Winning Search Marketing Strategies In Declining Economies

We as an agency, and also our Turkish clients, had a pretty tough year in Turkey economically and politically, as you might have heard. But if you listen to some financial advisors, Turkey is not the only country affected by an economic downturn; obviously it is a global problem and lots of countries, even the well-developed ones, show some signs of regression.

A down in the economy usually means that revenues decline, companies cut expenses and of course, marketing budgets come first.

On the consumer side an economic downturn means that they are more cautious in their spendings due to changes of their priorities.

What exactly does this mean for Search Marketing?

Well, first of all the changing consumer behavior can result in a drop in searches. And Search Marketing with fewer searchers, does it still make sense? The answer: YES - because this situation can actually bring opportunities if you know how to strategize your marketing efforts. Your competitors might scale back and cut marketing costs as well, and here your smart marketing execution will come into play. A clear Search Marketing strategy, flexibility and creativity will help you to survive.

In declining economies companies tend to do irreversible mistakes and believe us, we have seen a lot of them recently. One major mistake is to cut costs on SEO and PPC, and the other mistake is to aggregate all services in one agency or in-house to save costs (this is actually what they think they are doing). Either way: it will lead into an even deeper decline of the companies’ online revenue and leads.

Here are some tips on how you can overcome economic downtimes instead.

Plan your Search Engine Marketing campaigns wisely

Search Engine Advertising is definitely one of the most valuable Advertising channels (when done right, of course). So before any decision on SEM campaign planning is made in this new economic era, the first step should be to deep-dive into the campaigns’ performance and analyze what works well and what not. Make sure that you know which campaigns, ad types and keyword groups have the highest ROAS (= Return On Ad Spend), and which ones you can optimize further or even pause completely. Now more than ever, how you spend your budget should focus heavily on maximizing ROI.

You should have done this already a long time ago, but if not; the economic downturn should give you the final call not to look into last-click metrics for search anymore - you definitely need to adopt attribution modeling. By doing this, you will be able to see various user touchpoints in the conversion path and you can then optimize your campaigns accordingly.

The tough times will make it more difficult in getting new leads and sales, so keeping your cash cow customers should be a key marketing strategy in your search campaigns. Try to keep your high value customers loyal, by focusing on the 20% customers that bring 80% of your current income. Then look at how you may get more sales and leads from these 20%.

What you can do:

  • Optimize your Brand Search campaigns: Your brand keywords are the main conversion driver and usually the keywords with the highest ROI. When starting optimizing, I’m sure you can even get more out of them:
    • Check if you really use all relevant brand keywords. Do a search terms check and see which converting keywords are missing in your campaign.
    • Do you really need to keep all your brand keywords, or can you exclude some irrelevant searches by adding negatives? When checking your brand keyword variations maybe you will find keywords which were added at a certain time but never brought in any conversions. Usually keywords like brand+support, brand+customer service, brand+stores can be such type of keywords. When you see that they are not converting, you can think of adding them as negative keywords.
    • Are the brand keywords well-structured into certain search clusters? Divide them into separate Ad Groups or even campaigns so that you can set different budgets, settings, Ad Texts etc. Brand+location keywords need a different strategy for example, as they drive more in-store sales rather than online sales. So tracking in-store traffic for these searches could be an idea.
  • Focus on Remarketing strategies: Remarketing means Marketing for your current customers or past website visitors, as these two audiences are more likely to get convinced than any other audience. You can even target the above mentioned 20% here by segmenting loyal clients in your Analytics Remarketing lists on revenue or e-commerce frequency, for example. Try to give them a special offer or inform them about a new product launch; this may help to get them back on board.
  • Do separate user testings for your loyal customers: Returning visitors are loyal visitors and they usually like you how you are - even with all of your UX or Website problems! So when you plan to set up A/B Testing in general or for your Search traffic in specific, segment your first time visitors and returning visitors and apply separate tests for these audiences.
  • Focus on the emotional touch in your Ad Texts and remarketing banners: Messages that show an emotional connection with the brand and demonstrate empathy are key. Especially consumers who feel loyal to trusted brands and products can be convinced easier with the “we’re going through this together” messaging.

How to Prepare for SEO in Bad Economic Times

If you are an SEO, you need to demonstrate substantial growth in quality traffic during these hard times - which basically means sales or leads. Everybody knows that SEO work is based on a long-term strategy and results should be expected in the long run; but during recession, SEO should become an agile growth hacking engine. Time is the largest cost in Search Engine Optimization, but if you can reduce the cost-factor time and show faster results, you might be able to overcome these downtimes.

Here are my tips on what you can do to achieve a better organic traffic performance in a shorter period of time:

  • Find your competitors’ weaknesses and capitalize on them: As competitors might step back their marketing activities, they also might miss opportunities coming from changing search and consumer behaviors. Marketing to such missed potentials can enable you seizing market share. Use Ahrefs for your competitor research because your competitors are a goldmine of information.
  • Follow trends and changes in user behavior: You might need to realign your products and services with the changes in consumer behavior. Throughout a downturn some products and services can quickly shift from essentials to threats like, for example, travel, new cars, consumer electronics etc. You can check Google trends or do some keyword research on how you can find substitute products and services similar to the changing consumer behaviors. Example: One of our clients, a bridal retailer, launched a new service line of renting bridal dresses as we saw an increase in bridal dress renting search behavior. This service line helped the company to get extra revenue from successfully applying a trending user behavior strategy.
  • Fit your UX strategies into SEO: If you want to increase your online visibility and ultimately boost your conversion rate, you need to align your UX and SEO strategy. Can you simplify navigation or is there something to optimize on the design and functionality which fits into SEO principles? Example: We have started applying more A/B tests for some of our e-commerce clients websites which already had a very good organic visibility and traffic. We test and optimize product layout pages, checkout pages or, for example, the search bar to improve usability and to make the organic traffic convert better.
  • Be flexible in your SEO work: SEO is so much more than just preparing and applying technical SEO audits. Being an SEO in declining economies means that you have to be even more flexible and shouldn’t do what you’ve always done. You can only get ahead and survive a recession if you constantly practice the SEO Method: experiment, evaluate, adjust. Example: One of our clients from the fashion industry was hit by the recession so very badly, that there was no budget left for the Developer or PR - what also meant that we couldn’t proceed with our on-page and off-page SEO work. What we have done instead, was to focus our work on their YouTube optimization as we saw that videos played an incremental role for this fashion product specifically.

How we as an agency overcome economic downtimes

We always look forward and challenges make us even stronger and more flexible. Every challenge brings new opportunities - and this we try to turn into sustainable action!

Within the last months our main objective differed significantly from the previous years, due to the circumstances we live in. We were forced to change our business and operational strategy; we decided to minimize the risk by expanding globally and work more efficient as we wanted to keep our current team size without layoffs. So our main objectives are, to:

1. Grow internationally

By actively running our international operations from our Berlin office, our objective is to grow our international client base even more. We are planning ahead to replace companies that probably won’t survive the economic crisis. Instead of serving for example real estate sites in Turkey, we prefer working with small Startups in Germany who have the potential to grow.

2. Be more efficient with the same team size

We did changes on our way of work and our performance reviews. We continuously improve & find new ways to boost our team’s productivity. For example we have increased the number of remote working days, we try to keep the motivation high by doing team events, we enforce everyone to attend events and meetups, and so on.

3. Strengthen the community

We think that giving back will strengthen our position. This is why we built an online community for women working in the digital marketing industry: Women.Digital. We are also more active in attending conferences, writing blogs and talking in podcasts, etc.


This economy will probably lose more value in the next few weeks - value that won’t be available to drive new businesses, new jobs, new advertising campaigns.

We are here to help our clients save money, make money, and stay in business and to position ourselves as their reliable, long lasting partner.

And always remember:

“As sure as the spring will follow the winter, prosperity and economic growth will follow recession”. – Bo Bennett
Halide Ebcinoğlu
08 May 2019

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