COVID-19 Search Engine Shifts with Callum Scott

Main Image

Callum Scott is a member of the Marie Haynes Consulting team. He is in fact one of the people you’re likely to contact first when you get in touch with the SEO firm, the brainchild of expert digital marketer, Dr. Marie Haynes.

This SEO agency has a unique focus: Google penalty recovery and algorithm consultation. They publish the Marie Haynes’ Guide to the Quality Raters Guidelines, as well as a highly informative and renowned SEO algorithm newsletter, Search News You Can Use. They help companies solve the mysteries of sudden organic traffic drops, and help them get back on track.

Callum sat down with Garrett to discuss how COVID-19 is impacting MHC’s business, its clients, and its employees.


  • (1:16) How the virus has impacted contracts at MHC.
  • (3:30) How Google may be filtering search results in the middle of this crisis.
  • (6:29) How the team is analyzing current fluctuations in search results.
  • (8:12) The recommendations that are going out to clients, and why.
  • (13:07) Stories of successful pivots made by businesses impacted by COVID-19.
  • (15:10) How the MHC team is working right now.
  • (20:22) Callum’s predictions for the next month or so.
  • (24:09) Callum’s causes.

Don’t have time to listen to the whole thing? Here are the top insights.

How Google may be filtering search results in the middle of this crisis

Callum says health industry sites are seeing the biggest fluctuations, and a lot of it has to do with site accuracy.

“If you’re looking up stuff about hand sanitizer, it has to be 100% FDA approved information on hand sanitizer, because that’s all Google’s going to give you.”

He says that health sites really need to watch the level of scientific consensus involved in each one of their articles.

“[We’ve seen results change based on] how well people have been putting references in, how well people have trimmed out older, thin content.”

He says doing that kind of work has created really good results for sites that want to recover from algorithm drops.

How MHC is analyzing current fluctuations in search results

Right now MHC is having to add extra information to their analysis.

“We’re really having to pair it with any bit of news information that’s coming out the same day about COVID.”

He discusses a stock industry website they’ve been working with.

“Their traffic’s all over the place. Any time something new happens, a new stimulus package comes out, that kind of thing, we’re seeing these massive rises and falls. It’s a whole new challenge.”

How are they doing it?

“We’re using Google trends. We’re still monitoring the hundreds of sites we still have Google analytics attached to. We use Ahrefs and SEMRush, the two main tools we use to monitor rankings for sites, and then we’re staying on top of news that’s happening with this.

We’re making sure that we’re noting every major event every single day that it happens, then add that to our analysis. We’re coming up with a bit of a timeline right now to try to figure out if there is a correlation with pages that went up and the news items that happened that day.”

A lot of sites are being pushed to page 2 simply because there are so many extra SERP features and news items coming up around COVID-19.

Recommendations for SEO clients

The MHC team is giving clients case-by-case advice, and when old clients return they are trying to give them some good, relevant content ideas.

“One of our teammates came up with, for a current client in the recipe space, ways to think about all kinds of recipe that they could put out there using alternative ingredients.

Nobody can get what they actually want from the supermarket right now. So if you have olive oil and some fresh pepper, what can you actually make?”

Callum does note that they’re not doing too much hands-on COVID recovery strategy for clients, just because of who they’re currently working with.

Successful business pivots

Here at Agency Ahead, we’re really watching successful pivots closely right now, even if they aren’t clients of the agencies that we’re talking to. We’re doing this, because we’re hoping this can help our agency listeners help their clients.

So we were excited when Callum shared a story about a successful pivot being done by a couple of local, independent bookstores, one in Ottawa, where he lives now, and one in his home country of Scotland.

“They started compiling books based on your preferences, into collection boxes of ten or twelve books. You can buy them for a friend, or yourself, and get them shipped out.”

Callum also mentioned his fiancee’s business.

“She did B2B office supplies. Obviously that’s gone down the drain because nobody’s in their office anymore, so they’ve pivoted to doing home-delivery like supply boxes. It’s been a big shift for that because they were going from a failed structure where they were calling, very old-school B2B business sales where they were calling into offices, talking to the office manager directly, all telesales.

They’ve made the switch to 100% online and they’re using paid social to get the word out. They’re learning it day-to-day.”

Any pivot ideas you can offer to your clients are going to be so valuable right now, and may even help them save their businesses. This is true even if official stay-at-home orders start lifting, simply because many people won’t be too eager to stop social distancing.

Some insights about remote work

Marie has treated her team with incredible kindness, and has done so in a way that could serve as a model for other agencies.

“The best thing is how flexible she’s being with work hours, with accommodating people who need to take that afternoon off to process and deal with what’s happening, especially if they have family members involved. We’re really fortunate Marie has allowed that breathing space.”

Breathing space has been a big part of what’s kept the team successful, as well as being willing to become a bit vulnerable during this stressful time.

“I think the first couple of weeks or so we really had to focus on being honest with each other about our capacity for completing our workload.

There were definitely a few moments where you were almost kidding yourself thinking you could do it – only to say, actually, no, I wasn’t able to focus this hard. I spent half my day on Twitter looking at what’s going on. That’s normal and fine. We’ve had to adapt and get better at saying, actually, no, I need a few days on this.”

Clients have been just as understanding as the MHC team, perhaps, in part, because the MHC team is being gentle and understanding with them, as well.

“Every client we’ve talked to saying we need to deliver a couple of days later, we’re going to be just a little held up…everyone’s in the same boat. Everyone’s going, absolutely. Not a problem. Which is really encouraging.”

He says that Marie really did a good job of making them feel safe to do that, and they’re trying to pass that on to their clients, “especially if there’s a payment that needs to be made for the completion of work. We can be flexible with that. We’ve come up with a system for extending our payment plans and that kind of thing.”

Predictions for the next month

Callum predicts most of the digital marketing conferences will go digital.

“We’re ahead of the curve, compared to a lot of industries, which is really cool.”

As far as getting new clients go?

“I think there will be a lull for awhile in terms of the amount of clients people are able to find or get or sort of work with in general just as the economy slows down. I’m kind of personally anticipating a sort of two to three month freeze on the economy where stuff just goes into a bit of hibernation, and then we can see where we’re at afterward.”

It’s not quite a Great Depression-style prediction – which is encouraging from an individual who is watching the news for analytical insights every single day!

What’s your right now cause?

Callum has been trying to donate as much as possible to the Ottawa food bank, and encourages people to donate to food banks in their own areas.

“It helps some of the people who have been hardest hit by this, especially when shop shelves are going completely empty: lower income families already struggling to feed their kids and relying on food banks. There’s less people donating food at the food bank because they’re hoarding it for themselves.”

He also encourages people to “just generally help out your neighbors. Offer to get groceries, or to fill their car with gas or whatever. Socially distancing, obviously.”

Connect with Callum Scott

Related articles