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How SEO Fits Into a CMO’s Marketing Strategy After COVID-19 – Doug Bell // Searchmetrics

Episode Overview: The everchanging, day-to-day nature of the COVID-19 pandemic is proving a challenge for even the most prepared CMOs. Join host Ben as he continues his conversation with Searchmetrics CMO Doug Bell about SEO digital marketing tactics CMOs can utilize throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and how to best prepare resuming full operability when the pandemic eventually ends. 


  • For businesses that are experiencing surges in demand from consumers, it’s crucial to ensure your site is loading quickly to reduce bounce rates.
  • During the first few months of the acclimation phase to the “New normal,” it’s best for businesses to make 30 day marketing plans to keep focus honed on executing essential functions.
  • The core three functions CMOs should focus on during this time is to ensure their websites load quickly, optimize strategic pieces of owned content and pay attention to opportunities where big projects can be successfully launched.


Ben:                  Welcome back to a CEO’s guide to the post COVID-19 SEO landscape. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro and today we’re going to continue our conversation talking about what you need to know about the digital marketing and SEO landscape in the post COVID-19 SEO world.

Ben:                  Joining us again today 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. Yesterday Doug and I talked about how Searchmetrics is thinking about segmentation in the post COVID-19 world, and today we’re going to continue the conversation and talk a little bit about some of the digital marketing tactics and how SEO is impacting CMOs marketing decisions today. Okay. Here’s the rest of my conversation with Doug Bell, COO of Searchmetrics.

Ben:                  Doug, welcome back to the Voices Of Search podcast.

Doug:               Thanks Ben, it’s good to be back.

Ben:                  Good to have you here. Yesterday we talked a lot about how Searchmetrics is thinking about the new world order, the segmentation that you’re using. We went from a very industry focused segmentation, ecommerce, media, and publishing agencies, and now you’re starting to think about segmentation in terms of here’s the types of industries that are seeing positive impact because of COVID-19, the food service deliveries, the communications tools, some of the entertainment companies.

Ben:                  Talked about some of the companies that are really negatively impacted, live sports, travel, hospitality, and then we’re also seeing the vast majority of the people that you and I are running into who are trying to figure out digital marketing are essentially in a wait and see with their digital marketing budgets.

Ben:                   Talk to me a little bit about how you think that this is impacting CMOs decision making and specifically tell me how do you think it’s impacting how CMOs think about SEO?

Doug:                Yeah. So I think the wise CMOs out there understand that there’s going to be some advantage in the service coming up. There’s going to be space. In other words, their ability to invest in the SEO channel is going to give them some advantages, right. And we talked yesterday Ben, and today, hey it’s a new day and the segments seem to be holding up for us one day later.

Doug:                Yesterday we talked quite a bit about the loving life segments, the industries you spoke about that are getting a surge in demand. And then the wise investors segment as we’re calling it, which are folks that have the capital, are sitting on the sidelines deciding when to invest.

Doug:                 I can tell you for the loving life segment that it’s all about meeting demand. So from a SEO standpoint, what that really means from them and how we can help is site speed. So we’re seeing, I won’t name names, but we’re seeing a huge amount of trouble with some of these websites in terms of site response or site speed. And so they’re quickly trying to invest and get site speed back into a good place, if you will.

Ben:                   So if you’re one of those brands who is starting to see an increase in demand as a result of COVID-19, some of the things that you really need to think about are, hey, what the content you have already, how that’s performing, but also are you actually able to serve that content to people in a reasonable timeframe.

Ben:                   One of the biggest factors that we’ve discussed in this podcast ad nauseum is site speed, site speed, site speed. You need to be able to get your site and your pages loaded quickly to have Google put them in the top of their search rankings. Doug, outside of the companies that are seeing a positive business effect from COVID-19, for the people that are in the wait and see mode, how do you think about their decision making and where SEO fits into their media mix?

Doug:                They’re deprecating content, Ben. They’re optimizing content. They’re looking at some of their underperforming product categories and they’re putting a lot of weight behind those areas. We’re also seeing some new content initiatives that we weren’t seeing before. And so I think generally what we’re going to see with this segment is, the spending’s not going to come back right away, but when they are spending, so if you are out there in the digital marketing land, think about how you can help them with infrastructure and optimization. If you are in there trying to get them to spend more on digital marketing, I think you’re going to have some struggles.

Ben:                   So Doug, as we start thinking about the bulk of the companies that are out there that are in a wait and see process, how should CMOs be thinking about the short term decision making process? How do they manage through this crisis?

Doug:                Well, I think we inadvertently just made it through the first phase without realizing it. And I call this the chaos phase. And it’s every time you’re opening your dashboard, the eye-popping change in numbers and the shift in categories, right? And I think what we’re seeing here is that this is the beginning of the chaos cycle in the US. I think we’ve got a solid two weeks before we come out of it, but let’s call that phase one, and I think that what we have to look forward to is really the new normal that’s occurring in phase two, which is China, Hong Kong, South Korea, to some degree parts of Europe will begin returning to this new normal state, which is some return to commerce.

Doug:                 But in terms of how I’d recommend handling things, stop thinking in six and nine months segments. Begin thinking about the marketing plan for the next 30 days. You’ve had 30 days of chaos. On some level, you’re going to learn to ignore certain things and pay attention to others.

Doug:                 But as we get out of phase one, we start heading into phase two. Things will settle. And I would say is this. For phase one, you probably had this experience of slashing budgets. If you haven’t already, you’re probably going to be in that place. Perhaps you’re in a spot where you’re looking at personnel or risks. This is a hard, stressful place to be and I think the idea is to not overreact, but we also know that there are channels that are sitting out there that had been underperforming.

Doug:                 And so for the chaos phase, looking back, you probably made some good quick decisions, but there’s some other decisions you can make around which channels are performing and which are not. So some of those pet projects that in the past you’ve held on to probably deserve some special attention, and it’s a good time to really take a look at those pre-crisis projects that are underperforming and unfortunately then wield that ax.

Ben:                   So your take is, “Hey look, we’ve been dealing with crisis. It is the new normal. The only certainty has changed at this point, but we have some templates to follow in terms of China and Korea where things are starting to normalize and commerce is coming back. We have a sense of the landscape of hopefully what the shutdown is going to look like. It’s likely going to be a few more months, but it’s not going to last forever.”

Ben:                  When these brands start getting back to normal behavior, when the economy starts to open up, what is the next phase beyond the just immediate clusterfuck that we’re dealing with right now?

Doug:               That’s a good way of describing it. So I think again, so phase one, this chaos phase, Ben, just to make sure it’s super clear what’s happening there. You’ve probably had some knee jerk reactions because you’ve had to, right? Especially if you’re looking to conserve cash. I think again, you have that flinty steel-eyed look at other pre-COVID channels that you can slash.

Doug:                Now as you’re hitting the second phase, you’re going to find that you have this is not all doom and gloom, and it’s happening for us and it’s happening for everybody. You’ve got channels that are taking off. And so for us, content, especially content around the basics that are helping people understand how to manage through, it’s really getting a huge response push, right? So we are doubling down on those areas.

Doug:                And so I think for the broader segment, beyond what’s happening in our little corner of the world, what you’re going to find … And again, I would say we’re getting out of the first kind of chaos period. I would say the next 30 days represents the interim new normal, if you will. And I think during the period what you’re going to see is the wise investors are going to start putting money back on the table.

Ben:                  So Doug, what advice do you have for CMOs as they’re facing this new challenge and sort of the new norm?

Doug:               So Ben, I’m going to say you’ve gotten through this period of time where you’ve slashed a certain amount of spending, but you also now have this window of time where you can begin investing in some of those projects that are taking off, right? So as I mentioned before, content, especially basic content, is really helping companies and really going into the core of what you’re good at.

Doug:              You know, earlier you asked me what’s a solid first tactic piece of advice to keep people’s attention, whether that’s the loving life segment, that’s the wise investors, whether it’s the existential segment. Please don’t pay attention to that one for now. But it is half as big, twice as fast, and this is for any members of my marketing team that are listening to this. They’re like, “Not that old trope again.” It’s what I’ve been using to try and make sure that we’re always focused on the right things.

Doug:               But get small fast folks. So if you’ve got an offering that is, let’s say, a $100,000 offering and your sales cycle is six months, how do you shrink that down into something that could be consumed quickly, potentially rejected quickly, and also services that you can shrink down to provide immediate value? I think that would be my number one piece of advice out of the gate is, can you affect your pricing and packaging in such a way that you can get clients interested, you can help them, you’re maybe even using loss leading strategies to get in front of folks. Get small and get small fast.

Ben:                 Yeah. I think my takeaway from what you’re saying is, in this tail end of the phase where it’s just been pandemonium and everyone’s cutting their budgets, this is a time where you get to evaluate what actually is working, right? You’ve cut your paid search budget. How did your business perform? Obviously that’s going to be impacted by some of the global economic factors, but when you cut out some of your primary channels, you really get a good look at what the impact of your organic growth channels are.

Ben:                 And so with that data you can start to double down and as Doug is saying, look, as we start to focus on this next phase of dealing with the COVID-19 crisis and the impact on the economy, you’re going to be armed with new data about what is actually working without just buying all of your growth. So you can double down on investing in your content. You can double down on getting the right data to be able to answer the questions that you have.

Ben:                So Doug, just give me a quick recap of some of the advice that you have for CMOs as we think about what’s happening today, what’s in the near term and even what’s in the long term. What’s the guidance that you have for CMOs that are struggling to understand their content performance and figure out what their digital strategy should be?

Doug:              That’s a great question, Ben. There are three things I would focus on. Site speed number one, with a bullet. That tends to be the grunt work that your web development and products team frankly is constantly putting off because the demand is so high. This is such a great time to go optimize. Go do it now with haste. First thing I would recommend.

Doug:              The second thing I would look at is, you have been waiting to deprecate content. You’ve been waiting to optimize specific trenches of content. You don’t have to take on these huge content optimization projects, but look in those places where you’ve been in the past, maybe on the top of page two in the search, where you’ve got the low hanging content. Guys, the [serfs] are loose, so things are changing pretty quickly, especially at the bottom of page one. Get there and hit it hard.

Doug:             And third thing I would look at is some of those bigger projects you’ve had out there that are about introducing new content, particularly into a product category. I would look at that as well. And then if I can venture out into the PPC space, so Ben, maybe this is the part four. Pay attention. Pay attention to your CVRs and CTRs. Don’t slash spending entirely, reduce it. You’re going to see opportunities out there guys.

Doug:            Yes, there are not as many people and if you’re in B2B converting to leads or opportunities, but look at those transactional perspectives from your side. There are going to be opportunities out there. They’re not right away. There’s a lot of money to be paid currently. But keep your eye on that ball. And I would when you go back in, go in about half as big. But again, look for those areas to jump in. Don’t be shy to pay.

Ben:               Yeah, you know my thought going through this entire process, and I run a content business. I’m not an enterprise level CMO, so take it with a grain of salt. This is a time to evaluate and build infrastructure. No one is expecting great business performance from most brands. Obviously there are some exceptions right now, food delivery, communication tools, et cetera, the ones that we’ve talked about.

Ben:               But if you’re slashing your paid budget and you still have your team working, it’s time to refocus on building infrastructure, understand what’s happening, evaluate your data, and put your effort into the projects that you’ve wanted to do all along but didn’t have the opportunity to. You can actually take some real risks in terms of what your marketing mix is at this point, because your performance marketing budget is just not something that you’re going to be relying on right now. Everybody is pulling that budget. Spend your time building your content, optimizing for SEO, focusing on organic growth strategies, and when the world starts to normalize, you will be in a better position than you were when this all started.

Doug:              Hey, fellow CMOs, we’re used to these large multi year plans. We’re used to being able to operate in the gray between strategic and tactical. Get tactical fast, think in terms of 30 day plans. I would say that there are a list of things that you have been looking at that are longer term projects. Ben just talked about it, I just talked about it. It’s definitely time to take a look at some of those longer term projects and understanding that there is a new normal and we will get through this. But in the meantime as you’re putting dollars into those projects, your immediate day to day revenue challenges are going to be completely different 30 days from now. And so think in terms of those quick, fast acting plans as opposed to how do I write the ship for the next 90 days. Go 30 days every single time.

Ben:                 Doug, it’s a challenging time. It’s a stressful time, there’s lots of change. I appreciate you coming on the show and talking to the SEOs and their CMOs about some of the best practices that you’ve seen at Searchmetrics and giving them some guidance for how they can manage through this process.

Doug:               Thank you, Ben. I enjoyed it.

Ben:                  Okay, 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’re interested in contacting Doug, you can find the link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can contact him on Twitter. His handle is marketadvocate, or you can 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 you can even apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices Of Search podcast.

Ben:                  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, 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 soon.

Ben:                 All right. That’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.