The objective of SEO (search engine optimization) is clear: to make sure that search engines can crawl and index your website’s content, so that your website can rank for the most relevant keywords — and ultimately be discovered by people searching for what you have to offer.
We’ll be the first to admit that SEO can be complicated, technical, and time-consuming. And because its impact isn’t always visible right away, it’s is often on the chopping block of priorities when businesses are up against challenges like inflation and recession, geopolitical instability — or even recovering from a global pandemic a few years after the fact.
But the reality is that a business’ presence in search results is often the first impression it makes with potential buyers. And in difficult times, that impression carries even more weight.
In this article, we’ll look at the importance of putting your best foot forward in search results during the best of times, and the worst of times.
To make a good impression, you have to do good business
Before the age of the internet and eCommerce, businesses relied on more analog forms of marketing to grow their business. One of the best forms of marketing out there is word of mouth because of the positive network effect — providing a great experience and service for one person means they’re more likely to become not just a repeat customer, but also a brand advocate. And brand advocates are the ones who tend to spread the word about your great customer experience, and ultimately build up a positive reputation for your brand.
Like all good things, there are two sides to this coin. Word of mouth marketing only works in your favor if you conduct good business and make customer satisfaction a priority. In the eCommerce world, this would mean fast (and free) delivery, seamless returns policy, great customer service — and also great prices.
Remember that if your business is facing economic challenges, there’s a good chance your customers are up against them too — and the stakes are even higher in their eyes. If you don’t get these things right, customers feel the loss of time and money wasted when it was tight to begin with.
But if you do get them right, they’re likely to stick with you during the good times and the bad.
Consumers do more research when money’s tight
Humans are naturally curious, so a good amount of research goes into most purchases — but with inflation affecting how consumers shop, the brands they choose to do business with, and their perceptions of customer service, it’s safe to say shoppers are doing a bit more research than usual when it comes to a purchasing decision. And for 42% of people, that research begins by typing something into the search bar.
If shoppers haven’t heard of your brand before, they may have more pointed questions to search Google for. Let’s say you’re trying to appeal to the 79% of consumers who are searching for discounts by offering a great product for 10% cheaper than the competition. Even if that’s exactly what your potential customer was looking for, you can expect them to be more skeptical of scams or rip offs when money’s tight.
If they do click through to your website, they’ll be looking for SEO trust signals — like a well-designed website, SSL certificate, secure checkout, payment options, clear store policies, and reviews and testimonials — to determine the legitimacy and authenticity of your offering.
But they’re unlikely to get that far without doing the most important part of their research. Have you ever typed a brand name into Google and looked at the suggested queries in the dropdown before you hit enter? The most popular queries show up on that list as an auto-suggestion from Google because of their popularity — and “brand + reviews” is almost always a suggestion on the list.
Not surprising given that research shows 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. But it does mean that when times are tough financially, brands have a lot to gain by making sure they have some trustworthy reviews floating around out there online.
How reviews help your make a great impression in search results
Done right, post-purchase product reviews can provide social proof that the product is not only legitimate, but that a solid number of people have made the same decision and had a good experience. Just as importantly, the keywords and descriptions customers naturally include in their product reviews enhance your on-page SEO with the relevancy signals Google looks for when ranking websites.
And to get into the nitty gritty of how Google ranks websites —
It’s all about E-E-A-T
E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) is part of Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines — a handbook that real people use to evaluate the quality of search results, and provide feedback that determines if Google’s algorithm updates are successful.
Despite not being considered a direct ranking factor, there’s a strong emphasis on E-E-A-T in the quality rater’s guidelines because it improves trust with site visitors and tends to lead to a better search experience.
Look no further than section 7.0 for the criteria to assess high quality pages:
Back to those on-site trust signals that were mentioned in earlier sections of this article — making those details clear on your website improve the quality score and ultimately the E-E-A-T of your site.
They also mention of the importance of reputation throughout the document, even providing instructions on how to determine the reputation of a website in question.
Taken all together, customer reviews can help you make a great impression on Google itself — and make it easier to be discovered by future customers.
Focus on doing good business, even if difficult times
If you actually spend some time reading the Search Quality Rater’s Guidelines without an SEO lens, it is all about ensuring that your business does what you say it does and has earned a good reputation over time. Because a good reputation comes when you do good business, and consistently make sure your customers are happy and satisfied.
Making a good impression in search results can become your competitive advantage in an unfriendly economy. While other brands might be in the position to invest in SEO tools, hire the best agency, and even spend millions in reputation management and search marketing — you can rest assured that no amount of investment can fix a subpar reputation.
While other businesses optimize for what they think Google wants to see, you can be the business that optimizes for what customers truly want and need — and the rest will follow.
Jason Mun is the Search Director for Overdose Digital. With over a decade of search experience, he leads the charge on all things SEO for both the Melbourne and wider global offices.