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Local advertising has been in a state of flux since the Coronavirus pandemic took hold across the United States. The projected impact on advertisers and the brands they serve is huge—in just one example, eMarketer predicted that Twitter’s advertising revenue would plummet by up to 40% in March.

That was relatively early in the North American pandemic cycle, though. In the days and weeks immediately following the President’s declaration of a state of national emergency on March 13th, there was a sort of “great pause.” Advertisers were forced to shutter campaigns and rethink their entire strategy.

Now, with the first phase of Opening Up America Again underway, brands are coming back with adjusted messaging and creative. And the conversations between local businesses and the customers they serve are becoming more organic in every way.

Paid Search Spend Expected to Fall by $8B in H1 2020

Paid search won’t be the first place marketers allocate budget during the recovery—for many, it won’t even make their list of top platforms. Search advertising spend in the US is now expected to fall up to 14.8% in the first half of 2020, about $8 billion less than previously projected.

Paid search is a lower-funnel channel geared towards driving conversions and right now, many brands are focused on protecting and rebuilding relationships. Other types of media buys are more difficult to cancel than PPC, which can simply be paused or turned off. What’s more, local transactions have become more complicated; that linear path of “appear in search, drive searcher to convert” may now be fraught with additional considerations that require more meaningful interaction than an ad can provide:

  • Can a customer arrive at the location and shop as usual?
  • Is advance ordering by phone or online required?
  • Is curbside or contactless pickup available?
  • Are there reduced or extended hours of operation at this location?
  • Are there special hours for certain types of shoppers (seniors, pregnant women, high-risk, etc.)?

Consumers Still Searching for Local Solutions

In our recent analysis of how local keywords are trending, we’ve seen a recovery in search volume for terms such as “stores near me” and “open near me.” We’ve also seen a huge spike in various terms related to social distancing including contactless payment, pickup, and delivery.

While many agree on the importance of economic recovery, consumers’ concerns and behaviors vary wildly when it comes to Coronavirus. Some still believe that preventative measures have been overblown and are eager to get back in-store and shopping. Many others want to know what their options are and how they can reduce physical contact as much as possible. In fact, a recent Washington Post poll shows that 34% of Americans support the reopening of retail stores and 56% feel comfortable going to a grocery store.

Customer Experience Now Mission Critical for Local Brands

Consumers are looking for the safest, most convenient, and least stressful ways to meet their needs—to get groceries, find tools and services to maintain the yard, entertain the kids, care for the pets, etc. Many are trying to manage the additional hoop-jumping of socially distance shopping while also working from home and caring for family members who never leave the house.

It’s more important than ever that brands are able to position each location for discoverability in organic and local search, and that the information presented to each consumer is accurate and trustworthy.

The slightest speed bump in customer experience in these already-volatile times has an outsized impact on that person’s perception of and relationship with the brand involved. Sending a shopper out of their way to a closed store, for example, because your hours were not up to date in Google My Business could end that relationship and result in a negative review, to boot.

Improving the quality of your organic and local search results and building your online presence doesn’t require a rethinking of your strategy. This isn’t a pivot or new direction; it’s a return to local and organic SEO best practices. And unlike paid search, it’s not a quick fix. The investments you make in your local presence today will serve your customers and brand well for years to come.

Here’s where you need to focus now, with resources to get you on the right track:

1. Maintain accurate listings as business information changes frequently during reopening.

The nature of this pandemic is such that locations may be at different stages of reopening across the country. Keep your local listings accurate and up to date in these seven key ways as you work through your recovery plan.

Example of Contact-free services

2. Improve your local relevance and engagement with top quality content.

Local consumers are hungry for information about which businesses can best suit their unique needs. Incorporate these tips for creating more compelling and effective local content.

3. Let accurate local data drive your business decision-making.

MapPack insights, local ranking data, local reviews, and other first-party data have great stories to tell about your challenges and opportunities in this new local landscape. Are you listening and activating your local data?

4. Take an omnichannel approach to your post-pandemic marketing.

Omnichannel marketing is a customer-centric approach to marketing that positions your locations in front of customers across networks, channels, and devices. How and wherever a customer finds you, that interaction is optimized to help them take next steps and continue along their path to purchasing with you. Learn more in The Importance of Being Omnichannel in Consumer Engagement Marketing.

5. Incorporate long-tail keywords in your SEO strategy to enhance discoverability.

If you are only focusing on optimizing for competitive and generic keywords, you’re missing out on the massive percentage of queries that consist of three to four descriptive words (or more). Download our Go-To Guide for Long-Tail Keyword Strategy for Local Success for tips and tactics to help you tap into the long-tail opportunity.

6. Don’t underestimate the impact of local reputation management.

Online reviews are incredibly influential in a consumer’s consideration process and have an impact on your ability to rank in local search, as well. Monitor and respond to reviews in this critical time to protect both customer relationships and your online presence.

Example of Owner responding to a review

Local advertising in times of COVID requires a strategic approach to ensure the customer’s experience is top of mind in every optimization, communication, and interaction. Whether paid channels are still in play or you’re shifting that budget and resources to your organic search strategy, it’s critical to ensure that the next stop on the customer’s journey is informative and helpful.

Get a free local audit to see how you’re doing today and what new opportunities you can tap into to position all your locations for success in their post-pandemic recovery.