SEO & Digital Marketing During a Recession: Why It’s Still Important

SEO & Digital Marketing During a Recession

In times of an impending economic recession, businesses, much like individuals, tend to tighten their financial belts due to the prevailing economic uncertainty.

A HubSpot study revealed that despite recession risks, 47% of respondents plan to boost their marketing spending in 2023, while 45% foresee their budgets staying steady.

When faced with sluggish sales, companies often make the initial cut in their digital marketing budget. This is because, in the short term, scaling back on activities like link-building and content development seems like a straightforward way to reduce costs without an immediate impact on sales.

However, is this a prudent decision?

No, it’s not.

Do digital marketing strategies, such as SEO and PPC, continue to be effective even in the midst of a recession?

Yes, SEO and PPC advertising are effective for many firms during a recession. Particularly when compared to typical marketing tactics.

With the impending 2024 recession, you should focus on it sooner rather than later.

What we know about marketing in past recessions

During the 1990s recession, a MarketSense study found that a successful strategy involves a blend of long-term branding and short-term sales promotion.

Brands like Jif, for example, experienced a 57% increase in sales by increasing their advertising during the recession.

Although marketing strategies have evolved since 1990, consumer behavior during a recession remains consistent. Brand awareness plays a vital role in purchasing decisions, just as it did back then.

Cutting down on your SEO budget might not show immediate effects, but it could lead to long-term challenges in the current economic recession. It’s essential to recognize that investing in brand visibility remains crucial for sustained success.

According to research from the University of Pennsylvania,

“Studies indicate that companies maintaining regular advertising, even during economic recessions, experience sustained success over time.”

As of February 2024, numerous businesses are reexamining their Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategies in anticipation of the impending recession.

Why SEO during a recession?

The response to the query “Is SEO still a good marketing strategy in a recession?” is a resounding yes! Here’s why.

  • A carefully crafted SEO campaign enables you to connect with new customers, fostering business growth.
  • Enhancing your website’s conversion rate is achievable through SEO, turning more visits into valuable customers or leads.
  • SEO proves instrumental in trimming other marketing costs, amplifying organic traffic from search engines like Google.
  • During an economic recession, SEO acts as a protective shield for your online presence, ensuring your company remains accessible and driving increased traffic to your website. Remember, maintaining brand visibility is pivotal in navigating through a recession.

If your SEO struggles to the point where your company name doesn’t show up in search results, it’s definitely a cause for concern.

This is particularly true if you rely on a location-based SEO strategy.

Given the looming economic recession, some may question the effectiveness of SEO as a marketing technique.

It’s true that successful SEO demands a substantial investment in time and resources. However, despite these challenges, SEO services and other digital marketing methods remain a viable approach even in times of recession.

Let’s explore why SEO services and other digital marketing strategies remain effective during a recession, and how they can be leveraged for a positive return on investment (ROI).

What we learned about digital marketing from the COVID pandemic and past recessions

The 2020 pandemic led to a notable surge in the need for SEO services providers across diverse industries.


Simply put: opportunity.

To elaborate, there’s been a change in customer behavior. Businesses recognized the necessity to invest in SEO to stay abreast of the growing organic search sector.

Now, let’s delve into customer behavior to understand the reasons:

This illustration from Harvard Business Review shows the shifts in consumer behavior during a recession across four groups.

Consider your customers in these four segments:

  • Slam on the breaks – will quickly halt spending and adjust behaviors.
  • Pained-but-patient – experiencing difficulties, yet less inclined to decrease spending compared to the previous group.
  • Comfortably well-off – might adjust some behaviors.
  • Live-for-today – behaviors change minimally as they possess disposable income and live in the present.

Regardless of their category, every consumer falls into four groups based on the products and services they use:

  • Essentials: items we’ll keep purchasing.
  • Treats: the enjoyable things we consider reasonably obtainable for instant gratification.
  • Postpondables: products or services we desire but can put off for later.
  • Expendables: perceived as unnecessary.

In a recession, spending is likely to decrease across all categories, except for the “live-for-today” sector, as individuals and businesses reevaluate their financial priorities.

During a recession, things once seen as essential might become luxuries or things to put off for later.

Business owners need to keep in mind that loyal customers and those who know your brand well will be the main source of income during a recession. This means marketing isn’t really something you can skip; it’s a necessary and cost-effective way to make money from your most important customers.

How does this apply to SEO in 2024?

If you diminish your visibility in search results, your rivals will seize the chance. This is especially crucial in fiercely competitive industries.

In 2023, we gained insights into how entrepreneurs shape their marketing strategies around perceived consumer actions.

Even amidst an economic recession, search engines maintain their regular operation. Competition persists regardless of decreased spending. Organic search outcomes undergo frequent updates. Hence, discontinuing your SEO efforts now could result in adverse effects in the future.

Why not stay ahead of the competition as they reassess or scale back their marketing strategies?

However, numerous business proprietors paused their SEO and PPC (pay-per-click) spending when the pandemic initially hit. This decision could greatly affect their prospects for future success, as rivals capitalize on opportunities to gain an edge.

Not a wise move.

In past economic recession, companies that emerged victorious ramped up their marketing expenditures during sluggish sales periods.

For instance, when McDonald’s trimmed its advertising and promotion budget during the 1990-91 recession, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell witnessed a significant surge in sales—61% and 40%, respectively.

During a recession, businesses that maintain their marketing efforts consistently outperform those that cut back on spending.

In simple terms, having a smart, long-term SEO strategy remains effective, even when sales are low. SEO isn’t something that can be turned off instantly, making it a valuable investment for businesses, especially during tough times.

When sales decline, it becomes even more crucial to rank highly in search results, leading to an increase in click-through rates (CTR).

The top organic position receives a click-through rate (CTR) of 31.73%, which decreases significantly as you descend in the rankings.

Why SEO might be more important during a recession

If your industry faces a recession, it’s crucial to secure the top spot to attract consumers searching for your target keywords.

Let me show you…

1) The web will continue to be the best sales channel

During a recession, it’s common for people to tighten their spending.

However, they tend to shift their spending online or towards businesses with an online presence.

Many industries experience a surge in online searches during economic recession, even if overall purchasing decreases.

For instance, the recession triggered by COVID-19 in February 2020 led to a significant uptick in web traffic for numerous companies.

This trend is likely to persist.

Given the current economic uncertainty, people are likely to spend more time online and less time in physical stores. Their purchasing behavior will adapt accordingly.

2) Local Businesses need to have an online presence to get support from their community

Since the outbreak, online searches for local companies have surged, reflecting a desire to support community businesses.

This trend makes Local SEO a valuable investment for small firms.

Additionally, with the pandemic prompting a shift towards online shopping,’s graph shows the increasing eCommerce share of total global retail sales from 2015 to 2024.

The surge in online retail sales due to the pandemic from 2019 to 2020 has led to a projected global increase in e-commerce sales until 2024.

Numerous businesses now view search engine results pages as their primary marketplace, a trend that shows no signs of slowing down.

As per an Accenture survey, 84% of participants express a desire to sustain shopping at local retailers or increase their purchases of local products post-pandemic.

3) Now is the best time to re-evaluate your marketing budget

The ideal moment to assess your marketing strategies arises before a recession hits, rather than amidst it.

Numerous individuals opt for budget-friendly SEO methods, yet often find themselves compromising quality and wasting both time and resources.

If your current approach isn’t yielding results, it’s wiser to adjust your budget and reconsider your tactics promptly, rather than postponing decisions until it’s too late. Diligence is key.

Every comprehensive business employs both PPC (paid ads) and SEO to attract leads, yet determining which yields better results remains unpredictable.

This enables you to initiate engagement with potential customers while also positioning yourself for sustained success once the economy rebounds.

If you’ve been delaying, it’s time to act now. Without starting, you won’t grow your business through organic and sponsored search results.

Reasons to invest in SEO during a recession

#1 Reason – More Leads

Investing in the right SEO plan increases website traffic, leading to more qualified leads, potential customers, and revenue.

Forrester reports that 71% of people start their shopping journey with a search engine. Also, Google data shows that 43% of shoppers who want to buy things use search for ideas, browsing, and research.

It’s important to note that studies show the top three spots on search engine results pages usually get the most clicks (also called website traffic).

#2 Reason – Low-Budget Marketing Strategy

When you compare SEO to traditional marketing methods like print, radio, and television, you’ll find it’s a more budget-friendly choice that offers a better return on investment (ROI). Unlike those old-school channels, SEO lets you track and measure ROI with precision.

According to BrightEdge Research, the organic search traffic that SEO brings in can actually generate more revenue than other digital channels, like paid ads and social media.

By investing in SEO, you can make the most out of your marketing budget and reach your goals more effectively.

#3 Reason – Improved User Experience = More Conversions

In recent years, how people feel when they use a website has become really important for showing up in Google searches. Google now likes websites that people enjoy using, and it puts them higher in search results. Making sure your website loads fast and works well is a big part of this.

When your website gives people a good experience, they’re more likely to stick around and do what you want them to do. For example, Pinterest made their website load faster, and they saw more people coming to their site from Google searches, as well as more people signing up – a 15% increase, in fact!

#4 Reason – Long-Term Benefits

Traditional marketing strategies suffer from a significant flaw: once you stop paying, your presence disappears. While pay-per-click ads offer instant results, SEO provides lasting benefits.

Sponsored ads may offer quick returns, but investing in SEO today can generate organic search traffic that sustains your organization’s growth for years to come.

Research by McKinsey delved into the success stories of individuals who thrived during the early 1990s recession in the United States.

They found that these winners prioritized long-term gains over short-term profitability. This principle remains true today. To position your firm for sustained visibility and success, embrace SEO as a key strategy.

#5 Reason – Stay Ahead of Competitors

Businesses dealing with challenging economic times need to stand out and stay competitive. SEO can help achieve this. Ignoring SEO only lets your competitors get further ahead.

Think about it: if your competitors slip in search rankings, you can swoop in and attract the traffic they would’ve gotten. SEO levels the playing field, no matter the market conditions.

Where do I start with SEO?

Here are some tips for crafting a strong SEO strategy:

  • Research keywords to find the best ones to focus on.
  • Fine-tune your website’s content to match those keywords.
  • Build links from reputable websites back to your own.
  • Keep a close eye on your site’s search engine rankings regularly.

Keyword research

Start by using tools to research what you’re currently ranking for and what your competitors are ranking for on major search engines like Google.

This helps you target search terms that potential customers are using to find your business. 

Premium tools such as Ahrefs and SEMrush can be useful for this purpose.

Optimize content

Once you’ve pinpointed those keywords, ensure your website is configured so Google recognizes you as the top choice for those searches.

This is known as on-page SEO.

For instance, if you’re a tennis coach in Tampa, Florida, ensure those keywords are integrated into your website to start ranking for those searches.

This includes the H1 tags, title tags, and meta descriptions for each URL. Otherwise, how will Google grasp your website’s purpose and rank you for your chosen keywords?

Build links

Link building, backlinking, and link creation—whatever term you prefer, it’s crucial to generate high-quality backlinks to your website’s pages. This aspect continues to be one of the most significant factors in Google’s algorithm.

Consider this analysis from Ahrefs, a top SEO software company:

The number of referring domains to a website shows a strong correlation with its ranking.

Monitor your SERP’s

After a few months of consistently building links, observe how your website’s organic traffic has evolved, especially your rankings on Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs).

You can assess your current website traffic using our complimentary tool.

SEO demands investment in time and resources, but we’ve refined it into a systematic process. If you wish to avoid unnecessary expenses on trial and error.

Final Thoughts

During a recession, consumers tend to spend less. However, this doesn’t mean you should scale back your efforts. Instead, it’s crucial to target them more effectively.

Your competitors won’t pause their activities, so staying proactive is key.

Is SEO effective in a recession? Absolutely. Research indicates that an SEO strategy can be even more crucial during uncertain economic times.

Search Engine Optimization continues to be relevant and impactful.

If you reduce or halt your digital marketing efforts, your competitors may gain an edge.

SEO isn’t overly complex. It requires a modest investment and consistent effort, which can be daunting for small businesses.

Jugnu Nagar
Author: Jugnu Nagar

SEO Specialist

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