Jon Clark, Managing Partner and Chief SEO at Moving Traffic Media, discusses how to adjust your paid search and content creation strategies in the midst of coronavirus shelter-in-place. Jon also shares some observations about how quarantine has already been affecting digital marketing, messaging, and audience behavior.

With Jon’s tips, companies will be able to make informed decisions on how best to spend their resources during these tough times, how to flourish, and how to prepare for the future as well.

Can you walk us through your history in digital marketing before we dive into our Q and A?

Sure. I’ve been doing digital marketing as a broad category for almost 17 years. I got my first exposure to everything digital marketing related at a startup: SEO, paid search, web development–I fell in love with the idea that you could put something online and convince someone to do what you wanted them to do. Usually, it was a sale or signing up for a lead or something like that.

My career has taken me from direct experience running paid search programs all the way through a role at Razorfish where I was managing the SEO practice. So, I have a really diverse background across both paid media and SEO. My last role before stepping out on my own was at NBC.

I had the opportunity to build out the mobile side of digital marketing. I really started to understand mobile’s remarketing capabilities; push messaging; the ideas behind VOD, OTT [over-the-top media services]; and all these other emerging arenas while still being able to apply the paid search and SEO experience that I had.

What sort of digital marketing is best for a business to invest its money into?

That depends in part on the size of the business. Smaller businesses may have less of a budget to stretch. Oftentimes when we talk about a traditional marketing budget there’s a portion of the budget that we recommend for just testing growth and scale. I think in today’s environment you almost have to pull back and think less about growth and really focus on what has already been proven to work.

Why’s that?

SEO typically has a stronger conversion rate than any other channel. There’s also usually a backlog of things that an SEO agency may have recommended on the technical side, while the content side oftentimes get pushed to the back burner.

This is an opportunity to really focus on what you’ve already paid for. In some cases, that means making sure that your website is as optimized as possible to take advantage of a stronger conversion rate. In many cases it comes down to the vertical you’re in and what capabilities you might have in house. If you’re trying to save funds, it may not be necessary to go out and hire a new agency.

You might be better off using what you already have.

Image Courtesy of Databox

How can SEO help your business during coronavirus?

The behaviors at home are changing so quickly. You used to be able to go out and get something somewhere else and now you have to figure out how to do it at home. So, if you offer a product that people usually get somewhere else that someone can get delivered to their home or can help someone make the product or perform the service themselves, then a strong content creation strategy can bring people to your business.

Coffee is a great example. Google Trends just put out an email notification that one of the fastest-growing searches is about “how to make coffee”. A lot of people probably used to just buy their coffee in the morning. Or you might have someone who has a strong affinity for coffee but never really invested the time to learn how to make coffee in different ways. So, if your business is in coffee, you should invest in a content creation strategy that answers the types of questions someone might have about coffee to drive traffic your way. Providing value to the user while also potentially exposing them to your product is an ideal approach.

But is it enough to just publish content?

You definitely have to figure out the amplification component of it. When a lot of companies think about content strategy, they’re just thinking about pushing out content without really any plan behind it. It’s just, “We’re gonna publish 10 posts this month,” but there’s nothing that ties it all together.

I think the move now is for clients to say, “We want to put out content, but let’s maybe focus in on four or five pieces and see how they all work together to help promote one another.” That’s an opportunity to think of your content as living within a hub.

What’s the advantage of using the hub structure in your content creation strategy?

You’re really using the leverage of the content as a whole to help with amplification, especially if you have a small budget to do some sort of social media push behind it.

People are much more open to helping each other these days, so if you have a network, you can reach out and ask, “Hey, we just published this great piece of content, can you give it a little bit of a nudge on your own social media channels?”

Just asking for a retweet, even if it’s an RT, can increase engagement.

So, what might a hub look like?

To use the coffee example, you might have a few articles about how to make coffee at home, how to make pour-over coffee, how to make great drip coffee at home, or something like that. They’re all pieces of content that can work together in a hub or silo that you build out with different types of thematically linked content.

How do you build out a piece of content?

When we’re starting to build out a robust piece of content on our side, we start with a target term or query, and we’ll literally go and search it on Google.

We’ll click through the top 10 to 30 results that are listed to see what everyone’s talking about, then we’ll start to build out an outline.  I think the question and answer format is one that works really well for this.

And then, after that piece is done, we walk away with 1,500 or 2,500 words.

This approach takes a little bit more time to build out and it’s more manual in nature, but I think you ultimately end up with a piece of content that can stand on its own much better because it’s comprehensive coverage of whatever topic you’re writing about. And, usually, those make for perfect hub pages because they’re already naturally talking about an additional subtopic that you might be able to build out a larger piece of content for.

How has the pandemic changed how people consume things?

I think a lot of the assumptions and practices that we relied on in the past, like higher mobile consumption and scheduling posts during times when people are more likely to read content, what’s known as “day partying”, are being upended because behavior patterns are changing so quickly.

Desktop usage is actually increasing in volume now and mobile is kind of decreasing. People are on their phones at different times now. The lunch hour is kind of different from what it was in the past. You can eat whenever you decide to eat. You’re not really stuck in a regimented schedule. You also might be chasing kids around and end up not eating until 3:00 PM.

Image Courtesy of the NYT

How does a content creation strategy compare to paid media campaigns?

I think paid media campaigns are quickly evolving too. But I don’t know if when all this is over that things will change back to the way they were so quickly. It’s completely reasonable that people will still be more likely to stay at home versus go out– more likely to try to figure out something on their own versus, say, going to the auto mechanic or coffee shop.

A content creation strategy is better suited to meet this desire for learning how to do things on your own. You’re usually not buying paid advertising to answer these types of questions.  We’re roughly a month or so into this in terms of staying at home, so there’s still a lot more for us to learn, but this is a reasonable thing to lean into as we continue through this, and even afterwards.

I will say, though, that there is a counterpoint, which is that a lot of companies pulled their advertising. So, theoretically, depending on what vertical you’re in, you might be able to get clicks cheaper. But there are still things from the content creation side of things that you can apply to your paid search to capitalize on lower click costs or to grab more of that impressions share. You can start to talk more about working from home and lean into the new daily for people.

There are also ideas and methodologies behind content strategy that you can apply to your paid media if you’re going to elect to stay in the market. You can trim and focus on what’s working. There’s still some synergies between those two things.

You mentioned that desktop usage is going up while mobile is going down?

This is my personal habit: I have a bunch of RSS feeds that I’ll read through on Feedly, but I rarely actually read the posts on my mobile device. I’m the guy that emails articles to myself so I can read them later. I want to read them on a larger screen, which is my desktop.

I know others that’ll save articles to Pocket or they’ll text articles to themselves in some cases and then pull them up on their Mac or on their desktop later. I think this dovetails with the evolution toward longer-form content, which is what Google is telling us in terms of how to create content built around holistic themes.

How should companies respond?

I think by aligning themselves with a larger screen as well. Scrolling through a longer piece of content that might have a lot of images is just easier to do on a desktop. It’s not for every case, of course.

But now that people are at home they’re on their desktops and laptops more. They’re using their tablets when they’re watching TV instead of their phones. Larger screens are just a better conduit for consuming content.

So how do you get people to spend that time with your content?

I think the approach of using multiple content assets is ideal. From an SEO perspective, we want to increase dwell times. When someone gets to your content from an organic listing, we want them to spend time on your page. So, we try to make the content scannable, as opposed to just pushing stuff out.

We do that by using bullet points and heading tags. We try to include video, audio files, infographics, and images as well because that pulls people into the content and gets them to stay on the page a bit longer. Also, audio files and video clips are perfect for social media.

They’re great ways of making what you’re creating work on multiple channels and potentially even multiple blog posts.

Image Courtesy of Backlinko

Do you make your own video content?

We don’t do a lot of video production ourselves, but some of our clients do and we’ve encouraged video production as well. I think the biggest challenge with content strategy, in general, is covering all your bases because there’s just so much that goes into a really powerful content strategy.

Same thing with SEO and paid search.

There are all these different levers that you need to pull and keeping them all organized and functioning properly is a challenge. You have video, images, the written content itself, the act of uploading all of those things to multiple channels– there’s a lot of teams that can be involved.

So, you’ve mentioned the current moment a few times already. How is coronavirus affecting people’s content?

There’s such a personal component to everyone’s current work environment these days that the lines are starting to blur across social channels. I think where previously there was a very clear division, your point is now getting a little blurry.

Even on LinkedIn, with a B2B message, there’s a hint of the person behind it– you’re starting to get more of a sense of who the person behind the message is.

Meanwhile, on Facebook, you’re seeing businesses doing less promotion and talking more about doing good and helping others or just acting as a resource for consumers [see Moving Traffic Media’s own coronavirus resource page].

That makes the messaging and tone less pushy.

It seems like a company’s behavior in the face of coronavirus is having a significant impact, then.

Yeah, we’re hearing a lot about companies laying people off and how they’re doing it. As a consumer, when I hear a horror story about large swaths of people being let go with what appears to be very little compassion, I think twice about giving my money to that company.

From a marketing and content perspective, you have to remember that all of the users you’re pulling in may not buy today but they’re a part of your remarketing pool for the future. So, there’s value in assuming that we’re going to get past this and that some sort of normalcy will emerge, and that makes thinking ahead when you’re pivoting to fit this current moment important.

So, it’s important to keep in mind how you treat your employees and how customers perceive you at this time?

Absolutely. It’s always been this case. No one really wants to be sold to, but we’ve still been shoving messages in front of people for years now. Hopefully we’re at an inflection point where we can figure out how to both sell and be personal and nice.

But it’s not necessarily bad when a company goes under….

I definitely think that it’s not all bad. I mean, there’s some products that just shouldn’t be products and some companies that have treated customers poorly for years. Even if a company makes it through, brands that took this time to adjust to the current moment and, in doing so, have humanized their tone more are going to have more time to grow their lead.

Do you have one last tip you can share?

Yeah, if you’re trying to decide between paid search, SEO, or really any other channel, it’s important to see where you already have coverage. If you have organic rankings on a particular set of terms and they’re converting successfully, maybe you pull back your paid media there and invest those resources into other terms that you see as opportunities.

I think now more than ever it’s really important to look at the data that’s been driving traffic to your business, and making what might be tough yet smart decisions around where your investment should be made in terms of current visibility and content strategy. You can try to fill in some of those gaps and figure out how those different parts can work together.

If you have a client who has a robust collection of content, you’re in luck because you don’t have to start all over. You might already have spokes for a hub right there. You might just need to build a strong hub page that pulls it all together. Just doing content audits of existing content might reveal that to you.

Doing more with less is the smart approach.