How to manage SEO campaigns during economic downturns

Economic downturns create uncertainty and changes in user behavior that affect markets and forecasts. They also affect the approach and resources allocated to marketing activities.

Because no two recessions are the same, marketers are always in uncharted waters.

This article can help marketers manage SEO campaigns and show the value of their efforts despite a recession.

Doing business during a recession

Consumers will naturally cut back on spending and have stricter priorities during economic downtime.

When revenue falls, companies begin to cut expenses, lower prices, and delay new investments. Unfortunately, marketing spend is often the first to be cut. This cost-cutting approach is ineffective and should be avoided.

Clients often view SEO and paid search as independent channels. SEO can be viewed as “switching off a bit” while a brand rests on its laurels assuming current performance isn’t going to deteriorate during the downturn.

But SEO is not the only channel that can see problems here. In 2009, the overall US advertising market saw a 13% decline. This was largely driven by radio and magazines, with declines of 22% and 18%, respectively, while online was down just 2%.

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The argument for not cutting spending

It might be a good idea to keep costs down when entering a recession. But if you fail to support brands or examine how the needs of your core customers are evolving, you are likely to jeopardize your mid- to long-term performance.

Organizations and professional bodies like the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) refer to this as a loss of “share of mind”. In the UK, the IPA advertised publicly Warning to brands not to reduce marketing spend in the coming months.

Digging through research and thought-leadership content from the International Journal of Business and Social Science, Harvard Business Review, and specialists from The Economist and Financial Times, five key marketing goals for a recession emerge.

These topics are:

  • Smarter spending and investing.
  • Retaining the existing customer base should be prioritized.
  • Take advantage of your competitors’ weaknesses.
  • Monitor the market and adjust spend targeting segments based on their behavior.
  • Keep your current spend to a minimum, just spend smarter.

How to sustain your SEO efforts during a downturn

The general message is “don’t cut back on spending”. That’s great.

But in defending our retainer or contract renewal, companies want to know how their SEO spend is having a tangible impact on the bottom line.

To counteract this, we can look to the 2008 recession and the recent pandemic – when other companies pivoted and changed the messages in their digital marketing.

Let’s apply the insights to help our clients or employers weather an economic downturn without disrupting their SEO efforts.

Check your TAM and messages

A fully addressable market, or TAM, can be defined in a number of ways.

It’s most common to define it as the total number of people who could potentially use a product or service. For example, the TAM for a new smartphone could be the total number of people who own a cell phone.

Despite its limitations, TAM can be a useful metric for investors to gauge a company’s growth potential. Companies with large TAMs can be attractive to investors because they have the potential to generate a lot of revenue.

During a recession, businesses (in the B2B space) and consumers will react differently depending on their economic stability.

Depending on your TAM, you may need to align your messaging and value proposition. This then ties into your SEO strategy. Align activities with these messaging goals based on whether your product is considered essential, luxurious, postponeable, or expendable.

Essential Products are often price sensitive during a downturn. You may want to further emphasize the value proposition for less economically stable consumers.

For those in your TAM who are doing better, you should continue awareness campaigns (i.e. activities at the top and middle of the funnel).

In comparison, luxury products can be communicated as just that – a luxury/enjoyment consumed as a reward for austerity elsewhere. They can also induce dopamine responses and increase morale.

The other two categories deferrable and consumables are the most difficult to turn.

An example of a deferrable offer is a TV streaming service or a magazine subscription. Users can look for cheaper alternatives before the shift so as not to miss anything. During this research phase, you need to be visible and fight to keep your existing users.

For other goods that can be postponed (such as servicing a vehicle, replacing a tire, or updating home security systems), messaging should focus on the long-term financial and opportunity costs of not taking those actions now and providing support messaging.

Consumer products and services are likely to have a greater impact on local search engine optimization than other sectors. Instead of hiring a gardener or decorator, consumers are choosing to do the maintenance and upgrades themselves.

This is both an opportunity and a threat to sell to consumers, enabling them or working to remain visible and build trust as a business.

Smarter opportunity analysis and competitor targeting

Most companies focus on maintaining and maintaining their market position during a recession. It’s an excellent time to identify the consumers who are currently holding them and work to leverage them into your products and services.

Competitive targeting should be an integral part of any SEO campaign anyway.

But during a downturn, when price and value sensitivity is heightened, your messaging and content can focus on pain points consumers may have with competitors’ products and services.

Turn this into a competitive advantage to engage with new prospects. You can create competitor comparison content and highlight competitor pain points as non-problems or strengths of your product.

For example, if you offer a rotating proxy service and you know that your competitor Bob’s Proxies is having uptime issues, make sure your content highlights that your service does not have such issues.

Post-recession positioning

SEO is a long-term strategy, but you need to focus on the longer term and in the short term during an economic downturn.

Consumer confidence and spending typically recover within a year or two after a recession. As consumers return to post-downturn spending levels (or establish new market norms), you want to make sure you are prominent and visible in the industry.

You can do this by maintaining a level of activity to establish and maintain top-of-vertical awareness and stay competitive for bottom-of-funnel conversion-focused requests.


During a recession, marketing seems more of a challenge than usual. Customer spending habits change often, and you may need to go against your instincts.

It’s important to optimize your budget and set your priorities strategically. You can continue to market your products or services while still meeting the needs of your customers. A recession can be an opportunity to build customer loyalty.

During a downturn, SEO can mitigate direct cost channels (e.g. paid) and provide long-term benefits and short-term stability.

Google and the other search engines are continuously updated during this time. Competitors that stagnate and withdraw resources will suffer in the medium to long term, costing more in the future to regain lost performance and bearing the opportunity cost of lost visibility.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily those of Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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About the author

Dan Taylor is Head of Technical SEO at, a UK-based technical SEO specialist and winner of the 2022 Queens Award. Dan works with and oversees a team that works with businesses ranging from technology and SaaS companies to enterprise e-commerce.

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