Houston voices

Houston expert: How the pandemic has changed SEO

Customers' shopping patterns have changed during the pandemic. They're likely to have changed forever. Here, we explore how you can keep up. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

If you're stranded on an island, it's probably not smart to go into hiding and just hope someone finds you. You're better off dedicating your time to making a fire, spelling HELP with logs, or sharpening your hunting skills. During this pandemic, it would best serve your company's future to dedicate your time honing your SEO skills and tracking SEO changes.

"Nobody is going to come and save your business during the national crisis. You're going to have to do it yourself. And focusing on strengthening something as vital as SEO is one big way to keep your company alive while we await a return to normalcy that may never come," says Omi Sido, SEO manager for Canon Canada. Canon is the famous camera company.

Key words are key

During the pandemic and various state shutdowns, many companies have opted to cut their SEO budgets in order to save money. While cutting costs during a national emergency is smart, maybe SEO cost cutting isn't the way to go. Investing in keyword research is vital to the success of any company in 2020.

"Keyword research helps you stay abreast of the ever-changing search habits of people in your space. These habits might change during a crisis and you need to be aware of just how they've changed," Sido says.


"If things go back to normal, you don't want any surprises as to how different your customer base is. You want to have anticipated it."

Behavioral changes

As mentioned above, people change their dispositions and behavior during crises.

"Customer spend differently than they used to. They eat differently. The even browse differently. Some things are less important to them and some things are more important to them. That makes sense. After this pandemic runs its course, investing in emergency kits, face masks, generators, etc. will prove more important than it was a year ago," explains Brian Wood, the former SEO manager for Wayfair.

With SEO research, you can see the changes in real time. You can see how webpages on your site are visited more or less frequently. Which products are people showing more or less interest in. According to Wood, you should certainly take note of which pages people are visiting more and which they're visiting less. This will help you anticipate which changes to expect when things reopen more.

Track algorithmic changes

Search engines like Google will most certainly change the way they crawl the web during the pandemic and after. That's a given. If people change their habits, spending patterns and value certain things differently during a crisis, then it only makes sense search engines will want to keep up with those changes. So these search engines will change accordingly. It's up to you to track those changes and keep your website up to date with the latest algorithmic tune-ups.

The pandemic has surely impacted small businesses like an asteroid. Just remember that "the same tenacity and perseverance that got you to where you are today as an entrepreneur, that's the same fountain you'll have to drink from to get your company through this national crisis," Wood says.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Rene Cantu, the author of this piece, is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

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A thorough IP audit separates the wheat from the chaff. Image via Getty Images

Every company with a business based in whole or in part on important intellectual property should protect that property with regularly scheduled intellectual property “audits.” Failing to do so may not only endanger valuable, company-owned patents and trademarks, but also make the business less profitable than it could be.

An IP audit is especially critical when a business is being sold, when a company is planning to buy another business, when a patent is being challenged by a competitor, when a company is looking for new financing or going public, and when there is a change in top management or employees in critical positions have left. A regularly scheduled IP audit can prevent panic, confusion and unwelcome surprises when these major events occur, because management will already have a good working knowledge of the status of all intellectual property.

To begin with, a thorough audit separates the wheat from the chaff. Which patents are central to the company’s business and must be carefully maintained in force? Are there other patents that are no longer important or have been superseded by newer developments and can safely be ignored and allowed to lapse?

Patents should be filed wherever the company’s products are sold and fees on all important patents must be carefully kept up to date. Fees to maintain international patents are often especially expensive but should be updated when necessary, nonetheless. Sometimes, when a company’s trademarks are reviewed, management learns that they have never been federally registered.

Auditors also may find that existing patents are no longer adequate to protect the products that are actually being sold. The products may have “moved on” through further development or application to new uses, but the relevant patents have not. Those patents should be updated immediately with new filings. It’s also critical to determine whether the products made and sold by the company could possibly infringe patents held by competitors—or whether the reverse is true, that other companies’ products are infringing the patents held by the company being audited.

A careful examination of intellectual property can also result in positive developments: auditors may discover that some patents are more valuable than anyone knew and can be licensed to produce another revenue stream for the company—or licensing can be expanded beyond the present level.

Beyond the focus on patents and trademarks, an IP audit should entail a close examination of all contracts and agreements relating to intellectual property. Pinning down exactly who owns the property is just as important as keeping patents up to date. This entails delving into development agreements, nondisclosure agreements, employment agreements, work-for-hire and sales contracts, to make sure ownership of a company’s intellectual property has not been ceded to, or shared with, a third party.

Software is particularly problematic when it comes to inadvertent infringement of the rights of others. What software is being used internally? Where did it come from and what are the limitations on its use? IT professionals don’t always realize that even open-source code requires a license.

This entire process also needs to be applied to analyzing the intellectual property of a prospective acquisition. Investigators may discover that patents belonging to the acquisition are not all appropriate for the acquiring company’s products, fees are not up to date or there are issues with IP ownership or validity. All of these factors may result in substantial savings on the purchase—or a decision not to purchase at all.

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Puja Detjen is an intellectual property attorney and partner in the Houston office of Patterson + Sheridan.

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