The courage, determination, resilience and adaptability you constantly prove bring me joy every time. All the things we accomplished in the past few months and your involvement put us on the list of the best 8 SEO agencies in the world. Congrats and thank you for this.
Upswing COVID-19 Trends, the small losses compared to the general prognosis and the Global Search Awards nomination for Upswing as Best Global Large SEO Agency are only a few of the achievements you have contributed greatly. We proved, once more, that we have a lot to say in this industry. Rock on!
Radu Mărcușu, CEO Upswing
The uncertainty has been the only global constant for businesses in the past few months. The volatility of the business environment has been felt at all levels, from small, to great. Crisis management has suddenly become a priority for any leader out there. But the ideal scenario is the one in which, from this position, you get to manage your issues without losing the substance of your business, the company values, the objectives you’re chasing.
All our recent work has been documented in a case study for Global Search Awards, where Upswing was shortlisted among the best 8 SEO agencies in the world (Best SEO Agency, Global Search Awards 2020). We will tell you all about the measures we took, the strategy we conceived and its execution and how they all contributed to Upswing’s evolution in the circumstances of this crisis.
Shortly, about Global Search Awards
Global Search Awards celebrates PPC, SEO and content marketing excellence around the world. As for the category we’re in the finals at, among international notorious names such as Peak Ace AG (Germany) or Merkle (Colombia), GSA is a “recognition of an outstanding large SEO agency with 26 or more staff that demonstrates consistently great understanding and use of SEO”. The judges were also looking for “revenue figures, staff turnover and culture as well as the agency demonstrating creative implementations and achieving excellent ROI for their clients”.
In addition to the nomination of our agency as one of the best globally, our campaign for Mega Image is also shortlisted at 5 categories, including Best Global SEO Campaign and Best Use of Search – Retail / Ecommerce (SEO), after entering the finals of 3 categories from European Search Awards, a few months back.
For us, this nomination is an acknowledgement more of the fact that we don’t wake up every morning only to make SEO and content campaigns, but to innovate for our clients and the industry.
But we would rather talk about the recent times in terms of crisis management principles and lessons learned:
The principles that guided our evolution in the recent period
As long as for us surviving this crisis was equal to our clients’ survival, our main challenge was to help them manage the situation and to emerge victorious from it. We had no clue about how we were going to do this, but we knew we would. The answer came as a pattern that defined our whole activity: real-time real data.
But before anything else, our decision was based on the principles that guided us this whole time:
Even from the start of the pandemic, our main concern was the health of Upswing team members and their families. So we started working from home before it became mandatory. And we still are, even though it’s not a legal obligation anymore.
Moreover, we relocated internal resources, so that we could stick to our zero furlough policy. Our calculations showed that 40$ of our MRR (monthly recurring revenue) was the most we could’ve afford to lose without giving up on our employees. So keeping our loss under this level would’ve achieved our objective.
Also, because remote work was becoming a norm for the first time in Upswing’s history, we had to make sure everyone has all the necessary resources for this transition. And we didn’t stop at equipments. In order to address the most important issues that could appear in the new circumstances, we organized a team building and answered the greatest challenges of remote work.
Constant, clear and transparent communication
The last thing we wished for in this new context was our information to be received incomplete or to be misleading both inside the team or for our clients.
We needed a single source of truth and the certainty that we’re all looking in the same direction and speak the same language.
- Internally, we all needed to be informed about what’s happening; also, we needed insurance that we’re doing what we have to and that everything is going to be ok. So we did this through daily status meetings – to set the priorities in each department and weekly town halls, which became the way our leadership team reports the progress to the entire company.
- Externally, we applied the same principle in the relationship with our clients. From day 1, when they received a transparent update through a video message from me.
Embracing the change
Usual strategies don’t pay off in unusual circumstances. We knew, even from the start, that what brought us here couldn’t take us forward. So we chose to understand and accept that things will change. From our clients’ needs to consumer behavior and from economy to society and the whole world we knew before, everything was going to be different.
While our activity, SEO is a channel with medium and long term results, our clients needed fast results. So we adapted our services and made them whole through push marketing strategies, that were going to ensure their efficiency in a very short amount of time.
Also, we guided Upswing’s entire strategy to reflect the current opportunities and threats. We redefined the plans and frameworks and prioritised our projects, accordingly to the available resources.
This is how a masterplan to address all changes within the agency was shaped. From the way we communicate with our clients during these times, to cost optimization programs and marketing and sales strategy transformation.
Shorter feedback loops
Because the only constant of this crisis were uncertainty and the incredible velocity of changes, we needed to shorten our feedback loops. In this way, we secured constant re-evaluations and made sure we’re on the right path, even though this could mean we needed to rapidly pivot our strategies.
As a result, the objective setting & execution cycle has been reduced from 3 months to 1, and the cadence of our leadership meetings became more frequent, through daily priority setting and reporting.
Offensive strategies to complete our safe moves
Although being defensive comes handy for anyone, only the offensive strategies, while risky, can bring the results that make a difference.
While all the voices were underlining the wiseness of putting a pause on everything and save the cash, we put our bets on the things we believe the most in: data and technology. This is how upswing.ro/trends appeared and this is also how we managed to change the strategies for over 80 campaigns in less than a month.
Besides, the story of the tool we developed in such a short amount of time was a source of inspiration for our peers at SEOmonitor, who addressed the phenomenon of the perfect mix between defensive and offensive moves in an Agency 2.0 case study, which has been published in Search Engine Journal.
Going back to the roots
For us, going back to the roots means to think, in the first place, about the most important challenges your customers are facing and to find the solutions that could help them.
”The main responsibility of a company is to serve its clients”, as Peter F. Drucker said.
For us, this translated into conceiving the most efficient strategies to help the business in our portfolio sell more. This was the main motivation for developing Upswing COVID-19 Trends and also for accessing complementary elements to our services, in order to drive fast results.
As search volumes lost their relevance in the new global circumstances, our mission became harder and harder. Google users behavior was continuously changing and our long term strategies were becoming unproductive. So when all the companies were cutting costs, thinking of going back to business as usual when everything was going to end, we took the highest risk and invested in innovation.
Real-time data was our solution to help our clients survive. So we made them available through a new tool, which we built from scratch in no more than 3 weeks. Upswing COVID-19 Trends analyzes keywords from 25 industries and integrates Google Trends data for over 100k keywords.
Considering previous search volumes and current trends, we developed a new forecasting method, which revealed relevant information about the growing or digression of the products and categories search volumes, to our clients and not only. This allowed them to make more accurate financial predictions, to have a better management of inventories and to align their commercial strategy to market request.
Identifying and capitalizing the opportunities
Whether we talk about products – in particular, about the market – in general, about the competitors or other landmarks, we know keeping an eye on the opportunities is vital.
As far as we’re concerned, the opportunity was to grow towards crisis management strategies, so we could expand our area of expertise and use this as a positioning advantage. And we made the most of it:
- We organized the first online edition of Upswing Power Sessions on April 7, as a webinar whose headline was “Certainty in uncertain times, through real-time data”. And we reached the attention of a targeted audience of over 350 attendees who haven’t even heard of us before this.
- We rebuilt Upswing’s website, so that is aligned and reflects the new positioning.
- We changed and accelerated our marketing strategy. The recent circumstances made us more bold and more vocal: we created and caught a new demand which didn’t exist before on the market and set differentiation as our main goal.
The companies we follow and appreciate did their part in this period. Banks donated capital to hospitals, HoReCa businesses made their products and services available for those who were in quarantine, oil giants donated to medical research, textile factories re-oriented and started to manufacture face masks. Every organization did their best, according to the circumstances.
And that’s what we did, too. Our most important resource, in these conditions, was real-time data. Which we offered freely to businesses, through Upswing COVID-19 Trends. This is how we managed to whirl industries and markets in the most efficient way, with our own resources.
The lessons we learned
”Never let a good crisis go to waste”, Winston Churchill’s saying – as cliche as can be already, proved their validity in this crisis, too. We have learned our lessons, which we wish for you too:
Crises bring clarity
Business as usual is an easy way, but can also bring confusion in business decision making. Things get more clear in times like these and the priorities reveal themselves more than ever.
This clarity can reify in many ways:
- Abandoning unproductive and unprofitable projects and centering the focus on those which really matter;
- Closing or reconverting a department whose human resources could become more valuable when following another direction;
- Investing the resources in a large-scale project;
- Optimizing marketing costs and cutting all unnecessary costs.
In other words, once the concerns are narrowed, you will be able to focus on the projects that are really important.
There is no universal recipe for crisis management
The measures that ensured our results in the recent period can be effective or not for other businesses. The truth is that, in order to survive and even thrive during a crisis, you have to forget what you are doing and remember who you really are.
Upswing exists in order to offer the most efficient and sustainable marketing strategies to businesses that matter.
The decision to add the push marketing component and even business consultancy to SEO and content marketing channels came naturally and helped us continue to deliver performance for our clients, even when nothing seemed to work anymore.
Take care of your people and they will take care of your business
Here, we don’t only think to our zero furlough policy, even though it’s included in the lesson. The truth is that you can’t have happy customers if you’re not having a happy team. And productivity, loyalty and team spirit are not so much related to titles, hierarchies and incomes.
People are more likely to be motivated by autonomy, recognition, leadership, vision, belonging and the adaptability and ability to keep up with the times. In other words, company culture plays a very important role.
One on one meetings, social events (even in online), team exercices, constant feedback are just a few of the tactics that prove the care for the team. Encourage them to accept their mistakes and fix them proactively and give them a meaning for the daily tasks, this will impact the involvement of everyone in everything you’re doing together.
Focus and alignment work like a lever
Crises use to highlight situations with huge and immediate consequences. There are businesses whose main activity is crisis management. And there are traditional companies, who only transit such periods occasionally. Both categories respond in the same way: a rallying cry. And this translates into a single point of focus, which can’t be challenged or debated. In other words, crises constrain an organisation to guide all of its efforts towards a single goal.
Imagine a team of firefighters in action. All of them share a single goal: to extinct the fire. There are no debates regarding the mode of action, there are no waiting times, no doubts: they are all aligned and share a purpose and an incredible energy in order to achieve it.
And this is how things should also happen in an organisation. Lots of action directions, setting such a large amount of priorities that would threat their priority status itself and losing the essential is both time and resource consuming. And drives no results.
If we could only achieve one thing in the following 3 months, what should that thing be?
What should be true, after 3 months from now, so that you could say, proud and loud, that the business you’re in charge of had a great time? This question can take a team to new levels of understanding and is a great way through which you can assess a thematic objective for an organisation.
We’ve also been through the struggles of multiple directions and false priorities. But once we discovered our joint objective, we opened the gates to a really impressive series of achievements.
Why hide it? We can’t even imagine how we could’ve developed such a valuable tool as Upswing COVID-19 Trends in such a short while, in other circumstances. We know how long we postponed rebuilding our own website and approaching the same strategies we were successfully implementing for our clients. And transforming our methodologies and frameworks was not even a subject, before this crisis. Even so, we checked all of these in less than a month and this only happened thanks to having a shared goal.
Instead of closing
Facing our own challenges proved to be just an excuse for us building a large-scale useful tool for the whole search industry, through the improvement and completion of the services we were already offering, but also through a repositioning into a blue ocean area of business.
Even since we started, 13 years before, our strategies were appreciated and taken as a landmark by the search engine performance aspiring brands. From SEOmonitor app, to the current milestone, Upswing COVID-19 Trends, we have always sought for data driven solutions. And passed them by, through products and methodologies, to the whole world. And being nominated among the global best 8 SEO agencies comes as a recognition for everything.