SEO News Update: COVID-19 Edition

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Discover the latest SEO news, from limiting site functionality to handling temporarily out-of-stock product pages.


SEO News Update: COVID-19 Edition

How is the outbreak of COVID-19 impacting the world of SEO? In this update, I’ll be talking about all of the latest SEO news – from advising businesses not to disable their sites to Google My Business adding a ‘temporarily closed’ button.

Businesses Should Not Disable Their Sites During Temporary Closures, Google Says

Businesses around the world are continuing to feel the fallout from the Coronavirus outbreak, with many being forced to temporarily shut down operations. In response, Google has recently published recommendations to help businesses pause activity and preserve their visibility in Google Search.

The first recommendation Google makes is to avoid disabling your entire site. Instead, businesses should limit site functionality so that users are still able to find products, read reviews or add to their wish lists and purchase at a later time:

“As a last resort, you may decide to disable the whole website. This is an extreme measure that should only be taken for a very short period of time (a few days at most), as it will otherwise have significant effects on the website in Search, even when implemented properly. That’s why it’s highly recommended to only limit your site's functionality instead.” (Webmaster Central Blog)


Google also suggests:

  • Disabling cart functionality – this is a simple approach and won’t affect your site’s visibility in search.
  • Communicating with your customers – tell users what is going on by displaying a banner or popup with appropriate information. This way, they are aware of your business’s status. This may include any known or unusual delays, shipping times or delivery options.
  • Updating structured data – if your site uses structured data, make sure to adjust it appropriately. This might include product availability or changing events to ‘cancelled’.
  • Telling Google about your updates – you can ask Google to recrawl a limited number of pages using Search Console. For a larger number of pages, use sitemaps.

Disabling your site should be a last resort option, but if you absolutely need to, Google recommends the following options:

  • For a temporary shutdown, you can remove your site from search using the Removals Tool in Search Console.
  • If you need to disable your site for 1-2 days, return an informational error page with a 503 HTTP result code instead of all content.
  • To disable your site for a longer period of time, provide an indexable homepage as a placeholder for users to find in search by using the 200 HTTP status code.

Reducing Digital Marketing Due to COVID-19? Think Again…

With many businesses facing a sudden and unexpected loss in revenue due to COVID-19, it’s no surprise that conversations are focused on maximising efficiency and saving as much budget as possible. But what does that mean for digital marketing?

Nick LeRoy (@NickLeRoy), author at Search Engine Land, reached out to industry professionals to ask their advice on how to maintain results during this time of uncertainty:

Your analytics data is likely to be skewed

Before discussing individual channel recommendations, it’s important to consider how you measure them. Brett Patterson, a Digital Analytics Expert, shares an important tip:

“Internal traffic is not internal! With so many employees working remotely right now, this may influence your digital analytics data! Your typical filter won’t catch workers working remotely, unless they are possibly using a VPN or other remote network connection. This means your employees might be counted in your analytics metrics, even though you had previously created a filter for this.” (Search Engine Land)


Reduce paid search?

At the moment, search is down on any product or service that isn’t deemed “essential”, meaning that many businesses are looking to pull back on paid search. As such, it’s important to proceed with caution if your product offering isn’t a priority for your customers at this time. Failure to reduce spend can mean even the most profitable campaigns end up negatively impacting return on ad spend (ROAS).

Maximise email marketing

Email marketing is effective, and doesn’t cost much. As you can’t control search demand, it’s a good idea to try and claw back some scale with email campaigns. For some businesses, this is just a matter of reminding customers that despite their store being closed, they can still purchase items online. However, it’s important to be mindful of the seriousness of Coronavirus pandemic, and make sure your consumers know you are here to help. It is not the time to hard sell or promote COVID-19 “deals”.

Continue SEO and content marketing

Alongside paid search, organic channels are also seeing drops in overall search demand. While most businesses are currently dealing with search demand being impacted, there is a significant difference between SEO and paid search that is worth considering. Google Search Console shows a considerable drop in search impressions, but rankings are staying the same. This indicates that this is not an SEO issue, but rather a drop in search demand as a result of current circumstances.

Therefore, if you choose to reduce spend on SEO and content marketing, you risk losing your organic rankings. It may not feel like it right now, but search demand will return – which is why it’s vital to maintain your SEO campaigns during this uncertain time.

What are your thoughts on this advice? Have you reduced paid search and maximised email marketing as a result of COVID-19? Let us know by tweeting @clickthrough.

Google My Business Adds Temporarily Closed Option

If you login to your Google My Business account and edit your information, you will see the new option to “mark as temporarily closed”.

As Joy Hawkins (@JoyanneHawkins), Google My Business Product Expert, shared on Twitter:

Google My Business launches 'temporarily closed' button

Handling Temporarily Out-of-Stock Product Pages

As a result of COVID-19, many businesses are facing the issue of in-demand products selling out in record time and ending up out-of-stock. While out-of-stock product pages are a run-of-the-mill issue for online retailers, this is a unique situation because:

  • Multiple items are out-of-stock at the same time
  • There is uncertainty around when items will be back in stock
  • When products do come back into stock, it may not be for long
  • Demand is high and continuing to rank is critical

As the last point states, it’s important that these product pages continue to rank. There are several options for ensuring they do:

  • Do not 404 product pages – these products will eventually be back in stock, and when they are, you will want to sell them. If you remove the page and then reinstate it, it will take Google some time to reconcile those signals, meaning that the page is out of sync with reality.
  • Do not permanently redirect – the product still exists, so you don’t want to move it anywhere permanently. The only exception here would be if a product is out-of-stock and the manufacturer replaces it with a similar product.
  • Do not temporarily redirect – this may appear to be a solution, but there is still an issue with timing. It’s important to consider user experience here. If a user searches for a particular product but is redirected to something similar, this may seem deceptive and impact conversion.
  • Consider using the ItemAvailability schema – options in product offer schemas include InStock, InStoreOnly, OutOfStock and SoldOut. Google may also choose to use this information as part of your organic search result. Be careful, though – although users may appreciate the honesty, you may not want to display ‘out of stock’ on search results when your competitors are displaying nothing at all.

What do you think? If you want to find out more on the latest updates in the world of SEO, get in touch today. You can also tweet me @tommy_iv.

If you’d like to discuss how the latest SEO news and updates could affect your performance, get in touch with our SEO experts today.

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