Does SEO Work in a Recession?

If you’re wondering: Does SEO work in a recession? This article will answer the question emphatically “yes”.  Chances are if you are asking the question, we need to reframe it before we can answer it. First, here’s the summary of what you’ll read:

1.     SEO is the process of increasing ranking for queries in search engines, which represents an increase in opportunity exposure

2.     A Recession is a reduction in economic activity, not the elimination of economic activity

3.     Top of search ranking for profit producing keywords will increase your exposure and engagement with related opportunities

4.     A 100% increase in exposure to opportunities in a sector that has decreased by 50% still gives you significant economic benefit

5.     Recessions tend to reduce opportunities in some sectors, but increase them in others.  

6.     SEO strategies can pivot to take advantage of economic shifts.  


What is the relationship between SEO and economic recession?

SEO or “search engine optimization” is a process by which your website becomes more visible in search results through an increase in keyword ranking.  For example, if your company produces gaskets for the oil and gas industry, when the industry is booming, there will be a large search volume for a keyword set like “neoprene gasket manufacturers” from companies producing piping, valves, and controls.  When oil and gas takes a hit, often there is an increase in research and development for alternative energy, which might include electric cars and solar.  We may see increases in searches for “silicon rubber” for vibration dampening in green automotive applications, or other materials related to alternative energy production.  At any rate, if your company shows up at the top of Google search for the terms that your target customer is searching for, there’s a good chance you’ll get the lead.   The bottom line is that if you have not invested in SEO, your exposure to these searches is zero.  If the U.S. is in a recession, and these opportunities are cut in half, well, half of zero is still zero.  On the other hand, if your company was being exposed to new opportunities in a regular basis, say 5 leads per week, because of great search ranking, then a recession of this magnitude would mean you’d be getting less leads, but not zero.  


Does SEO and top of search ranking really produce leads?

At Wheeler Consulting Co, we’ve performed hundreds of SEO campaigns and the short answer is: we wouldn’t be doing it if it didn’t.  Here’s a couple of examples:

The chart below shows organic search traffic for a customer over a period of several years.  The summary of this chart is that the beginning of in late 2017 shows about 10 visitors to their site per day.  The end of it shows about 70 visitors per day. Not only did we increase search volume, but we increased it for the keywords that produced the most leads and revenue over time, and continued to refine the keywords to get better results. Also what the chart does not show, was the traffic to their site previous to our initial optimizations, since we set up tracking when we started the campaign.  The initial traffic was near zero.

Chart shows organic search traffic increase of 700% over 5 years for manufacturing service provider

As one might assume, when the engagement began, this company was not receiving any new leads from the web.  Today, they average about 2 viable leads per day.  These leads are for a competitive high value manufacturing service.


This next chart we are including to show short term results, for a client with a higher volume product than the previous one with a manufacturing service.  Typically for niche manufacturing processes like “die casting” or “injection molding” we see monthly search volumes in the low thousands on a nationwide basis.  For a product like “furnace parts” you would see search volumes in the hundreds of thousands or millions.  Because of this, we will often see more dramatic increases in traffic.   The summary of this chart is that we saw organic traffic go from about 100 visits per day to the clients website, to over 1000 visitors in 12 months and leads increase from one or two per day to over 20 per day. 

Chart shows organic search traffic increase of 1000% over 12 months for a furnace part supplier

Analyzing these charts in relation to a recession

Imagine for a moment that a significant recession was starting in the U.S.. Inflation hits record highs, consumer goods pricing skyrockets, domestic oil and gas production is nearly shut down, consumers can barely afford to fill their gas tanks.  The government begins dumping billions of dollars into the alternative energy market.  Consumers start stocking up on guns, ammunition, hunting supplies, and staples (you probably don’t have to work your imagination too hard to picture this).  They start spending money on fixing up what they have instead of buying new items.  This is great news for the company selling furnace parts, but not such great news for the machine shop who was making oil and gas valves, or for the injection molding company who was making parts for an automotive OEM.  The good news for the manufacturers is that while they have enjoyed the fruits of ranking for keywords like “IATF certified injection molder”, they really should be ranking for keywords that would get them in front of a new sector and they have that ability through SEO.  For example, we could ask “what are the components, certifications, capabilities specific to solar, wind, or electric vehicles?” and “What would I search for or ‘Google’ if I was looking for a company with experience in these areas?”  In addition to these new market opportunities to take advantage of, let’s not forget that the automotive market hasn’t completely shut down, it’s just dampened, so we will still be getting leads for that type of work. 


Google Trends for Keywords Search Volume in a Recession Versus Non-recession.


We can look at search volume for a particular keyword set to analyze consumer or procurement interest in that particular product or service.  Google Trends provides us with rough trends around different keywords and their search volume over time.  These charts are included to demonstrate how recession and government investment affect procurement of products and services.  There are many ways to show this, but this tool is the best way to show the relationship between SEO (taking advantage of search volume) and a recession. 

This first chart shows a very rough measure of interest for the keyword “injection molding services” over time.  The last major recession was in 2008 and it is clear from the chart that there are very low volume gaps, which means that this keyword was not searched as frequently as it currently is. 

chart shows search volume for the keyword "injection molding services" from 2004 to 2022 with volume reduced in 2008 and 200

This next chart shows rough search volume for the keyword “Solar manufacturing companies”.  We picked this keyword to show how increases in search volume correlate to government investment and recession.  

chart shows search volume for the keyword "Solar manufacturers" from 2004 to 2022 with volume increased in 2008, 2009, and 2021

Notice the Correlation Between the Chart of Search Volume, and This Chart Showing Government Investment With Peaks in 2009 and 2020-21.

Chart shows government investment in energy r&d from 1978 through 2020

The answer from the very simple logical exercise provided above is that SEO is more important than ever in a recession.  SEO increases your opportunities across the board both for the sectors that are decreasing, and the ones that are increasing. SEO is the best way to ensure your company remains stable during a recession. If you’d like to learn more about our SEO services, or consulting to ensure your marketing team is providing the best outcomes possible, fill out this form and we would love to have a conversation.


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