• Wed. Jan 12th, 2022

How SEO Agencies Can Stay Profitable During Downturns

ByVirginia D. Bannon

Mar 31, 2020

Being proactive in the face of economic downturns and natural crises is essential for any business.

One thing we learned from the 2008 recession is that marketing budgets are the first to be cut, by up to 30%.

That’s why now is an important time for SEO agencies to focus on the productivity and well-being of their teams, and most importantly, good customer management.

Communication and attention are crucial in navigating market uncertainties while transforming the processes that keep SEOs profitable.

On March 25, I hosted a Sponsored Search Engine Journal webinar presented by Alen-Jelco Todorov of SEOmonitor.

Todorov explained how SEO agencies can be proactive and avoid a high churn rate in the face of an economic downturn.

Here is a recap of the webinar presentation.

Times are tough, but your agencies can remain profitable during the economic downturn you face.

Let’s think about what the contingency means and how you can help yourself, your agency, and your management team plan for this scenario.

Before delving into the tactics to help your agency stay afloat during these times, here are a few considerations:

  • Each agency situation is unique. Some cater to local businesses, while others work with corporate clients.
  • Your main goal is to maintain durability.

Our goal today is to have a tool for strategic thinking and a point of reference for management workshops.

The best time to think about what might happen in the future is now.

Assess the current situation

Any emergency plan starts with thinking about and assessing the current situation.

It starts with knowing the fundamentals of your business.

Consider starting your assessment by looking at:

  • External factors
    • Opportunity areas
    • Risk areas
  • Internal factors

External vs internal areas

Even with the current situation, we can still find opportunities to help us stay ahead of the curve.

External factors

Areas of Opportunity: Where Can You Add More Value?

Currently, more states and countries are imposing lockdowns and people are being forced to work from home.

For some agencies, this translates into a lower cost per full-time employee (FTE) due to the move to a remote team.

And for those who already have expertise in digital transformation, this is an opportunity to help your clients meet the challenges of the digital switchover.

Which areas are at risk?

Next, you need to know which areas of your business are at risk so that you can develop a plan. One example is to mitigate the loss of customers.

To do this, list all of your customers with their industry and Monthly Recurring Income (MRR), along with specific actions you could take to mitigate each risk.

Risk areas

Make sure that each risk is linked to a specific action item as this will be useful later.


People: How to keep them active and engaged

Then you want to see how you can keep your own team active and engaged during these stressful times.

We are seeing a lot of disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and it will certainly affect the personal and professional lives of your team members.

It’s hard to stay motivated especially during a time like this.

This is why the leadership team has a responsibility to lead by example and with empathy.

  • Should you increase the number of staff meetings?
  • How do you maintain your work ethic culture while respecting social distancing?

It is imperative for agencies to improve communication within the team.

A good tip is to just turn on your video camera instead of just making voice calls during team meetings.

Cash: Monthly operating expenses

Most SEO agencies subscribe to various tools, software, and service providers for operational purposes.

Now is the time to assess each vendor, including the cost, to make sure it’s still worth it.

Maybe there is a better alternative or could the supplier allow you to renegotiate?

Cash - Monthly operating expensesAssess your current situation as a team

Typically, companies have a top-down approach to decision making and implementation.

However, it may be best to gather around your team and hear the points and concerns of each of your staff.

This will help you get a better range of ideas from more people.

And once you do that, it’s not just the CEO’s plan, it becomes a team plan – something the whole team wants to do.

If the leadership team comes up with ideas themselves, it might be more difficult for team members to implement them.

Build the emergency plan

After assessing your current situation, you are now well equipped to build your agency’s emergency plan.

SEO and digital agencies generally have three main functions to help keep their business afloat:

  • Acquisition of customers.
  • Customer management.
  • Customer loyalty.

For each function, you want to identify the preventive (opportunistic), “what if” (cut in muscle) and defensive (cut in bone) elements.

Emergency plan 1

It is important for the management team to establish and align with the trigger events.

This means that everyone should be on the same page as to how to approach any situation that arises.

Establishing and aligning with trigger events means your actions:

  • Have a quantifiable goal.
  • Are accepted by the entire management team.
  • Are based on real-time data.
  • Are aligned with the species.

Here is an example of how you can do it.

To acquire

  • Preemptive: offer an introductory price
  • What-if: Offer discounts for long term contracts.
  • Defensive: repackage for the margin.


  • Preventive: Identify expenses that can be put on hold without prejudice.
  • What-if: Consider short-term capital expenditures, bonuses / sales incentives.
  • Defensive: Deferred compensation, part-time work.

To acquire

  • Preventive: Focus on high value-added and risky customers and make weekly check-ins.
  • What-if: Offer exclusive access.
  • Defensive: Suspend existing campaigns.

Emergency plan

Focus on relationships

Here are some tips on how to alleviate concerns your customers might have from a remote team.

More to communicate

Let your customers know about your current workflow.

Make sure to run weekly checks on the current status of the business.

Be a consultant

Don’t give selfish advice.

There’s no point in selling hard right now!

Some companies have to stop all marketing initiatives in order to make the payroll.

Be a valuable partner who can provide honest information that is useful to their business.

Recognize uncertainty

These are definitely uncertain times… and it could be the new normal for all of us.


These days, it is essential for SEO agencies to manage their relationships with existing clients.

It is also important to focus on your own people and provide support during this transition from the past routine to this “new normal”.

[Video Recap] How SEO Agencies Can Stay Profitable During Downturns

Watch the video recap of the webinar presentation and question-and-answer session.

Or check out the SlideShare below.

Join us for our next webinar!

How We Built Over 600 Links In 30 Days And You Can Too

Learn how to optimize your landing pages and make better use of the traffic you are already getting. Join our next webinar on Wednesday, December 15 at 2 p.m. ET, and learn how to rank higher on Google’s SERPs.

Image credits

All screenshots taken by author, March 2020