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Kevin and Mark discuss what strategies and tactics organisations can think about to do something good during the COVID-19 crisis. Kevin gives his thoughts about interacting with customers that are 'in shock' and Mark brings his thoughts on changes they have been making with clients in regard to SEO and PPC.
Show notes .
Kevin Indig's website - https://www.kevin-indig.com/
Fountain Partnership COVID-19 agency response survey: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSerb21ie8-RiFh2Y8GMZ_HcvKtijCG4o8HaN72kP4NbADQKMg/viewform
Fountain Partnership 'Research When Demand Falls': https://sites.google.com/fountainpartnership.co.uk/respondingtocv19/marketing/research
Search Starter Pack: http://www.searchstarterpack.com/
MC: Welcome to episode 53 of the Search with Candour podcast, recorded on Friday the 20th of March 2020. My name is Mark Williams-Cook and today we're joined by VP of SEO and content at software marketplace G2, start-up, mentor, writer of the tech bound newsletter and host of the tech found conversations podcast, Kevin Indig and we're going to be talking about digital marketing during Covid19.
KI: Hey, how’s it going? Thanks for having me on.
MC: Welcome Kevin. Thank you so much for joining us here, really appreciate it. So i was just talking to Kevin, before we started this recording, and I only just noticed actually Search with Candour is now a year old, so we've just passed - it's our 53rd episode - so we've just passed the year, which is I feel another milestone for us that we've kept going.
Kevin, your Tech conversations podcast, how long has that been going for?
KI: I started a couple months ago, I would say last year, September I recorded the first episode, then I waited until I had five and now yeah, it's like half a year now and there's no regular cadence when it comes out, it comes out when it comes out.
MC: So for those that haven't heard of you. So again, Kevin is one of those people who I've been lucky enough to have contact with over the past, probably a couple of years, we’ve had conversations in brief on Twitter, he's a part of a technical SEO group that I contribute to regularly. Kevin, do you just want to give listeners that haven't heard of you a quick background of who you are and what you do?
KI: Absolutely and thanks for the kind words Mark. So I'm currently again the VP of SEO and Content G2. I was the head of SEO at Atlassian before, the makers of JIRA, confluence and Trello and yeah, I've been out in the SEO space for about 10 years. Now, I'm focused on topics beyond SEO - also lots of content marketing, some inbound channels and I mean I've been just about; I write on my personal sites, kevin-indig.com, contribute to other sites and yeah, I think that's that's most you need to know about me, otherwise Google my name and you'll find something.
MC: Yeah, I was just going to say you are in a lot of different places at once, one of those people always whose eyes always pop-up and I'm just like how does this person have time to do this. So yeah, Kevin's not hard to find if you Google him.
So today's episode, we may go slightly outside the realms of what we'd normally talk about because we normally hyper focused on SEO and PPC and I thought it would be good to do an episode around, you know still focused around search, but around digital marketing while the country, the world and businesses are dealing with the fallout, with the results of Coronavirus, of Covid. So personally, as most of our listeners will know, I run an agency and we do a lot of web and digital marketing work and we've seen a whole range of impacts business-wise. So you know the majority of businesses, as I'm sure everyone has seen, are facing some kind of struggle or hardship in terms of this. We've worked with some companies in training and event sectors who obviously have been completely shut down, which were followed by places like restaurants and cafes and clubs, again who we deal with.
At the other end of scale, we have actually got some ecommerce clients where you know - net, obviously this is a bad thing for everyone - but in terms of their business and online traffic, they have actually seen increases and this is actually Kevin, something you were saying, so with G2 you've actually seen some of your categories spiking, right? So you're actually getting more traffic?
KI: Yeah that's absolutely right and I personally believe that we're at the very beginning of, I want to say a new internet or let's say the next step in the internet evolution, it might sound a bit bold but the numbers that we're seeing on our marketplace for searches, for software like video conferencing and audio conferencing, but also stuff like telemedicine and VPNs, voice over IPs, those kind of conferences.
It's absolutely stunning. You know, e-signature, webinar software. I mean it makes perfect sense right, people are at home and you need to keep business afloat as good as possible, but I believe that we're on the verge to the next step in evolution, because now everybody thinks about how they can provide their services remotely. So of course again, like doctors are on high demand, psychologist, counseling but it's going to be very exciting to see what other industries are going to try to provide services online and again, I think fitness instructors, cooking teachers, tutors, online learning - those are also industries that are gonna be absolutely blowing up because not only are people at home and again, try to entertain themselves and educate themselves, but they're also trying to like make use of time. So more time, more internet usage and you have the same demands that people had before and I think that makes what we're seeing, the very beginning of right now and of course also at YouTube.
MC: So that's really interesting and when you talk about making that next leap because I think something you see both in business and nature, which is that these leaps are normally made when there is this external pressure that forces these changes, that would otherwise be painful at the best of times. I think what's interesting now obviously as a software company, you know software companies were always front of my mind for companies that might not be as badly affected as other types of business, there were ones that weren't and came as a little bit as a surprise to me, but made perfect sense; you mentioned that fitness instructors there. So I've got friends working in the ecomm sector for home fitness and they said they're completely sold out of you know kettlebells, dumbbells, treadmills, so I assume everyone's gonna come out of quarantine like really hench, I mean like the best condition of their life or whether it's gonna be people buy this stuff and then we all just devolve into eating Doritos on the on the sofa.
I think it's worth mentioning, I'll mention it now, so obviously I have unfortunately seen a lot of people get made redundant during this last week or so and a lot of people working in marketing - I did put this out on my LinkedIn and Twitter, that's the only place I've put it at the moment. I am offering a free day of SEO training, if you've been made redundant and you wanna learn SEO and up skill if you go to twitter.com, forward slash my slightly embarrassing username which is “thetafferboy” which is spelt, the taffer boy (twitter.com/thetafferboy) - it is my pinned tweet, there's a little form there, fill it in, I'll get in contact with you and we'll sort out some some video training.
So Kevin, my question for you then, which is probably on the front of many business owners minds, you know if they haven't done much or they haven't done anything yet, what's the first thing businesses should be doing now in this time?
KI: Yeah. So the very first thing is to realise that people are in shock, this is a situation we've never seen before ever and something that can be pretty disturbing for some people, like it is a real distortion of reality. So people are in actual shock; so I do believe that there is a sort of dip where business goes down tremendously and I think that it has probably started about a week ago, maybe ten days ago and will continue, depending on how quickly things change from now on. I mean I'm currently in Germany, you're in England, I assume that most listeners to this podcast live in a country that is being shut down to the degree that people have to stay inside, except for emergencies and groceries. If we stay at this stage of containment and self quarantine, then I think people will slowly recover from the shock, accept the new reality and will be slightly more open towards business. If for example, we see this taken even more extreme measures or the situation gets more extreme then that prolongs the shock. Now first that's the first thing right, businesses have to accept that.
The second thing is businesses have to segment their customer base. I do believe that we're going to be in a recession and I read a couple of articles and documents about marketing and business during recessions and the first thing that you need to understand is that maybe all your customer segments or customer groups might pull back their business or their money right. So in essence you have probably three to four different customer groups. There is one which is extremely affected by the recession or by the downturn and you will lose those clients, and there's another group that is slightly impacted but can still kind of get along and cope, then there's a third group that is pretty wealthy and it's not as affected for them, it's business as usual and then there's a fourth group that doesn't care about what's happening - they just spend, they live for today and not for tomorrow and those will probably also retain as customers. You have to ask yourself which of those segments does my product appeal to most, and am I a low cost or high cost solution. So the classic kind of example that I came across was the luxury car salesmen, who now gets a couple of cheaper cars, but by doing that can destroy his image with the luxury buyers who still have enough money.
So first again, to recap real quick. First accept that people are or your customers might be in shock, so take a deep breath and don't panic. The second thing is understand your customers very deeply and how their spending might be affected and then third is to not make rapid changes to your business but rather see how you can position yourself in that situation as either a partner or again as somebody who sells to people who are not affected by the situation anyway, and then you focus on those.
MC: I heard some really good advice; it was interesting you saying about changing your business because I've seen quite a few businesses adopt pretty extreme strategies to still stay in contact with their customers, with their client base or actually to still, in some form, to provide their service. so I I had here a tweet saved by a chap called Ryan Brooks who just said “a bar in my neighborhood is delivering entire litres of their pre-mixed margaritas for $25 and you get a complimentary roll of toilet paper with your purchase and it's really starting to feel like there are no rules anymore” and obviously I really liked that and you know there's lots of restaurants that have been delivering. Exactly what you said, I've seen yoga classes now being delivered online as well.
What are your thoughts on, what are some of the strategies that businesses can use to keep going at this time? If they're direct, you know bread and butter, this is our business, that's really effective.
KI: I think do whatever you can do; delivery, online customer acquisition, and also inventory. So what I mean by that is I see a lot of, for example, offline retailers that sell fashion and clothes and some of them are smart enough to take pictures of their inventory and then send that over via mail - so that is still a way to to sell to your customers, but you have to again bring your inventory online, if you don't and lots of small retailers and small businesses do not, and then communicate to them that you can deliver and still serve them in some way, whether that's curbside pickup or whether that's direct delivery or contactless direct delivery. Then thirdly, make sure to be present online and tell people what's going on. I saw lots of gyms, stores, cafes, restaurants, bars, but absolutely no information about how the opening times were affected by Covid and what they were gonna do moving forward, so I would love the creativity that you see now. I also believe that this will have a lasting change on just delivery in general and I think businesses should be creative. I honestly love that example of the margarita’s and the toilet paper, of course it's a bit tongue in cheek.
MC: I almost feel like you're buying the toilet paper and the margaritas are the free gift.
KI: Whatever works for you, man. Toilet paper crazy, this is just mind boggling to me. But anyway, be creative, think about what you can do and this comes back to what I mentioned before, don't panic and close down and be like okay, this is it for me, but see what opportunities you have.
MC: The communication there is actually something I think is really key. So this is something we were speaking to clients about which is you know, we're now getting bombarded by emails from them saying, here's what our owner/ director has to say about Covid19, but I mean we've been talking to people about their websites, it's at the front of everyone's minds. So we work with some companies who are still providing their services and they've changed the way they do that and we've been having conversations saying, look, you just need to have this at the forefront of your site, so when people do get there, they can be reassured that you have thought about this, there is a procedure in place because otherwise if there's nothing on there about it, they're gonna have all those second thoughts about well can they still do this is, is it's safe? But by telling people that we thought about it, this is the plan, it's safe, here's what's going on, we'll let you know. I think that instills a lot more confidence in people.
KI: Yeah and I think you can even burn your brand to a degree. Honestly I'm really annoyed by all the “this is how we handle Covid19” emails, that just talk about what the business does for itself, but do not include what the business is doing for the customers. Right all these airlines; I've booked a lot of flights this year because I was scheduled for a lot of conferences and you know what I got back from a lot of these Airlines is a video of their CEO saying how concerned they are and and how they take care of their employees and that's an important of course, but hey I want to know, can I get a refund? What are you gonna do about the flight? Are you still flying? So I feel like there's a lot of shallow information that just annoys people, but doesn't give them the information that they're really looking for, what they're really caring about. So I do hope that businesses start to realise that and stop sending these empty emails that are just clogging our inboxes.
MC: I had a conversation with someone about this yesterday actually because they were saying, what do we do as marketers because if we use Covid19 and we talk about that then, we're profiting from it, if we don't mention it we're callous and not thoughtful and the conversation I had with them was, don't think of it in terms of marketing, do what's right and what you can do to help people and you're already doing that job because I think people will remember the brands that have been good to them after this. This is a real crunch time. I've seen lots of people talk about flights and talk about companies that were really helpful to them and what community creative, gave them refunds and got it sorted and other companies and other brands that have just dug their heels in for whatever reason. I think people are gonna have a long memory about those brands after this
KI: Oh 100%. I certainly will.
MC: Don’t name any names.
KI: Oh no, I won’t. I was just going to say that one very big good hotel chain, that immediately refunded my money, no problem sir - what can we do for you, is everything fine - then there was another chain, where they're not receptive to anything at all and that, as you said, people will remember that and if you want to burn your brand right now, there's a good opportunity to do so. What I recommend for most businesses is first of all, position yourself as a partner, like give people the sense that we're all in this together - because we actually are - and that you're doing your best to take care of the customers first. Anyway I'm just getting worked up about this whole whole topic but some companies really haven't understood what's going on.
MC: So for our listeners as well, I've got something concrete in the show notes, I'm gonna put a link to an article that was put together, I think there's a couple of years ago now and it's a really good piece that argues essentially cutting budgets in marketing hurts more than it protects businesses. It's obviously a generalisation, you need look at each case individually; it's got a lot of evidence to support those claims though from the UK's Institute of practitioners in advertising, so it's a credible study and a quote that stands out is that “it's better to maintain share of voice during a downturn and the longer-term improvement in profitability is likely to greatly outweigh the short-term reduction” and it goes into this in quite a lot of detail, with examples and I found it a really nice thing to share with our clients, just so they can start thinking about that and maybe not have the knee-jerk reaction as Kevin said of just curling up and climbing up which is most likely gonna be more damaging in the long term. Obviously if you've got cash flow problems, if you don't have cash, you don't have cash, but it wouldn't necessarily be my first thing too to cut.
That article was actually republished by an agency called Fountain Partnership and the other thing I want to mention is and I'll put a link to this as well in the show notes, Fountain Partnership are conducting a very large survey of agencies that is talking about how clients are reacting to Covid19, so are they spending more, the same or less on marketing, are they pausing it and that's fountainpartnership.co.uk/agencysurvey, so if you do run an agency go there fill that out. They're gonna publish and share the results with everyone, so it's gonna be really interesting and help everyone see what everyone's doing, what's going on because I think a lot of the the downturn is because of, not necessarily what's happening, but the uncertainty of what's coming and how long it's going to be for so, the information like that I think can help everyone ride it out.
So Kevin, do you have any specifics in terms of SEO and PPC? Because I've heard people saying about how they've actually managed to improve things by things like switching around when they've noticed changes in search or intent, so they've changed page titles to include things like you know online because they saw a shift in search behaviour, we've certainly spoken to brands about how they're changing PPC and SEO strategies. What would be your sort of thoughts on how companies might approach that if they're doing SEO and PPC at the moment?
KI: Yeah that's a great question. So first of all, usually when we go into crisis like that or into recession then we're seeing our two opposing forces; on the one hand we have the notion or not the notion, but the best practice to cut the fad as quickly as possible, to go through to a recession and when I mean cut the fad, I mean cut unnecessary budget and spend, because it has shown in the last couple of recessions and economic crises that the companies that make bigger cuts earlier on, have a higher likelihood to survive.
On the other hand, we have the importance of brand and marketing, so at the same time statistics and case studies and research papers show that brands that cut marketing spend too drastically also had a like the higher likelihood of going under or not making it through the recession or the crisis. So what it comes down to is first of all you want to cut the fad, you want to cut of all that's unnecessary keywords that are not performing well on Google ads, investments in SEO that have a high risk and low chance of succeeding and you want to return to a place of efficiency and hopefully profitability.
So by the way, one of the outcomes of those case studies was also that companies that don't have a year of runway might be potentially at risk. Now that's a very long time right, I just wanted to bring that up to put it into perspective.
Now, SEO I think has a very good chance of not being cut because it's a very cheap channel and it's a very important channel, because you already have your customer base or potential customers who have an intent, who are looking for something and you might fulfill that need. So you don't need to create market demand or market stimulus. On the other hand it is also good times for Google Ads and I mean like Facebook sure, pretty much most online advertising that is performance driven and that's because part of the fad is all the stuff that you can measure reliably, part of that is you know like our brands, campaigns or maybe even display and whatever is not easy to measure. So I think you know Facebook ads, Google Ads have good times ahead because you can cut down what doesn't work well and you know exactly what you get for your spend.
So for example in 2009, towards the end of the last recession, there was an article by New Times that showed that the spend on Google ads increased by 14% - it was the first quarter of 2009, so in the midst of the of the last recession and it just showed that people, or better said companies, revert back to channels that they can control better. Now what I also see for the SEO side is that first of all, your search volumes might fluctuate heavily and that's simply because people might search more, certain verticals might get way less searches like events, offline entertainments, travel, tourism and that might change the search landscape tremendously right. So you first of all, look at your search volume and look at how it changes and then also perform keyword search more often because you want to see what other keywords have slowly gained traction, what other trends are emerging based on the new situation that we're in and based on changing consumer behaviour.
Then lastly, I think for SEO what I see coming is that paid links will become a bigger topic and that's because all the publishers and blogs might sell more of what they have. A backlink is something that you can get money for relatively quickly and that's due to a higher pressure to monetize your projects or your site. So I think that's something that we're seeing as well and in the midst of that, I also think that relationships are going to become more important when it comes to content partnerships or link exchanges, link swaps, those kinds of things. So that's what I see for SEO and PPC right now.
MC: That's really interesting. I think that reflects a lot of the conversations certainly that we've had with clients over the last week. so to broadly break it down to two categories. We deal with a fair amount of clients that I would say are lead generation in that they do SEO and they do PPC and the aim of that is to get people to contact them, to buy their services. Now those people generally have been quite badly affected in terms of coronavirus; they had cancellations and they have less people converting, so the general approach we've taken with those clients has been, as you've said, with the performance channels like PPC to scale back on everything apart from the highest-performing key phrases. So we're not doing as much expiration, like you say or brand and actually what we've done some of those clients have, I think quite wisely, actually increased their investment in SEO because they are now in a situation where some of their staff obviously aren't as busy as they used to be because they don't have the same volume of calls, but we're actually in the situation that's probably quite rare for people that are consulting on SEO which is we have some clients actually saying, well we actually have spare capacity to do all that content stuff on the site that you said was going to be really great, but we've just been too busy to do up until now. So we've actually managed to get clients to actually redeploy some of their staff and then work on doing all the things that everyone knows that are important, but they are not urgent sometimes on a site about improving the content and actually focusing on SEO and seeing if we could start to get some momentum for in six months plus when everything is going to come back or start to come back around, we hope and they're going to capitalise on that.
The same actually with, we've been discussing even e-comm clients, so people that are 100% digital base and people who have physical locations as well, what they can do with staff and the restrictions that are in place. So a bit like we saw earlier with margaritas toilet paper, we've had conversations with people say with showrooms doing virtual tours, like live tours of their showrooms and taking questions about products that can then be ordered and delivered through the site and again they've looked to redeploying staff. We've actually, as you have there in some ecommerce sites, we've actually seen that the search traffic going up, so for some things again I didn't really expect. so even things like home garden stuff, I think some people are like, well I'm gonna be inside for a while so I want to make it as nice as possible.
So have you got, we're coming to the end, we're already at half an hour - this is going really quick Kevin, have you got any closing advice you could give people as a takeaway for business owners or for in-house marketers, something that they can hold onto and think about as we go over the next few weeks?
KI: Yeah absolutely. So again know your customers, know what's going on in the world and be as lenient as you can with them and one thing that I would suggest or invite businesses to do, is to not necessarily go for the hard conversion but for the soft conversion.
What I mean by that is that people in shock are probably going to be very reluctant to make important or big decisions and they might be quickly annoyed by any sort of outreach or direct marketing that you're doing, so instead try to see if you can get them to do a soft buy-in or soft conversion in the realms of - imagine you send your customers an email and you're like, hey do you want us to to pause communication for a couple weeks or do you want to want to continue, so you let the customers decide. The same goes, for example, for backlink outreach, so you could say something like, instead of cold outreach, you would write something like, hey we're interested and blah blah, aside from you know the common stuff - would be okay if I follow up in a couple of weeks instead of you having to make this decision right now. So this way if they come back to you and say yeah sure follow-up in a couple of weeks, now is just not like the right time, I don't have the headspace for it, then customers can show a bit of interest, but don't have to make the decision right now.
I see the same for sales for example, so instead of approaching people and be like, okay like you want to sign right now or what's up - try an approach of saying, hey I know this is a hard time, I know things are uncertain, would you be okay to postpone this for a week or two, and I think that the likelihood and the chance of them eventually closing the deal or selling the product is much much higher than pressuring people in this time of uncertainty to close a deal. I think businesses need to be creative in how we provide that kind of soft buying or soft conversion opportunity to our clients and customers.
MC: That's brilliant advice Kevin. The other thing I’ll throw in at the end of that is - you know I really liked the point you've made and I hadn't actually thought about in this way, is that people are in this longer state of shock because this is completely uncharted territory for people as people as well as businesses. And the other thing, I think what I've appreciated brands doing, is to realise that a lot of people, as you said, are having to be at home social distance, having to isolate which is a big change for the majority of people and there are a lot of people who are legitimately going to be bored and anxious, a lot more than usual, so I've seen brands doing stuff that is a little bit maybe off-brand, a bit more human, a bit more fun, just to relieve that and I've seen a lot of people respond very positively to that. So as Kevin says if you can get creative in either of those ways, I think that's gonna serve you well over the coming months.
Kevin, thank you so much for your time. I really really appreciate it.
KI: Mark, thank you as well, it was a great conversation. I’m glad to be on.
MC: So the Search for Candour podcast will be back in one week's time, on Monday the 30th of March. You can get the transcription of this episode, with all of the links to everything we've talked about, all of the resources and actually there's one other thing I did want to mention with the tail end of this, which is Dom Hodgson, very very lovely chap that's spoken at Search Norwich before, has started a website which is searchstarterpack.com and he's pulled together a load of software providers and other services that are offering free or massively extended trials of their software to help startups and young and small companies that are struggling at the moment with costs and keep you running. So it's searchstarterpack.com - do check that out as well, but all of the other resources including that one will be on our show notes which will be at search.withcandour.co.uk and apart from that, I hope everyone stays safe.
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