Adjusting Digital Strategy for a Recession

Stock photo implying downward trending financials

By Chris Rodgers, the founder and CEO of Colorado SEO Pros

Recessions and economic downturns are naturally occurring events that take place within typical economic cycles. They should be expected and planned for by every business organization. Adjusting marketing strategy can allow businesses to survive and even benefit during periods of turbulence and uncertainty.

Often, recessions and downturns occur after periods of economic growth and expansion making the shift feel especially disruptive, but this trend also provides the resources and opportunities to mount a proper defense (and offense). When the economy is booming and businesses are experiencing growth they should take advantage of growing revenue, profit, and building up the balance sheet to prepare for the next downturn. At the same time, it is important before businesses to invest in the future through things like product/service innovation, brand development and Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

Digital Strategy Across Channels

In general, digital marketing should continue during economic downturns, however the channel distribution strategy often needs to be updated to adjust for customer behavior. Some channels produce quick revenue and most effectively target customers at later stages in the buyers journey and intent funnel, while other channels are better at building brand recognition and engagement, or targeting customers earlier in the buyers journey and intent funnel.


SEO is the foundation of most multi-channel digital marketing strategies today and drives one of the highest Return on Investments (ROIs) compared to any other channel when executed properly. Traditionally, SEO is a research channel but has shown to drive a tremendous amount of sales activity as well. One reason for this is the ownership that customers take when researching a purchase, by the time they move from the information and commercial intent stages to transactional intent, they are fully vested in the purchase. This behavior typically results in higher business-to-business (b2b) lead quality than what might be seen in paid search or social media. SEO is also usually quite high on the assisted conversion list, meaning it tends to support other channels and increase their value as well.

While it is critical that SEO is performed consistently over time, there are also big reasons to shift budget into SEO when there is an economic downturn. One key reason is that companies are investing in visibility that will yield results down the road when customer behavior returns to normal, allowing for future investment in marketing returns. And unlike paid search or social, visibility is always on and not tied to paid campaign timing or budgets.

Another key reason is that during an economic downturn people and business are more careful with spending and typically conduct more research before making a purchase. This means there are more people spending time in the early stages of the buyers journey with informational and commercial intent. This also applies to larger organizations and web properties engaging in enterprise SEO, since many of these organizations are either dealing direct with consumers through ecommerce, or dealing with big ticket b2b sales. Investing in high-quality, informational and commercial intent content will help capture more attention and drive opportunities into key website conversion paths.

Paid Search & Social

Paid search is particularly effective at engaging customers at the end of the buyers’ journey when they are expressing transactional intent and are ready to buy, and paid social can target customers at all stages in the buyers journey but lead quality can vary wildly, so careful attention needs to be paid to the real value of conversions. The costs associated with paid media can be quite high, but the return can process very quickly. If demand is high and margins are healthy, paid search can generate large volumes of profitable revenue in short order, however when customers are not buying, this channel can eat away at budgets and not produce enough conversions to make the juice worth the squeeze.

Paid search and social are channels that often get cut during economic downturns to adjust for reduced demand. This was certainly the case during the 2020 pandemic recession. Many paid media budgets were paused or vastly reduced when the initial shutdown occurred because most types of purchases stopped, despite increased online activity and shopping behavior. This channel is ideal for adjusting in downturns because of the acute control that can be exercised over budgets and bid strategy. The best approach is to test different approaches to see what areas of paid search campaigns are still working, and where budget can be adjusted to focus on high conversion and profit areas.

Keep a lookout for other opportunities as well. Cost-per-click goes down in some areas as competition drops, and this could be a big opportunity to actually increase spend and reap great returns.

Social Media (organic)

Social media drives brand awareness, engagement, and can create loyalty with a business’ customer base. The correlation between most organic social campaigns and ROI is fuzzy, so this channel is great to invest in during periods of strong economic growth. Investing in a brand during a recession is a good strategy as well, but additional discretion should be exercised. It is always important to maintain an active social presence to remain relevant and continue engagement with customers. However, be wary of making more aggressive investments in social-only content and creative campaigns with big ticket costs. Reevaluate on core content that properly represents the brand but doesn’t require as large an investment.

Email Marketing

Email marketing doesn’t usually get the credit it deserves but can generate a tremendous ROI and can be a solid channel to focus in on during a recession. This is definitely a channel to begin investing in before a recession so the business already has a solid opt-in list and understands what has worked in the past. Like paid search, test different approaches to see where messaging and tone may need to be adjusted to get the desired results.

The Big Picture

It’s inevitable that recessions and economic downturns are going to occur, and businesses must be prepared to weather such storms to come out on the other side in a positive place. Adjusting marketing strategy is a key initiative that can help businesses continue to maintain, grow, and ensure the best outcome possible.

Not all channels are created equal, paid search and organic social may present opportunities to reduce costs, but be sure to test those strategies and be on the lookout for new opportunities as well. Focusing on the most profitable and effective sales drivers is what is important. SEO is typically a great place to invest during a downturn to ensure an investment will retain value and yield results when customers are completing purchases. In the best-case scenarios, SEO can provide a sling-shot out of the recession as purchase activity returns to normal and enhanced search-engine visibility yields its full potential.

About the Author

Article by: Chris Rodgers, founder and CEO of Colorado SEO Pros, which is a boutique Search Engine Optimization (SEO) agency serving regional, national and enterprise organizations.

Chris founded Colorado SEO Pros in 2012 as a boutique SEO agency that provides market-leading SEO services for small and mid-sized organizations, international enterprise corporations, technology start-ups, global ecommerce businesses, and more. Colorado SEO Pros offers industry-leading SEO solutions to help clients achieve aggressive results, through AI-driven technology, a deep bench of SEO talent, and a business-first SEO approach placing revenue goals ahead of rankings and SEO-centric metrics.