Corey Northcutt is Founder and CEO at Northcutt, an SEO agency for cloud and ecommerce. We caught up with Corey to find out how his business has been affected during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Please describe your job: What do you do?
I’m the Founder and CEO of Northcutt.com — we’re an SEO agency that focuses on national and international brands. Most of my day to day is focused on systems design and product development, but I do a little of everything to make sure our team is well equipped to do great work.
How has your typical day been impacted in the short term by the pandemic?
Oddly enough, most of our clients are doing fine, if not better, since we don’t work with too many local businesses. Google Trends has gone wild, which creates unique content opportunities, and there are a lot more media opportunities as well.
In spite of all that, there’s a lot of anxiety. In March, we saw a quick flurry of “panic pauses” in the first week. Several of those clients are now up and running again. I’ve been stepping outside my usual role to become a bit of a consultant in the CARES Act legislature (making sure that our clients are taking advantage of PPP). Our e-commerce clients have a unique problem of increased business but disrupted supply chains from abroad.
In April, we saw a rush of high priority leads: companies that pivoted to produce masks and hand sanitizer, brands that supply hospitals and the military, a lot of teletherapy, and so forth. It feels a bit like the 2008 crisis repeating itself: the opportunity is far from gone, it’s just that the rules are changing.
What are your favourite tools and techniques to help you get your work done at the moment?
One thing at a time! I’m a fan of the adage that “either you run the day or the day runs you”. I plan up my days in the morning and hope that I can get through that to-do. If I don’t, I try to be forgiving of myself. It really is a chaotic time, more than ever as I’m locked in a Chicago condo with my wife, two-year-old, two-month-old, and Jack Russell Terrier. It’s a lot, but we’re making it work.
I’ve also been making it a point to over-communicate in our Slack and help our team manage their anxiety wherever I can. Several other new parents on our team have kids out of daycare and we’re all just taking it one day at a time.
Which companies have impressed you since the outbreak?
I’ve been most impressed with those faced with the hardest task. Arne Sorenson from Marriott International released a very impressive, genuine monologue that was just impossible to dislike in spite of the sweeping layoffs that he had to make.
I was also impressed by how Shake Shack refused PPP funding in favor of smaller businesses that needed it more, and how they explained their love for other local community restaurants that others might just have perceived as competition. I’m a big fan of “coopetition” and the notion that competition hardly exists, really… that philosophy has done well by me and my businesses, and it was refreshing to see it demonstrated at that scale.
What changes are you making to help your brand/clients’ brands connect with how people are feeling and experiencing the pandemic?
We’ve helped with announcements, giveaways, media commentary, and other corporate social responsibility endeavors. From our perspective, it’s actually been a little refreshing to see brands motivated to stand for something and think about a culture of doing better by people. No marketer truly wants to “just build links at something”. It’s made many of our client brands much more worthy of discussion.
What trends have you seen in the last few weeks in your sector?
We received more leads in the past few weeks than we have so far this year. There’s still a general skittishness, but it’s clear that we’re all getting back to work. The greatest variable that I’m watching is unemployment. There’s going to be one heck of a new surge in dirt cheap and brand new marketing gurus, experts, and mavens that have been laid off.
We’ve already seen some of this rush of new leads opting for the cheapest possible option, and we’re pretty proud to not be the cheapest, so that changes things. In 2008, I was running a web hosting provider, and we pivoted to meet a surge in the freshly unemployed starting social networking sites. We became the official web hosting partner of phpFox (sort of “the WordPress” of the day for solving that problem). Now that I run an SEO agency, I still don’t have a great answer to what our version of that should look like.
What advice would you give a marketer right now?
Don’t be ashamed to do your job right now. We’re all just getting by. Just try to stay genuine and empathetic rather than exploitive and callous. Don’t run a “COVID sale” or lecture me about “this trying time”. I think we’ve hit a critical mass of that sort of thing.
What does long term planning and strategy look like now at your and your clients’ brand?
Fortunately, SEO is generally an evergreen, long-term game, so not a lot changes. Short-term, there are unique media and content wins. While ad conversions are generally down, SEO and content is a much better investment than ever. The work people put in today should come out surging in a few months when consumer confidence is back on the rise.
For more on this topic, visit Econsultancy’s SEO hub page.