Published on 18th July 2022 by Sharon McClintic

Should You Invest in SEO During an Economic Downturn?

Should you still invest in SEO during an economic downturn or recession?
With inflation concerns on the rise, an ongoing global pandemic, geopolitical conflicts, significant competition in talent recruitment, and ongoing supply chain issues, it’s natural for businesses to take pause when it comes to their budgets in 2022. While it still remains to be seen if the plethora of current global issues will ultimately lead to a full-on recession, it’s worth taking a look at how marketing teams might adjust their budgets in the months to come — and how marketers should approach their SEO efforts during this time of economic uncertainty.

During downturns, marketing leaders might consider adjusting their budget allocation between paid and organic marketing channels, look for new ways to reduce customer acquisition costs (CAC), and evaluate which are their most cost-effective marketing efforts.  


So, is it worth it for marketers to continue to invest in SEO during an economic downturn? 

We think so. Here’s why:


Marketing during a downturn — where does SEO fit in?

Economic downturns and recessions are nothing new, of course. It’s worth taking a look at which marketing approaches helped stave off losses in past downturns when considering how to plan for the next one. During the height of the ‘Great Recession’, back in 2009, Harvard Business Review published an article on ‘How to Market in a Downturn’. As professor John Quelch and researcher Katherine Jocz write in the HBR article, marketing still has a major role to play in times of economic uncertainty:

Marketing expenditures in areas from communications to research are often slashed across the board—but such indiscriminate cost cutting is a mistake. Although it’s wise to contain costs, failing to support brands or examine core customers’ changing needs can jeopardize performance over the long term.

(Source: Harvard Business Review)

A decade later, HBR contributors assessed more than 5,000 companies’ performance over the last four business cycles and found a common set of actions that contributed to the success of companies that weathered downturns better than others. One of the similarities among the more successful businesses was a continued focus on long-term goals, despite the challenges introduced by a downturn: “Companies with a longer-term perspective achieved 4 percentage points higher annual growth during the downturn as well as 2 percentage points higher total shareholder return.”

SEO offers long-term benefits for online visibility, brand awareness, and conversions that can expand beyond the boundaries of an economic downturn. It’s an ongoing effort with compounding results; establishing high-ranking pages on your site offers opportunities for other content on your site to rank better as well, through optimization efforts such as internal linking strategies. Improving your website’s overall technical health and staying on top of evolving best practices with regard to page experience and site speed helps brands maintain a competitive edge in the search engines that consumers use every day. Failing to keep pace with SEO best practices and losing search-driven traffic, on the other hand, could easily result in lost opportunities for ongoing brand awareness and growth. 

Starting in 2020, the pandemic, of course, also introduced a new period of economic uncertainty, leading to an initial drop in marketing spend for many companies — but that now appears to be turning around. According to Gartner’s 2022 report on marketing spend, marketing budgets have been rebounding in 2022, moving closer toward their pre-pandemic levels of 11% of company revenue:

Marketing budgets climbed from 6.4% of company revenue in 2021 to 9.5% in 2022, but still lag behind prepandemic spending.

(Source: Gartner, The State of Marketing Budget and Strategy 2022)

Website efforts accounted for 9% of total marketing budgets for 2022, according to the Gartner research. A further 9% of marketing budgets were allocated to mobile site and mobile app development and maintenance, and an additional 9.4% of the average budget was allocated to digital commerce projects. That’s nearly 30% of marketing budgets, on average, dedicated to web-focused marketing projects in 2022, suggesting the ongoing importance of website health and digital customer experiences for businesses worldwide. (Other investment areas included campaign creation, brand strategy and activation, marketing analytics, and sales enablement.) 


Adjusting marketing strategies for changing consumer behaviors  

Although it’s wise to contain costs, failing to support brands or examine core customers’ changing needs can jeopardize performance over the long term. Companies that put customer needs under the microscope, take a scalpel rather than a cleaver to the marketing budget, and nimbly adjust strategies, tactics, and product offerings in response to shifting demand are more likely than others to flourish both during and after a recession.

(Source: Harvard Business Review)

In recent years, there’s been a marked shift in consumer behavior that future-focused marketing strategies will naturally want to address — even, or especially, during downturns. Recently, the shift to online sales in both B2C and B2B markets suggests that companies’ websites and digital presence are more important than ever.  

The major growth in eCommerce since the start of the pandemic is just one example. According to the US Census Bureau’s Annual Retail Trade Survey (ARTS) Tables, eCommerce sales increased by $244.2 billion (a 43% increase) in the first year of the pandemic alone. 

Gartner’s Marketing Predictions 2022: Forging New Connections report suggests that this shift to online-first purchasing is also applicable in the B2B market:

The pandemic accelerated a digital-first B2B buying trend, further blurring the boundaries between marketing and sales. Buyers and sellers now expect website transactions to overtake human-led sales by 2023

(Source: Gartner)

Google research further reports that 53% of shoppers say they always do research before they buy. Having quality content on your website to support the buyer decision and implementing strong SEO best practices to rank those pages in the SERPs for customers’ queries will allow businesses to capture more attention from customers during this research phase of their decision-making around purchases. 

SEO can help address changing consumer behaviors

Succeeding in organic search through a strong SEO strategy is a core part of realizing the most commercial impact from your website. Here at Deepcrawl, we’ve discussed the growth of Google and other search engines as part of the customer journey in terms of the search-first age.  


Ready to build a future-thinking SEO strategy?

Getting the right SEO tools and resources in place is key to executing a successful organic search strategy. 

Not sure where to start, or which SEO platforms can help support ongoing growth for your business in the coming months? Deepcrawl’s website intelligence and technical SEO platform offers solutions for easy ongoing site monitoring, in-depth technical SEO analytics, and time-saving automation. Our enterprise-scale website crawler is the fastest on the market, helping digital teams meet their SEO goals in record time. 

For marketers looking to revisit their organic search strategy to build in new efficiencies and improve the effectiveness of their website as a revenue-generating asset, we recommend downloading our free eBook: The Ultimate Guide to Incorporating Website Health Into Your 2022 Marketing Strategy


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