In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing economic turbulence, marketers are being forced to rethink their strategies. For most, this means working with lower budgets while trying to achieve higher goals.

However, a new study suggests that SEO will become a primary focus for marketers across a wide range of industries. According to the respondents, SEO was their top performing channel last year and is more likely to be maintained going forward.

SEO surges in importance

Technology company Conductor surveyed 317 people from its network of marketing professionals currently working in B2B (24%), Retail (12%), Healthcare (11%), Media (10%) and others (travel and hospitality, consumer technology, financial services, insurance, automotive, e-commerce and manufacturing).

When asked whether SEO will be more or less important during this time, they responded:

  • It will increase slightly – 34 per cent
  • It will increase steeply – 29 per cent
  • No, it will remain the same – 20 per cent
  • I don’t know – 13 per cent
  • It will decrease slightly – 3 per cent
  • It will decrease greatly – 2 per cent

This could be due to the fact 66 per cent of marketers said that SEO was their top performing channel for the previous year. Organic search was followed by:

  • Paid search – 50 per cent
  • Email marketing – 50 per cent
  • Content marketing – 36 per cent
  • Digital advertising – 26 per cent
  • Paid media – 18 per cent

The rising importance of search among marketers is also corroborated by Google, as searches for ‘SEO’ have spiked in recent weeks.

How COVID-19 is affecting marketing budgets

As with other marketing surveys right now, Conductor’s research shows that budgets are being adversely impacted by COVID-19. Even so, the majority of survey respondents – most of whom are hands-on practitioners – said their budgets were either remaining the same or only decreasing slightly.

As a result, 68 per cent of respondents said their goals would remain the same (32 per cent) or increase (36 per cent). Then again, 86 per cent said that their marketing goals would be more difficult to achieve this year given the current circumstances.

Should the economy contract and enter a recession, 58 per cent of marketers would lower their budgets. A further 34 per cent would then increase investment in more lower cost channels like SEO.

What COVID-19 could mean for the future of SEO and digital marketing

At the end of its study, Conductor drew the following conclusions about the future of SEO and digital marketing in a post-COVID-19 world.

  • Marketers will reduce overall spend while increasing investments in low cost/high ROI channels like SEO – Forrester estimates spending $1.3 million on organic search gives an organisation an equivalent value to spending $12 million on ad placements.
  • Companies will turn to digital content for brand building – Consumers are 131% more likely to buy from a brand immediately after they consume early- stage, educational content.
  • SEO will be moved in-house to cut costly agency retainers – Marketers are moving SEO in house, and nearly 2⁄3 of marketers already manage it internally.