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Recession: The best thing for SEO

Search marketing may present many opportunities for businesses to maximize their marketing efforts by reaching consumers closer to the point of purchase.

So here we are, one quarter down and recession to go. Recession has become an unfortunate but popular topic in 2008. Some people follow strict definitions of what qualifies technically as a recession while others speak purely from opinion--or maybe they are speaking from the pinch they are feeling in their wallets. For most, they could care less what you call it; labels don't make the impact they are feeling any better or any less painful.

In most industries, when things slow, something has to go. Will that be cutting back on seemingly frivolous expenses, going to fewer industry shows, reducing ad spending, or worse, cutting jobs? Like many industries, search marketing firms are considering these choices as well, and rather hoping that this slowing, downturn, recession, or whatever you want to call it, actually presents more opportunities than hard choices.

Only time will tell, but I like to think the feeling that search marketing firms may be able to find opportunities during these trying economic times are spot on. But don't think this will just be a slam dunk--every opportunity also presents challenges.

While Kevin Lee was primarily talking about PPC and the paid search market in his ClickZ column post, "It's the PPC Search Economy, Stupid!", he presents some excellent counterpoint observations. One point in particular stands out for both the paid and natural sides of search:

"Changes in the number of searches--Fewer commercial searches could result in fewer clicks to be purchased, meaning you and your competition will be fighting over a smaller group of searchers. But online shopping could be seen as a discount shopping channel that drives shoppers online at a faster rate than previously expected."

There may be changes in the number of searches, such as a decline as many begin cutting back spending and simply do without, or searches may grow as people look for even more deals or perform more pre-purchase informational searching. One thing is true in either case, each search may be an even more important opportunity to connect with a potential customer.

Back in January, Bruce Clay also made predictions for 2008, "2008: The Year in Preview," which touched on many different areas of search, including the possible impact of a recession on the search space. Bruce relates some potential opportunities, but also highlights some potentially scary impact to the search marketing industry:

"A byproduct of the recession will be that many businesses will reduce staff, and thus there may be a significant opportunity for the newly unemployed to be trained and form work-from-home SEO companies."
"...a surge of new work-from-home SEO companies..."

What is alarming here isn't the increased competition within the marketplace--there is plenty of opportunity within this industry. Even the work-from-home element isn't necessarily a bad thing--after all, many of us made our start in the industry from home. What is alarming though is that, just like the Web design industry, there may be a flood of newly "declared" SEO experts. Many may see this as an easy opportunity to get into SEO, especially when faced with a pink slip and a lack of opportunities.

As companies continue to be faced with more and more search marketing firms to choose from, it will be ever more critical to make sure they are hiring qualified firms, or if hiring in-house, that they are getting qualified talent.

Now, for those who are looking to get into search marketing, this may present an opportunity for those who are prepared or willing to invest the time to learn. Best of all, search marketing firms often have a wide array of opportunities (Netconcepts as a case in point with plenty of opportunities) with varying levels of requirements, from account management to writing to coding, and from little technical experience to an intermediate or expert level.

Another important industry voice that has weighed in during talks, his Daily SearchCast industry podcast, and elsewhere, is Danny Sullivan. While being cautiously optimistic, he continually reminds everyone that the search industry was born out of hard economic times.

Something else that Danny has touched on that has always been a strong point in my mind when comparing search marketing to its more traditional brethren is that search is a much more targeted method that typically connects with potential customers much deeper into the purchase funnel.

Natural search especially provides important opportunities due to the often perceived higher importance or trust worthiness over paid listings. But for both natural and paid, appearing in search results, especially page one, for highly relevant searches presents a powerful opportunity to connect with someone who has already shown their interest in what you are offering. Needless to say, this is something that traditional advertising is often challenged with.

Thanks to analytics and even simple server logs, search is a channel that is highly measurable. At the very least, it provides insight into where traffic comes from, how they got there, and if set up, conversion measurements. But it is also important to keep in mind that many site visitors may use the site for pre-sales, even those who sell online, and then elect to go to the store for purchase if one is locally present.

Whether you feel we are in a recession, heading into one, or will skirt by without satisfying the technical requirements, doesn't really matter. What does matter is the reality and perceptions of those who buy from you, whether that is consumers or other businesses.

Now might be the time to shift budget spend from other areas into search. For those who have been challenged trying to get enough attention paid to the search channel within their organizations, this may be an opportunity to do just that. But it is important to keep in mind that SEO is not a quick fix, so plan accordingly. Either way, a recession isn't something that any of us are looking forward to--but knowing how to work smarter to succeed during tough times is something that search marketers do well.