7 free tips to improve your online marketing in the coronavirus crisis
The outbreak of the coronavirus has turned the world completely upside down. It is still uncertain how the pandemic will impact the economy in the coming months, and how online marketing will be affected in particular.
On the other hand, the coronavirus brings new opportunities for businesses who already have a digital presence and wish to use it as an advantage. If you are a business owner and wonder what these opportunities are, you have landed on the right page: in this blog post, I will show you 7 things that you can do remotely and for free to improve your online marketing during the coronavirus crisis!
But before we go into detail, it is worth checking how the coronavirus crisis is evolving so that your business can make the right decisions based on the right information. Why? Because making the wrong decision in times of crisis can cost your business its sustainability, not to say its own existence.
Table of contents
- In times of crisis, information is power: keep yourself up-to-date
- How is the coronavirus going to impact the economy and online marketing?
- Why should I keep my online marketing activities running during the coronavirus crisis?
- 7 things you can do remotely and for free to improve your online marketing during the coronavirus crisis
4.1 Pay attention to local search
4.2 Improve your page speed
4.3 Use your time to create valuable content
4.4 Shift your online marketing costs if it makes sense
4.5 Use your online presence to stay in touch with your customers
4.6 Strengthen your web security
4.7 Become an expert in online marketing
1. In times of crisis, information is power: keep yourself up-to-date
First things first: stay informed.
Panicking just because everyone around us is panicking is a common human reaction, but it does not mean it is a logical one. As a business, you should be focusing on the numbers and not let feelings cloud your judgement. On many occasions, bad decisions are made because someone had a gut feeling, and as I have already said, bad decisions in times of crisis can cost your business a lot.
The first thing you should do is understand what the coronavirus is and what measures you should take in order to reduce its impact on your business as much as possible. There are a lot of great resources on the internet to help you do this. The first and most recommended is the website of the World Health Organization (WHO) and its web page on the coronavirus. If you are in the United States, check the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), where you will find additional resources on the pandemic. If you are in the European Union, the website of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control is another reliable source of information. Even Google has built a web page about the coronavirus disease which you can check right here!
Google’s web page on the coronavirus
In case you prefer the video format, YouTube offers you a handful of resources. If you are a business owner and are interested in knowing how the virus is affecting the economy, I recommend you to check Patrick Bet-David’s channel Valuetainment and its two video explanations on the coronavirus (available here and here). Patrick has also recorded a two hour long video on the coronavirus with two American biowarfare experts, which I highly recommend in case you want to know what is likely to happen in the next months:
Why is it so important to stay informed? The answer is simple: in times of crisis, information is power and becomes critical to overcome unexpected difficulties. Otherwise, you risk seeing your business loudly fail. A good example of this is KFC and its ‘’Fingerlickin’ Good’’ advertising campaign, not precisely the best idea considering that touching your face with your hands is one of the worst things you can do during the pandemic. In case you are wondering, KFC has decided to temporarily suspend the campaign.
Last but not least, select the information you manage carefully. Many conspiracy theories around the coronavirus have recently come to light, so make sure your business is not harmed by misinformation. Special attention should be paid to social media: according to the Pew Research Center, 57% of users who rely on social media for news have reported seeing a lot of made up information around the pandemic.
2. How is the coronavirus going to impact the economy and online marketing?
The short answer: no one really knows.
At this stage, it is not possible to know for sure how the coronavirus pandemic is going to impact the economy and online marketing on the medium and long term. But that does not mean we cannot use indicators or make predictions to figure out how the situation is going to evolve.
When it comes to indicators, stock markets are a valuable source of information. I have pulled out some graphs on how stock markets are reacting in Germany, the US, the UK and Japan. This is how things look like:
DAX (upper left), Dow Jones (upper right), FTSE 100 (down left) and Nikkei 225 (down right) as of 13.04.2020
As you can see, all four stock markets registered a huge fall from which they have partially recovered and this despite the ups and downs experienced in the last weeks. The question now is whether the markets will continue to recover or if instability in stock prices will prevent us from reaching the pre-coronavirus levels in the coming weeks or months. In any case, it is important to note that stock indexes are not representative of the whole economy, so even if stock prices go up again, it does not automatically mean that business will go back to usual for the local shops.
On the other side, both the FED and the European Central Bank have publicly stated that they will be adopting measures to palliate the coronavirus shock. Countries like Germany have already announced an increase in public spending to help the economy recover from the pandemic. Measures that have already been, or are about to be taken, include postponing tax payments, freezing mortgage payments, but also temporary collective dismissals of thousands of workers or the shut down of many businesses.
At a global level, projections of world economic growth point to negative figures for 2020. This is the view of OECD Chief Economist Laurence Boone, who predicts a -0.50% growth in world GDP for this year. The same opinion is shared by the IMF and its Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva, who also states that positive growth will return in 2021.
And what about online marketing? According to eMarketer, total ad media spending projections show that businesses will be lowering down their ad spend in the coming years, although not drastically. On the opposite side is WARC, who predicts that global advertising investment will see a growth of 7.1% in 2020. According to WARC, advertising budgets are likely to be shifted to the second half of 2020, leading to an increase in prices due to competition.
An interesting question is whether the coronavirus pandemic will increase tje cash flows of e-commerce businesses. It seems to be the case for Amazon, who recently announced the opening of 100,000 new positions to face the increase in online demand. However, it is far from evident that this increase will continue indefinitely, as Greg Sterling reports.
3. Why should I keep my online marketing activities running during the coronavirus crisis?
In times of crisis, many businesses make decisions based on gut feelings and not on logic or numbers. A recurring decision consists of cutting online marketing budgets significantly or in their entirety. But is this the right thing to do? The answer is no, and especially in the context of a pandemic like the coronavirus. Here are 5 reasons why:
- Investing in online marketing keeps the economy running
One thing that the coronavirus has shown us is that cooperation is as important to free markets as competition. We have been observing this for the past couple of weeks: businesses are obliged to shut down temporarily because their providers are unable to meet the demand. More and more workers are in temporary unemployment because their companies have stopped business. If workers go unemployed, B2C businesses lose their cash flows and cannot pay their providers. It is a vicious cycle.
By keeping your online marketing activities intact, you are preventing this from happening. Online marketing allows you to keep your business alive and reduces the chances that the economy stops running, with all the negative effects that it entails (unemployment, bankruptcy, budget deficit).
This has nothing to do with making gains out of the misery of others. We need to keep the engine running so that everyone stays afloat.
- Investing in online marketing helps those who need it the most
If the economy stops running, who do you think is going to suffer the most? The two most obvious candidates are small businesses and employees with poor skill sets who earn low incomes. In fact, studies have already been conducted showing that this is precisely the case. An example of this is the briefing note based on survey data and published earlier this month by three economics professors of Oxford, Cambridge and Zurich which shows that young workers and workers earning low wages are more likely to have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic.
By keeping your online marketing activities intact and the economy running, you are preventing small businesses from collapsing and employees from losing their jobs. You are also helping the rest of the population, who will not have to see how their net wages are cut down to increase public spending. Countries like Italy or the United States already have a level of indebtment that goes beyond 100% of their GDP. We cannot always rely on public spending and printing money every time a crisis like the coronavirus comes. We need better and more responsible solutions.
According to tradingeconomics, Italy’s public debt is expected to reach 140% of the countries GDPR by the end of 2020
- Time is gold in online marketing
Time is gold in online marketing, especially when it comes to SEO. It can take months and even years to see significant results. Cutting your online marketing budget and suspending your online marketing activities will only make you lose more time. This directly connects with the next reason why you should not stop your online marketing activities…
- Stopping online marketing means giving your competitors a boost
The fact that your business stops its online marketing activities does not mean that your competitors will do the same. The outcome is easy to understand: if your competitors have more time than you available, do not be surprised if it becomes difficult to catch them at a later stage.
Moreover, think about the cash flows that your business will never obtain if your competitors monopolize the online traffic generated after the coronavirus crisis has settled down.
- Online marketing is the only business channel for many companies in times of pandemic
Many businesses have been obliged to shut down their physical sites or activities. Restaurants, hotels and airlines are just a couple of examples.
For many businesses who are physically down, the internet and online marketing are the last channel that remains to keep things running. For these businesses, online marketing is the only way of survival.
4. 7 things you can do remotely and for free to improve your online marketing during the coronavirus crisis
It is time to see what businesses can do to improve their online marketing during the coronavirus pandemic.
The seven measures listed below can be implemented remotely and free of charge. To make things easier for you, I have included links to the tools you will need to implement the measures (which are also free of charge). If you have any questions, just leave a comment below and I will get back to you as quickly as possible.
4.1 Pay attention to local search
With freedom of movement temporarily restricted, the need to find local suppliers increases.
If your business is still open to the public, make sure that the current opening and closing hours are correctly displayed in your local listings. That means updating your Google My Business listing in case your opening hours have changed because of the coronavirus. After all, you do not want your customers to visit your shop in the afternoon if you are only open until lunch time. Important remark: Google has stated that it will prioritize business information edits from health-related businesses, so if you are not in this group, it may take some time until Google reviews your edits. In other words: if you need to change your Google My Business listing, do not waste any more time and do it straight away! By the way, do not forget to do the same thing on your website if your opening hours are also displayed there.
In addition to updating your Google My Business listing, you can take advantage of Google Posts and use this feature to make announcements concerning your business. Google Posts is available within Google My Business, so the posts you create will be shown along with the information from your Google My Business listing. For more details about Google Posts and how to create a post, I recommend you to read this article from Hallam Internet.
And what if you do not have a Google My Business listing? If this is the case, you still have several options. The first would be to create a Google My Business listing, but that may take some time as Google currently has other priorities. Nevertheless, you should give it a try: better sooner than later! Besides, creating a Google My Business is free and quite easy. If you are up to it, use this step-by-step guide on how to create a Google My Business listing by BrightLocal. If you prefer videos, check this one from Ranking Academy:
If Google My Business is not an option for you, try using the Schema framework for structured data. With Schema, you can create a script with the type ‘’Organization’’ and fill it with the name of your business, its address, opening hours and even social media profile links. Sounds too challenging? Let me make it easier for you: use this Schema markup generator, select ‘’Organization’’ as the type of markup you want to create and just fill the blanks! The script will be automatically generated on the right-side box. Next, use the Google Tag Manager to deploy your script as explained in the following video:
If you want to make sure that your script is correctly set up before pasting it onto the Google Tag Manager, you can use Google’s structured data testing tool and look for possible errors. And if you need more information about Schema, you can always check this post my colleague René Dege wrote not too long ago.
Once you have created and deployed your script, search engines like Google may use the data contained in it to display information about your company on search results pages. However, keep in mind that this may happen, not that it will happen.
By the way, Schema has recently released a new script type called ‘’SpecialAnnouncement’’ in response to the coronavirus. In addition to this, businesses can take advantage of other Schema features during the pandemic, such as the new properties for the script type ‘’Event’’ (more information on this here) or the already existing script type ‘’ItemAvailability’’ to let search engines know if a product is still available, sold out, available on stores or only available online.
Finally, some companies may be eligible for benefits offered by local search engines. Yelp, for example, proposes several reliefs for restaurants and bars from North America who have been impacted by the coronavirus. Make sure to check these options if your business happens to be eligible!
4.2 Improve your page speed
A lot of people are now spending more time at home due to the coronavirus. More time at home may translate into more time using online services like Netflix or the Google search engine.
If users are likely to spend more time connected than usual, it would be a pity not to use the chance to drive more traffic to your website. And to do this, you need to make sure that your website’s load speed meets the expectations of your visitors. Otherwise, you may see how all that potential traffic goes away. Moreover, site speed has been confirmed by Google to be a ranking factor, so having a slow site is not really an option anymore.
But how can you optimize the load speed of your website remotely and for free without a team of IT technicians supporting you? Is that even possible? The answer is yes. All it takes is a little bit of research.
First of all, you need to assess your website’s speed. To do this, use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. The tool is extremely simple to use: just enter your website’s URL, and the tool will return a score for both mobile and desktop devices:
Amazon is blazing fast on desktops
You if have not done any page speed optimizations in the past, your score will probably not be the best. But that is fine: it means there is a lot of room for improvement!
And how do you improve your website’s speed? Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool gives you several recommendations, but they are all too technical and pretty difficult to understand if you are not familiar with technical SEO.
‘’What can I do then?’’, you may be asking yourself. The answer will largely depend on how your website is set up. If you are using WordPress, you can take advantage of its plugin repository, install one and configure it to improve your website’s speed. There are many plugins available, some of them offering pretty decent features. If you do not want to spend too much time doing research, try installing WP Super Cache and configure it using this guide from Online Media Masters. You can even integrate the plugin with a free CDN like Cloudflare and speed up your website a little bit more without spending a single cent! If you do not mind spending a few more minutes tuning settings, then instal W3 Total Cache: this plugin is a bit more sophisticated (and therefore tougher to configure) but offers great results. Plus, you have this in-depth guide from Ahmad Awais to help you set up the plugin correctly, even if you are not a techie!
If you do not have WordPress, there are still small things that you can do to improve your website’s speed. One (and a really powerful one) is to compress your images. To do it, use a free image compressor like Compress JPEG or Optimizilla. Two tips: make sure the format of your images is JPG and that their size remains below 100 KB.
4.3 Use your time to create valuable content
The coronavirus also presents new opportunities in terms of content marketing.
This does not mean that every company should start giving advice on how to fight the pandemic. This task should be left to health care professionals and organizations like the WHO or the CDC. Moreover, and as I have already pointed out, the coronavirus has brought along several conspiracy theories and misinformation on social media.
Nevertheless, if your company has been impacted by, or is directly concerned with, the pandemic, use this chance to create valuable content for your users. For example: users are showing a particular interest in how the virus is affecting countries, with queries like ‘’coronavirus (name of the country)’’ registering a high search volume. Here are a few examples I was able to pull with the help of Keyword Tool:
- covid japan (search volume: 2400)
- covid italy (search volume: 2400)
- covid iran (search volume: 720
- covid france (search volume: 720)
- covid usa (search volume: 590)
According to Keyword Tool, statistics and graphs on the coronavirus are also two highly searched topics:
- covid map (search volume: 2400)
- covid stats (search volume: 1000)
- covid tracker (search volume: 390)
- covid numbers (search volume: 320)
- covid graph (search volume: 110)
These keywords are obviously interesting if you run a media company. But what about other businesses? In the case of the travel industry, Keyword Tool shows a couple of opportunities:
- covid travel restrictions (search volume: 50)
- covid travel advisory (search volume: 40)
Companies like Tripadvisor or World Nomads are already taking advantage of the situation and creating informational content for their users. Here are a couple of examples:
- COVID-19 – What you need to know, by Tripadvisor.
- Is it safe to travel during the COVID-19 outbreak?, by World Nomads.
Another currently researched topic is how the pandemic is affecting stock markets. Here are a few keywords extracted with Keyword Tool:
- covid stock (search volume: 30)
- covid stock price (search volume: 70)
- covid stock market (search volume: 20)
Similar to the travel industry, companies are using this opportunity to create web content. Here are a couple of examples:
- Mad March: how the stock market is being hit by COVID-19, by the World Economic Forum.
- Coronavirus brings stock market its worst day since 1987, by the LA Times.
Even businesses that are being hit hard by the virus can find ideas for their content marketing strategy. For example: companies that rent offices can give their customers tips on how to do home office during the pandemic. Here are a few examples:
- 32 working from home tips you can do right now, by nextiva.
- How to work from home: 20 tips from people who do it successfully, by HubSpot.
- How to succeed at working from home, by Forbes.
- 9 tips to be super productive in your home office, by Inc.
If you own a restaurant and had to shut down, why not teach your customers how to cook some meals? Here are a couple of examples to inspire you:
- Superfast recipes: 20-minute cooking, by CookingLight.
- 50 amazingly quick dinners for busy weeknights, by dellish.
If you work for an airline which was forced to cancel flights and shut down, tell your customers how they can spend their holidays at home. Here are some ideas:
- Creative ways to take a vacation at home, by Smart About Money.
- 10 ways to make a staycation your best vacation ever, by kitchn.
- Time for a staycation: how to kick back, relax, and vacation at home, by Real Simple.
To find topics for your coronavirus content strategy, use a tool like Keyword Tool, Google Ads’ Keyword Planner or even Google Trends.
You may be asking yourself: ‘’Why should I do this if I cannot monetize the content I create?’’. That is a pretty good question. Unless you run a newspaper or a YouTube channel, you will probably not be able to monetize the traffic you generate through your new content. However, that does not mean you cannot create new business opportunities out of it. If you cannot monetize your content, why not use the chance to collect some email addresses and later turn their owners into customers? If you use a CRM like HubSpot or Salesforce, you can use marketing automation to easily get the contact details of your users. In his recent blog post ’’CRM & Marketing automation in the coronavirus crisis’’ (only available in German), our CEO Robin Heintze gives you a few tips on how to use your CRM system to generate more leads and sales during the pandemic. Make sure to check it out!
A CRM like HubSpot can help your business grow during the coronavirus pandemic (source: here)
If you decide to create new content, it would be a pity not to track how your users interact with it, especially if implementing the tracking can be quickly and easily done with the help of the Google Tag Manager. In his post ’’Content engagement tracking’’ (only available in German), my colleague Julian shows you how to do this.
Moreover, keep in mind that content is not just about blog posts. There are a wide variety of content formats that your company can use to strengthen its online marketing activities during the coronavirus crisis. My colleague Marcel Mebus has extensively written on this topic in his post ’’B2B content marketing – Not just blogs’’ (only available in German) so make sure to give it a read!
Last, do you forget about the content opportunities that will arise after the pandemic has been overcome. The legal sector is a good example: many emergency regulations are being passed in fields such as labour, taxation or real estate, which will continue to be relevant after the pandemic is gone. As a result, law firms will have a lot of chances to generate new traffic (and clients) through online marketing.
4.4 Shift your online marketing costs if it makes sense
In times of crisis, budget priorities change. Online marketing is no different.
Let your marketing team evaluate if your current spending plan makes sense during a crisis like the coronavirus. It may not be a good idea to keep your brand campaign running on Google Ads if the users who reach you this way want to know how the pandemic is affecting your company and not purchase your products.
Does that mean that you should cut off your paid advertising spending completely? No. If you have a proper tracking implemented, you should be able to figure out if your paid campaigns are still being profitable. If they are not, then take action. Here are some of the things you can do:
- Shift the budget of your non-profitable campaign to other campaigns that are still being profitable.
- Restrict the GEO targeting of your campaigns. It does not make sense to target wide areas if the users who are targeted cannot visit your shop because their freedom of movement has been temporarily restricted.
- If none of your paid campaigns are being profitable, use their budget for other marketing activities like SEO or design a content marketing campaign for the coronavirus crisis.
- In case you do not have it, it may be the perfect time to get one: use the budget of your non-profitable campaigns to implement a proper tracking solution for your website. You will benefit from it not just during the pandemic but also afterwards.
Final tip: if you decide to keep your paid advertising campaigns running, watch out your ad copies. As our CEO Robin Heintze explains in his recent post Google Ads in the coronavirus crisis (only available in German), having the words ‘’coronavirus’’ or ‘’covid-19’’ in your ad copies will lead Google to disapprove your ads.
4.5 Use your online presence to stay in touch with your customers
Even if your business is obliged to shut down its physical presence, there are ways to keep communicating with your customers. Social media is one of them.
In times of distress, a lot of people wonder if their providers will be able to deliver products or services as initially planned. Depending on your business, customer support may become a priority. But handling thousands of requests every day is not something that every business can do. Social media can help though.
If your business is still operating in spite of the pandemic, show this to your customers. At morefire, we used social media to communicate that we are still running things as usual, although remotely. Here is a screen capture of our Instagram account showing some of our employees (along with a few additional guests) doing home office:
The morefire team doing HO
As I mentioned before, customer support requests may rise exponentially depending on the type of business. This is true for airlines or hotels, who are currently dealing with thousands of requests because of the pandemic. In this sense, if you notice that a particular request is being sent over and over again, make sure to provide an answer on social media. For example: the German airline Lufthansa used Twitter to inform their customers of its rebooking options. Here is the tweet:
Flexible rebooking options for your Lufthansa flight – under the following link you can find the new waiver policy for rebooking. That applies for existing and future bookings worldwide: https://t.co/oD6d5HBgLT pic.twitter.com/9asB3gXKIn
— Lufthansa (@lufthansa) March 6, 2020
Lufthansa is also providing support to customers looking for information on repatriation:
— Lufthansa (@lufthansa) March 18, 2020
Social media platforms are also providing support and new features to companies who use their services to handle customer communication during the coronavirus crisis. Twitter, for example, has created a web page on brand communications in time of crisis to give businesses tips on how to stay in touch with their customers during the pandemic. Instagram, on the other hand, has launced a ‘’Stay Home’’ sticker.
‘’Stay Home’’ sticker recently launched by Instagram
4.6. Strengthen your web security
Unfortunately, in times of crisis there is always someone willing to make things even worse.
According to euobserver, cyber attacks within the European Union have been increasing since the coronavirus crisis started. Targets include the WHO, according to Euroactiv, but also hospitals as in the case of Spain. It is particularly repugnant to see cyber criminals target the healthcare system, especially in the case of countries like Spain and Italy, where the number of infections and deaths is alarmingly rising.
As a result, it is crucial that your business guarantees its online safety in these tough moments. Companies that allow their employees to do home office or use their personal devices to work should be especially cautious. Basic security measures to prevent cyber attacks from taking place include not opening attachments sent by unknown email senders or using browser extensions like HTTPS Everywhere to block attempts of accessing websites that do not encrypt user-to-server communications. You may also want to sign up to the Firefox Monitor to receive instant notifications in case Firefox detects that an email address associated with your company has been compromised.
Firefox Monitor can help you secure your business
4.7 Become an expert in online marketing
Last but not least, the coronavirus crisis is an excellent opportunity to learn about online marketing without spending any money. In response to the pandemic, hundreds of companies are currently proposing free webinars, so make sure to sign up quickly!
If you are a German speaker, make sure to visit the morefire YouTube channel, where you will learn tons about online marketing. As an alternative, you can visit the morefire blog, where we post articles about online marketing on a weekly basis.
Online marketing in times of crisis is not easy, but it is possible. I hope the tips contained in this post will help you improve yours. Remember to drop a comment in case you have any questions, I will answer to you as soon as possible!