Our work as marketers has transformed drastically in the space of a month. Today, we’re grateful to welcome our good friend Rand to talk about a topic that’s been on the forefront of our minds lately: how to do our jobs empathetically and effectively through one of the most difficult trials in modern memory.
We hope you’ve got a cozy seat in your home office, a hot mug of coffee from your own kitchen Keurig, and your cat in your lap as you join us for this week’s episode of Whiteboard Friday.
Howdy, folks. I’m Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz and co-founder of Sparktoro. And I’m here today with a very special edition of Whiteboard Friday.
I think that now is the right time to talk about marketing in uncertain epochs like the one we’re living through. We obviously have a global crisis. It’s very serious. But most of you watch Whiteboard Friday. Know that here at Moz, right, they’re trying to help. They want to help people through this crisis. And that means doing marketing. And I don’t think that now is the right time for us to stop our marketing activities. In fact, I think it’s time to probably crunch down and do some hard work.
So let’s talk about what’s going on. And then I’ll give some tactics that I hope will be helpful to you and your teams, your clients, your bosses, everyone at your organizations as we’re going through this together.
The business world is experiencing widespread repercussions
First off, we are in this cycle of trying to prevent massive amounts of death, which is absolutely the right thing to do. But because of that, I think a lot of us in the business world, in the marketing world, are experiencing pain, particularly in certain industries. In some industries obviously demand is spiking, it’s skyrocketing for, you know, coronavirus-related reasons. And in other cases, demand is down. That’s because we sort of have this inability to go out.
We can’t go to bars and restaurants and movies and bowling alleys and go do all the things we would normally do. So we don’t need fancy clothes to go do it and we don’t need haircuts — this is probably the last Whiteboard Friday I would want to record before needing a cut. And all of that spending, right, that consumer spending affects business-to-business spending as well.
It leads to cost cutting by businesses because they know there’s not as much demand. It leads to lower investment and oftentimes layoffs as we saw in the United States, where nearly 10 million workers are are out of work, according to the latest stats from the federal government. And that builds this environment of fear, right. None of us have faced anything like this. This is much bigger and worse, at least this spike of it is, than the Great Recession of 2008. And, of course, all of these things contribute to lower spending across the board.
However, what’s interesting about this moment in time is that it is a compressed moment. Right. It’s not a long-term fear of of what will happen. I think there’s fears about whether the recession will take a long time to recover from. But we know that eventually, sometime between 3 and 18 months from now, spending will resume and there will be this new normal. I think of now as a time when marketing needs to change its tone and attitude.
Businesses need to change their tone and attitude and in three ways. And that’s what I want to talk through.
Three crucial points
1. Cut with a scalpel, not with a chainsaw
First off, as you are looking to save money and if you’re an agency, if you’re a consultant, your clients are almost certainly saying, “Hey, where can we pull back and still get returns on investment?” And I think one of the important points is not to cut with a chainsaw. Right. Not to take a big whack to, “Oh, let’s just look at all of our Google and Facebook ad spending and cut it out entirely.” Or “Let’s look at all of our content marketing investments and drop them completely.” That’s not probably not the right way to go.
Instead, we should be looking to cut with a scalpel, and that means examining each channel and the individual contributors inside channels as individuals and looking at whether they are ROI-positive. I would urge against looking at a say, one-week, two-week, three-week trend. The last three weeks spending is very frozen and I believe that it will open up more again. I think most economists agree. You can see that’s why the the public stock markets have not crashed nearly as hard. We’ve had some bouncing around.
And I think that’s because people know that we will get to this point where people are ordering online. They are using businesses online. They are getting deliveries. They are doing activities through the Internet over the course of however long we’re quarantined or there is fear about going out and then it will return to a new normal.
And so because of that, you should probably be looking something like six to twelve weeks in the past and trying to sort out, OK, where are the trends, where are their lifelines and opportunities and points of light? And let’s look at those ROI-positive channels and not cut them too soon.
Likewise, you can look inside a channel. If you haven’t seen it already, I highly recommend Seer Interactive’s guide to cutting with a scalpel, not a sledgehammer, and they look at how you can analyze your Google Ads accounts to find keywords that are probably still sending you valuable traffic that you should not pull back on. I would also caution — I’ve talked to a bunch of folks recently who’s seen Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and YouTube and Google ad inventory at historically low prices. So if you have ROI-positive channels right now or your clients do, now is an awesome time to be to potentially be putting some dollars into that.
2. Invest now for the second & third waves in the future
Second thing, I would invest now for the second and third waves. I think that’s a really smart way to go. You can look at Harvard Business Review and Bloomberg and a bunch of folks have written about investing during times of recession, times of fear, and seeing how. Basically when we when we go through wave one, which I think will be still another two to six weeks, of sort of nothing but virus-related news, nothing but COVID-19, and get to a point where we’re transitioning to this life online. It’s becoming our new every day. And then getting to a post-crisis new normal, you know, after we have robust testing and quarantining has hopefully worked out well. The hospital systems aren’t overwhelmed and maybe a vaccine as is near development or done.
When those things start to come, we will want to have now messaging and content and keyword demands serving. Right. And ads and webinars. Anything that is in our marketing inventory that can be helpful to people, not just during this time, but over the course of these, because if we make these investments now, we will be better set up than our competitors who are pulling back to execute on this. And that is what that research shows, right, that essentially folks who invest in marketing, in sales during a recession tend to outperform and more quickly outperform their competition as markets resume. You don’t even have to wait for them to get good — just as they start to pick up.
3. Read the room
The third and possibly most important thing right now is, I think, toread the room. People are paying attention online like never before. And if you’re doing web marketing, they’re paying attention to your work. To our work. That means we need to be more empathetic than we have been historically, right? They are. Our audiences are not thinking about the same things they were weeks ago. They’re in a very new mindset. It doesn’t matter if they’re business-to-business or business-to-consumer. You are dealing with everyone on the planet basically obsessed with the conditions that we’re all in right now. That means assuming that everyone is thinking about this.
I really think the best type of content you create, the best type of marketing you can create right now across any channel, any platform is stuff that helps first. Helps other people. It could be in big ways. It could be in small ways.
The Getty Museum, I don’t know if you saw Avinash Kaushik’s great post about the Getty Museum. They did this fun thing where they took pictures from their museum, famous paintings and they put them online and said, “Hey, go around your home and try and recreate these and we’ll post them.” Is it helping health care workers get masks? No. But is it helping people at home with their kids, with their families, with their loved ones have a little fun, take their mind off the crisis, engage with art in a way that maybe they can’t because they can’t go to museums right now? Yeah, that’s awesome. That’s fine. It’s okay to help in little ways, too, but help first.
I also think it’s okay to talk about content or subjects that are not necessarily related to the virus. Look, web marketing right now is not directly related to the coronavirus. It’s not even directly related to some of the follow-on effects of that. But I’m hoping that it’s helpful. And I’m hoping that we can talk about it in empathetic and thoughtful ways. We’d just have to have to read the room.
It is okay to recognize that this crisis is affecting your customers and to talk about things that aren’t directly related but are still useful to them.
And if you can, I would try not to ignore this, right? Not not to create things that are completely unrelated, that feel like, “Gosh, this could have been launched at any time in the last six months, sort of feels tone deaf.” I think everything that we do is viewed through the lens of what’s happening right now. And certainly I have that experience as I go through online content.
Do not dismiss the scenario. I think that that history will reflect very poorly. History is moving so fast right now that it is already reflecting poorly on people who are doing this.
Don’t exploit the crisis in a shameless way. I’ve seen a few marketing companies and agencies. I won’t point them out because I don’t think shaming is the right thing to do right now, but show how you’re helping. Don’t exploit by saying “It’s coronavirus times. We have a sale.” All right? Say, “Oh, we are offering a discount on our products because we know that money is tight right now and we are helping this crisis by donating 10 percent of whatever.” Or, “We are helping by offering you something that you can do at home with your family or something that will help you with remote work or something that will help you through whatever you’re going through,” whatever your customers are going through.
Don’t keep your tone and tactics the same right now. Oh, yes, I think that’s kind of madness as well. I would urge you, as you’re creating all this potentially good stuff, new stuff, stuff that plans for the future and that speaks to right now, go ahead and audit your marketing. Look at the e-mail newsletters you’re sending out. Look at the sequential emails that are in your site onboarding cycles. Look at the overlay messaging, look at your home page, look at your About page.
Make sure that you’re either not ignoring the crisis or speaking effectively to it. Right. I don’t think every page on a website needs to change right now. I don’t think every marketing message has to change. But I think that in many cases it’s the right thing to do to conduct an audit and to make sure that you are not being insensitive or perceived as insincere.
All right, everyone, I hope that you are staying safe, that you’re staying at home, that you’re washing your hands. And I promise you, together, we’re going to get through this.
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.
Just think about that… that banner ad had a 44% click-through rate.
We can all agree it’s not an amazing banner ad or design, it
just so happens that it was new and novel at the time, so it generated massive amounts
Just like how SEO was more effective earlier on, or paid ads were more affordable and produced a higher ROI, or referral marketing was much more effective. There are a lot of single-channel case studies that worked in the past.
Again, it doesn’t mean any of these channels don’t work, it
just means that they don’t work as well as they used to work.
So how do you survive in a competitive market?
You take an omnichannel approach. You don’t have a choice other than to use all of the marketing channels out there.
Yes, they will be competitive and saturated, but they still
It’s a game of papercuts… papercuts are small and don’t do much damage, but if you have tons of these small papercuts, they will add up and can do some damage.
The same goes with your marketing. If you add up all of these channels that produce a small amount of ROI, it will add up to a big number at the end. But when you look at each channel individually, the results aren’t that sexy. But when you combine them, it looks great.
Start with chat
What do you check more, your text messages or your email
I bet you are going to say text messages because you look at
your phone more often than logging into your email inbox.
Now the point of me sharing those stats isn’t to try and
tell you that email is better than text. Or that Facebook isn’t as valuable as
It’s more so to show you that they are all massive channels
that people are using each and every day.
So why wouldn’t you try and leverage all of them?
And you can easily do so through free chat marketing tools like Manychat that allow you to communicate to your visitors using text messaging, email marketing, and Facebook Messenger.
Once you have created your Manychat account, go here to watch how to set it up. They have tons of very helpful videos that teach you how to do things like setting up Facebook Messenger bots and connecting your Facebook page so you can start sending out messages.
Now that you are all set up, I want you to use the following templates for your business as I know they convert…
Templates that convert
My team and I have tested out tons of different messaging
for all channels, such as email, messenger and text messaging.
Here are the ones that have worked the best for us…
Text messaging templates
My favorite text message to send someone is:
When someone sends you a text with just your first name and a “?” what do you do? Chances are you respond with… “who is this?”.
Once someone responds with who is this, our sales reps typically
This is John from Neil Patel’s team. I just wanted to follow up to see if you have any questions or if we can help you with anything.
It’s simple and it works well and it has boosted our sales
Another one that works well is a “flash sales” text message…
Flash Sale: All product on [yoursite] are [x]% off for the next 24 hours. [insert URL]
This one works really well during holidays or anytime you
want to run a promotion. Depending on the size of the business you run and how
big your list is, you will usually see an additional 2 to 3% in revenue for
And my favorite text campaign is…
Check out this new blog post, [subject of the blog post] [URL]
An example would be… “Check out this new blog post on doubling
your SEO traffic [URL]”
When I send out text message alerts for new posts, it usually increases the traffic to that blog post by another 4%.
You’re probably familiar with this email template as you get
it from me every week. 😉
Subject: How to Generate Leads When You Have Little to No Traffic
If you have a ton of traffic, it’s easy to generate leads.
But what if you have a new website or one with little to no traffic?
What if you don’t have any money to spend on paid ads?
Indoctrination – you need to build a
connection with people. People are more likely to convert if they know more
about you and trust you. (here
are my indoctrination emails)
No shows – just because someone
signs up to watch your webinar, it doesn’t mean they will attend. For everyone
who doesn’t attend, you’ll want to email them and get them to watch the replay.
are my no show emails)
Encore – not everyone will watch
your whole webinar. If they don’t stick to the end they won’t see your offer.
You’ll want a few emails that push the replay. (here are my
Countdown sequence – you’ll want to
close off your course. Letting people know that they only have a few days left
to buy is a really effective way to generate sales. These emails will roughly
make up 1/3 to half of your sales. (here
are my countdown emails)
Free trial offer – the majority of
people won’t buy from you. Offering the last chance free trial offer is a great
way to roughly get 15% more sales. (here
are my free trial emails)
If you are selling products, there are 3 main emails that I’ve found to work well. The first 2 are for cart abandonment.
Subject: Did you forget something?
We noticed that you left something behind. Don’t worry though, we saved the items in your cart so you can easily complete your purchase.
[insert picture of products]
CTA button: Return to cart
This simple abandonment email typically increases sales by 1.73%. I know it’s not a lot, but it’s all about the papercuts as I mentioned above. 😉
Subject: Still thinking about it?
If you can’t decide on whether [insert product name] is right for you, here are some of the benefits:
[insert benefit 1]
[insert benefit 2]
[insert benefit 3]
[insert benefit 4]
[insert benefit 5]
[insert benefit 6]
So, what are you waiting for? You have nothing to lose with our 30 day no questions asked money back guarantee.
CTA: Complete my purchase
On average this email has provided our customers an increase of
1.44% in sales.
Subject: Who doesn’t love 15% off?
Explore new [type of products you sell] that will help you with [insert benefit].
Sale ends at [insert date and time].
CTA: Claim my discount
Now with the discount/coupon code email, we’ve found the results to vary a lot. The bigger the discount, the more sales you will typically receive. The biggest gains are when companies offer over 30% or greater discount.
Facebook Messenger templates
Unlike email and text, you can’t just easily just message people
on Facebook Messenger and do whatever you want. There
You can message a subscriber within the last 24 hours of your last interaction.
Within that 24-hour time period, you can send promotional material.
After the 24 hour period, messages must contain one of these 4 tags: confirmed event update, post-purchase update, account update, or a human agent.
For users who opt-in to receive messages after 24 hours, you can, of course, message them.
As for templates that work, because Facebook is continually changing Messenger rules, follow these templates over at Manychat as they constantly change based on real-time data of what is working or what isn’t.
You have no choice but to take an omnichannel approach with
Sure, all good channels eventually get crowded and click-throughs will decrease over time, but if you go after all of the main channels the marginal gains will add up.
And the easiest way to start with going omnichannel is with chat. I know you are probably using email, but I bet you aren’t using text messaging or even Facebook Messenger bots. And I bet you aren’t using push notifications either.
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:
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:
Moz is now offering free access to Moz Academy. Sign up for free courses to increase your SEO and local SEO education.
Here’s an amazing Search Starter Pack freelancers can sign up for to get access to tools and services in the coming months.
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.
Building local pages in any amount can be a painful task. It’s hard to strike the right mix of on-topic content, expertise, and location, and the temptation to take shortcuts has always been tempered by the fact that good, unique content is almost impossible to scale.
In this week’s edition of Whiteboard Friday, Russ Jones shares his favorite white-hat technique using natural language generation to create local pages to your heart’s content.
Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high-resolution version in a new tab!
Hey, folks, this is Russ Jones here with Moz again to talk to you about important search engine optimization issues. Today I’m going to talk about one of my favorite techniques, something that I invented several years ago for a particular client and has just become more and more and more important over the years.
Using natural language generation to create hyper-local content
I call this using natural language generation to create hyper-local content. Now I know that there’s a bunch of long words in there. Some of you are familiar with them, some of you are not.
So let me just kind of give you the scenario, which is probably one you’ve been familiar with at some point or another. Imagine you have a new client and that client has something like 18,000 locations across the United States.
Then you’re told by Google you need to make unique content. Now, of course, it doesn’t have to be 18,000. Even 100 locations can be difficult, not just to create unique content but to create uniquely valuable content that has some sort of relevance to that particular location.
So what I want to do today is talk through one particular methodology that uses natural language generation in order to create these types of pages at scale.
What is natural language generation?
Now there might be a couple of questions that we need to just go ahead and get off of our plates at the beginning. So first, what is natural language generation? Well, natural language generation was actually originated for the purpose of generating weather warnings. You’ve actually probably seen this 100,000 times.
Whenever there’s like a thunderstorm or let’s say high wind warning or something, you’ve seen on the bottom of a television, if you’re older like me, or you’ve gotten one on your cellphone and it says the National Weather Service has issued some sort of warning about some sort of weather alert that’s dangerous and you need to take cover.
Well, the language that you see there is generated by a machine. It takes into account all of the data that they’ve arrived at regarding the weather, and then they put it into sentences that humans automatically understand. It’s sort of like Mad Libs, but a lot more technical in the sense that what comes out of it, instead of being funny or silly, is actually really useful information.
That’s our goal here. We want to use natural language generation to produce local pages for a business that has information that is very useful.
Isn’t that black hat?
Now the question we almost always get or I at least almost always get is: Is this black hat? One of the things that we’re not supposed to do is just auto-generate content.
So I’m going to take a moment towards the end to discuss exactly how we differentiate this type of content creation from just the standard, Mad Libs-style, plugging in different city words into content generation and what we’re doing here. What we’re doing here is providing uniquely valuable content to our customers, and because of that it passes the test of being quality content.
Let’s look at an example
So let’s do this. Let’s talk about probably what I believe to be the easiest methodology, and I call this the Google Trends method.
1. Choose items to compare
So let’s step back for a second and talk about this business that has 18,000 locations. Now what do we know about this business? Well, businesses have a couple of things that are in common regardless of what industry they’re in.
They either have like products or services, and those products and services might have styles or flavors or toppings, just all sorts of things that you can compare about the different items and services that they offer. Therein lies our opportunity to produce unique content across almost any region in the United States.
The tool we’re going to use to accomplish that is Google Trends. So the first step that you’re going to do is you’re going to take this client, and in this case I’m going to just say it’s a pizza chain, for example, and we’re going to identify the items that we might want to compare. In this case, I would probably choose toppings for example.
So we would be interested in pepperoni and sausage and anchovies and God forbid pineapple, just all sorts of different types of toppings that might differ from region to region, from city to city, and from location to location in terms of demand. So then what we’ll do is we’ll go straight to Google Trends.
The best part about Google Trends is that they’re not just providing information at a national level. You can narrow it down to city level, state level, or even in some cases to ZIP Code level, and because of this it allows us to collect hyper-local information about this particular category of services or products.
So, for example, this is actually a comparison of the demand for pepperoni versus mushroom versus sausage toppings in Seattle right now. So most people, when people are Googling for pizza, would be searching for pepperoni.
2. Collect data by location
So what you would do is you would take all of the different locations and you would collect this type of information about them. So you would know that, for example, here there is probably about 2.5 times more interest in pepperoni than there is in sausage pizza. Well, that’s not going to be the same in every city and in every state. In fact, if you choose a lot of different toppings, you’ll find all sorts of things, not just the comparison of how much people order them or want them, but perhaps how things have changed over time.
For example, perhaps pepperoni has become less popular. If you were to look in certain cities, that probably is the case as vegetarian and veganism has increased. Well, the cool thing about natural language generation is that we can automatically extract out those kinds of unique relationships and then use that as data to inform the content that we end up putting on the pages on our site.
So, for example, let’s say we took Seattle. The system would automatically be able to identify these different types of relationships. Let’s say we know that pepperoni is the most popular. It might also be able to identify that let’s say anchovies have gone out of fashion on pizzas. Almost nobody wants them anymore.
Something of that sort. But what’s happening is we’re slowly but surely coming up with these trends and data points that are interesting and useful for people who are about to order pizza. For example, if you’re going to throw a party for 50 people and you don’t know what they want, you can either do what everybody does pretty much, which is let’s say one-third pepperoni, one-third plain, and one-third veggie, which is kind of the standard if you’re like throwing a birthday party or something.
But if you landed on the Pizza Hut page or the Domino’s page and it told you that in the city where you live people actually really like this particular topping, then you might actually make a better decision about what you’re going to order. So we’re actually providing useful information.
3. Generate text
So this is where we’re talking about generating the text from the trends and the data that we’ve grabbed from all of the locales.
Find local trends
Now the first step, of course, is just looking at local trends. But local trends aren’t the only place we can look. We can go beyond that. For example, we can compare it to other locations. So it might be just as interesting that in Seattle people really like mushroom as a topping or something of that sort.
Compare to other locations
But it would also be really interesting to see if the toppings that are preferred, for example, in Chicago, where Chicago style pizza rules, versus New York are different. That would be something that would be interesting and could be automatically drawn out by natural language generation. Then finally, another thing that people tend to miss in trying to implement this solution is they think that they have to compare everything at once.
Choose subset of items
That’s not the way you would do it. What you would do is you would choose the most interesting insights in each situation. Now we could get technical about how that might be accomplished. For example, we might say, okay, we can look at trends. Well, if all of the trends are flat, then we’re probably not going to choose that information. But we see that the relationship between one topping and another topping in this city is exceptionally different compared to other cities, well, that might be what gets selected.
4. Human review
Now here’s where the question comes in about white hat versus black hat. So we’ve got this local page, and now we’ve generated all of this textual content about what people want on a pizza in that particular town or city. We need to make sure that this content is actually quality. That’s where the final step comes in, which is just human review.
In my opinion, auto-generated content, as long as it is useful and valuable and has gone through the hands of a human editor who has identified that that’s true, is every bit as good as if that human editor had just looked up that same data point and wrote the same sentences.
So I think in this case, especially when we’re talking about providing data to such a diverse set of locales across the country, that it makes sense to take advantage of technology in a way that allows us to generate content and also allows us to serve the user the best possible and the most relevant content that we can.
So I hope that you will take this, spend some time looking up natural language generation, and ultimately be able to build much better local pages than you ever have before. Thanks.