Three weeks ago, much of our marketing became useless. Ads now run in empty elevators, billboards fill vacant streets, and all our events are canceled.

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CEOs and CMOs are trying to figure out what to do. Many are cutting back their media spends significantly. Some are seizing this moment to set their companies up for long-term success, not just short-term survival.

Budgets Are Going Down (and Goals Are Not)

Businesses are facing big decisions: how to respond to this unprecedented situation, how to make the right budget cuts, how to best help customers in this time of crisis. 

Right now, 65% of marketers anticipate cutting back on budgets.

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Source: Impact of COVID on Marketing Study

Meanwhile, goals are still the same (or higher).

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And it’s no doubt getting hard to hit these goals.

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Yet, the Majority of Marketers Are Investing More in SEO

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63% of marketers are immediately increasing their focus on SEO — why?

It Starts with Your Customer

Where are your customers? Certainly not in the elevator. They are home, using search engines like Google, YouTube & Alexa at record levels.

Why? People depend on the content they find to make nearly every decision in their life. It’s true now more than ever. Before your current and potential customers pick up the phone (if they do at all), they search. 

It’s estimated over 20 billion searches are happening every day. People need help. 

So the big question is — are you being found? And what are you losing out on by not being found?

Marketing as Stock Options vs. Bonds

Most media investments are fleeting. You buy an impression, you get an impression. You buy a click, you get a click. In great times, it’s viable to deploy large amounts of capital using media campaigns. But this is expensive and inefficient… so when consumer demand (and budgets) decrease, it’s hard to rationalize these investments.

Your content and SEO are like bonds (high-yield/low-risk ones). You invest today. You begin to get yield today. If you execute well, you continue to drive value for many years — without making any further investments.

Warren Buffet often refers to Albert Einstein’s quote on compounding interest as “the most powerful force in the world.” SEO is the compounding interest in your marketing department. It grows on itself.

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Source: Lifetime Value of Content Study

As a simple real-world example, here are the channels driving traffic to a post on our blog over the first few months after it was published. No changes or optimizations were made to this content after it was launched.

Over time, you’ll see organic visitors paying off as compound interest. A single investment producing more and more value over time.

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Data source: Conductor Searchlight (Formatted as cumulative value)

Most content gets a traffic spike for a few weeks that then promptly dies. But content that’s created to meet customer demand — SEO-driven content — builds value over time. 

If you continue investing in long-term content & SEO, you’ll get a stream of visitor dividends that will become a material ROI. This is a major advantage over competitors who are fully dependent on paying market rates for new customers. 

Let’s look at some examples in the wild — content published 2+ years ago that still drives thousands of visitors per month.

Credit Karma’s Loan Calculator

This simple tool helps you determine your monthly payments for a loan. Input your loan amount, interest, and term to see your estimated monthly payment.

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Published back in ~2013, the organic value has grown over time. In 2020, it’s now bringing ~150,000 visitors a month to Credit Karma’s site.

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Penn Medicine’s How to Soothe a Sore Throat

Penn Medicine has a network of information-rich blogs driving a tremendous volume of visitors.

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Here’s the modeled traffic for just one article on how to soothe a sore throat:

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You Already Have A Lot of What You Need

It’s highly likely that 90% of all your existing content is getting almost zero organic traffic. It doesn’t have to be that way, though.

SEO isn’t just about creating new content. It’s also about optimizing existing content. You can maximize the efficiency of the hundreds or thousands of defunct pages that can start attracting visitors again. An example:

The Hartford’s Workers’ Compensation Hub

This informational hub includes video, text, interactive tools and more, comprehensively answering searchers’ questions on workers’ compensation.

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This single page drives 50,000 visitors a month through organic. The recent jump is thanks to SEO optimizations, a great example of the power of improving existing content to create the compound interest effect.

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Improving content can be as simple as adding tags or making your page more relevant to searchers’ queries. Or, it could be a blanket improvement like an update to your technical infrastructure, such as making your pages faster to load. A great technical foundation is like oxygen in a digital economy.

Content Is the Foundation for All Marketing

You don’t create content just to show up in Google. Content is the basis for almost everything you do in marketing. It powers campaigns across other channels like email, print, digital advertising and events.

But while you don’t create all content for SEO, SEO can help in all content creation.

SEO uncovers your customers’ sentiment and needs so you can create the right content. Use that customer-centric content to push or pull into your key challenges.

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Content Is Critical for Customer Support, Too

As an added benefit, SEO can help lower costs in other areas of your business.

A key use case right now is in support costs. If Delta has visible, valuable answers for queries like “Delta coronavirus cancellations” they’ve saved their call centers thousands of customer service calls. At Conductor, some of our largest customers are the support departments of Fortune 100 companies. They’re using SEO to save millions in support costs, and to make sure customers have a great experience getting answers online.

SEO Is an Investment in Your Present and Future

If you invest today, you’ll immediately start getting value. You’ll also be in the best position to capture buying activity when we emerge from this crisis.

Take this time to consider your portfolio. If you invest in SEO and content (your marketing bonds) the next time there is a recession or a time you need to cut back, you’ll be able to pull back on your media and still have a meaningful stream of visitors because you will have created that foundation of wealth and goodwill. You will not be entirely at the mercy of the media markets.

This will be a strategic advantage; some companies even highlight their “free organic traffic” in their S-1s when they go public since it’s so meaningful.

What Do You Need to Be Successful?

Here are a few items every marketing department should have. (I’ll use anonymized slides to illustrate.)

A Clear Understanding of Your Market Size and Opportunity

Start at a high level. How many people are searching for your products and services and how often are you being found?

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Then, take a look at all the keywords you are bidding on in paid search. Do you have organic results for those keywords? This is a major opportunity to reduce paid spend by creating content organically.

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If you happen to have local businesses, you can break things down across a map. What markets have the most demand, and are you visible there?

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Within each of those markets, what companies are showing up?

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A Clear Understanding of Your Digital Competition

Your competitors in search can surprise you. They’re not always the same as your business competitors. You may be losing visitors to pure-play websites or even publishers that are sending readers to your competitors.

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It’s important to know what people are finding in order to get ahead.

A Clear Strategy, Plan & Reporting Cadence

Clearly prioritize work streams across the major categories of SEO: 1) creating new content, 2) optimizing content and 3) improving technical site structure. Your priorities should be set based on opportunity size, competition level, and how difficult it will be to execute.

Set goals for growing your share — improving how often you show up in search — and have a reporting infrastructure to track your work and its impact every week.

Success Is About Agility and Speed — Not Spend

In most marketing, ROI is about ‘spend over return’. With SEO, it’s about ‘activities over return’.

The most successful companies are able to execute fast. They measure how long it takes to implement an SEO recommendation. They measure how long it takes to go from a content brief to a published page. The faster you cycle, the more you can test and get done — increasing your impact.

Measure how long it takes for your team to act. Ask them what stops them from moving faster. We often see legacy processes — such as a legal department process from 2005 — slow teams and keep companies from becoming market leaders.

Reach in for Wisdom, Not out

Your company is full of experts. People who know your business and your space better than anyone else in the world. Yet companies go to agencies to create their content. Why?

Once you identify the top problems your customers are searching for, find the experts inside your organization and mine their knowledge. Make it easy for them to get involved in the content process. Their specialized knowledge is what will enable you to win in your market.

Great Marketing Helps People (and Makes Money)

Don’t forget that ultimately, search is about helping people. Your company has great wisdom and your content is your outlet to share that with your customers. When you provide the answers, you are the one they trust. And we only want to spend money with companies we trust.

Want to read more of our findings on marketing in the age of COVID-19? Read through our full report here:

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