First 50 Days of Quarantine: What We’ve Learned

First 50 Days of Quarantine: What We’ve Learned

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On March 12, Greenlane’s Management Team announced that we’d be working from home for the foreseeable future. In the 50 days since, we’ve made adjustments to what “business as usual” means. 

Some of our client partnerships have unfortunately had to pause as they find their footing (and in some cases, pivot to making PPE!). Some of our clients have only seen a minimal change. And others have needed our help more than ever. 

Along with adjusting to our own temporary new normal, we’ve had to act fast to help our clients adjust too. This multi-angled perspective puts us in a unique position, and we figured the best thing we can do is share this information. These aren’t projections on day one, or our best guesses—this is what we’ve seen firsthand over 50 days. What worked, what didn’t, and (hopefully) how our learnings might help your business.

Team Culture – written by Maddie Goodwin, Senior Content Manager

We’re a team of 15 people, spread out from Lancaster to Philly and everywhere in between. (Plus two remote employees in Northern PA and Florida.) Normally we’re in the office from Monday-Wednesday, and work from home Thursday-Friday. We figured our WFH routine experience would give us an advantage during social distancing. But we quickly found we needed to make some adjustments. These are my main takeaways:

Have video calls. On our WFH days, we usually start with a quick morning “standup” call. About two weeks in we realized this wasn’t enough. So we started video calls, and it—at risk of sounding hyperbolic—changed everything. Sure our calls are longer and we have to shower beforehand, but the payoff is worth it. It helps us feel connected and encourages meaningful conversation.

Find time to unwind. On week one we started a video happy hour on Fridays, and it’s been such a hit that we’ve vowed to keep it going even after social distancing is lifted. It helps put a period at the end of the workweek, so we can easily transition into “weekend mode” despite our physical settings remaining the same. We’ve also started a recipe-share group for our foodies and video team workouts for our fit club.

Adapt—don’t cancel—in-person meetings. We typically have a full day of All Hands meetings once a quarter. Last week we had to host this virtually for the first time ever. We knew we couldn’t expect everyone to Zoom in and participate for an entire day. In general, this would be hard, but it’s especially tough now for those of us doubling as full-time teachers and caretakers. Instead, we split our presentations up into 90-minute increments across every morning, all week.

9 to 5 isn’t realistic. On top of your own schedule, you need to consider the schedule of everyone else in your house. Nap times, classroom Zoom support, important calls, and the twenty minutes it isn’t raining today to take a walk. Sitting at your desk for 8 hours straight isn’t going to happen. Your workmates, bosses and employees’ days will be spotty too. It’s good to be upfront about expectations and what you can reasonably accomplish. 

Encourage PTO. Burnout is real. Working 40 hours a week from home during a pandemic expends more mental energy than most of us have experienced at work. And of course none of us want to “waste” our PTO while we’re stuck at home. The best way around that is change from the top. If managers set an example by taking PTO now, it can set off a ripple effect.

Host an inclusive activity. Pick a game, challenge or project for everyone to participate in. For example, we’ve started a music playlist game on Spotify. A theme is chosen (e.g. Best saxophone solos that aren’t Careless Whisper), everyone adds a track to our joint playlist, we vote for the winner, and they get to pick tomorrow’s theme. It may sound like small potatoes, but…..I cannot stress how much this has done for morale and general excitement. (Here’s an ever-growing playlist of the winners.)

Client Strategy – written by Sebastian Compagnucci, Senior SEO Account Manager

One of the biggest changes we’ve had to navigate within the last 50 days was shifting client strategy and focus. As a company, we pride ourselves on the ability to be agile, and the pandemic put this ideal to the test. Here are just a few examples of how we assisted clients in pivoting strategies during the last 50 days.

Meeting a target audience where they are now. As a leading online university offering advanced degrees in nursing, we knew that our target audiences’ attention was shifted towards the pandemic and away from continuing education. This priority shift led us to enact several changes to the paid media campaigns, focusing our efforts on promoting infection prevention and control certification courses, in addition to online webinars to capture attendee information for post-COVID marketing initiatives.

Re-prioritizing verticals. A medical and cosmetic dermatologist with offices throughout the Northeast found themselves in a unique position due to closed locations, stay-at-home orders, and patient reluctance to travel. As a result, our paid strategy shifted to teledermatology, a capability our client had pre-COVID but did not prioritize. Additionally, most insurances now cover telehealth appointments which made this shift in focus even more enticing. Within days of the COVID outbreak in the US, our team designed and launched a new landing page focusing on teledermatology. This allowed our paid media team to test whether an “all-in” on teledermatology would be advantageous for the client. Initial test results suggested a strong interest in the service, which helped decision-makers prioritize site design work to bring this new service area to the forefront.

Leaning in to the new normal. As schools shuttered and at-home learning initiated, paid strategy for a top-tier parental control software shifted to target a new-to-market audience who may not have considered this product otherwise. Various strategies were implemented including testing COVID-specific ad copy on Google and Facebook.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Overall, we have had few major shifts in SEO strategy as a result of COVID. Other than weathering a minor period of unease (around March 10th according to our data), most of our SEO campaigns have remained relatively status quo. SEO is still as important as ever. And other than any immediate COVID related “opportunities” (e.g. new COVID specific structured data and Google My Business closure features), we’re still focused on the long-term organic success of our clients in a post-COVID world. We’ve been fortunate to see most of our clients’ organic traffic return since major dips started occurring on March 10th – in some cases, stronger than it’s ever been, especially on the ecommerce side. It’s important to remember with SEO that we’re often working towards a long-term goal. You must weigh whether a complete shift in strategy (in this case: focusing on COVID) is worth the potential impact of reprioritizing your existing work. In most of our clients’ cases, the short-term gain did not outweigh the long term risk, both financially or ethically.

Oh, hey! Remember me? One additional point to consider from an SEO perspective is redistribution of resources to implement your work. Some of your clients might find themselves with cancelled or delayed projects as a result of COVID. Sounds like the perfect time to start prioritizing some of that SEO content or technical work that’s been put on the backburner for weeks, months, or (gasp) years. 

Business Changes – written by Bill Sebald, Managing Partner

Client relationships are more nuanced. Everything happened so fast, it was impossible to understand the impact COVID-19 had on each business. In terms of business development, some companies we were previously in talks with simply vanished, presumably to focus on more pressing professional and personal matters. But we looked to our current clients, especially those who paused their retainers. There were new challenges for local businesses servicing people who were not leaving their homes. There were new challenges with B2C clients who were not able to get their products manufactured. There were new challenges as many people became hesitant to make purchases. As a company, we discussed the scenarios together with a new expectation of supporting some challenges we have not faced before. We needed to help businesses manage things that may not have previously been problems. We need to be prepared to go beyond the call of duty, and leverage strengths you never used before.

Resetting business goals. 2020 company performance goals will be missed unless there is a dramatic reversal in the third and fourth quarters. Suddenly we were faced with a need for new goals. That being, maintaining business health for our team and current clients. To use a racing analogy, sometimes you are in gear to win a race, and sometimes you are bracing for impact so you live to compete another day. Greenlane has always had a “plan for the worst, push for the best” mindset with financial planning. Though we never imagined a global pandemic, we are stable and optimistic because of our planning. 

Going forward from here. Recently I found this quote from Think With Google: “Think like a caring human being with the resources to help millions. Then act accordingly, in the mutual interest of business and society.” 

That statement matches our sentiments. We don’t believe business should stop. We should keep up the great work we do. We should not stop trying to grow. And we should not stop marketing. We just have to be a bit more sensitive to everyone’s best interests. The landscape has changed and may never return completely to its former ways. The future is anybody’s guess, so we’re approaching it as a wide-open frontier. As has been the case with our company since day one, the needs of businesses will dictate the services and value Greenlane can continue to provide. 

Transparency as a business practice. Some hard lessons in Greenlane’s history taught us that transparency really matters. And with COVID, transparency is more important than ever. We have informed our team of the entire business situation – the good, the bad, and the ugly – to make sure we are all going in the same direction. And to make sure any fears and concerns were sorted.

I recommend as much transparency during this time as possible. There is a positive byproduct. With our team now empowered by knowledge and each others’ emotional support, everyone was able to feel a bit more security. From this, they were able to focus on client work easier despite the shifts in personal life. 

In our line of business, we have to give proper time and attention to our clients. We have made a promise to each one. And that means understanding their pains and fears with a clear, helpful mind. I’m extremely impressed by some of the smart and creative ideas our team developed for clients who were also pivoting to stay connected to their customers. We deal with a lot of emergencies, and taking Greenlane itself out of the equation was important.    

Be a leader. Not just a boss. For those in managerial positions, this is an unprecedented time for you to shine. While you have company goals on your shoulders (and let’s face it – there will be plenty of pressure in the next months to right the ship), this is where your experience and empathy is needed. As I mentioned, transparency and going beyond the call of duty are wonderful concepts. But there might be a need for some emotional support as well. Your team spends much of their life as part of your company. And while executives often see employees as investments to improve company cash flow, they are good human beings that are also scared, if not for the same reasons as you. Consider using your experience to aid your team. You might find, as I did, that your team will actually help aid you right back.

In one of our team Zoom meetings, I had commented that we are all very lucky to have each other, and to have this company. Greenlane doesn’t just belong to my partner and I. This company has been shaped by everyone involved. It’s pieces of everybody. Clients included. When I entered the world of entrepreneurship, coming in with my previous experiences as my guide, I never thought a company could be this way. I was very scared when all this started, but I’m no longer afraid. And I owe that all to the amazing team that runs this company. So while all businesses are taking a hit right now, I hope some of what we shared today can help you also stay strong.

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Bill Sebald

Bill Sebald

Managing Partner

I've been doing SEO since 1996. Blogger, speaker, and occasionally teaching at Drexel and Philadelphia University. I started Greenlane in 2005 to help clients leverage search marketing to hit business goals. I love this stuff.

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