Big-Brand SEM Strategies for an Economic Downturn

Across the US and across the world, global economic crisis looms large in the heads of both retailers and consumers. Fortunately, SEM is a business in which creativity can produce large dividends, or at least minimal losses.

Today’s column discusses ways to tune your SEM strategy to perform during bouts of consumer belt-tightening and failing confidence.

Tune-Up Your Keyword Research

It’s always critical to have your keyword research up to date (see “Google Offers Insight for Search Marketers” for tips on Google’s latest tool, for example) to get completely into your potential customers’ mind. Current consumer intelligence is even more important when consumers have fewer dollars to spend.

The Nielsen Wire blog has a good post outlining predictions for 2008 holiday consumer spending. Retailers are already preparing to be disappointed this year: “A recent Nielsen survey of 21,000 U.S. households found that 35% plan to spend less this year than they did in 2007. Just 6% will spend more this year, while 50% say they’ll maintain the same level of spending from 2007.”

Don’t write yourself off right away. I didn’t say search was going away, only that you might need to broaden your horizon if you want to continue hooking up with consumers on the results page.

For example, with fewer dollars to spend, comparison shopping takes on a larger role, and with it terms including “comparison,” “coupon,” and even things like (gasp!) “cheap.”

The post goes on to suggest that online will continue to be a strong channel this year for purchasing, but in the next section I outline why local shopping will be a strong competitor to online and what you can do about it.

Drive Traffic to Local Stores

Several factors lead me to advise a heavy “local” focus this year.

Gas prices are at their lowest point since March, and judging by the news we have many more significant issues to contend with right now. Consequently, the summer moratorium on quick, frivolous trips around town will likely be lifted by November.

Because of the way the holidays fall this year, the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is nearly a week shorter than last year and includes only four weekends as opposed to last year’s five. This is important for procrastinators, as they’ll have to act much more quickly to shop in time to make the shipping dates. And knowing procrastinators, they won’t.

Consequently, if you’re a national brand with local outlets, consider shifting some additional PPC (define) effort and resources to geotargeted local campaigns. Highlight the inventory of the store nearest the consumer and target your copy to appeal to someone with keys in hand.

Returns on Returns

As belts tighten, one thing people won’t tolerate is keeping a gift or purchase they really don’t want. Are you poised to offer them an alternative use of their refunds after they search for their respective store’s (or product’s) return policy?

Employment Sections

Recently, I discussed optimizing your site’s employment section as a reputation management tactic. If your company is lucky enough to be hiring right now, don’t sit by while other sites bring in your new workers and sell them back to you. Also, explore new geobased keyword buys to scoop up recently displaced workers, who may not know you’re hiring yet. Searches like “Company X layoffs” and “job training New York” (and dozens more) will bring you one step closer to filling in much needed holes in your personnel roster.

Buy Low

Experts keep telling us, almost as an afterthought, that an economic downturn is an excellent time to buy. Real estate and stocks are two classic examples. And while that philosophy isn’t necessarily counterintuitive, it’s frequently counter-emotional.

But if you consider your brand mind share to be real estate (and you should), it’s a smart move to implement a similar online strategy. Your competitors, many with margins smaller than yours, will bow out of broad experimentation with PPC terms, organic content moves, and so on. Don’t follow them (or even lead them) in this direction. Instead, turn 180 degrees and get your brand noticed in areas where it’s not traditionally found. When conditions improve, you’ll have a strong foothold in a new territory.


As always, test, test, test. Some of these techniques may be helpful for your particular industry and some may not. Make the testing period short enough to be cost-effective but long enough to learn applicable lessons. Doing so may result in some practices that you decide to carry out in fat times as well as lean.

Join us for a Search Engine Marketing Training in Boston, November 6 at the Hilton Boston Back Bay. Not only will you walk away with the knowledge and skills to be a successful search engine marketer, you’ll also jumpstart your career and enhance your professional know-how.

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