SEO we’re in a crisis, you need to talk about ROI

In uncertain economic times, you cannot avoid thinking about communicating the value of your SEO work more effectively. During an economic crisis, business owners only want to talk about one thing: SEO, you need to talk about ROI.

Entrepreneurs don’t care about technology jargon right now

Owners of large businesses employ technical people to think about things like algorithms and tactics. They don’t have the time or inclination to do this themselves, and in times of economic turmoil, their priority is even less focused on self-education and investing in a new business activity.

On top of that, the owners of smaller businesses are also emotionally invested in their businesses. To minimize the stress as much as possible, it’s advisable to communicate information as concretely as possible and focus on short-term goals.

This feels very unnatural to an SEO, but during a crisis you just don’t have the luxury of NOT talking about ROI and KPI’s.

“It doesn’t depend” when there is an economic crisis

Providing SEO services is about maintaining a trust-agreement relationship. That means there needs to mutual trust and any risks need to be distributed fairly among the parties involved. This isn’t a new concept in the business world, and an entrepreneur or investor, including a small business owner, knows how to deal with such a business relationship.

For in-house teams, the principle of establishing a trusting relationship still applies. A manager or director needs to be aware that there needs to be some room for creative exchange and making predictions in the moment when it comes to SEO. There’s nothing wrong with keeping things light in what you say to each other.

Although you shouldn’t intentionally mislead, it’s not necessary to communicate every in the moment detail and prediction 100% correctly and completely. But by expressing an opinion about ROI and making predictions on it, you are at least communicating SOME information, which the recipient can use to form a picture.

“It depends” just doesn’t work very well during a time of high stress and uncertainty.

More loyalty and empathy through flexibility and openness

Although a business owner, investor, or manager currently has no time or inclination to attentively listen to an extensive explanation about SEO, there are certainly things that you – as an SEO specialist – can do to ensure that you, at least from your side, offer the opportunity for insight.

Education is generally an important part of your SEO work because someone who doesn’t understand what you do will attach less value to you and your work. Yet, decision-makers have less attention for this during an economic crisis. You will have to live with that reality and be creative in how you deal with it.

Out of sight, out of mind

For experienced freelancers in, for example, sales, journalism, IT, and accounting, it is no secret: contact moments are both a cost and a crucial element within sales and service processes. By creatively organizing contact moments, you save costs and still invest in maintaining your business relationship.

Shorter, but more frequent contact moments prevent you from becoming invisible while taking into account that decision-makers, as well as, for example, developers, are busy, and experience more stress than usual. You don’t have to communicate everything in a single contact moment, a large document, or a long presentation.

This may require some degree of rethinking, but it is wise to ask yourself whether YOU should also change YOUR focus. How are you going to ensure that you remain interesting during the crisis? Is this not more important during an economic crisis, than completely informing a decision-maker about all the details related to SEO?

If a decision maker doesn’t have time to listen to a long story, work with that. Don’t say everything you could say during a presentation or conversation. This way you’ll always have something new to tell when a contact moment with a decision maker arises.

Who is the most important person in your day-to-day?

I regularly hear people say that maintaining offline social contacts, shouldn’t matter. That people should only have an eye for the quality of the work you deliver. A crisis amplifies the contrast between how you ideally think these things should work, and what reality actually looks like.

There are multiple reasons why it’s unfounded to assume that your absence at a social gathering doesn’t matter:

  1. Mental training is simply important in everything you do and is therefore also important for the quality of your work. There’s little that gives you more mental training and therefore, for example, self-confidence, as interacting with people in offline casual situations. The fact that this makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t change that.
  2. If you make yourself less visible and don’t work on relationships, you’ll eventually be considered less important. An ironic concept that SEOs explain very well when they tell you why you should invest in SEO, but one that they sometimes suddenly forget, when they talk about their personal work situation.
  3. Most of us spend the majority of our waking lives working. Business owners, managers, developers, and customer service staff usually more than others. In addition, they often experience stress even in calm times, let alone in an economic crisis. It’s important for you during a crisis to make sure you’re a colleague or partner who helps take that stress away from them. If you’re a person who can make the experience of daily work more enjoyable for a colleague, manager, or customer, you become indispensable in that person’s experience. That can make a huge difference for your position if the ROI of your work doesn’t pan out as predicted.

Adapt your communication channels

A crisis creates anxiety, and the best medicine against stress is overview and predictability. During a crisis it’s “all hands on deck” at work and people probably don’t have time to talk to you about the ROI of SEO, or sift through all kinds of emails from you about the subject.

So make sure that decision makers, during those rare moments when they find time for it during a crisis, for example sitting on the couch at home, have online access to a summary of what you’ve been working on. Make sure that during work hours, you’re easily reachable by phone and make use of videoconferencing. If you can’t offer an online meeting, then make sure that you’re physically present during a meeting. This way you’ll ensure that you’re not forgotten about during a crisis.

Then, make it possible to ask questions whenever there’s a moment for it, for example, through a direct but passive communication channel like WhatsApp. That way, you’ll have time to think about your answers, while the questions don’t get lost in a phone call or a full inbox or spam box. This allows both parties to separate work and rest periods, and it also gives you a reason to tactically schedule a short call if you want, so you can make yourself more visible.

If a decision-maker doesn’t have time to listen to a long story, work around that. Don’t say everything you could say during a presentation or conversation. This way, you’ll always have something new to share when a moment of contact with a decision-maker occurs.

Tip: turn off your voicemail, as people tend to dump requests there, expecting you to do something about them without you having any say in the matter.

Informing and keeping records remains important

Make sure to still register important information about your work. Even if people are less attentive to details, and even if an SEO operates on a trust-based relationship, it’s still important to record rights, obligations, signals, and expectations between all parties, even more so during a time of uncertainty.

The recipient doesn’t necessarily have to have read all the information, it’s more important that you have given the recipient the optimal opportunity to do so, so that you can continue to fulfill your professional and legal obligations on your end.

You can’t avoid the ROI question now, so don’t try

SEO professionals like to talk about technical things and how they can increase traffic to a website without giving concrete guarantees. It’s hard to predict what influence Google, searcher trends, or competitor actions will have on SEO-related KPI’s far into the future.

A business owner likes to talk about costs and returns above all else. One way to deal with this is to talk about how SEO can increase a company’s annual revenue and contribute to growth, rather than specifically talking about costs and short term results.

But during an economic crisis, decision makers are more conservative, and less willing to take risks. You have to deal with that. Whether it’s continuing to invoice your clients or securing your job in-house, the last thing you want during an economic crisis is to lose your income, because they don’t consider your work important.

During a crisis, companies tend to cut back on marketing expenses, but SEO can actually be an effective way to increase and maintain revenue if the company already gets revenue online. If you stop working on SEO, but your competitors continue working on it, the company will eventually lose out on visibility and the corresponding revenue.

In addition, the company will suddenly have to incur higher costs to catch up when the economy picks up again.

What do you talk about when discussing the ROI of SEO?

You can mention how SEO helps improve the user experience on the website, which improves the company in multiple ways. It’s a given that you’ll mention positive results that remind them of how SEO has benefited the company in the past. But you don’t always have that data.

At the very least, you should be able to loosely predict how long it will take to see results and how much it will cost. Even with a loose prediction, the stake holders can weigh the costs against the expected returns, and decide whether or not to invest in SEO. This is a crisis, they will weigh these costs anyway, wouldn’t you prefer to have at least a lttle influence on how they do it?

Don’t be afraid to give projections, but don’t make false promises

Of course you will also talk about the long-term results that will come after the crisis, but specifically mention that if you invest in your website today – during the crisis – you will later exit the crisis with a head start on your online competitors.

Competitors miss this opportunity by cutting back on SEO and, in effect, by you not doing this, you are ensuring that the company may come out of the economic crisis ahead. Also, a brand that is heavily dependent on consistent brand activity, must not overlook the negative impact of stopping SEO activities on branding.

Even if a decision maker decides to cut back on marketing activities that contribute to their branding, it is important to continue with SEO. SEO is not only a marketing channel, but appeals to a very broad audience, including people who are not actively looking for brand-related answers to their search queries.

During a crisis, your own priorities and focus should change as well. Do not be afraid to now also talk about costs and short-term results. Cover yourself by not lying, but at least give decision makers something to calm their nerves during this busy and stressful period, or give your prospect something to trigger a purchase decision in an uncertain market, where you also have to pay your bills.