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Is COVID-19 a Plague for CMOs or an Opportunity for SEOs?

Episode Overview: COVID-19 is significantly impacting the travel and hospitality industry, but it’s also negatively impacting digital advertising in several different ways. Although digital advertising seems uncertain, opportunities for brands to flourish under the current circumstances exist. Join Ben as he concludes his discussion with Searchmetrics CEO Matt Colebourne about the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the effects it’s having on the SEO community and ways to adapt and seize potential opportunities for growth.


  • PPC efforts are becoming unreliable as coronavirus impacts the public’s needs and impacting the way they search.
  • Digital advertising networks are also suffering under the pressures of COVID-19, where traffic may be surging but it isn’t necessarily driving revenue.
  • Searchmetrics’ plan for the future is to simplify digital marketing for the world’s smartest marketers by making the complex simple, empowering them to do more for their business.


Ben:                  Welcome to a special edition of the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro and today I have the honor of sitting down with the newly minted global chief executive officer of Searchmetrics. Joining us today is Matt Colebourne, who’s the global chief executive officer at Searchmetrics, which is both the Voices of Search podcast, primary sponsor and an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise scale businesses, monitor their online presence and make data-driven decisions. So far this week Matt and I have discussed why he decided to take his role leading Searchmetrics, a enterprise level SEO company and yesterday we talked a little bit about his views on the landscape of the SEO industry and where it fits in and the general marketing landscape. And today Matt and I are going to talk about how the outbreak of the coronavirus and the economic impact it has created is affecting marketing and the SEO community. Okay. Here is the last installment of my conversation with Matt Colebourne, global CEO of Searchmetrics. Matt, welcome back to the Voices of Search podcast.

Matt:                  Hi, Ben. Thanks. Good to be back.

Ben:                    Happy to talk to you again, but unfortunately we have to talk about a subject that’s a little bit of a downer today or maybe it’s not, but I think that yesterday when we talked about the global landscape, we talked about SEO, who the providers are, how do you figure out who’s relevant and where SEO sits in the greater CMO and marketing channel mix. That’s going through a pretty significant refactoring for everyone as we start to deal with the new world order of the coronavirus. Talk to me about your view of what is happening in the wake of the landscape change caused by the coronavirus and the economic downturn.

Matt:                   Well, so, I’m no economist, but at the same time, the initial impact that we saw globally, particularly after the US border closed and then along the European countries essentially put most of the population in lockdown and said, “Right, you’ve got to work from home.” That was almost like a screeching halt, to our economic activity. I mean we were trying to speak to customers, prospects and couldn’t even get hold of them. Some people didn’t have, would you believe it in this day and age, didn’t have work mobile phones that they could take those kinds of conversations on. They didn’t have access to the systems they needed to make purchases. They didn’t have access to their colleagues that they needed to get approval from. So, there was this massive, almost a throw hands up in horror and go, “Well, hell do we do? How do we operate in an environment where everybody’s now sitting at home?”

Matt:                    And given that the SEO community are largely digital natives? That probably sounds a little surprising, but we have to remember a lot of our big clients are very large, very old, well established companies and still significant percentages of their business come from the offline world as some of their procedures still haven’t fully moved into digital space.

Matt:                   So what we were seeing was people’s inability to execute as suddenly, they had a completely diversified in terms of geography and location workforce. What we see is “Oh it’s okay, people have figured out that there was a new norm.” Well this isn’t going away fast enough that they can just say, “Well, let’s go and sit at home for a couple of weeks, a little bit calm and then we’ll get back to work.” Whatever happens, this is strange global commerce. There have been winners and obviously those winners trying to figure out, “Well, how do we make sure that we retain those winnings? How do we make sure that all sectors continue to grow?”

Ben:                     So let’s talk a little bit about that. You’ve dug into the data and the Searchmetrics team obviously being a data-driven platform has done some analysis on who is actually seeing a positive impact in the wake of the coronavirus. What are some of the companies and industries that you’re seeing taking a step forward in the wake of this drastic change?

Matt:                    Well, it’s interesting. It’s both new and old tech. So what you’ve got, for example, pharmacies who previously were mostly physical and are now desperately trying to catch up and build their online offer. You’ve got older businesses like greetings cards and flowers and gift delivery in a disparate world where we’re all socially gapped. Suddenly people want to have that kind of physical connection again. So those are just simple examples. There’s much bigger overall ones. Dating’s down as you would expect, online media and entertainment is up.

Ben:                      Dating is down, media and entertainment is up. We won’t go into details of what type of media and entertainment are probably seeing a rise in consumption. But obviously people are at home and they’re sitting and consuming digital content more than they would go into real world experiences. There also has to be an impact on education, work from home services as well. On the flip side, there are some businesses that are negatively impact. Have you dug into the data and seeing anything related to who’s really suffering?

Matt:                     The suffering companies are the obvious ones, travel, hospitality and entertainment. Interestingly enough, it’s also, and I think we spotted this slightly early, but it’s now been I think published by a couple of other people as well. Interestingly enough, even the digital advertising networks are suffering, which is probably, you would say a little strange. Or how can you have a situation where traffics are but revenues are down and the answer is, because of course these businesses are still not necessarily directly linking traffic to delivery of revenue. Yeah, they deliver revenue from advertisers, they deliver traffic with people, so doubling the number of the amount of traffic doesn’t necessarily do much for revenue.

Ben:                       My assumption here, is that we’re also seeing a flood of new digital businesses who are to the point where they’re advertising and we have established businesses that are pulling back and tightening the purse strings to see and evaluate what happens on the macro landscape because they don’t want to put their budget in and shorten their runway.

Matt:                      Yeah, well it’s not just shortening their runway. What they’re seeing, and we’ve had this from several clients, is that they’re seeing that the performance of quite a lot of their PPC is becoming much less predictable because you’re getting these strange situations where people are suddenly searching for toilet roll and guess what? Then they’re not searching for toilet roll again. So did you get these strange, I mean since you had to say they were societal means or impacting traffic, which is then impacting the… If you happen to have bought a related keyword, suddenly you’re burning through your budget really rather quickly and those people are never going to buy what you’re actually selling.

Ben:                       So, what you’re seeing is, at a large scale that we’re seeing fluctuations in performance marketing results and there are some industries and some specific classes of businesses that are seeing massive prizes, some which are obviously struggling as everyone moves to the shift of staying at home. Talk to me about the impact that that’s having on SEO. How are people viewing SEO and how do you think it’s changing its importance?

Matt:                     So, how it’s impacting us is it’s creating the opportunity. Companies that probably in the past would have said, my main focus is I because I put in X, I get out Y it’s nice and controllable life. I understand it’s getting more expensive, but you know what? It’s still manageable. It’s controllable. And suddenly seeing a situation where it’s not behaving in such a predictable fashion, because you’re getting these slightly unusual flows of traffic and unexpected flows in traffic and keywords that a short while ago we’re ranked nowhere and are suddenly trending all over the place like toilet paper rolls. So the side aspect. So it’s getting more expensive, it’s getting less reliable. And what we’re able to say to them is, “Well look, in the current climate, what people are looking to do is, they’re looking to conserve cash. So there is lots of businesses who, this is an uncertain time. So in uncertain times they want to preserve cash that then positions them well as we inevitably move out of this rather painful period.

Matt:                     So what it allows us to do is say to them, “Well look how much traffic, how much extra traffic does really the right traffic for your company and your business based on what it is your offering. How much do you think we could actually deliver for you? And at what cost?” And so people who previously looked at it, this is what I do. I’ve got a team to manage it. Yeah, this is a bit too flaky are now saying, “Oh, so you could potentially give me similar volumes of traffic and style, but actually at a much lower price without requiring me to continually spend every single dollar of additional revenue that I get. Because that’s one of the big issues of course, and that is great. Let’s say you catch a particular meme that’s generating huge traffic. Well that’s great except what is suddenly your PPC budget is completely easing out because of that. Because there is a suddenly unexpected lots of traffic and suddenly a bunch of it is gone. Well that’s bad enough at the best of times.

Matt:                      It’s really bad now and if that’s not real and it doesn’t then convert to sales so your conversion rate just fell through the floor. You’ve got a really bad situation. So people are quite naturally getting cautious and guess what? When people are cautious, they’re much more open to new ideas that they probably in the past said, “Well, I’m not so sure about it.” Now they’ve prepared to give it a go and we’re taking a very gentle approach to these companies and saying, “Look, let us hold you up. Let us gently take you into the SEO and content space where we’ll do the initial setup. We’ll load. We’ll look at the site. We’ll look at the operation. We’ll look at the content. We’ll look at the slide show. We’ll look at exactly what we were talking about I think a couple of days ago and look at what really is your business and we’ll get you set up. Clearly, because we can frequently give five X even in some cases 10x improvements in traffic for businesses that suddenly starts getting people’s attention.

Ben:                         It’s interesting that the unpredictability of the global landscape, obviously it’s impacting marketing performance specifically on the paid side and to me this is the time where, maybe not everyone but a lot of marketers are taking a step back and reevaluating what their risk profile is and when you’re seeing lots of fluctuations, lots of adversity, lots of uncertainty, putting all the chips on the table in the performance marketing budget, knowing that that money is going to be spent becomes an increasingly risky profile as opposed to investing in something that’s going to have increasing amount of values over time like SEO and content marketing starts to sound a little better. Hey, instead of going through the toll booth and paying all of the time, you start building the foundation and building your house and building strength not only for today but for the future as well. And to me that’s really the thing that’s exciting about what’s happening in the SEO community during this time of crisis.

Matt:                        Yeah, I think you’re completely right. And I think one thing that I’d probably emphasize is quite a lot of these businesses, or medium size businesses. But they’re actually doing quite well. So there are opportunities and businesses that start to do well. Of course what they have to be careful about is still, cash flow. So even if things look good, if what you’re having to do is spend large amounts of cash today for a sales performance and then cash tomorrow, growth can actually cause problems for you. It can actually cause cash issues.

Matt:                        So businesses need to be really careful. And of course the beauty of SEO and content is the cost restricts. All clients know what they’re going to have to pay on a monthly basis to use the technology. And they know that if we do a great job for them and tomorrow instead of getting two X traffic, we’re getting four X traffic, the bill doesn’t go up. So they’ve got that extra revenue, they’ve got that better performance without suddenly finding that their marketing budget is actually more than doubled and then suddenly that I actually got a cash flow problem. Even though it’s a good one. Even though it’s the growth one, they still made a lot of cash flow.

Ben:                         Yeah, times are uncertain. Cash is King. Predictability is important and I think that speaks to the value of SEO. So Matt, as we go through this time and as you’re adjusting and getting settled as the global CEO of Searchmetrics, just talk to me about your vision for the short and long term moving forward.

Matt:                       Yeah, well they’re actually the same because the detail of it is detailed of course. And in terms of what we’re going to do with data, what we’re going to do with product development. You’ll be seeing a lot from us over the next year or so, but we’ve simplified our vision in terms of what are we delivering to the market and what we are doing is simplifying digital marketing for the world’s smartest marketers. And that sounds clear to me in terms of the value that it breaks. We’re making the complex simple and we’re allowing them to do so much better for their businesses.

Ben:                         Life is complicated right now. We’re all going through massive amounts of change. Matt, you’re taking on a new job at a global organization. I’m sure you’ve dealt with lots of change yourself. Simplifying is the name of the game and hopefully the Searchmetrics team and Matt and company will help anybody who’s interested in learning a little bit more about SEO.

Ben:                         Matt, thanks again. Congratulations on accepting the new role. Hitting the ground running at Searchmetrics. Honor and a privilege to have you as a guest on the Voices of Search podcast.

Matt:                        Thanks very much indeed, Ben. It’s been a pleasure.

Ben:                         All right. That wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Matt Colebourne, CEO of Searchmetrics. We’d love to continue the conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Matt, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes.

Ben:                          You can contact him on Twitter where his handle is, black blade, B-L-A-C-K-B-L-A-D-E or you could visit his company’s website, which is, well it’s 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.

Ben:                          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 could always reach out on social media. Our handle is voicesofsearch on Twitter, or you can reach out to me directly. My personal handle is Benjshap, B-E- N-J-S-H-A-P and if you haven’t subscribed yet and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, we’re going to publish episodes every day during the work week. So hit that subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feed soon. All right, that’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.

Matthew Colebourne

Matthew Colebourne

Matt Colebourne is the CEO of Searchmetrics. Matt has an extensive track record of building technology businesses and has over 20 years’ experience in various senior leadership roles in the digital marketing arena. He is an avid cyclist, motorbike rider and volleyball player.

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