year of the pandemic, Google reported 5.6 billion per day. That’s a 60% increase in searches in one year—and today, it’s even more.)
  • SEO can help reduce dependency on paid channels: As digital adoption grew during the pandemic, so did competition for attention on paid advertising channels. Alongside the increased cost and competition for online ads, new privacy restrictions on digital advertising channels have led to reduced options for audience targeting. In response to these new challenges in paid channels, marketers may want to reexamine their opportunities for more organic growth.
  • The top result in Google’s organic search results has an average CTR of 27.6%, according to Backlinko research — compare this to the much lower average of 3.17% CTR for paid search ads on Google, according to WordStream data. If you want to ensure a steady flow of website traffic, it pays to have a site that’s optimized for organic search. 
  • Pages ranking in positions 1-7 in Google’s organic search results all outperform the average CTR on paid search ads, according to the Backlinko data — and, on average, moving up one spot in the SERPs will increase CTR by 30.8%.
  • Potential to reduce customer acquisition costs:  If your business currently spends significant sums on paid ads to drive website traffic and conversions, driving that same traffic (or a portion of that traffic) through organic search instead of through PPC ads could give you the leeway to reduce ad spend. (The difference is baked in. With paid ads, you’ll generally pay for each and every click they generate. Organic search, on the other hand, can continue to drive clicks at no extra cost long after the initial improvements for ranking have been made.)
  • Opportunities to reduce developer resource drain with SEO automation: A well-resourced SEO strategy can take advantage of new developments in SEO QA testing automation. Preventing SEO issues before they go live on your site can build new efficiencies into your dev timelines and save engineering teams precious time.
  • Complementary solutions for conversion rate optimization (CRO): Optimizing for page experience is a core part of SEO — this is increasingly true with last year’s introduction of Google’s Core Web Vitals as a ranking signal. Related factors such as site speed impact not only rankings, but also conversion rates, so it’s worth paying attention to these crucial aspects of technical SEO for reasons that expand well beyond SERP rankings. According to Google’s Mary Ellen Coe, president of Google Customer Solutions, a one-second delay in mobile load times can impact conversion rates by up to 20%
 

Marketing during a downturn — where does SEO fit in?

Economic downturns and recessions are nothing new, of course. It’s worth taking a look at which marketing approaches helped stave off losses in past downturns when considering how to plan for the next one. During the height of the ‘Great Recession’, back in 2009, Harvard Business Review published an article on ‘How to Market in a Downturn’. As professor John Quelch and researcher Katherine Jocz write in the HBR article, marketing still has a major role to play in times of economic uncertainty:

Marketing expenditures in areas from communications to research are often slashed across the board—but such indiscriminate cost cutting is a mistake. Although it’s wise to contain costs, failing to support brands or examine core customers’ changing needs can jeopardize performance over the long term.

(Source: Harvard Business Review)

A decade later, HBR contributors assessed more than 5,000 companies’ performance over the last four business cycles and found a common set of actions that contributed to the success of companies that weathered downturns better than others. One of the similarities among the more successful businesses was a continued focus on long-term goals, despite the challenges introduced by a downturn: “Companies with a longer-term perspective achieved 4 percentage points higher annual growth during the downturn as well as 2 percentage points higher total shareholder return.”

SEO offers long-term benefits for online visibility, brand awareness, and conversions that can expand beyond the boundaries of an economic downturn. It’s an ongoing effort with compounding results; establishing high-ranking pages on your site offers opportunities for other content on your site to rank better as well, through optimization efforts such as internal linking strategies. Improving your website’s overall technical health and staying on top of evolving best practices with regard to page experience and site speed helps brands maintain a competitive edge in the search engines that consumers use every day. Failing to keep pace with SEO best practices and losing search-driven traffic, on the other hand, could easily result in lost opportunities for ongoing brand awareness and growth. 

Starting in 2020, the pandemic, of course, also introduced a new period of economic uncertainty, leading to an initial drop in marketing spend for many companies — but that now appears to be turning around. According to Gartner’s 2022 report on marketing spend, marketing budgets have been rebounding in 2022, moving closer toward their pre-pandemic levels of 11% of company revenue:

Marketing budgets climbed from 6.4% of company revenue in 2021 to 9.5% in 2022, but still lag behind prepandemic spending.

(Source: Gartner, The State of Marketing Budget and Strategy 2022)

Website efforts accounted for 9% of total marketing budgets for 2022, according to the Gartner research. A further 9% of marketing budgets were allocated to mobile site and mobile app development and maintenance, and an additional 9.4% of the average budget was allocated to digital commerce projects. That’s nearly 30% of marketing budgets, on average, dedicated to web-focused marketing projects in 2022, suggesting the ongoing importance of website health and digital customer experiences for businesses worldwide. (Other investment areas included campaign creation, brand strategy and activation, marketing analytics, and sales enablement.) 

 

Adjusting marketing strategies for changing consumer behaviors  

Although it’s wise to contain costs, failing to support brands or examine core customers’ changing needs can jeopardize performance over the long term. Companies that put customer needs under the microscope, take a scalpel rather than a cleaver to the marketing budget, and nimbly adjust strategies, tactics, and product offerings in response to shifting demand are more likely than others to flourish both during and after a recession.

(Source: Harvard Business Review)

In recent years, there’s been a marked shift in consumer behavior that future-focused marketing strategies will naturally want to address — even, or especially, during downturns. Recently, the shift to online sales in both B2C and B2B markets suggests that companies’ websites and digital presence are more important than ever.  

The major growth in eCommerce since the start of the pandemic is just one example. According to the US Census Bureau’s Annual Retail Trade Survey (ARTS) Tables, eCommerce sales increased by $244.2 billion (a 43% increase) in the first year of the pandemic alone. 

Gartner’s Marketing Predictions 2022: Forging New Connections report suggests that this shift to online-first purchasing is also applicable in the B2B market:

The pandemic accelerated a digital-first B2B buying trend, further blurring the boundaries between marketing and sales. Buyers and sellers now expect website transactions to overtake human-led sales by 2023

(Source: Gartner)

Google research further reports that 53% of shoppers say they always do research before they buy. Having quality content on your website to support the buyer decision and implementing strong SEO best practices to rank those pages in the SERPs for customers’ queries will allow businesses to capture more attention from customers during this research phase of their decision-making around purchases. 

SEO can help address changing consumer behaviors

Succeeding in organic search through a strong SEO strategy is a core part of realizing the most commercial impact from your website. Here at Lumar, we’ve discussed the growth of Google and other search engines as part of the customer journey in terms of the search-first age.  

 

Ready to build a future-thinking SEO strategy?

Getting the right SEO tools and resources in place is key to executing a successful organic search strategy. 

Not sure where to start, or which SEO platforms can help support ongoing growth for your business in the coming months? Lumar’s website intelligence and technical SEO platform offers solutions for easy ongoing site monitoring, in-depth technical SEO analytics, and time-saving automation. Our enterprise-scale website crawler is the fastest on the market, helping digital teams meet their SEO goals in record time. 

For marketers looking to revisit their organic search strategy to build in new efficiencies and improve the effectiveness of their website as a revenue-generating asset, we recommend downloading our free eBook: The Ultimate Guide to Incorporating Website Health Into Your 2022 Marketing Strategy

Book a demo today to see how Lumar can help you grow.

 

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