With the majority of people staying at home during the coronavirus pandemic, many businesses have had to adapt to entirely new ways of working. Some of these businesses have prospered, but for others it’s been quite different.
At Vertical Leap, we work with thousands of organisations of differing sizes and sectors. The insights we collect have helped us put together a list of actions, each one designed to help make your journey through the COVID-19 period easier.
1. Tell the world you’re open for business.
With high streets closed and many organisations operating at reduced capacity, it’s understandable if your customers are confused as to whether you’re open for business. You need to make sure this is clearly communicated on your website.
Produce a short and friendly announcement that explains you’re still operating. Although it’s tempting to put this on your home page, not all visitors will land there and many could miss it. Instead, add this as a new page or blog post. Having a dedicated page is also easier for you to link to when customers have questions.
Your message needs to be easily digestible, calm and reassuring. Although it’s easy to be caught up in the drama of the moment and write something dramatic, the last thing you want to do is make a potential customer feel nervous or unsettled.
Offer reassurance by highlighting any precautions you are taking to reduce risks to both employees and customers. You’ll also want to tell people which services are available and if there are any restrictions – but keep this brief. If you need to provide more detail, split this out onto a separate page. More on this in a bit.
You can add a personal touch by attributing the message to a key figure within the business:
Video can also help with this, as Hockeys Estate Agents have done:
2. Signpost your announcement
Having created a short reassuring announcement, you now need to make sure your visitors can find it. Make sure there are enough signposts across the site so that it can be found from every page. There are different ways to do this, each with associated pros and cons. We’ll explore these next.
Pop-up messages are easy to install without having to change your page design. However, asking people to read a statement when they first open your website can distract them from their original purpose in visiting. For visitors unconcerned by the coronavirus, this can be jarring. Visitors may also be unable to find this information again if they clicked it away without reading it. This approach is useful as a quick fix, however other techniques could work better.
Adding a link in your menu.
This is a more subtle approach and can be used as a temporary measure, or once things have started to calm down. If you add a menu link, make sure it can be found easily, doesn’t distract from other services, and doesn’t make your menu too cluttered.
By placing a banner on each page, you can summarise your message in a few reassuring words. You can then link to your announcement in full for those wishing to know more.
Popular retailer Currys has adopted a much smaller banner on each page that clearly shows deliveries are available, and works well on mobile.
The most appropriate technique will likely depend on your specific circumstances, and sometimes you’ll need to take a hybrid approach that borrows from each of the techniques above.
Whichever approach you take, the design is important. Avoid using red colours within your text or backgrounds unless these are a part of your brand, because this may look like a warning sign and cause alarm amongst your visitors. Don’t make your signpost too lengthy – people won’t read it. Just include the basics in a calm and reassuring manner.
3. Show your services remain relevant
From subtle service adjustments to major changes to your business, there are many ways in which you may have had to adapt your business.
When communicating such changes to your customers, it’s important to do so carefully. Don’t be dramatic, but do show that your services remain relevant, that you’re on top of things, that you’re a safe pair of hands and that you’re able to provide the support your customers need.
Your original announcement may seem like the logical place to announce such changes, but try to avoid making that page too overwhelming. If in doubt, simply mention the changes in your original announcement, and link to another page to discuss these points in more detail.
How the property sector remained relevant
The property sector is an example of an industry that’s had to adapt swiftly to life in the lockdown. With potential buyers no longer able to conduct viewings at properties for sale, a different approach was required.
Buyers and sellers may think that estate agents can no longer provide any services. Releasing updates about changes to services and signposting this clearly across the website has allowed many businesses to stay open.
Some estate agents, such as Hockeys, are trialling virtual or video viewings.
4. Incentivise visitors
Incentives can be another way to keep your audience engaged. My Personalised Clothing features a banner that highlights the business is operating as normal, while an additional voucher code entices people to continue with their purchase. This isn’t just useful in encouraging visitors – it can also be useful for outreach via social. Where possible, post special offers such as this on your social platforms.
Not all incentives are financial. For some, an incentive could be the emotional satisfaction of doing something that helps the community.
One example of this is Private Dining Rooms, which has completely changed its business model. Usually a paid directory aimed at listing restaurants, this has been adapted to provide free basic listings for restaurants offering deliveries and services for key workers during COVID-19. New functionality has then been built around this.
This is great for outreach, means a restaurant listing website remains relevant (even when no restaurants are open), and helps to demonstrate a compassionate side to both Private Dining Rooms and the venues that list there.
5. Tell the world “we’re here and open for business”
Now that you’ve carried out the leg work on your website, it’s time to reach out to the rest of the internet and show everyone you’re still active.
First, make sure your business information remains correct everywhere it’s listed.
If you’re working from home then it’s likely that incoming communications are being diverted. If you don’t have the ability to divert calls and emails then put up answerphone messages and auto-responders.
You’ll also want to make sure your contact details and operating hours are correct on your website and each of your social channels.
If your visitors have opted to receive emails, then now is a good time to take advantage of your mailing list, using the information you gathered for your website statement as a basis.
You don’t need to copy your website announcement verbatim, however it may be a good idea to link to this for subscribers who wish to learn more.
Include details about your COVID-19 status within any existing newsletters, but also consider sending a dedicated email that covers that subject alone. This will help to reduce the likelihood of your status being buried in a longer message.
Remember, your email will be competing to be noticed against hundreds of others all doing the same, so try to make yours stand out. Make your subject line to the point, and keep it short and snappy so it displays within the preview. This will drive awareness amongst people scanning their inbox who do not open your email to read it in full.
Regular email – headers and footers
Chances are that if you’re emailing somebody then you’re open for business. Even so, it’s good to clarify your service availability.
Adjust your email header or footer with a short update about your availability and a link to the announcement on your website.
Check that all of your business information is correct. Facebook now allows you to publish updates to your opening hours and service changes, and to mark your business as temporarily closed.
Post an update with your status, availability, or other useful information. This doesn’t need to be long – you can still link to your website announcement for more information. Most platforms also allow you to pin one of your posts at the top so it’s easier to find. Try to include an image, as this helps to grab attention.
After this, if you remain open, you should start trying to attract people’s attention. A quick glance on any social platform will reveal the inventive methods businesses are using to do this. The aim is beyond trying to promote a product or service; it’s to make sure your audience remember you exist and to show you’re still active.
Google My Business
Google My Business is the tool Google provides so that you can register your physical branches and manage other important information. Some of this information appears directly within Google before a searcher arrives on your website, and is therefore not something to be overlooked.
Google is operating with reduced capacity which is causing delays for new registrations. For those of you without a Google My Business account, we recommend trying the registration process and verifying by telephone call rather than by mail.
Once you have access to Google My Business, check your contact details are all correct.
Not only can you set your regular opening hours, you can also set special opening hours. You should update these to reflect any temporary changes you’ve had to make.
You can also adjust your business name. For example, if you have a restaurant, altering the name to include ‘delivering’ is currently permitted.
Posts allows you to add short messages in Google Search, just as you would on Facebook and Twitter. This feature was disabled for a short time due to reduced capacity at Google but it’s available again now, so we recommend using this to notify people of your availability, with links to your announcement.
6. Structured data for COVID-19
If ever you’ve carried out any SEO activities then it’s likely you’ll have heard of structured data – a way of marking up the information on your page using schema so that search engines can gain a better understanding of what it means.
Both Google and Bing have announced support for a schema called SpecialAnnouncement. This is intended to provide updates in a manner that search engines will understand, and is applicable to government health agencies, businesses, risk assessment and testing centres and travel restrictions.
You’ll also want to use the appropriate schema on any pages you’ve added about changes to your services. For example, if you’ve added a list of questions and answers, use FAQ schema.
- Prepare a short, reassuring announcement about your availability. Consider using video.
- Link to this throughout the website.
- Add messaging to explain any changes to your services. This can be separate to your original announcement.
- Update your information in Google My Business with any special opening hours and other details. You may also want to adjust your business name.
- Use your social platforms and Google My Business posts to share links to your statement. Use social to generally attract attention.
- Update your FAQs, availability, contact details and opening hours on your website. Mark this up with schema.
We hope this has been useful. If your business has been affected by COVID-19 and you’re interested in receiving marketing advice, please reach out to our team and we’ll do our best to help.