SEO & Digital Empathy in Crisis: A Webinar with Cindy Krum

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Cindy Krum of MobileMoxie shared a fantastic webinar full of actionable tips about how agencies, consultants, and businesses could market with empathy during a crisis. Specifically, of course, she was talking about our current COVID-19 crisis. 

This webinar is full of actionable tips and things you’ll want to implement right away. We took notes so you don’t have to.

  • (1:27) COVID is changing how people are having to market. 
  • (4:01) Consumers are having a hard time too.
  • (5:36) Search queries and local search queries are changing.
  • (8:23) Active communication is the key to empathetic marketing.
  • (11:43) Responding to and making use of changes in GMB.
  • (18:09) Understanding volatility in local rankings.
  • (19:31) Why you need to use tools to check search results.
  • (23:36) Remember to update your own website.
  • (25:25) Use PR and social media to announce changes.
  • (27:17) Think from a customer’s perspective.
  • (32:15) Empathy in paid email and SMS.
  • (35:27) Empathy in paid search ads.
  • (38:26) How often should you check your SERPs?
  • (39:49) Removing Google warnings about hours.
  • (40:32) Where to find more information.
  • (42:05) Handling differences of opinion about masks.

Don’t have time to watch the webinar and want the takeaways fast? We’ve got you covered.

Table of Contents

Challenges for businesses and marketers

Cindy shares the following stats:

  • 24% of companies expect their revenue to decrease by 25% or more.
  • 29% of people expect their revenue to decrease by 10% to 25%.
  • Only 20% of companies expect revenue to increase, or even stay the same.

“From a business perspective, things are looking bleak,” she says. 

How COVID is changing search results

There are also significant changes in how people access the information they need, and in the ways people search for the products and information to help them adapt to this new reality.

There are changes in ad traffic:

ad-traffic

“You can see that Google display ads went way up, YouTube ads went way up, and shopping ads went way up. This change doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no business opportunity or there’s no way to reach our users. It just means we may have to shift to acknowledge this new reality and to make sure we’re reaching people at the right time now, versus whatever plan was in place before.”

She points out the way people are searching is changing. This graph shows an obvious one: the difference between “takeout near me” and “restaurant reservations.” 

search-queries-change

Here’s what this tells us, as marketers. 

“It’s not that nobody wants food from a restaurant. It’s just the way they’re searching for it has changed right now. So we may feel right now that marketing isn’t working. And that might be true, because it’s marketing that hasn’t adapted to this situation. So we need to rethink things like the keywords we’re targeting and the keywords people might be searching for when they’re adapting their lives to the new reality.”

We also see changes in how people interact with the search results. Here’s a GMB breakdown of clicks:

local-seo-behavior-changes
  • Clicks for directions are in blue. 
  • Clicks for phone calls are in green. 
  • Clicks for directions are in red. 

Clicks for directions have gone way down, but clicks for phone calls have gone way up. 

“People are still engaging with businesses,” Cindy stresses. “They just might not be doing it in person. They’re finding other ways to do it.” 

Search queries are changing too. Here is a shot of a tool Google published as part of their response to the pandemic. It shows the growth in certain search queries and topic areas to help quantify all the changes people are seeing.

search-queries-change-pool

“It’s great for marketers,” Cindy notes. “To be able to see that yeah, searches for pools and pool accessories have gone up 300%. People are doing more to make their home more palatable as they’re forced to stay in, or at least they desire to stay close to home. They’re trying to make home better, more relaxing. 

I would imagine there is a similar graph for cooking and baking bread and all of these things. People are changing behavior and needs. As marketers we need to adapt to that instead of just blaming everything and saying, well, because of COVID, there’s nothing. There’s stuff. It’s just not what it used to be.”

Understanding customer challenges

Cindy stresses that customers are having a hard time too. 

“As a consumer, things have been rough. You order things and never know when they’ll arrive. Sometimes orders get cancelled because the company finds out the order isn’t in stock anymore. A lot of time it’s not as simple as it used to be, where you could just go to a store. In the past you could go online and things would show up in 2 days, or at least in a reliable shipping period, but now that’s kind of out the window, and everyone’s doing the best they can.”

Prices are all over the place too, and there is plenty of price gouging going on. Here are the daily prices on Amazon for a 5 pound bag of rice.

price-shifts

“So it’s not just that things are unreliably in stock,” Cindy points out, “but they’re unreliable priced as well, and there’s price gouging happening.”

She notes the platforms, Google Shopping and Amazon, are trying to prevent price gouging, but it’s still happening, and that most consumers have seen this and have been frustrated by it. 

“Everyone’s struggling a bit more than they were.”

To respond to these issues Cindy outlined 7 different principles that can help businesses provide empathetic marketing (which is what works, especially right now).

When you’re putting together the promotion, there are a few processes and tools you’ll want to put in place to ensure that your customers are informed about the promotion.

Principle #1: Active communication

“It’s important to communicate any kind of changes your company has made in response to Covid,” Cindy says. “It’s not like a light switch. We’re not going from ‘we’re on, then we’re off, now we’re on again.’ We have to make people feel comfortable engaging with our businesses again.” 

Really, this principle of active communication guides nearly every other principle.

Principle #2: Keeping GMB updated

Cindy referenced an article by Greg Gifford: GMB Usage Declines, But Poised to Become More Powerful Post Coronavirus.

“People want updated information, and they’re going to Google to look for it.” 

They want to know if the business is open, whether the hours changed, and what kinds of services are available.

“The likelihood of them going to Google before they go to your website is high. For whatever reason, people trust Google. They think Google has this magical access to knowledge. They don’t realize a human went in and changed this to closed, a human went in and added these checks and X marks. It’s not just Google knows and it’s smart.”

So you have to get in and update, and you have to take advantage of the tools that Google is now offering, tools that are designed to make it easier for people to get the information they need.

update-website-gmb

“The laws, regulations, suggestions, and expected behavior have changed not just from country to country, but from state to state and city to city. Keeping things updated can be a huge task, but it’s very important for encouraging people to come back out when they’re ready and when the company is ready.”

Google keeps adding different options for conveying this information, including this checkmark and X mark system for things like in-store shopping, curbside pickup, delivery, and so on. 

Cindy says you have to be a little bit strategic as you do this, because there are a lot of options. 

update-gmb

“Have as many checks as possible, but don’t do the X mark unless it is something people would naturally think you have. Because you want to look positive, encouraging. We’re opening. We’re doing all these things. But if the only thing you’re offering is in-store shopping it might be discouraging for people to see one green check and four red Xs. It might be better to see one green check. Or maybe one green check and one X, but not all the Xs. So there’s a little bit of psychology in these decisions. Answer the natural questions people would have or the assumptions they’d make about how you’re operating and not operating.”

The foundational question here? 

“What can you do to make people feel like they’re going to have a good experience and that you’ve really adapted to the situation?”

Cindy also recommends enabling GMB messenger.

gmb-messages

People are using it to ask the questions they might otherwise call about or go and ask about while they were in-store. 

“You can create a welcome message that’s like an auto-responder to help you respond to questions if you’re getting too many.” 

Cindy says you can also use this feature to help people make appointments if you’ve switched to appointments only. 

“The downside of this is you have to do it from your phone, you have to have the app, and people can message you at all times of day, not just when you’re open.” That’s where the auto responder can be a big help.

She also recommends taking advantage of Google’s covid-specific post feature.

update-website

Use this space to make notes about safety protocols, to offer images of safety protocols, to add notes about active plans, and notes about contingency plans. 

“This is also a great place if you’re wondering where to express things like: we really care about our employees, and we want to let you know we haven’t furloughed any of them. Or: we want you to know we’re rehiring all our employees right now. Or we want to encourage you: we’re not open for in-store visits but we want to encourage you to shop online or buy gift cards.” 

As long as it’s related to COVID, you can post things in that space. 

“It’s a really nice way,” says Cindy, “to show your empathy and to show that not only do you care about your customers but you care about your employees and you’re doing everything you can to keep everyone feeling safe and comfortable.”

If you’re not open yet, or your client isn’t, you should also be aware that Google has made it possible to sell gift cards or take donations directly from GMB, even if you’re struggling to set them up on your website. 

Remember, if you’re not making any updates right now Google is showing a warning that “hours may be impacted by COVID-19.” That warning disappears as soon as you make changes, even if you’re just reaffirming the same opening hours you’ve always had.

Principle #3: Use tools to check shifts in SERPs by location, language, and other factors

There’s a great deal of volatility in local rankings, as tweeted by Darren Shaw. So Cindy urges you not to take your SERPs position for granted, because a lot of things might have changed.

whitespark

There’s a problem, though. The data that’s coming out of GMB right now isn’t super reliable. According to Joy Hawkins, GMB data seems like it isn’t being updated as normally as it would be, and people are missing some.

GMB-error

Cindy stresses this should not stop you from doing your updates. 

“We expect the data will eventually turn up.” 

Yet one thing you should do is to spot check your GMB search results. Tools like the Mobile Moxie SERPerator can be very helpful for this. 

GMB

“It lets you test any search results on a mobile phone from anywhere in the world. It’ll give you a real live clickable search result that you can interact with. So you can click through and see the GMB listings, and in some cases if you have issues it will highlight those issues for you.”

The tool shows you these results in a simulated phone, allowing you to see them exactly as a mobile customer would. You can’t get these on your phone because you can’t physically get your phone to any location other than the one you’re standing in.

You can also upload CSVs of addresses so you can test locations if you have multiple locations in many cities. You can track the look and feel of search results to see if they’ve changed.

Keep in mind if you search the same query in two different countries you’re also getting different results. 

search-results-location

So for example when you search from Denver, Google is injecting a big scary warning sign into a search result about travel to Rio. If you search the same from Rio you’re not getting that warning. Testing, if you reach an international audience, tells you a lot about the reasons behind drops in search results.

Searches also change based on the language you are searching in, and it’s important to test that as well.

search-results-language

The knowledge graph changes drastically.

knowledge-graph

This tells you that the information people have available to them can change drastically, and you have to account like that however you can.

How often should you check your SERPs?

“It does depend a little bit,” says Cindy. “If you have customers that are engaging with you on a regular basis, or if your company really shut down and went into hiding and now you’re opening back up, the cadence needs to be in parallel with the things you’re doing to open back up. It’s not a build it and they will come situation. You need to build it, and announce it. And announce it 50 more times. And then they’ll come.”

Principle #4: Don't neglect your own website

Even though many customers will stay on GMB and never make it through to your website, you empathetic marketing demands that you keep yours updated anyway. Some customers will go there directly, or will choose to click right on through.

Your website is a good place to expand on the types of information your customers might really want to know about.

“Remember, even if you’re not nervous about getting the disease or getting a COVID infection, other people might be incredibly nervous. They might want to know: what does it look like if I order something online? Has it been touched? How are you cleaning things if they’re returned? They might have a lot more anxiety and so you want to be empathetic. You have to give the information the most anxious person would want.”

She notes people who don’t need as much reassurance will typically skip right over that info, so it doesn’t hurt anything to put the information done. 

“You can also use the format from GMB. Take the things you’ve done over there and make sure you’re replicating that as much as possible on your own website. So things like new modes of operation for each store. Changes in hours. If you’ve gone to an appointment-only functionality, make sure you’re making it very easy to find the appointment sign up. Or even give notifications about shifts in product focus, or anything like that.”

Customers may get information from both sources, so try to make sure they mirror each other as much as possible to avoid causing confusion.

Principle #5: Use PR and social media to announce changes

It’s a good way to meet people right where they are, at a point where they’re not searching for you yet but might have your product or service at the back of their mind.

Cindy uses Sprouts as an example. They announced new pick up options on their twitter, but they also sent a press release about the pick up options at their stores, which got picked up by a local news station who then sent it out on their Twitter feed.

pr

Cindy says it’s okay to market a bit to help encourage people. 

“They might not have even thought certain businesses are open. If you’re doing something clever, if you’re doing something really helpful, then you should be announcing it.”

Cindy says this is also true if you’re doing a lot of community outreach during this time. 

“If you as a company are contributing to soup kitchens or bagged lunches for schools or whatever it is you might be doing, this is a good way to get in front of customers and invite them into your life…and probably create a lot of goodwill as well.”

Principle #6: Use empathy in paid email & SMS

One way to show empathy is to be aware that different states and cities all have different policies on “opening up” right now, and so your email and SMS campaigns should be location-specific, or should include ways to get location-specific information.

Headlines that address these questions straight on are particularly helpful.

Cindy also says Panera’s sending great emails too, noting how they’ve adapted their business offerings to make them more relevant to the crisis, and how they’ve used SMS and email to communicate that fact.

panera

Don’t keep these changes a secret! Don’t keep your policies a secret. Send good emails and SMS messages with great visuals. Most of all don’t neglect SMS because many people, with job losses, have lost access to computers. They’re relying much more heavily on their phone for these kinds of communications.

sms-with-links

Principle #7: Use empathy in paid search ads

Here’s a great visual example of what Cindy means by using empathy in paid search.

hdmi

As you can see, Best Buy has embedded curbside pickup into their ad. 

“Even though they are the most expensive option here,” says Cindy, “the likelihood of making a sale is actually incredibly high if you’re trying to solve a problem that requires an HDMI cord and you don’t want to wait 2 weeks for one to be delivered. You just want to solve it right now, and you can click here and order it through Best Buy and go pick it up today. That’s super compelling with all the frustration customers are feeling with their online purchases.”

Bonus Tip: Handling differences of opinions on masks

Without getting too political, it’s hard to ignore the fact that every state has different perspectives on masks. Cindy has advice.

“In my view, every company has a right to require certain behaviors in their stores.”

no-service

“You can go to a different grocery store,” she adds, “if you don’t like the mask policy. But it’s not fair to send people away if you haven’t done everything you can to communicate that mask policy in advance. That’s where the empathy comes in. You can have certain expectations, but you need to have it mentioned on GMB, have it mentioned on your website, have store signage all over, and then be nice about it and have masks to give away if that’s the requirement.”

In short: communication, communication, communication!

Where to Find More Information

Cindy suggests following Darren Shaw, Mike Blumenthal, Joy Hawkins, and just local SEO and SEO on Twitter in general. Twitter is one of the best places to get up to date SEO info.

You can find Cindy on Twitter too. Just follow her at @Suzzicks

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