Covid-19 impact on websites and SEO

Nobody could have foreseen the impact Covid-19 had on business both on the high street and online. It wasn’t just B2C businesses that were affected but also B2B. Even if one business wasn’t directly affected by the crisis then chances are it was affected indirectly by a partner business or client being affected, thus creating a butterfly effect so to speak.

Kids clubs in my opinion, were one of the hardest hit. A look on Google Trends, the free platform that shows search trends regionally, shows that search volumes still haven’t recovered fully, but are certainly on their way there. Traditionally popular terms such as “kids dance classes” and “youth football clubs” were down during lockdown to just 10% of their 5 year average. However, there’s light at the end of the tunnel and those that work hard on their online presence right now will reap the benefits!

The sudden spike in “online class” searches has already started dropping and people are looking for more opportunities to get their children out of the house – now more than ever! It’s time to start focusing your SEO efforts on your “normal” search terms. Here are a few things you can do yourself to give it a boost:

Google My Business

This should be seen as essential. No excuses even if you use a village hall, school gym, etc – you need to get yourself listed on here. There’s an option to hide your address and just pick an area if needed.

Make sure your listing has lots of text, images, videos and be sure to post your “Covid Update” to benefit from the boost that Google is giving to these in search results.

DIY is fine, but DIY properly

Building your own site is perfectly fine if you’re strapped for cash, especially right now, but give yourself the best foundations possible. If you’re about to start building one, try to avoid Wix. The search engine ranks are just terrible! They’re actually working on a new platform that will be branded differently, but right now their offering is just a waste of your time. Shopify or Squarespace take a similar approach but will deliver better results. Even better – watch some videos and teach yourself WordPress. No coding is needed if you pick a theme that has something like Visual Composer, but the structure is far greater than the other platforms. Whats more, being “open-source” everything about it can be changed if needed and literally any feature you can dream of can be added.

Page Titles and Meta Data

If you do have a WordPress site then you’re laughing with this bit as you can install the free Yoast plugin and have full control. Other Content Management Systems (CMS) will give you some form of control over it. Basically every page on your site should target a specific search phrase and have unique “meta data”. The page title is normally best to have your keyword first followed by your brand name, or catchment area.

The Meta Description is no longer a ranking factor, but is still important in a different way. Use it to encourage the user to click on you in the results. Still try to include your key phrase there as Google highlights it on the page.

I could literally write all day just about this part of SEO, but fortunately there’s lots of free videos online from places like Moz and even Google have a Webmasters series on Youtube.

H-Tags

When us developers write code for a site, we use “tags” to tell the browser what the content is and Google reads these too. H or heading tags tell Google that this text is the heading of a section, so probably important. It’s really important that every page has a “H1” Tag and that it contains keywords, not what I see most often; “Fun Interactive Sessions” as nobody is searching for that on any search engine. You can also use “H2” and other H tags throughout each page to subdivide text up and help with what we call “long-tail” queries.

When you’re putting content on the page, your “CMS” will normally allow you to select the text style. So it should be easy to select the correct heading.

Google Webmaster Tools

Another essential and it’s free! Sign up and verify your site as soon as you can. It’ll keep you informed of issues and errors, plus allow you to submit your sitemap to Google to improve indexing. The performance section will tell you what you’re showing up for in searches. You should of course also run Google Analytics too so that you can see what people do when they get to you.

Back links

Building high quality links to your site from reputable sites will dramatically help your search engine ranks. Avoid any of the platforms selling cheap links (Fiver, Peopleperhour) as they’ll often be spam links generated with a tool – Google’s not that dumb and you will get caught at some point.

A great no-brainer in my opinion is Club Hub (https://clubhubuk.co.uk). It’s the leading platform in the UK and has a great domain authority. The upgrade package – currently just £2.50/year – gives you a “do follow” link to your website, greatly helping your own SEO. The package comes with lots of other benefits too, but the weblink by itself is worth that all day long!

Free SEO Audit

Normally we do free audits for kids clubs ourselves as part of our social enterprise mission, but we’ve had to put them on hold while we deal with the crazy demand for our services right now. It’s not perfect, but the free tool from SEO Site Check-up will help point you in the right direction of what needs improving: https://seositecheckup.com/

Google have a tool too, but it’s terrible!

Don’t scrimp on your hosting

Site speed is so important to SEO, so I’m often amazed by some of the hosting packages I see in the clubs industry. If you are on shared hosting (normal with Godaddy, TSO Host, Hostgator, Names, 123-reg, etc) your site’s speed relies on the other 1,000+ sites on that server not having the need for those resources that your site needs. During lockdown we’ve seen some hosts literally go to a crawling pace due to this issue. Proper hosting is about the same price these days (£8.99/m for our value package for instance) and gives you so much more.

Your website is your shop window and putting it on shared hosting is like having windows that you can barely see through, when for the price of a couple of coffees you can have dedicated resources and be in control of your own success.

SEO Agency

This point might surprise you… I don’t often recommend working with an SEO agency like us for a kids club. Sure you’ll get great results and it’s one of the best long-term investments you can make, but club owners can’t always justify the spend for long enough to get enough of a return. If you own a Franchise chain then that’s different of course as you need to continually improve volumes for your network. The SEO industry gets a bad name, partly as it’s hard to see the work, but mainly due to scammers that have used that as a way to pretend they’re doing work they’re not.

I feel the industry is becoming more transparent – I know we certainly make an effort to be, we even give you access to the software to see everything for yourself! We use a time tracker that also takes screenshots of us doing the work on your site which I hear rumours of other SEO agencies trialling now, so hopefully that’s a sign of good things to come.

My advice would be; don’t sign up to a long contract, but definitely give it around 3 months as a trial period with the agency. It sounds harsh, but avoid Indian SEO agencies at all costs. They’re not all scammers (although that’s where most of these scams start), but due to the language barrier the quality of the meta-data and blog articles they write on your behalf tends to be much lower than a UK agency, or freelance specialist at the same rate would do.

Content is still king

The most important thing to remember is that no matter what is going on with the world, or how many times Google changes their algorithm – only one thing ever matters… Content. If you write lots of great helpful content, record videos and share them in fun helpful social media posts, you will go up the search ranks. Every algorithm update that Google has ever done has been about improving the experience and giving the best content. If they stop doing that, they risk losing market share to Bing, etc so that will always be the focus. Granted sometimes that actually hurts sites ranks, but there’s always a reason behind it and Google’s not afraid to backtrack. Right now they’re trialling a lot of new things, including a “Google Guarantee” – we’re not sure how this will all work out, but we know that those with lots of great content and fast sites will still rank higher than those without.

So my last piece of advice is, to not worry about SEO. Yep, you heard me. Obviously, do the basics that I’ve broken down in this guide, but other than that, just put a set amount of time in your diary each week (even 1 hour with your Sunday breakfast will work) to add content to your site that doesn’t sell your business, it just purely adds value to your visitors. Do that and you’ll go far. I can prove it too – We bought our Dorset.tech domain name just 18 months ago and have been ranking number 1 in the county for most of our target terms for about 9 months. Our site isn’t actually very well optimised, in fact we’ve been too busy building other people’s sites to even finish our own, but we dedicated an hour a week to adding some form of content that isn’t about selling us, but helping visitors.

The future…

There could be one saving grace from all this and that’s the impact the virus has had on people’s attitude to health and fitness with many families now incorporating some form of exercise into their daily routine. Hopefully this new outlook to family fitness will continue now lockdown has eased and this alone could lead to more searches for things to do for the family that include some form of exercise. With plenty of activities being focused on wellbeing and health this could mean traffic increases in this area as demand increases.

To summarise, the affects of Covid-19 in terms of SEO and traffic will be here for some time, maybe even years, however this does depend on how factors such as R rate and any second waves, especially in the winter. Ranking’s and websites being able to get ranked or appear high in the organic search engine listings won’t be affected, however the traffic available will be a lot less than before for the time being. The impact of COVID-19 on a website does really depend on the product or service the website provides and any that provide a product that requires being in close proximity with others and to interact with people will always take the longest to recover due to the simple fact the search activity is lower now on Google.

Author: Chris Ryu, Dorset Tech

Chris is a serial social entrepreneur and Founder of Dorset Tech; a full-service agency offering web design, WordPress development, apps and SEO, delivering great marketing campaigns! Chris and his team donate profits back to the community through some super projects including their own STEM education centre.

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