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Why Furloughing Your Digital Team During the COVID19 Crisis is a Bad Idea and What You Should Do Instead.

This article will explain why digital marketing is a wise investment, what you should do instead of laying off your team, and strategies that you can use to acquire customers and generate revenue when times are tough.

“Hi, my name is Andrew, and I’m calling you from a company called Searchmetrics.”

I’m the rep that tries to contact you when you’ve downloaded something from our website, or you fit our product’s ideal customer profile. Under normal circumstances, I know what kind of brush offs I’ll hear from busy digital marketers – ‘I’m busy’, ‘not interested’, ‘that’s not a priority right now’ – just another day at the office.

Usually, outreach is, at worst, awkward. But, often it can be genuinely satisfying; I love helping people and I love helping them do their job better.

Currently, when doing outreach during the COVID-19 crisis, I’m never sure what kind of response I am going to get. I often hear ‘I’ve just been furloughed so this probably isn’t something for me right now’, or, ‘Yeah unfortunately I’m looking for a new job, so I thought I’d register to brush up on my skills.’

I feel terrible for digital marketers across the industry who are at the mercy of leaders who do not understand the channels other than on a superficial level.
What’s frustrating from my side is seeing how many companies are mishandling the situation that should know better, and so are negatively impacting not only their employees lives right now, but also the future of the company.

So many people on my call list have been furloughed or fired from their positions because their superiors think ‘stop all spend’ rather than ‘we need to spend more efficiently’. If there is one place that spend by a company has compounding returns, especially during times of crisis, it’s your digital marketing department.

Why is digital marketing so important right now?

Organic search has a reputation for being unpredictable, a long-term solution, and highly technical.  Some of this is true (it can be highly technical, and it can take a while before you see results) and some of it isn’t (you can monetize the value you are generating from your organic search campaigns with the Searchmetrics platform, for example).

Why Furloughing Your Digital Team During the COVID19 Crisis is a Bad Idea and What You Should Do Instead.It also has a reputation for being one of the channels that can generate the highest return on your investment. There are a variety of reasons for this, the main ones being that most organic search content is evergreen, and the sheer volume of traffic that Google is capable of routing – they process over 67,000 searches per second. When you combine these two factors together, it’s easy to see the potential.

On the other side you have old reliable – paid search, which is also known as pay-per-click or PPC marketing. PPC is exactly what it sounds like – you bid on a price to pay to have your content at the top of Google as a sponsored ad. For every person that clicks on the ad, you pay Google the price that you bid.

“By laying off or furloughing your digital team or not paying your digital agency, you are negatively impacting your online presence, future pipeline, and average CPA.”

PPC is a critical part of any good digital marketing strategy and can be a good way to acquire traffic. However it comes with a few significant downsides – the cost per acquisition (CPA) through paid search has grown over time, leading to diminishing returns, and fewer people click on paid ads – only 30% of searchers use paid ads, while the other 70% who use organic results.

Furthermore, many people who see a paid ad will check to see if that company appears in the organic results as well as a trustworthiness check.What Marketing and CMOs should do now

So, what does this have to do with the current situation? If you read this article by Sequoia Capital about what they’ve advised their start-ups, they recommend the best course of action is to reduce the CPA and raise overall marketing return on investment (ROI) targets.

In other words, do more with less when you’re strapped for cash. This advice goes for most businesses, however, rather than making a sensible course correction, many businesses have shuttered their digital marketing departments completely. This is significant missed opportunity, in this unique situation when potential customers all over the world are being forced to stay indoors. People are on the internet now more than ever and are searching more than ever.

While you may not get a conversion right now, people are looking to skill up, and will remember the helpful content that was repeatedly appearing in their search results.

According to our Director of Marketing, Lillian Haase,

“Organic search has always been a high ROI channel due to the evergreen nature of the content – you post it once, keep it relevant over time, and reap the rewards. We’re doing more with less as PPC bid costs are lower than they’ve been in a decade so it offers the perfect opportunity to experiment with and measure different marketing campaigns and content to find out what to scale when everything returns to normalcy. Organic search is a key part of that overall approach.”


Companies that have been concentrating on organic search over the past few years have reaped the rewards over the past month or so.

While their competition has been on pause, they’ve been racing ahead of the pack. Depending on vertical, some have seen drastic increases in traffic, such as travel and local restaurants.

Think of content marketing as a race. Most of your competition are now in the pits or following the safety car, and you’re still going full throttle to the front.  Under normal circumstances digital marketing is a highly competitive channel – right now is a unique opportunity when there is reduced competition, and it’s important to take advantage if you want your business to survive.

What should you do instead of furloughing your digital team?

Organic content marketing, while evergreen, is not a “set-and-forget” marketing channel. Your competition that is still investing in this channel will still be updating their content and posting new relevant information will eventually overtake you.

Competitors still investing in organic content

Rankings are typically considered the be all and end all metric to the SEO novice – however this isn’t necessarily the case.  Instead, your online visibility metric should be the focus. How visible are you to searchers? This is based on a number of factors – rankings, the ability of Google to index your website, and backlinks to name a few.

Right now, most companies find themselves in 3 situations.

1. Traffic is Down

You are a company in an industry for which traffic is down industry wide, which is true for most massively affected industries (travel, hospitality, luxury goods, etc.), and for companies who rely on search to get brick and mortar foot traffic. Now is a prime opportunity to revamp your website and create new content for organic search.

2. Traffic is Up.

This is the case for many food delivery, home office enablement, and entertainment companies right now. These companies need to be careful not to become too reliant on PPC and should be looking to route budget to start developing their organic channel.

Since PPC has seen diminishing returns over the last decade or so, targeting keywords that have a high cost per click and generate a lot of traffic should be the primary objective when creating content for organic search. This has a knock-on effect of improving your quality score because Google will view your content as more relevant and authoritative, lowering the price of future PPC bids.

3. Waiting out the StormBasic ecomomics

Your company has decided to take a wait and see approach to ride out the storm and halt all spend. I genuinely feel awful for the employees of these types of companies, because when everyone ultimately decides to spend money on acquisition and online advertising again, they will be trying to figure out how to come up with the budget required to regain all of the traffic lost to the companies that did route budget to organic search during the crisis.

Basic economics dictates that the average CPC will skyrocket due to increased demand when this crisis ends, and since they have not taken actions focusing on organic search, they will come up short on budget. The knock-on effect is most likely further layoffs that could have easily been prevented with a proper strategy. Do not be this company.

Strategies to reduce your CPA and increase your ROI.

Here are a few ways to reduce CPA and increase your ROI.

1. Target keywords usually running in Google Ads that have a high CPC and generate a lot of traffic to your content.

As mentioned above, this is an easy way to increase your ROI. Use the money that you are saving from your Google Ads campaigns and invest in a high-quality SEO and content marketing platform.

In my experience, this will be a fraction of your monthly Google Ads budget. The knock-on effect of reducing future bid cost will raise your ROI for future paid search campaigns, and you will avoid the free-for-all that will occur when companies look to start spending on customer acquisition again.

2. Test different campaigns so that you know what to scale.

Since paid search costs are drastically reduced right now, this is a good time to focus on conversion rates. You can try A/B testing or A/B/C testing to determine what pieces of content have higher conversion rates, and which keywords are successful, so you know where to focus your organic efforts moving forward.

3. Take this opportunity to do a significant overhaul on technical issues

Many companies are hesitant to make drastic changes under normal circumstances for fear of affecting traffic performance. If you are in an industry where traffic is down across the board, you have a perfect opportunity to resolve many of the lingering issues that have been affecting performance without any impact to your bottom line. Once these issues are resolved your performance should increase and you will be well prepared for the spike in traffic when the crisis ends.

4. Develop more cornerstone content to improve short-tail rankings.

By developing more cornerstone content, you can grow your website and your organic reach, reducing dependence on paid search advertising for lead generation or sales. This is the content that does the bulk of the heavy lifting to bring in traffic.

You can develop more cornerstone content by creating content that potential new customers will look for.  These are typically how-to guides, product comparisons, tips, and tricks, and best of lists.
Build a cornerstone content page that directs users to all content for a specific topic. This is the perfect opportunity to restructure your cornerstone content pillars with an aim of optimizing them technically and in terms of keywords.

5. Leverage your cornerstone content to build authority

Well written cornerstone content also has the effect of building back-links organically. When you have good cornerstone content, other writers will link back to your content. This is the equivalent of having a third party tell Google that what you are writing is legitimate, and a healthy back-link profile will help your website’s rankings which will help increase your traffic, and thus, your revenue.


Here is my message to any CEO’s, CMO’s and Marketing Directors that may be reading this: by laying off or furloughing your digital team or not paying your digital agency, you are negatively impacting your online presence, future pipeline, and average CPA.

While it may not be feasible to keep your entire team on board, you should be looking to keep your star performers onboard so they can maintain your rankings and find ways to scale your business after COVID-19.

COVID has likely already cost you your Q1 and Q2 of 2020. Don’t let it cost you more when it’s over. To all the digital marketers out there that we might call when this is over – we’re on your side. If you’d like to develop your SEO and content strategy, reach out to us, we’re here to help.

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