Is a Recession Coming?
Seven in 10 (70%) Americans believe a recession is imminent. Not all experts agree on the timing, or if it will happen at all, but there are some leading indicators at play. These include a general slowing of the economy, layoffs and multiple Federal Reserve interest rate increases.
Even if a recession does not happen, or it’s short lived, planning for the worst is better than being caught unprepared. Here are key strategies, informed by Fratzke’s research, to help local brands stay strong during a recession and thrive during the recovery that follows.
Invest in SEO for Organic Traffic
If you're a regular reader of this site, I may be preaching to the choir but it bears repeating. Organic traffic is one of the best sources of qualified customers. Users who reach your site through a Google search are much more likely to convert.
Consumers are less likely to trust a brand they’ve never heard of during a time of uncertainty. Appearing at the top of SERPs will help convince nervous consumers that your brand can be trusted when they are making spending decisions.
One way to drive organic traffic and rank is to implement what we call the "Content Capital Strategy" (more detail here). In short, it means investing in valuable content now that will pay dividends in the future.
Rand Fishkin once described SEO as the moat around your castle. It’s a permanent defense system. On the other hand, paid search is more like hiring mercenaries, which are only as good as your last payment. This analogy applies perfectly during an economic downturn. You want the permanent defense system.
Think Local – Like Your Customers
Even if your brand sells online and nationally, consider investing more heavily in local SEO. Create local landing pages for your target markets to further penetrate existing customer segments.
Success during a recession means winning as many SERPs as possible. Locally optimized landing pages, designed to address "near me" searches, can help fill your funnel. If you already have local landing pages, further optimize them with custom content that adds additional value to your customers' experience.
You should also ensure your Google Business Profile (GBP) is fully optimized and updated with fresh images to stand out. According to customer data from SterlingSky, GBP is responsible for 70% to 80% (or more) of local conversions.
Improve Ratings and Reviews
Reviews are a major ranking factor in local search. Many businesses overlook the importance of asking loyal customers to review them online. The squeaky wheel gets the grease!
Positive reviews drive more conversions. If you don't have a review solicitation strategy in place it's time to put away your pride and ask folks to share their positive experiences. If you do have one, focus on quality rather than quantity.
As Mike Blumenthal notes, it is time to move from quantity of positive reviews at Google to quality of reviews across Google, Yelp, Facebook and others specific to your industry.
Share Deals with Your Audience
Social media continues to be a meaningful channel for customer communication. As a possible recession starts to alter customer spending and new customer behaviors and segments emerge, platforms like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok will be great places to share deals and run A/B tests to see what's resonating with customers.
Consider leveraging short form video to reach a wider audience. TikTok is the ideal platform to reach younger consumers.
Instagram also continues to invest heavily in shortform videos as it tries to compete with TikTok (as does YouTube). Both platforms offer the ability to reach new customers who may not have been exposed to your brand before.
Digital Marketing and Ominichannel
Covid accelerated the digital-first mindset of consumers, and a recession may continue to push these trends forward, as people become more careful about spending.
As consumers look for the best deals and quality products, they will turn to Google, YouTube, Facebook, TikTok, Intagram and others. Brands that continue to invest in these key channels with effective recession based campaigns will be able to capitalize on the digital path-to-purchase.
With that being said, consumers will continue to take their online discovery to the offline world, often starting with a Google search and ending it with a brick-and-mortar visit. As Greg Sterling observes, an integrated omnichannel strategy will be more successful for retailers and brands than online only.
Share Product Inventory to Stand Out
As Google continues to pursue a commerce strategy focused on competing with Amazon, it's trying to differentiate from the online commerce leader. Part of that strategy is showcasing real-time store inventory availability and offline pickup.
According to Greg Sterling, Google is trying to build up live product inventory to boost shopping search. It's also trying to remove friction from the checkout process. As Mike Blumenthal notes, Google now explicitly states that in-store product availability is a local ranking factor.
To build on that, Google recently announced partnerships with WooCommerce, GoDaddy and Square to allow their customers to expose and distribute products on Google Search, Shopping, Images, Maps and YouTube – for FREE.
Brands with inventory feeds should consider leveraging Google’s exposure and distribution to gain a competitive edge. As Google looks to emphasize product inventory to compete with Amazon, early adopters are reaping the largest ranking and conversion benefits.
Most brands have a knee-jerk reaction when sales start to drop, due to a recession. They often cut budgets, starting with marketing. But the accumulated data doesn't support this move. In fact, it says the opposite; brands that continue to invest in marketing, but shift to meet new customer needs, end up in the best position post-recession.
Local businesses and national-local brands that implement these strategies and tactics can set their business up for success in the long term.
James Fratzke is a Partner and Head Executive Strategist for Digital Marketing at Fratzke Consulting. Follow him on LinkedIn.