The poet Burns once observed that the best laid plans “gang aft agley.” At Moz, we were about to publish our State of Local SEO industry report, based on our local search marketing survey to which hundreds of you generously replied. Then the public health emergency unexpectedly arose, and we decided to pause in our planning.
The findings of the survey, as they currently stand, contain valuable and surprising insights which are as relevant today as they were pre-COVID-19. Yet, in order to reflect the substantial changes the local business community is currently weathering, we are reaching out to you with a timely additional request.
If you market local businesses in any capacity, whether in-house or for an agency, please take our quick, supplementary six-question survey. Your answers will help everyone gauge the impacts of the past few weeks on our industry, and hopefully help in planning for the future. We would be so grateful for just a few minutes of your time to be sure the final report reflects the full picture of local business marketing.
I couldn’t believe the response to my last post about coming up with content ideas in the B2C space during COVID-19. Thank you to all who read and commented — I truly hope it was helpful.
One piece of feedback we received was an ask to see some B2B content ideas, which, frankly, is an excellent subject. At first I was stumped about how to determine this, but then I decided that a different tool could do the trick.
Exploding Topics, the new tool by Brian Dean (Backlinko) and Josh Howarth, explores topics that are surging in popularity but haven’t hit their peak.
This time around, rather than focusing on specific keywords, I focused on overall trends so we can identify which categories might be of interest to your target businesses and their audiences. Then, you can examine whether these trends make sense for your niche and draw inspiration from them for your content.
All things remote
This trend obviously applies to B2C as well, but it’s an important consideration for B2B. Nearly everything has been either canceled, paused, or moved into the world of the virtual. For many companies and industries, this is uncharted territory, and they need guidance.
There is another category I could have included here that focuses on website and app development, programming, and the open source tools that help people build those types of assets as they lean more into digital.
If you’re not one of these B2B providers, there are still ways to gain inspiration from this data. Consider if your brand can provide:
The logistics of how to set up remote platforms
Best practices on how to make anything remote more successful and engaging
Comparison guides for different tools and solutions
The platform for people to lend the help and support they’re hoping to (like in the case of virtual tip jars)
Communication tips and solutions to help people stay productively connected
Shipping and delivery
Consumers are interested in having things shipped directly to them, but not everyone has the infrastructure to deal with shipping to begin with, let alone an increased order volume with the (understandable) safety limitations now in place.
Consumers and businesses alike are curious about how to make the shipping and delivery process more effective.
Consider if your brand can provide:
Guides for small businesses who’ve never had to ship product before
Tips on how companies can message shipping updates and delays to consumers
Advice on how to improve the delivery component of a business
UX or language tips for updating delivery messaging in apps or on websites
Transactions and payment
As we’re all staying six feet away from each other, we’re also trying not to hand off credit cards (let alone cash). Companies used to brick-and-mortar business models are also needing to adapt to fully digital payment systems.
Not all of these searches apply to business (like Venmo), but they do point to a concern everyone’s having: How do we pay for things now?
Consider if your brand can provide:
Answers about privacy or security questions people have regarding digital payments
A detailed list of all the payment options available
Advice on how to optimize storefronts and purchasing processes
Explanations of how payment processes can impact sales, and how to optimize them
This section speaks to an overall trend I touched on before: Professionals now build their own assets if they can’t afford to hire web developers, designers, etc. More and more people are trying to figure out how to keep their businesses going when they can’t keep on as much staff or hire as many contractors.
Perhaps you can identify what your target audience might be struggling with and suggest free or inexpensive online tools to help.
Consider if your brand can provide:
A list of tools that can assist your target audience in communicating, organizing, creating, etc.
Design advice to help them get up to speed as quickly as possible
Resources in how to complete tasks on a smaller team
Recommendations for what should be prioritized when money is tight
This is perhaps the most fascinating trend I saw arise. The four brands below have something in common: they all have to do with either sustainability or a transparent, mission-driven approach.
My theory is now that people don’t have as much disposable income, they’re becoming more mindful in their shopping choices, selecting items they believe match their own values.
Consider if your brand can provide:
A greater level of analysis on this potential trend
Research into how the consumer perspective has shifted during COVID-19
Advice on how to potentially shift marketing, branding, and advertising messaging
Tips on how your target audience can better understand their marketing during this tumultuous time
And finally (*sigh of relief*), marketing
Yes, as I was doing my research, my instinct that marketing would remain crucial during this time was confirmed.
That doesn’t mean you won’t lose business. We’ve had clients pull back because even though they’d like to keep marketing, keeping the company afloat by fulfilling their product orders and services and paying their employees will always (and very understandably) come first by a long shot.
But for businesses that can still afford marketing, they’ll likely need it, and they’re looking for the tools and insight they need to thrive.
Consider if your brand can provide:
Marketing 101 tips for smaller businesses
Specific how-to guides for different aspects of inbound or outbound marketing
Tool recommendations to help people get marketing tasks done quickly and cheaply
Advice on the kind of marketing that’s most successful during an economic downturn
Remember: This is only for inspiration. What matters most is what your target audience needs and wants. Put yourself in their shoes to be able to best address their challenges and concerns.
But hopefully some of these concepts spark some ideas for how your B2B brand can provide value to your target audiences. Companies around the world are looking for guidance and support now more than ever, and if you’re in a position to provide it to them, your content can go a long way in building trust.
This is a stressful time to say the least. Everything is impacted by COVID-19 in some way, including our work.
Once we’ve taken time to acknowledge how lucky we are to work in digital, it’s time to assess if our current content strategy needs any adjusting based on current events.
Many marketers are finding themselves:
Wanting to write about something topical
Needing to add more content to their calendars
At a loss for how to contribute at a time like this
So, I spent hours using Ubersuggest, putting myself in the shoes of various Americans. I tested a variety of keywords to see which ones have exhibited a trend during the COVID-19 outbreak and might warrant some attention from content marketers.
The results below are for the term “Coronavirus,” so for the other keywords identified, I looked for a noticeable spike in the months of January, February, and March to make sure they matched up accordingly.
My findings reveal potential topic ideas for several primary industries. See if any provide inspiration for high-quality content you can create in the coming months.
I’ll start with one of the industries hardest hit by this pandemic: travel. This was a tough one, as more and more people are understandably opting for driving, walking, or biking to get around, and are no longer relying on air travel or public transportation as trips and work get cancelled. However, I identified a few key opportunities.
While it had an increase in the summer months, interest in the topic of travel insurance has risen back up again. Perhaps those who have to travel want to make sure they’re covered if they get sick, or maybe those who canceled travel want to see what their insurance covers.
In either case, people are looking for information about travel insurance and how it can help them.
It seems that train travel falls into an ambiguous category that people are asking about. I’m not here to say whether it’s safe or not (as that is obviously not my area of expertise). As we’ve all heard, it’s best not to travel at all, but perhaps your brand can offer some clarity in this regard and offer alternatives.
For everyone stuck at home but still grappling with wanderlust, how can they still explore from the couch? Virtual travel seems to be gaining popularity as more people find themselves stuck at home.
Work and education
In some cases, companies and schools have gone from in-person to virtual nearly overnight. It’s been a huge shakeup across the board, and relevant topics are trending accordingly.
Many kids are home from school, and their parents are suddenly and unexpectedly in the position of teaching them. They’re sure to have a lot of questions! Note how the search level now is the same as the summer months, when kids are also home.
Free online courses
With all plans essentially cancelled as a result of “social distancing,” people are looking for ways to spend their time at home. If you offer online courses, consider amplifying them and explaining their value. If you don’t, consider whether it makes sense to create one.
Working from home tips
Executives and staff alike are looking for advice on how to improve productivity while working from home, perhaps for the first time. Consider creating content with suggestions on how to set up a home office or maintain a schedule while dealing with at-home distractions.
How to stay focused
Whether it’s because people are working or studying at home for the first time or because they’re anxious and distracted by the developing events, more and more people are struggling to stay focused. Can your brand offer anything by way of motivation or tools for focus and efficiency?
Everyone’s at home either trying to distract themselves from the stressful reality of the world or looking to cure their boredom. As a result, online entertainment is on the rise. Can you offer the entertainment itself, or maybe guides on how to choose the best entertainment?
We’re stuck with digital for now, and people are looking for new media to consume. What can your brand provide? Also trending: “cheap digital games” and “best multiplayer video games”.
Learn to play piano online
Some folks are using their newfound free time to work on hobbies and skills they haven’t had the chance to pursue in the past. Can your brand teach them anything?
Best online shopping deals
This is particularly interesting to me. Keyword rates for this term are as high as they were over the holidays. I’m wondering if people who still have disposable income will pass the time online shopping, while others who are more financially impacted will cut back, leaving things at a net equal?
Aside from the health and safety of the population, finance cuts most to the emotional core of this pandemic. Many people are laid off or can’t work, and financial worry is skyrocketing. What can you do to provide guidance or relief?
Many people are unexpectedly looking to file unemployment, and plenty of those people have no idea how to do it, how much money they’ll get, or how to get that information. Informative guides and tips could be hugely helpful in this area.
With layoffs and pay cuts, people are scrambling to find new ways to save money. Also trending with the same graph results: “How to invest money wisely” — most likely because of the fluctuating stock market. Can you provide insight?
When tensions run high, it’s important to pay attention to all the relationships in your life, meaning several subtopics in this vertical can be of vital importance.
At home date ideas
Couples stuck inside are looking for ways to keep up their romantic lives. Does it make sense for your brand to provide dating or relationships tips at an unprecedented time like this?
Reconnecting with friends
Physically, we’re all practicing social distancing, but we shouldn’t be virtually disconnecting from the people in our lives. It looks like people are wondering if they should take advantage of this free time to reconnect with old friends. Can your brand offer advice on the topic, or possibly a forum for those connections to happen?
How to make your parents understand how you feel
There are a lot of jokes going around about Gen Zs and Millennials trying to convince their Boomer parents to stay inside. But the jokes are for a reason: Many people are having tough conversations for the first time with family that they aren’t entirely sure how to navigate. Could you provide some helpful tips to approach these conversations?
Health and fitness
Health is, unsurprisingly, a vital category right now. Rather than getting into some of the most obvious things (like hand washing, hand sanitizer, etc.), I’ll try to cover some other popular topics that might be useful.
How to get health insurance
Similar to “unemployment” above, this is probably a response to people losing their jobs who are now unsure how they can get health insurance. What other concerns might these people have that you can help with?
People might have to stay home, but they’re also trying to stay healthy. How can you assist them in this endeavor?
Also trending: “how to start running”, indicating that solitary outdoor exercise is key, too.
How to strengthen immune system
People are concerned about their health and want to do whatever they can to protect themselves from COVID-19. However, only dive into this subject matter if your brand is a legitimate medical expert. False information can damage lives.
Also trending: “healthy diet”.
Don’t forget about mental health, which is also being affected by the pandemic. People are stressed, anxious, worried, and, well, scared. Does it make sense for your brand to provide guidance on how to emotionally or mentally approach this day and age?
Also trending: “meditation”.
Home and family
In many cases, entire families are at home, every day, for the first time since the kids were old enough to be in school. That can lead to some interesting challenges.
Natural cleaning products
In an effort to keep the house clean, people may be looking for guidance on the best type of supplies to use. Could you make a list of the most effective products?
Also trending: “organic cleaning products”.
Everyone’s at home for all their meals and trying to avoid restaurants, so they probably need more recipes in their arsenal. Maybe your employees have favorite family recipes you could share with your readers.
Games to play with kids
Parents are used to this over the summer, but not when it’s sprung on them for an indefinite period of time. How can your brand give them ideas and tools to entertain their kids while they’re home?
Also trending: “family conversation starters”.
To round out this study, I want to show the results for “uplifting stories.”
If you’re not responsible for delivering breaking news or important COVID-19 updates, look for opportunities to amplify joy, gratitude, hope, or any other positive emotion. People are looking for health and safety updates, but they’re looking for inspiration, too.
Consider how any of these topics might apply to your brand, do some further exploring in the Moz Keyword Explorer, and focus on creating a content plan you feel confident in.
Local businesses know better than any other model what it means to fully participate in community life. You are the good neighbors who are there to serve, inspire, and sustain the people and traditions that make your town a unique and enjoyable place to call home.
As we explore this topic of what local businesses can do during the COVID-19 pandemic, I want to honor all that you have always done to take care of your community as a local business owner or marketer. Thank you.
In this article, you will find local SEO tips that could make a difference for your business in the coming weeks, innovative resources for support, advice from my own tight-knit community of some of the world’s best local SEOs, and some serious thinking about building a better local future.
Adhere to all regulations
First and foremost, start each day with a review of both local and national news to be sure you are complying with the evolving regulations for your city, county, and country. Policies designed to mitigate the harm of COVID-19 vary widely from region to region, and your business must keep informed of which forms of service you are allowed to offer in this dynamic scenario.
And, while social media can be a great connector within your community at any time, beware of misinformation and, sadly, scams in the days ahead. Get your news from sources you trust, and if you are not certain about interpreting a guideline, directly contact local authorities. This article does not take the place of laws and regulations specific to your community.
The most helpful thing any local business can do right now, whether it’s deemed an essential or non-essential service, is to provide accurate information to its community. There are three key places to do this:
Google My Business
“More than ever, your Google Business Profile is a critical communication nexus with your customers”. —Mike Blumenthal, GatherUp
Local businesses know just how big a role Google plays as intermediary between brands and the public. This remains true during this difficult time however, Google’s local product is not running at full strength. Joy Hawkins’ article for Local University on March 23 details the limited support for or complete discontinuation of Google Q&As, posts, descriptions, reviews, and owner responses. It’s an evolving scenario, with local SEOs reporting different outcomes each day. For example, some practitioners have been able to get some, but not all, Google posts to publish.
As of writing this, there are four fields you can utilize to communicate current information to customers via GMB, but please be aware that some edits may take several days to go into effect:
If regulations are keeping you at home but you still want customers to be able to reach you on your home or cell phone for information, update your work answering machine to reflect the changes and edit your GMB phone number to the appropriate new number.
Hours of operation
The discussion on how best to show that your business either has no hours or limited new hours is ongoing. I believe the best route for the present is to use Google’s method of setting special hours. This option should be especially useful for multi-location enterprises who can set special hours via the API.
Be advised, however, that there are some instances of agencies setting special hours for clients and then clients receiving emails from Google asking if the business has closed. This can alarm those clients. However, to date, it appears that when Google receives responses to this prompt that yes, the business is closed, they simply put a message about this on the listing rather than remove the listing entirely.
On March 25, Google implemented a “temporarily closed” button inside the “Info” tab of the GMB dashboard, as reported by Joy Hawkins. Utilizing this button may temporarily decrease your rankings, but you will be able to remove the label in the future and I strongly hope (but cannot guarantee) that this will remove any effects of suppression. I recommend using this button if it applies to your business because we must put safety first over any other consideration.
COVID-19 update posts
Google has newly created a Google posts type that you’ll see as an option in your GMB dashboard. While other post types have been published sporadically, I am seeing examples of the COVID-19 Update posts going live. Try to fit as much information as you can about the changed status of your business into one of these posts.
In addition to the edits you make to your GMB listing, update your most visible local business listings on other platforms to the best of your ability, including on:
Bing: A “Temporarily closed” business status is available in the Bing Places dashboard. This is currently not available in the API.
Yelp: Yelp has introduced a new field called “temporarily closed”. This is meant to be used by businesses which are or will be closed (but not on a permanent basis) due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Businesses need to indicate the “end date” for when this business status will end. Given the uncertainty surrounding timelines, Yelp is allowing users to provide an “estimate” for the end date which they can always update later. Special opening hours can be added on Yelp itself, too. Neither field is available in the API.
Google My Business may be experiencing support issues right now, but thank goodness you still have full control of your website as a home base for conveying important information to the public. Here’s a quick checklist of suggested items to update on your site as soon as you can:
Put a site wide banner on all pages of the website with key information such as “temporarily closed”, “drive-up service available 9-5 Monday – Friday” or “storefront closed but we can still ship to you.”
Provide the most complete information about how your business has been affected by COVID-19, and detail any services that remain available to customers.
Edit location landing pages in bulk or individually to reflect closures, new hours, and new temporary offers.
Be sure hours of operation are accurate everywhere they are mentioned on the website, including the homepage, contact page, about page, and landing pages.
If your main contact phone number has changed due to the situation, update that number everywhere it exists on the website. Don’t overlook headers, footers, or sidebars as places your contact info may be.
If you have a blog, use it to keep the public updated about the availability of products and services.
Be sure your website contains highly visible links to any social media platforms you are using to provide updated information.
It would be a worthy public service right now to create new content about local resources in your community for all kinds of basic needs.
Social media and email
“Make it clear what you’re doing, such as things like home delivery or curbside pickup. And mention it EVERYWHERE. The companies that are being successful with this are telling people non-stop how they can still support them. Additionally, don’t be afraid to reach out to people who have supported you via social media in the past and ask them to mention what you’re doing.” —Dana DiTomaso, Kick Point
Whether your customers’ social community is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, or another platform, there has never been a more vital time to make use of the instant communication these sites provide. It was Fred Rogers who famously said that in times of crisis, we should “look for the helpers.” People will be looking to your brand for help and, also, seeking ways that they can help, too.
If you can make the time to utilize social media to highlight not just your own services, but the services you discover are being provided by other businesses in your city, you will be strengthening your community. Ask your followers and customers to amplify information that can make life safer or better right now.
And, of course, email is one of the best tools presently at your disposal to message your entire base about changed conditions and special offers. My best practice advice for the present is to be sure you’re only communicating what is truly necessary. I’ve seen some examples of brands (which shall remain nameless) exploiting COVID-19 for senseless self-promotion instead of putting customers’ concerns and needs first. Don’t go that route. Be a helper!
Beyond your local business listing, websites, social media platforms, and email, don’t overlook offline media for making further, helpful informational contributions. Call into local radio shows and get in touch with local newspapers if you have facts or offers that can help the public.
Operate as fully as you can
“Find out what support is being made available for you at [the] government level, tap into this as soon as you can — it’s likely there will be a lot of paperwork and many hoops through which you’ll need to jump.” —Claire Carlile, Claire Carlile Marketing
While the social safety net differs widely from country to country, research any offers of support being made to your business and make use of them to remain as operational as possible for the duration of this pandemic. Here are six adjustments your business should carefully consider to determine whether implementation is possible:
1. Fulfill essentials
If your business meets local, state, or federal regulations that enable it to continue operating because it’s deemed “essential”, here are the ways different business models are adapting to current conditions:
Some healthcare appointments can be handled via phone or virtual meetings, and some medical facilities are offering drive-up testing.
Drivethrough, delivery, and curbside pickup are enabling some brands to offer takeout meals, groceries, prescriptions, and other necessary goods to customers.
Supermarkets and grocery stores without built-in delivery fleets are contracting with third parties for this service.
Farms and ranches can offer honor system roadside stands to allow customers to access fresh produce, dairy products, and meats with proper social distancing.
Companies that care for vulnerable populations, banking, laundry, and fuel can implement and communicate the extra steps they are taking to adhere to sanitation guidelines for the safety of customers and staff.
Brands and organizations that donate goods and services to fulfill essential needs are taking an active role in community support, too.
2. Evaluate e-commerce
If your local business already has an e-commerce component on its website, you’re many steps ahead in being well set up to keep selling via delivery. If you’ve not yet implemented any form of online selling, investigate the following options:
If you have a credit card processing machine, the most basic solution is to take orders over the phone and then ship them, allow curbside pickup, or deliver them.
If you lack a credit card processing service, PayPal invoicing can work in a pinch.
If your site is built on WordPress and you’re quite comfortable with that platform, Moz’s own Sha Menz highly recommends the ease of the WooCommerce plugin for getting online shopping set up with PayPal as a built-in payment option. It allows easy setup of flat rate or free shipping and local pickup options. WooCommerce automatically sends order confirmation emails to both owner and customer and even supports creation of discount coupons.
In my very large family, one relative has transitioned her yoga studio to online classes, another is offering secure online psychotherapy appointments, and another is instructing his orchestra on the web. While nothing can replace in-person relationships, virtual meetings are the next-best-thing and could keep many business models operating at a significant level, despite the pandemic. Check out these resources:
4. Use downtime for education
If COVID-19 has somewhat or completely paused your business, it’s my strong hope that there will be better days ahead for you. If, like so many people, you find yourself with much more time on your hands than usual, consider using it to come out of this period of crisis with new business knowledge. Please make use of this list of resources, and I want to give special thanks to my friend, Claire Carlile, for contributing several of these suggestions:
Begin working towards a stronger local future
“I would say generally it’s critical for business owners to connect with one another. To the extent they can join or form groups for support or to share ideas, they should. This is a terrible and scary time but there are also potential opportunities that may emerge with creative thinking. The ‘silver lining’, if there is one here, is the opportunity to reexamine business processes, try new things and think — out of necessity — very creatively about how to move forward. Employees are also a great source of ideas and inspiration.” —Greg Sterling, Search Engine Land
I’d like to close with some positive thinking. Local SEO isn’t just a career for me — it’s a personal belief system that well-resourced communities are the strongest. Every community, town, and city shares roughly the same needs, which we might depict like this:
In this simple chart, we see the framework of a functional, prepared, and healthy society. We see a plan for covering the basic needs of human existence, the cooperation required to run a stable community, contributive roles everyone can play to support life and culture, and relief from inevitable disasters. We see regenerative land and water stewardship, an abundance of skilled educators, medical professionals, artisans, and a peaceful platform for full human expression.
COVID-19 marks the third major disaster my community has lived through in three years. The pandemic and California’s wildfires have taught me to think about the areas in which my county is self-sustaining, and areas in which we are unprepared to take care of one another in both good times and bad. While state and national governments bear a serious responsibility for the well-being of citizens, my genuine belief as a local SEO is that local communities should be doing all they can to self-fulfill as many data points on the chart above as possible.
While it’s said that necessity is the mother of invention, and it certainly makes sense that the present moment would be driving us to invent new solutions to keep our communities safe and well, I find models for sane growth in the work others have already contributed. For me, these are sources of serious inspiration:
Look at the policies of other countries with a higher index of human happiness than my own. For example, I am a great admirer of Norway’s law of allemannsrett which permits all residents to responsibly roam and camp in most of the country, and more importantly, to harvest natural foods like mushrooms and berries. In my community, most land is behind fences, and even though I know which plants are edible, I can’t access most of them. Given current grocery store shortages, this concept deserves local re-thinking.
Study the Economic Bill of Rights US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt introduced but didn’t live to see passed. Had this been implemented, my local community would not now be suffering from a shortage of medical providers and denial of medical care, a shortage of nearby farms for complete nutrition, homelessness and unaffordable housing, and a widespread lack of education and essential skills. From a purely commercial standpoint, FDR’s bill could also have prevented the collapse of “Main St.”, which local search marketers have been fighting every day to reverse.
Other models and examples may personally inspire you, but I share my friend Greg Sterling’s opinion: now is the time to bring creativity to bear, to connect with fellow local business owners and community members, and to begin planning a more realistic and livable future.
For now, you will have to make those connections virtually, but the goal is to come out of this time of crisis with a determination to make local living more sustainable for everyone. You can start with asking very basic questions like: Where is the nearest farm, and how many people can it feed? What do we need to do to attract more doctors and nurses to this town? Which facilities could be converted here to produce soap, or bathroom tissue, or medical supplies?
I don’t want to downplay the challenge of forward-thinking in a time of disruption, but this I know from being a gardener: new seeds sprout best where the earth is disturbed. You have only to visit the margins of new roads being laid to see how digging is quickly followed by verdant crops of fresh seedlings. Humanity needs to dig deep right now for its best solutions to serious challenges, and this can begin right where you are, locally.
Please allow me to wish many better days ahead to you, your business, and your community, and to work by your side to build a stronger local future.