Why Long-Term SEO is Worth the Squeeze: A COVID-19 Case Study

Find out how two businesses heavily affected by COVID-19 continued to invest in SEO — and are reaping the rewards a year later.

When the pandemic first hit in early 2020, did your business pull back on marketing efforts? 

If so, you’re not alone; global ad spend fell by $63.4 billion last year, and digital marketers reported budget cuts to be their top challenge in a post-COVID-19 world.

But, like they say, hindsight is 20/20. With more than a year and half of COVID under our belts, this might not have been the best course of action for every business. 

In fact, when it comes to organic traffic results in 2021, we’re seeing top performance from our clients who stayed the course — continuing to invest heavily in search engine optimization efforts, despite the uncertainty around their industry.

In this case study, we’ll tell you about two of them. Both involve industries that were heavily impacted by the pandemic, shutting down for months and leaving owners frantic about the future. 

But, thanks to a steady SEO hand, they’re now reaping the rewards of their discipline and marketing decisions.

Client #1: The Local Lawyer

One of our clients — a criminal defense attorney — has employed our SEO team’s strategies since 2013. While unable to devote a huge budget to these efforts, the firm has nonetheless seen organic traffic improvements over the years of our partnership.

Unfortunately, that all changed in late 2019. The lawyer’s site was hit hard by a Google core algorithm update in September of that year, likely due to its positioning as a “Your Money, Your Life” legal website. Due to its thin, low-quality blog content, we concluded it was a victim of Google’s ongoing E.A.T. initiative.

In a double stroke of bad luck, COVID-19 emerged just a few months later. With courthouses and legal proceedings on pause, organic traffic to the client’s site dropped off and representation inquiries stopped coming in.

Google Analytics pageviews graph from Sept. 2019 to April 2020. Traffic declines in mid-Sept. 2019 and then again in March 2020.

When presented with these reports, many businesses would (understandably) look to cut back on their investment. However, because this client’s investment was rather small in comparison to our other clients, it was a simple decision to continue our efforts when the cost didn’t adversely impact the client’s bottom line.

The Strategy

At the same time that the pandemic shut down our client’s business, it also provided a silver lining. With more time available, the lawyer could focus more on growing and optimizing his website content. 

SEO strategies often take months to prove themselves. By putting in the effort to improve the firm’s site during this downturn, the business would be in a much better position when courts eventually opened back up a few months later.

The client came on board with little convincing, giving our team the freedom to move forward with our SEO approach as we best saw to.

1. Update Google My Business Listing

Even though our client’s business location was essentially shuttered during the early days of the pandemic, prospective customers would still be looking for lawyers — and our client’s Google My Business listing needed to be accurate for them.

After ensuring contact information was correct, we added new health and safety standards to reflect our client’s COVID-19 commitment, included new Q&As to address the most frequently asked questions, and posted new images to the account. We also used his GMB listing as another promotional avenue for re-optimized blog content (more on that below).

Google My Business Q&A: A family member was just charged with a crime, what should they do?

The goal: Show prospective clients that the firm was still active and paying attention to customers during this uncertain time.

2. Build Linking Authority

As part of the firm’s SEO content marketing strategy, we conducted trusty internet outreach. We added the client’s listing to authoritative lawyer directories, and we used HARO to build brand awareness through thought leadership.

3. Optimize Blog Content

The bulk of our SEO work during early COVID was to improve domain authority with optimized, trustworthy content (per E.A.T. best practices).

We began with the path of least resistance: blog content that was already performing well and creating inbound links. We updated meta data, images, header tags, and the on-page copy to be as thorough and informative as possible.

After updating one such blog (a piece on gun laws within the lawyer’s state), organic traffic grew by 143% year-over-year.

Google Analytics results, showing 143.3% increase in sessions, 2.35% increase in new sessions, and 149.01% increase in new users YOY.

For blogs that weren’t performing as well, we started with optimized meta data and H1 tags, to be revisited when the budget and capacity would be increased.

The Results

Even small SEO efforts can make a difference, especially when other marketing takes a backseat. Our client’s site hadn’t seen any significant SEO improvements since 2019, but our renewed focus on their blog finally brought the results the site had desperately needed.

Not only did informational calls to the firm increase, their site also saw:

Google Analytics traffic graph showing steady increase from August 2020 to August 2021. Red arrow indicates the upward growth of traffic numbers.
  • 147% increase in organic traffic YOY
  • 160% increase in clicks YOY
  • 282% increase in impressions YOY
  • 200+% increase to keyword footprint

Of course, it’s important to note relaxed COVID-19 restrictions in the legal industry starting in 2021 contributed to this growth. However, by optimizing website content during the pause in legal proceedings, we ensured the firm was in the position to capture that renewed interest.

Client #2: The Travel Tour Provider

Since partnering with Inflow in 2017, our cruise excursions client had seen significant organic traffic increases every year — that is, until 2020.

Google Analytics traffic map, showing steady traffic growth until 2020, where traffic drops off dramatically. Arrow pointing to drop-off point reads "COVID-19 Travel Lockdown."

With the abrupt shutdown of the travel industry at the onset of the pandemic, our client’s site performance dropped like a rock. But, while cruises wouldn’t sail for more than a year after the pandemic’s onset, that didn’t mean our client’s SEO efforts needed to take a pause.

On the contrary, like with our local lawyer, our strategists recommended using this downtime in business to undergo some serious SEO work (and prep for the eventual return of tourism).

The Strategy

Big site updates are understandably nerve-wracking for clients. The possibility of user experience and SEO performance tanking after changes like migrations is a legitimate concern.

But, with our client’s site traffic already in the hole (and unlikely to return for a few quarters), it was the optimal time to implement much-needed improvements.

1. Complete a Theme Migration

Our client had long wanted to redesign their site, especially as our SEO strategies brought in more and more traffic each year. The tourism slowdown gave them the perfect opportunity to get it done.

A site or theme migration could cause big drops in organic traffic and revenue as Google slowly recrawls every updated page. But, with those metrics already way below average for our client, any migration would have little to no impact at all. Because the cruising industry was still in strict lockdown at the end of 2020, Google had plenty of time to recrawl and reindex new pages without an impact. (Of course, we were there to monitor and resolve any tech SEO issues along the way.)

With their new 2020 design, our client’s site was officially ready to welcome back cruisers, whenever the travel industry came back to life.

2. Continue Optimizing Site Content

At the same time, our SEO team kept doing what they did best: optimizing existing content for future cruise vacationers.

Due to the historically low travel traffic volume, and a change in Google’s algorithm to show news-related “cruise” content in SERPs, our strategy had to change. Instead of using recent traffic trends, we looked back in order to move forward — that is, by using 2019 data. 

While older than the data from 2020, it was a far more accurate place to start when planning for the return of the cruising industry.

The Results

While the travel industry is still in a recovery phase and likely won’t be the same for years to come, there’s no denying that our client’s continued SEO investment paid off. While revenue is nowhere near pre-COVID levels, organic performance continues to make significant gains and set our client up for future success.

One of the best indicators is keyword rankings. Even with Google’s changing SERPs, our client maintained steady positioning in the #1–4 results (those most relevant to their products and most likely to convert) and continued to grow their keyword footprint in ranking positions of #1–10 (by 72% year-over-year).

With these keywords secured, their site is set to capture the most interested cruisers as they start coming back aboard.

Ahrefs organic keyword footprint map, showing steady growth in footprint for positions #1–3 and #4–10.

This focus on SEO content also has helped our client steadily regain whatever organic traffic there is currently available, even though the industry traffic remains historically low at this time. 

Google Analytics traffic map, showing steep drop before gradual traffic growth over 2021.

By maintaining ranking positions for high-value keywords and continuing to improve other keyword rankings, we’ve ensured our client will be in the best position possible when the industry does return to normal.

Bottom Line: Ongoing SEO Efforts Make a Difference

During downturns, it’s normal for businesses to jettison marketing efforts with less-than-immediate ROI. But, as these two examples show, SEO strategies should be the exception.

Search engine optimization and content marketing are long games, where ongoing efforts breed more substantial results than one-hit wonders. That’s why we recommend every business — even highly seasonal eCommerce brands — invest time and effort into long-lasting SEO strategies. With the right approach, you can set your business up for success and position yourself ahead of the competition for when it really matters.

Need help designing an SEO strategy for your business? Our team of strategists is always happy to help. Request a free, personalized proposal anytime to start boosting your organic performance today.