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A CMO’s Guide to Post-COVID-19 World Segmentation

Episode Overview: What we once thought we understood has been upended and defined by a new reality due to COVID-19’s worldwide impact. Teleconference software companies are experiencing unprecedented gains while travel and hospitality businesses are experiencing uncertainty and losses. Join host Ben as he speaks with Searchmetrics’ CMO Doug Bell about the reality businesses are dealing with under the threat of COVID-19 and how businesses are surviving while brick-and-mortar locations are closed.


  • A significant trend occurring among many companies is the drastic slashing of digital spends.
  • The most vulnerable industry segments are travel and hospitality as their outlook relies on a day-to-day basis, with diminished ability to forecast months ahead.
  • Wise investors have closed their physical shop locations and took their business online, heavily focusing on site and content optimization to maintain operability and secure business that would otherwise have been lost.


Ben:                  Welcome to the CMOs guide to the post COVID-19 SEO landscape. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro and today we’re going to publish an episode telling you what you need to know about the landscape of digital marketing and specifically SEO after the outbreak of COVID-19. Joining us for this episode is Doug Bell who is the CMO of Searchmetrics, which is an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise-scale businesses, monitor their online presence and make data-driven decisions. Searchmetrics is the lead sponsor of this podcast and we’re excited to have Doug on the show today to talk to us a little bit about what he at Searchmetrics is seeing in terms of the digital marketing and the SEO landscape. Okay, here’s my conversation with Doug Bell, CMO of Searchmetrics. Doug, welcome to the Voices of Search podcast.

Doug:                Thanks Ben, I never thought I’d be excited about a podcast where I describe the chaos period in a market. I’m looking forward to the conversation.

Ben:                    Offline, before this conversation we were just talking about how challenging of a time this is for people personally, how it bleeds into their personal lives and their professional lives. I think it’s worth saying that we’re all going through this time of trouble together and it is challenging. Honestly, it’s been anxiety filled for me, it’s been a challenge, it’s mentally taxing. First and foremost, you’re sitting in the catbird seat, the head of the marketing team at Searchmetrics. How are you dealing with things and what’s life like sitting in the CMO chair today?

Doug:                 It’s interesting and I have to say, Ben, you’re of two minds. The first is, I think, tell my fellow CMOs out there, you’re constantly curious. That’s a big part of the reason that you’re in your job. So you’re able to step back and see all the things that are occurring, the economy, the decline of the Dow. You’re being able to see the impact on your clients and customers, and it’s fascinating to watch. And then at the same time, you have a business to run, right?

Doug:                 And so that’s why I’m glad we’re getting a chance to talk today, Ben. Because I feel like every one of us in the CMO community, especially if those of us in the digital marketing community are trying to find ways to help our teams and our companies manage through. I’m hoping I have some good feedback, but we’re seeing some really, really interesting stuff here at Searchmetrics. But I also would say, talk to me tomorrow.

Doug:                  Because things are so fluid. But we are finding ways to get organized and we are finding ways to think about the market, rationally, if that’s even possible. It’s such an irrational moment, but I’m of two minds, I’m fascinated to see this happening, the same time, I’m also scrambling to make sure that we’re doing the very best we can for our customers and for the business.

Ben:                     So I think on both the personal and professional front, I think that’s a great answer. I don’t know, ask me tomorrow. There’s a lot of uncertainty right now and there’s going to be fluctuations in terms of business performance, trajectory, managing your team, people dealing with this situation and having emotions as well. Let’s focus a little bit more on what we’re seeing in the marketplace, what you’re getting in terms of raw data and an understanding of what’s happening in the SEO landscape. Talk to me about what you’re seeing and what are other CMOs likely to see as well?

Doug:                   Yeah, well, I mean some of the stuff is obvious. I have an ongoing good relationship with an analyst in the community who I can tap into from time to time, who’s generous and graceful enough to spend time with me. And so, what I’m able to do is, to not only look at our data, and there’s tons of it, but also define from speaking to him and what’s happened to the marketplace. And the one clear thing that is happening and it upsets and troubles me to hear it, but there’s huge amounts of slashing going on with digital spend, which is really, really understandable. And I think as we’d take into this conversation, Ben, it does represent opportunities for the CMOs that do have a capital position or do you have the budget position to take advantage of that?

Ben:                       So let’s talk a little bit about that. Why is there such a slashing in digital spend specifically?

Doug:                    Chicken and egg, a little. I have to say we’re seeing just almost immediate, overnight shifts between which of our page search channels are working and which aren’t. And so again, folks, this is just Searchmetrics, but we’re really seeing a big decline in our ability to drive net new business from Google PPC is an example, where Facebook has just been brilliant for us. Have repurposed content, we’ve repurposed offers. And the way that we’re approaching things is very much in some of the ways that we talked to before we jumped on the podcast today, which is to be as empathetic as we can with our customers and to understand that they too are scrambling.

Doug:                     And so our content is about some basics and really helping them manage through and make good decisions and to do so quickly. So our reaction to this is to say, look, we have expertise and our job is to be a fellow human being to help you, but we’re not going to push the expertise in your face. If you’re ready for it, we’re here for you. But overall, I would say the big thing we’re seeing, both in terms of our numbers and we’re hearing from the community, is big slash in digital spend.

Ben:                         It’s interesting, I think that there is an opportunity here when you think about digital spend. Most of the digital spend is in a marketplace and when there’s a marketplace and all of a sudden there is a dip in demand, generally that means that prices drop and there is still the same amount of supply, right. Facebook and Google still have relatively the same amount of impressions to be able to serve. So do you anticipate that the dip in spend is going to cause a lowering of CPCs in the performance marketing world?

Doug:                      I do, I do. And look at your own numbers folks. You’ve got some areas where your CDRs are through the roof, they’re out there. And in our case, it is where we’re beginning to position content and advice that is about the basics. That’s working extremely well. Look, people are not looking to jump in and make big capital commitments right now. They’re just not, and that’s very understandable. We’re in the same place, right? We’re consumers of our own industry. In other words, we’re a player of the SaaS industry, but we’re also consuming SaaS software.

Doug:                      And there were definitely a series of very, very, very strong software packages that, in a normal economy, I would have absolutely signed up for, but I’m holding off. And so I think that’s happening across the board. But if you have the opportunity to really provide what you, at the core, are good at, which I think all of us in the SaaS community have something to offer, if you can focus on that, I think you’ll make it through. Now, the digital spending slash, I think we need to put it in the context then of how that’s occurring across what I’ll call self organizing segments? And maybe we can dig in there, but I would just say yes, there’s opportunity as your fellow CMOs were slashing, there’s some opportunities for spend.

Ben:                          All right, so we’re seeing that digital marketing budgets are being slashed. People are paying for less SaaS. Generally everybody is, just like we said, on the emotional side, hey, wait and see, ask me tomorrow. People are holding onto their budget because they’re not sure how long the economy is going to be depressed. We’re waiting to see when the US economy and the rest of the world’s economy is going to be open for business again. You mentioned that there’s a couple of different segments that you’re seeing in terms of how businesses are performing or you alluded to it. Talk to me a little bit about how you’re breaking up the landscapes in terms of the class of businesses.

Doug:                       Great, I would highly suggest that our CMOs, the audience understand that segments are self organizing right now. And so any type of conversation with a fellow marketing leader, you can just see their brain switch over when you start talking about business to or gee, what part of the market are we talking about? And what part of the funnel are we talking about? What part of the user buyer’s journey are we talking about? It’s just, that’s how we all think, right? Well those things are all blown up right now.

Ben:                          Doug, we worked on a project together at Searchmetrics when I first started. Right before you came on board and I sort of handed the mantle off of doing Searchmetrics as US businesses, first customer segmentation and to show everybody behind the curtain a little. We thought about SEO for ecommerce businesses, for media and publishing, for healthcare, for agencies. Those were some of the big segments that we thought about very much industry based. Now you’re essentially looking at Searchmetrics’ segmentation in a different way. Talk to me about how you’re thinking about who customers are these days.

Doug:                       Right, and those were all correct segments up until let’s say March 12th and those continue to be the segments that we pour a lot of effort into obviously. But the idea of a segment, right. If you think about it, a segment’s simplest definition is, it is a group of customers who share common interests where there’s a clear boundary between themselves and another segment and they react to market stimulus in the same way.

Doug:                       And so people will think, gee, ecommerce as an example, or manufacturing or tech. In this case, what we’re seeing is three segments that are self organizing. The first new segment we’re seeing is what we’re calling the Loving Life segment. And these are businesses that are experiencing huge amounts of demand for their goods and services. And so a lot of this is kind of duh, right, so Zoom.

Ben:                         The face mass manufacturers.

Doug:                      Yeah, exactly. Zoom or Caviar, for us as a client, is an example, Atlassian, just huge amounts of demand suddenly. And so these companies are not out there pressing their digital spend advantage because their CTRs and their CDRs are through the roof. And so they’re seeing unprecedented business. They’re not paying attention to us because they shouldn’t be. They are really busy trying to scale to meet demand. And so that’s the first, I mean, I’m sure they’re following us constantly reading the blog and listening to this podcast, right? But for the most part, they’re just looking to scale. It’s the first segment we’re seeing.

Ben:                        So there’s some businesses that are obviously positively affected by the change in lifestyle, the work from home community, the food delivery services, content businesses are probably doing well. So one segment is the businesses that all of a sudden are seeing this huge influx in demand and need to take advantage. So Doug, outside of that group who, hey, the COVID-19 outbreak is awful, but it’s really helping our business. What are some of the other segments that you’re seeing?

Doug:                     Yes, so the Loving Life segment, again, it’s a segment we should pay attention to, but for the moment they’re about scale, right? Then there were two other segments for seeing. The first is what I’ll call the existentially challenged, and this is… Think about any business right now that’s getting lined up in the US especially for some sort of bail out, right? So think about travel, think about hospitality. These are businesses that we’ve talked about. Hey, the new normal is, it depends on the day. These are folks that are just trying to continue to survive. We are seeing a lot of slashing of digital spending here, of course, among a lot of other things.

Ben:                       Live entertainment, another one hit. The good news for you and me, the Eagles and the Cal Bears are not going to lose a game this entire season.

Doug:                    I have to say Ben, I think a part of our coping skills as people, especially sports fans, is that we always have that to go to. We don’t have it. It’s actually, yeah, it’s quite hard.

Ben:                       It makes me miss my terrible sports teams even more than I did before.

Doug:                    So that’s the second. And I think we can all understand those segments. And so if we’re out there trying to help that segment, it’s very much just, hey, if you’re looking to slash paid spend and you’re looking to invest somewhere else, we can help you. But for the most part, these folks aren’t paying attention either.

Ben:                      So Doug, there’s a balance here. There’s businesses that are having exponential growth because of the lifestyle change. There’s ones that are obviously impacted negatively. Their businesses are essentially shuttered for right now. There has to be some middle ground here. Talk to me about this third segment that you’re seeing develop.

Doug:                  Yeah, so you’re talking about the Goldilocks segment, right? The bed is too small, it’s too big, it’s just right. So I call this the Goldilocks segment and that’s what we’re calling the wise investors. And so generally speaking, these are ecommerce companies and these are retailers that have made enough of the transition to online that they’ve got that part of the business functioning well, right? And so what’s happening with these folks is, we’re still seeing slashing of digital spend, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not as aggressive as other categories. And what we’re seeing is that, what they’re seeing as well, which is they’ve got certain categories over-performing certain products if you will over-performing and others that are just simply underperforming.

Doug:                   And so they’re sitting back, they’re understanding that this too shall pass, they are not frightened existentially. The business is still high functioning and what we’re beginning to see from them is a really heavy focus on things like site optimization and content optimization. We’re also seeing them organize around big blocks of new content. And I have to say if anybody is poised to take advantage, this is the segment. They have the capital, they’re holding back on it. I do think with ecommerce, the big players are going to get even bigger and more dominant as a result of this.

Ben:                      So Doug, as we think about these three different groups, it’s a logical segmentation, positively effective, negatively effective, and essentially a wait-and-see type community. Help me understand how big these groups are when you’re out there talking to other CMOs, when Searchmetrics is doing their business development and their sales. Are you seeing 30, 30, 30 is it 50, 25, 25? What’s the segmentation or breakdown in terms of how large these segments are?

Doug:                  Yeah, so then it’s roughly 10 percent is Loving Life. I think it’s actually much lower than that. So let’s say that’s more like 5 percent right? There are certainly tons of businesses out there that are benefitting, but when we pull that list together, we took a look at it, it was rather small. So that’s, let’s say 5 percent for that group. The existentially challenged, it’s actually pretty large, it’s around 25 percent which is kind of scary. And then that wise investor, seven.

Doug:                  And this is again, this is the B2B digital marketing space universe. If you’re a manufacturer, this is probably not going to make a ton of sense for us. It does work. But the bulk of that market for us, that wise investor segment, the bulk of the market, sorry, is behind that why is investors segments, roughly 70 percent and good news for us is, that’s the bulk of our client base as well.

Ben:                     So I think that’s a good stopping point for today. We have these new identified segments that are relevant to really all businesses that are playing in the new digital world. And we’re going to talk a little bit more tomorrow about what are some of the impacts that these segments have on digital marketing and also what are some of the SEO tactics that you can use to potentially reach them.

Ben:                    So that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Doug Bell, CMO of Searchmetrics, we’d love to continue the conversation with you. So if you’d like to contact Doug, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can contact him on Twitter, his handle is @MarketAdvocate or you could visit his company’s website which is

Ben:                    Just one more link in our show notes I’d like to tell you about if you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast, head over to where we have summaries of all of our episodes, contact information for our guests. You can send us your topic suggestions or your SEO questions. You can even apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search podcast. Of course, you can always reach out on social media. Our handle is @voicesofsearch on Twitter and my personal handle is @benjshap, B- E-N-J-S-H-A-P.

Ben:                   And if you haven’t subscribed yet and you want a daily stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, in addition to the rest of my conversation with Doug Bell, CMO of Searchmetrics. We’re going to publish an episode every day during the work week. So hit the Subscribe button in your Podcast App, and we’ll be back in your feed tomorrow morning. All right, that’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.

Tyson Stockton

Tyson Stockton

Tyson has over 10 years' experience in the digital marketing industry. As Vice President of Client and Account Management, Tyson manages the Enterprise Client Success team and SEO Consulting efforts at Searchmetrics. Tyson has worked with some of world’s largest enterprise websites including Fortune 500 and global eCommerce leaders. Prior to Searchmetrics, Tyson worked on the in-house side managing the SEO and SEM efforts of a collection of 14 sports specialty eCommerce companies in the US, Europe and Australia.

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