Does SEO Still Work in a Recession?

As of mid-June 2022, the S&P 500 is officially in a Bear market. Understanding that, a great question to ask is: Does SEO still work in a recession? The short answer is yes, SEO still works in a recession, and here’s why:

SEO still works in a recession because the economy will eventually bounce back, meaning users will again be looking for the service(s) found on your website. By prioritizing SEO before and during a recession, your site will stand out when users are buying less and pay dividends during the recession and also when the recession ends.

Click below to read about how an SEO investment starting today will pay off in the short and long-term.

First, is SEO Still Relevant in 2022?

Before we can dig in to why you should invest in SEO, let’s first take a look at the relevance of SEO in 2022 and on.

More people than ever are learning how websites work, to the point where many are creating their own. In fact, according to Statista, the growth in websites has increased by 500% in the last ten years (from just over 300 million in 2011 to 1.88 billion in 2021).

On top of that, there are also more users online than ever. To be specific, the global digital population (number of users online) is at an all-time high of 5 billion!

Basically, SEO is still relevant because there are more users online than ever looking at more websites than ever.

Top Reasons Why SEO Works in a Recession

When we’re experiencing a recession, and your digital marketing budget is being questioned, SEO can be the one effort that helps you the most.

Here are a few reasons why SEO works in a recession:

SEO is a critical investment

When it comes to SEO as a long term investment, remember we’re “building a house” here.

If you were to watch a house being built, with minimal knowledge on the subject, you may wonder why something’s being done (or disregard the importance of it entirely). But every little bit of effort contributes to the whole process.

It’s the same thing with SEO. Assuming the strategy is correct, the work we do today will pay off later, even if it’s difficult to understand the value right away. Every effort today, is building SEO equity in your website and brand. As you build equity, your SEO momentum will build and start to compound. This is why investing in SEO is such a critical piece before, during, and after a recession.

At the end of the day, acknowledging the ROI of SEO can be difficult because there are multiple tactics and KPIs per SEO campaign. By investing in SEO early, you’ll build the house earlier and benefit accordingly.

SEO will outlast a recession

Although difficult to accept, remember that every recession has ended. And at some point, we end up better off than we were before the recession. There will come a point when things recover and people get back to their normal lives.

So, keeping in mind that a recession won’t last forever, you can build value while things are down and benefit when the recession comes to an end.

SEO is worth the cost

At the end of the day, SEO is a cost for your business, but it’s worth it. Say you pay $1000/month for high quality SEO. Initially, that may seem costly. But it can lead to exponential growth, which makes it worth the price tag.

Which of the following sounds better:

  • Eliminate your marketing budget and “get by”
  • Invest in SEO and see a 2X-5X increase in business revenue

Obviously, it’s not always as cut and dry as that, but the point still stands that “getting by” won’t work, especially in a recession. If your website isn’t visible during a pandemic, and you do nothing to increase that visibility, you’re in a much worse position.

SEO builds brand awareness

SEO is not just a digital marketing strategy. The tactics involved in an SEO campaign (e.g., content marketing) will do much more than increase visibility. Aside from better search engine visibility and organic traffic, SEO also increases brand awareness.

SEO is more than showing up in search engine result pages. From online reviews to consistently showing up in organic search, SEO helps turn small businesses into well-known brands.

Tying this back to a recession, by increasing visibility in the SERPs (and users seeing your brand when they search), you’re in a much better position when things level out.

SEO tactics can and should change

The great thing about SEO is that it isn’t (shouldn’t be) a static effort. In fact, compared to every other other marketing channels, SEO may be the most fluid. A solid SEO specialist will implement the right SEO strategy, which is one that is custom to the website and business.

Why You Should be Investing in SEO Today

Understanding the trends in users and websites, how do we know that an SEO investment is something to consider?

At Sixth Media, we know that it’s more important than ever for businesses to have a website. And, for those business owners that have a website, it’s critical to invest in SEO. Doing so will set their website apart from the almost 2 billion websites out there.

But the primary question to answer is if an SEO investment makes sense for business owners and what an SEO ROI looks like over time.

Avoid errors upfront

SEO, and digital marketing in general, implemented well can help a business avoid errors upfront.

A great example is a new partner of ours. This partner had only a portion of their URLs included in Google’s index. After a technical SEO audit, we discovered a single line of code in the header causing the issue. On every single page of the site, the following line of code existed:

<link rel="canonical" href="[]" />

For those who don’t understand the line of code above, a Canonical URL is placed to signal to Google the original URL if there are potential duplicates. A good example would be with paginated result pages where you have /page-2/ and so on. On those additional pages, a Canonical references the original so Google knows which pages should and should not show in searches.

In the case above, every web page on this partner site had a Canonical pointing to the home, which resulted in the following:

  • The site was signaling to Google that the home was the original of every other page on the site, and that every other page was a duplicate and should not be considered as original content.
  • Every web page (except the home) was also marked as non-indexable. In other words, on top of the Canonical, the site was telling Google that it shouldn’t show up in Google searches. This is a great example of the value of an SEO investment.

SEO boosts visibility early on by ensuring mistakes are avoided. Prioritizing this effort will help a business start off strong.

SEO helps a business owner understand their business better

SEO is a great resource to gain business insights. With the right SEO analyst, a business owner can learn a lot about their business and industry, allowing them to make better decisions. Here are a few examples:

  • Google Analytics: In Google Analytics, business owners can see the traffic their website gets, as well as revenue-related goals. Inside a Google Analytics account, they can also drill down in to see the exact source that an increase in revenue is coming from. This can help guide decisions relating to business investments.
  • Keyword research: Keyword research is a great way to see what exactly users are searching for to find a business. I can’t tell you how many times a website saw improvements based on prioritizing a keyword variation that came from keyword research. Some of this can come through paid search efforts as well.
  • Additional free resources: There are a lot of places for a business owner to get started if they want to learn more (Search Engine Journal, for example).

Some of the insights you get from SEO will be surprising. For example, although mobile searches have been prioritized due to mobile-first indexing, you may discover that the majority of your users view your website on a desktop. Knowing this piece of information can help you prioritize user experience efforts better.

SEO positions your business as the expert

A primary focus in SEO is increasing something known as EAT. This is an acronym that stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trust. Simplified, it’s work that satisfies users’ need to know why they should trust a website and how the person behind the website as an authority on the subject they’re talking about. Because this can be difficult or confusing (especially depending on your niche), click here to learn how to improve SEO EAT in challenging markets.

Basically, SEO isn’t just showing up for search queries, it also includes efforts to position yourself as an expert in your industry. Doing so in the long-term will help you greatly, off and online.

Remember, SEO is a long term investment

You may have heard about SEO being a long term investment before, but why is that the case?

Think about it this way. If a restaurant opens up in your neighborhood that you haven’t heard of before, what happens? You’ll have one group of people adventurous enough to try it right away. You’ll have another group of people who want to wait and see what others have to say about the restaurant before trying it out themselves.

Search engines work similarly in that trust needs to be built up over time for a website to show up in better positions more consistently in the SERPs.

By investing in SEO efforts earlier, you’ll build trust with Google over time; this, in turn, will lead to more visibility, more traffic, and customer acquisition in the future.

What Does a Typical SEO Return on Investment Look Like?

It can be difficult to answer questions like, “What’s the ROI of SEO” or “How much revenue can I expect from search engine optimization?”

The long answer short is: It depends.

Every SEO campaign and SEO strategy should be different. The word should was used there because of the many bad stories that have stemmed from a business working with an SEO agency that uses a cookie cutter approach. Every campaign doesn’t need link building to see increased traffic, and I’ve seen campaigns that had plenty of traffic but the search intent was off. At the end of the day, SEO experts can be helpful for a business owner who wants to see an impressive ROI.

Having said that, an SEO ROI is something that doesn’t happen all at once. Again, it can take months for an SEO campaign to start leading to increased organic search visibility, organic traffic, and leads/sales from organic visitors. In fact, based on the situation, it can take multiple weeks for a site to even appear in the organic search results.

A solid SEO strategy can ensure a website is indexed by search engines and shows up on search engine results pages much faster. Below is the ROI of SEO services you could expect over different time periods.

SEO ROI in Months 1-3

In the first few months of an SEO campaign, we’ve only scratched the surface. For example, an older website could be in need of some serious Technical SEO strategies that take time to stick (e.g., indexation issues).

With a good SEO strategy in place , you can expect a typical ROI that comes in the form of initial keyword ranking improvements, a small boost in visibility and traffic, and some additional leads.

Again, the SEO work done in these months are typically paving the path to success. A good SEO strategy will then build on that initial work to accelerate results.

SEO ROI in Months 4-6

It’s in the 4-6 month period where the right SEO strategy leads to better organic results, more website traffic, and potential customers. It’s in these months that we typically start to see a return from our search engine optimization efforts, sometimes to the point where URLs are showing up on the first page of Google.

While SEO takes time (typically) to see a website ranking highly like this, implementing the correct SEO tactics can circumvent the waiting period.

After 4-6 months, I would hope to see a website starting to rank on page 2, maybe page 1 (lucky if towards the top) for high priority keywords.

SEO ROI in Months 7-9

By the time we’re in the 7-9 month range, our website shouldn’t be new to a search engine.

In this range, we expect solid results. That usually means a site ranks on page 1 for high priority keywords, even getting close to the top 3-5 range.

SEO ROI in Months 10-12

As SEO efforts approach the 1 year mark, we’re in “protection mode”.

By this point, we should be ranking well for our high priority terms. The strategy moving forward is to continue ranking well and start going after additional opportunities.

SEO ROI After the First Year

With the help of Google Analytics, and other metric software, we can calculate the visibility of our business, where traffic comes from and, more importantly, where leads are coming from.

After a year of the right strategies implemented, the ROI of SEO becomes clearer (assuming we have the correct attribution set up).

After the first year of SEO efforts, we continue implementing strategies that will protect the rankings, traffic, and revenue we’ve received (along with implementing new strategies to enter additional areas of opportunity). It’s much easier to dive into new years when we have some traction after the first year.

Conclusion: Is SEO Worth the Investment?

Search engine optimization matters, whether we’re in a recession or a bull market. But it’s also important to remember that SEO takes time. You won’t generate revenue over night like you may with some digital marketing strategies that require money for leads (paid advertising, for example).

By starting today, you’ll see a variety of benefits during a recession and come out on top when the recession is over. The ROI of SEO can be difficult to calculate, but the investment pays itself off especially because SEO has no cap or ceiling. For the same consistent effort/investment each month, you can produce a 2x, 5x, 10x, 20x monthly ROI as your work compounds. Invest in SEO today to win tomorrow!

Click here to talk to us about what the right SEO efforts should be for your business.


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