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SEO During A Recession (Does It Still Work?)

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SEO During A Recession (Does It Still Work?)

It doesn’t take a professional economist to predict the global markets are headed for a downturn.

In the past year, inflation rates in the United States have hovered around 7%, with the IMF predicting the worst is yet to come. People everywhere feel the crunch of high gas prices and rising food costs.

And as expenses rise, many businesses are preparing to tighten their belts, cut unnecessary spending and ride out the storm until the global markets turn back around.

As you’re looking to cut the fat in your own company, it can be very tempting to slash your advertising and marketing budget.

This is a huge mistake.

By eliminating or even scaling down your marketing efforts, you’re hurting the growth and maintenance of your customer base. New customers will be harder to reach while existing customers will be unaware of new products, services, and deals.

Remember, marketing is an investment – not an expense. And in an age dominated by the internet, this is especially true of search engine optimization.

So, if you are considering cutting your SEO budget, DON’T DO IT.

Seriously. Don’t even think about it.

SEO can continue to move the needle for your business, even when other growth initiatives are coming up short.

In this piece, we’ll look at why that happens and show why SEO should be an important part of your marketing plan, no matter the economic conditions.

Why Does SEO Do Well In Economic Downturns?

When times are tough, you need to find a better value for your dollar. Your money needs to stretch further and work harder.

In marketing, few channels work harder than search for most products and services.

How do we know this? Because economies are cyclical, and this isn’t our first recession rodeo.

In the SEO era (i.e., since roughly 1991), we’ve had three significant recessions. During these times, it’s been discovered that SEO still performs. This can be attributed to a few reasons, namely:

  • It’s flexible: Even if you’re a small fish competing with an industry-dominating competitor, SEO gives you the flexibility to attract new customers. Long-tail keywords help you target highly specific searches. Local search helps people in your area find you, and a regularly updated website lets visitors know that you’re thriving (or at least maintaining), despite the larger economic environment.
  • It’s integrated: SEO fits in with your Facebook, Snapchat, or any other to help your business appear in search results. This creates an inbound marketing funnel just by taking an optimal approach to things you’re probably already doing.
  • It’s budget-friendly: Aside from your computer/internet/electricity costs – all of which you’re already paying for – SEO is primarily a time investment. Even if you’re outsourcing your search engine optimization, you’re paying for your expert’s time and not hard costs like billboards, paid digital ads, and television commercials (all of which also require a labor investment).

To reap the benefits of SEO, you don’t need to buy anything; you only need to do your homework, create great content, and optimize your site for web crawlers.

Now that we’ve established that SEO can work in times of economic uncertainty, let’s look at what you need to do to make it work for you.

How To Prepare For SEO In A Bad Economy

Whether you are a freelancer, an agency, or an in-house SEO, there are things you need to do to prepare your decision-makers for an economic downturn.

If you skip this, there’s a good chance you’ll get cut with the rest of the marketing budget.

When the economy takes a turn for the worse, the key to keeping decision-makers on board with search marketing efforts comes down to effective tracking and communication about the value it provides.

The first step is to ensure that you and your client are up to date on how the campaign is performing.

If you don’t already know your customer lifetime value and customer acquisition costs, now is the time to figure them out. This will give you a metric to keep in mind when calculating the value of your SEO work.

You need to adopt attribution modeling if you are still looking at last-click metrics for search.

Your goal is to make your work irreplaceable. This means communicating your value early and often.

You also need to let decision-makers know that even if someone comes in offering to do the job cheaper (and they will), your results will more than makeup for any additional costs of hiring you.

But to do that, you need to be on the same page with the decision-maker.

To be on the same page, you must agree on the results.

Goals Are The Key To Reducing Churn During Downtimes

Once you agree on the results, you can start setting smart goals for what the results will be.

Set the goal and get the decision-maker to agree to it. This helps you set yourself up for long-term success.

And get it in writing (either on paper or digitally), if possible, with both parties signing off.

This establishes in no uncertain terms that the relationship will continue if the goals are met.

It’s definitely a risk if you don’t hit the goals, so don’t set a goal you don’t think you can hit.

If the decision-maker wants to set an unrealistic goal, you need to push back.

Suggest making the unrealistic goal a “stretch goal” and setting a more realistic actual goal.

Don’t get pressured into agreeing to something you can’t deliver.

And make sure your plans are tailored to your specific situation, whether that’s as a freelancer, SEO agency, or B2B marketer.

As A Freelancer: Diversify And Focus On Core Competencies

For people who make a living by selling their services and expertise to businesses, recessions can be scary.

And it’s not just about an inability to find new clients – it could be existing clients who decide to reduce their costs by taking SEO in-house or even old clients who suddenly don’t have the money to pay you.

There’s no guaranteed way to keep your clients, and unfortunately, attrition is part of the game. That said, there are a few things you can do to set yourself up for continued success.

The first thing you should do is diversify your client base. Certain industries are going to be hit harder by recessions than others.

While this can be great if your clients are largely unaffected, it can be downright disastrous if they’re struggling in an industry. And it can be hard to predict which fields will struggle and which will thrive.

You must also find measurable ways to prove your value and expand your core competencies. That means clearly defining your goals (see above section). It also means changing the queries you’re targeting to reflect economy-driven changes in customer behavior.

For more information, we have an excellent article from the COVID-19 recession in which SEO experts gave us their tips for keeping SEO clients when things are rough.

As An Agency: Manage Relationships With Existing Clients

If you’ve been at a digital agency during a recession, you already know marketing budgets are usually one of the first things to get cut. And that makes good client management absolutely vital.

Communication and personal touch can go a long way to demonstrating your commitment to your clients. Of course, getting measurable results doesn’t hurt either.

You should use the recession as a chance to find new opportunity areas. What has changed about the client’s target customer’s behavior because of financial strain? How can you help the client position themselves as the perfect solution?

Focus on enhancing your relationships, offer timely advice, and, when in doubt, over-communicate. These are surefire ways to stay in your clients’ good graces.

You also need to understand where your agency is at risk. If you’re afraid you’ll lose clients, identify specific actions you can take to mitigate that risk.

Review your software subscriptions and other tools to see if you can afford to cut one or more if need be.

Because everyone is worried about their business, it can also be a good time to renegotiate with vendors.

And don’t forget about your team. Your employees are going to be just as stressed as everyone else. Have a tangible plan for keeping them motivated and productive.

For more ideas about how to sustain your SEO agency during a recession, be sure to read this piece.

As A B2B: Prioritize The Right Marketing Strategy And Platform

In a shaky economy, business-to-business (B2B) marketing needs to work harder and do more. And search engine optimization is a key area where you can outwork your competition without stretching your budget.

While you may be tempted to switch all your resources to areas offering short-term results like sales promotions or performance marketing, abandoning your SEO strategy is a big mistake.

For one thing, you’re forsaking all the hard work you’ve already done to get your site to rank on Google, which allows your competitors to swoop in and steal those clicks from right under you.

Not to mention, you risk being forgotten once the recession ends.

Instead of panicking, reevaluate your SEO strategy.

How were you performing before the recession? What keywords were you strong in, and which were you weak in? Are there any related queries you can start targeting that will bring in visitors others in your field may be overlooking?

Give potential customers or clients confidence in your offerings by prominently featuring reviews, testimonials, and case studies on your website. These tend to use the vernacular of your industry, which helps your ranking too.

You should also rethink what platforms you’re using. Obviously, your SEO strategy is going to be primarily focused on Google, adhering to the latest best practices to increase your search engine ranking. Still, it’s also important not to neglect your social media presence.

These are an often-forgotten way to rank in search results for specific keywords, often without much extra work. This is one of the few exceptions where it’s okay to use duplicate content for SEO purposes.

For example, you can share your recent blog post to LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter and generate traffic, all with just a single piece of content.

Be sure to take a close look at your integrated campaigns and how they’re performing.

Are you on the same platform your audience uses? And are you positioned correctly on each one?

For example, if you’re selling scrap metal to industrial companies, posting a video of your employees doing a viral dance to TikTok probably isn’t doing you a bit of good.

For more information on developing a sustainable B2B digital marketing plan, be sure to read this article.

The Bottom Line Is The Bottom Line

Business is all about revenue – and hopefully profit. But in lean times, you can’t adopt the same tactics that you used in the salad days.

You need to make smarter decisions allowing you to operate more efficiently without sacrificing quality. And this is especially true of your SEO strategy.

Just remember, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. No recession will last forever, and neither will any boom period.

That’s why it’s important to consistently find new ways to add value with search engine optimization. Set your goals, identify your strengths and weaknesses, and don’t lose heart.

If you can do these things, you’ll be set to come out of the looming recession even stronger than you went in.

More Resources:


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal

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No Algorithmic Actions For Site Reputation Abuse Yet

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Looking up at an angle at the Google sign on the Head Office for Canada

Google’s Search Liaison, Danny Sullivan, has confirmed that the search engine hasn’t launched algorithmic actions targeting site reputation abuse.

This clarification addresses speculation within the SEO community that recent traffic drops are related to Google’s previously announced policy update.

Sullivan Says No Update Rolled Out

Lily Ray, an SEO professional, shared a screenshot on Twitter showing a significant drop in traffic for the website Groupon starting on May 6.

Ray suggested this was evidence that Google had begun rolling out algorithmic penalties for sites violating the company’s site reputation abuse policy.

However, Sullivan quickly stepped in, stating:

“We have not gone live with algorithmic actions on site reputation abuse. I well imagine when we do, we’ll be very clear about that. Publishers seeing changes and thinking it’s this — it’s not — results change all the time for all types of reasons.”

Sullivan added that when the actions are rolled out, they will only impact specific content, not entire websites.

This is an important distinction, as it suggests that even if a site has some pages manually penalized, the rest of the domain can rank normally.

Background On Google’s Site Reputation Abuse Policy

Earlier this year, Google announced a new policy to combat what it calls “site reputation abuse.”

This refers to situations where third-party content is published on authoritative domains with little oversight or involvement from the host site.

Examples include sponsored posts, advertorials, and partner content that is loosely related to or unrelated to a site’s primary purpose.

Under the new policy, Google is taking manual action against offending pages and plans to incorporate algorithmic detection.

What This Means For Publishers & SEOs

While Google hasn’t launched any algorithmic updates related to site reputation abuse, the manual actions have publishers on high alert.

Those who rely heavily on sponsored content or partner posts to drive traffic should audit their sites and remove any potential policy violations.

Sullivan’s confirmation that algorithmic changes haven’t occurred may provide temporary relief.

Additionally, his statements also serve as a reminder that significant ranking fluctuations can happen at any time due to various factors, not just specific policy rollouts.


FAQ

Will Google’s future algorithmic actions impact entire websites or specific content?

When Google eventually rolls out algorithmic actions for site reputation abuse, these actions will target specific content rather than the entire website.

This means that if certain pages are found to be in violation, only those pages will be affected, allowing other parts of the site to continue ranking normally.

What should publishers and SEOs do in light of Google’s site reputation abuse policy?

Publishers and SEO professionals should audit their sites to identify and remove any content that may violate Google’s site reputation abuse policy.

This includes sponsored posts and partner content that doesn’t align with the site’s primary purpose. Taking these steps can mitigate the risk of manual penalties from Google.

What is the context of the recent traffic drops seen in the SEO community?

Google claims the recent drops for coupon sites aren’t linked to any algorithmic actions for site reputation abuse. Traffic fluctuations can occur for various reasons and aren’t always linked to a specific algorithm update.


Featured Image: sockagphoto/Shutterstock



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WP Rocket WordPress Plugin Now Optimizes LCP Core Web Vitals Metric

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WP Rocket WordPress Plugin Now Optimizes LCP Core Web Vitals Metric

WP Rocket, the WordPress page speed performance plugin, just announced the release of a new version that will help publishers optimize for Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), an important Core Web Vitals metric.

Large Contentful Paint (LCP)

LCP is a page speed metric that’s designed to show how fast it takes for a user to perceive that the page is loaded and read to be interacted with. This metric measures the time it takes for the main content elements has fully loaded. This gives an idea of how usable a webpage is. The faster the LCP the better the user experience will be.

WP Rocket 3.16

WP Rocket is a caching plugin that helps a site perform faster. The way page caching generally works is that the website will store frequently accessed webpages and resources so that when someone visits the page the website doesn’t have to fetch the data from the database, which takes time, but instead will serve the webpage from the cache. This is super important when a website has a lot of site visitors because that can use a lot of server resources to fetch and build the same website over and over for every visitor.

The lastest version of WP Rocket (3.16) now contains Automatic LCP optimization, which means that it will optimize the on-page elements from the main content so that they are served first thereby raising the LCP scores and providing a better user experience.

Because it’s automatic there’s really nothing to fiddle around with or fine tune.

According to WP Rocket:

  • Automatic LCP Optimization: Optimizes the Largest Contentful Paint, a critical metric for website speed, automatically enhancing overall PageSpeed scores.
  • Smart Management of Above-the-Fold Images: Automatically detects and prioritizes critical above-the-fold images, loading them immediately to improve user experience and performance metrics.

All new functionalities operate seamlessly in the background, requiring no direct intervention from the user. Upon installing or upgrading to WP Rocket 3.16, these optimizations are automatically enabled, though customization options remain accessible for those who prefer manual control.”

Read the official announcement:

WP Rocket 3.16: Improving LCP and PageSpeed Score Automatically

Featured Image by Shutterstock/ICONMAN66

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Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint: A Step-By-Step Guide

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Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint: A Step-By-Step Guide

This post was sponsored by DebugBear. The opinions expressed in this article are the sponsor’s own.

Keeping your website fast is important for user experience and SEO.

The Core Web Vitals initiative by Google provides a set of metrics to help you understand the performance of your website.

The three Core Web Vitals metrics are:

This post focuses on the recently introduced INP metric and what you can do to improve it.

How Is Interaction To Next Paint Measured?

INP measures how quickly your website responds to user interactions – for example, a click on a button. More specifically, INP measures the time in milliseconds between the user input and when the browser has finished processing the interaction and is ready to display any visual updates on the page.

Your website needs to complete this process in under 200 milliseconds to get a “Good” score. Values over half a second are considered “Poor”. A poor score in a Core Web Vitals metric can negatively impact your search engine rankings.

Google collects INP data from real visitors on your website as part of the Chrome User Experience Report (CrUX). This CrUX data is what ultimately impacts rankings.

Image created by DebugBear, May 2024

How To Identify & Fix Slow INP Times

The factors causing poor Interaction to Next Paint can often be complex and hard to figure out. Follow this step-by-step guide to understand slow interactions on your website and find potential optimizations.

1. How To Identify A Page With Slow INP Times

Different pages on your website will have different Core Web Vitals scores. So you need to identify a slow page and then investigate what’s causing it to be slow.

Using Google Search Console

One easy way to check your INP scores is using the Core Web Vitals section in Google Search Console, which reports data based on the Google CrUX data we’ve discussed before.

By default, page URLs are grouped into URL groups that cover many different pages. Be careful here – not all pages might have the problem that Google is reporting. Instead, click on each URL group to see if URL-specific data is available for some pages and then focus on those.

1716368164 358 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of Google Search Console, May 2024

Using A Real-User Monitoring (RUM) Service

Google won’t report Core Web Vitals data for every page on your website, and it only provides the raw measurements without any details to help you understand and fix the issues. To get that you can use a real-user monitoring tool like DebugBear.

Real-user monitoring works by installing an analytics snippet on your website that measures how fast your website is for your visitors. Once that’s set up you’ll have access to an Interaction to Next Paint dashboard like this:

1716368164 404 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the DebugBear Interaction to Next Paint dashboard, May 2024

You can identify pages you want to optimize in the list, hover over the URL, and click the funnel icon to look at data for that specific page only.

1716368164 975 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideImage created by DebugBear, May 2024

2. Figure Out What Element Interactions Are Slow

Different visitors on the same page will have different experiences. A lot of that depends on how they interact with the page: if they click on a background image there’s no risk of the page suddenly freezing, but if they click on a button that starts some heavy processing then that’s more likely. And users in that second scenario will experience much higher INP.

To help with that, RUM data provides a breakdown of what page elements users interacted with and how big the interaction delays were.

1716368164 348 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the DebugBear INP Elements view, May 2024

The screenshot above shows different INP interactions sorted by how frequent these user interactions are. To make optimizations as easy as possible you’ll want to focus on a slow interaction that affects many users.

In DebugBear, you can click on the page element to add it to your filters and continue your investigation.

3. Identify What INP Component Contributes The Most To Slow Interactions

INP delays can be broken down into three different components:

  • Input Delay: Background code that blocks the interaction from being processed.
  • Processing Time: The time spent directly handling the interaction.
  • Presentation Delay: Displaying the visual updates to the screen.

You should focus on which INP component is the biggest contributor to the slow INP time, and ensure you keep that in mind during your investigation.

1716368164 193 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the DebugBear INP Components, May 2024

In this scenario, Processing Time is the biggest contributor to the slow INP time for the set of pages you’re looking at, but you need to dig deeper to understand why.

High processing time indicates that there is code intercepting the user interaction and running slow performing code. If instead you saw a high input delay, that suggests that there are background tasks blocking the interaction from being processed, for example due to third-party scripts.

4. Check Which Scripts Are Contributing To Slow INP

Sometimes browsers report specific scripts that are contributing to a slow interaction. Your website likely contains both first-party and third-party scripts, both of which can contribute to slow INP times.

A RUM tool like DebugBear can collect and surface this data. The main thing you want to look at is whether you mostly see your own website code or code from third parties.

1716368164 369 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the INP Primary Script Domain Grouping in DebugBear, May 2024

Tip: When you see a script, or source code function marked as “N/A”, this can indicate that the script comes from a different origin and has additional security restrictions that prevent RUM tools from capturing more detailed information.

This now begins to tell a story: it appears that analytics/third-party scripts are the biggest contributors to the slow INP times.

5. Identify Why Those Scripts Are Running

At this point, you now have a strong suspicion that most of the INP delay, at least on the pages and elements you’re looking at, is due to third-party scripts. But how can you tell whether those are general tracking scripts or if they actually have a role in handling the interaction?

DebugBear offers a breakdown that helps see why the code is running, called the INP Primary Script Invoker breakdown. That’s a bit of a mouthful – multiple different scripts can be involved in slowing down an interaction, and here you just see the biggest contributor. The “Invoker” is just a value that the browser reports about what caused this code to run.

1716368165 263 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the INP Primary Script Invoker Grouping in DebugBear, May 2024

The following invoker names are examples of page-wide event handlers:

  • onclick
  • onmousedown
  • onpointerup

You can see those a lot in the screenshot above, which tells you that the analytics script is tracking clicks anywhere on the page.

In contrast, if you saw invoker names like these that would indicate event handlers for a specific element on the page:

  • .load_more.onclick
  • #logo.onclick

6. Review Specific Page Views

A lot of the data you’ve seen so far is aggregated. It’s now time to look at the individual INP events, to form a definitive conclusion about what’s causing slow INP in this example.

Real user monitoring tools like DebugBear generally offer a way to review specific user experiences. For example, you can see what browser they used, how big their screen is, and what element led to the slowest interaction.

1716368165 545 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of a Page View in DebugBear Real User Monitoring, May 2024

As mentioned before, multiple scripts can contribute to overall slow INP. The INP Scripts section shows you the scripts that were run during the INP interaction:

1716368165 981 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the DebugBear INP script breakdown, May 2024

You can review each of these scripts in more detail to understand why they run and what’s causing them to take longer to finish.

7. Use The DevTools Profiler For More Information

Real user monitoring tools have access to a lot of data, but for performance and security reasons they can access nowhere near all the available data. That’s why it’s a good idea to also use Chrome DevTools to measure your page performance.

To debug INP in DevTools you can measure how the browser processes one of the slow interactions you’ve identified before. DevTools then shows you exactly how the browser is spending its time handling the interaction.

1716368165 526 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of a performance profile in Chrome DevTools, May 2024

How You Might Resolve This Issue

In this example, you or your development team could resolve this issue by:

  • Working with the third-party script provider to optimize their script.
  • Removing the script if it is not essential to the website, or finding an alternative provider.
  • Adjusting how your own code interacts with the script

How To Investigate High Input Delay

In the previous example most of the INP time was spent running code in response to the interaction. But often the browser is already busy running other code when a user interaction happens. When investigating the INP components you’ll then see a high input delay value.

This can happen for various reasons, for example:

  • The user interacted with the website while it was still loading.
  • A scheduled task is running on the page, for example an ongoing animation.
  • The page is loading and rendering new content.

To understand what’s happening, you can review the invoker name and the INP scripts section of individual user experiences.

1716368165 86 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the INP Component breakdown within DebugBear, May 2024

In this screenshot, you can see that a timer is running code that coincides with the start of a user interaction.

The script can be opened to reveal the exact code that is run:

1716368165 114 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of INP script details in DebugBear, May 2024

The source code shown in the previous screenshot comes from a third-party user tracking script that is running on the page.

At this stage, you and your development team can continue with the INP workflow presented earlier in this article. For example, debugging with browser DevTools or contacting the third-party provider for support.

How To Investigate High Presentation Delay

Presentation delay tends to be more difficult to debug than input delay or processing time. Often it’s caused by browser behavior rather than a specific script. But as before, you still start by identifying a specific page and a specific interaction.

You can see an example interaction with high presentation delay here:

1716368165 665 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the an interaction with high presentation delay, May 2024

You see that this happens when the user enters text into a form field. In this example, many visitors pasted large amounts of text that the browser had to process.

Here the fix was to delay the processing, show a “Waiting…” message to the user, and then complete the processing later on. You can see how the INP score improves from May 3:

1716368165 845 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of an Interaction to Next Paint timeline in DebugBear, May 2024

Get The Data You Need To Improve Interaction To Next Paint

Setting up real user monitoring helps you understand how users experience your website and what you can do to improve it. Try DebugBear now by signing up for a free 14-day trial.

1716368165 494 Optimizing Interaction To Next Paint A Step By Step GuideScreenshot of the DebugBear Core Web Vitals dashboard, May 2024

Google’s CrUX data is aggregated over a 28-day period, which means that it’ll take a while before you notice a regression. With real-user monitoring you can see the impact of website changes right away and get alerted automatically when there’s a big change.

DebugBear monitors lab data, CrUX data, and real user data. That way you have all the data you need to optimize your Core Web Vitals in one place.

This article has been sponsored by DebugBear, and the views presented herein represent the sponsor’s perspective.

Ready to start optimizing your website? Sign up for DebugBear and get the data you need to deliver great user experiences.


Image Credits

Featured Image: Image by Redesign.co. Used with permission.

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