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Recession-proof value propositions for eCommerce SEO

Author: Dan Taylor

An image of author Dan Taylor accompanied by various search-related iconography, including a calendar, line chart, and globe icon

During an economic recession, buyer behavior tends to become more conservative as prices increase but consumer disposable income doesn’t.

As a result, some commerce sectors (e.g., one-off luxury purchases) tend to slow down, whereas eCommerce in general sees users shift their perception of “value.”

In this article, I’ll explain how eCommerce businesses can utilize SEO and content to adapt to consumer behavior changes and maintain a presence (and sales) through the downturn.

Table of contents:

How to define value proposition triggers for eCommerce consumers

A value proposition is a statement that defines the unique benefits a company offers its customers.

It is a way of differentiating your product from those of your competitors. A good value proposition should be clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Within eCommerce, many marketers take value propositions for granted, but during an uncertain economic period, they can become differentiators for decision making. This is especially the case when you can’t compete on price with other vendors of similar or alternative products.

Differentiation in eCommerce can come from a number of places and functions within the business. Some will be more ingrained into wider processes and functions than others (such as your customer service approach or how your website handles personalized content), but this is where you should also understand the variables you can and can’t influence.

Common value propositions that potential customers may prioritize include:

  • Level of customer service and “on-hand” question answering

  • Level of supporting content and product information, as well as social validation (of the company and product)

  • Product and information personalization

  • After-purchase considerations (delivery speed, return policy, etc.)

These value propositions will vary in significance depending on the type of product and the user. Nobody expects next day delivery on a Steingraeber & Söhne piano, but they might on AAA batteries or groceries.

When crafting your eCommerce value propositions, you should start by focusing on the customer and the most relevant direct need/value points. During an economic downturn, the weighting and importance of these value propositions may shift, and it’s important that you shift with them and recalibrate your content messaging.

More often than not, this comes down to an economic concept known as price elasticity. How much you’re affected by changes in the economic climate often depends on your prices and how your products are regarded. For example, gas/fuel are purchased regardless of price, as they are a necessity (i.e., price inelastic), but high-end sports sneakers are not essentials, so they are more price elastic.

Supply (i.e., competition) can also play a role.

In a marketplace with multiple vendors, supply is elastic, and without strong differentiators cost becomes a more prominent factor. This is why your messaging is critical in preventing prospects from making incorrect assumptions.

It’s the relative cost and value associated with your product versus the opportunity cost of not buying your product that ultimately leads to a sale (or not, if the calculus goes unfavorably for you).

How eCommerce strategy needs to evolve during a recession

eCommerce SEO typically starts off with two basic questions:

  • What are you selling?

  • Where are you selling it?

Next, through understanding the product and business model, we can identify relevant modifiers (such as “cheap” and “free delivery”) to use to capture long tail demand.

For the most part, this is where we focus on keywords and search volumes, and do the standard optimizing of category product pages, with supporting blog articles to aid potential customers with decision making.

The marketing funnel, showing lead generation at the top, followed by prospect, opportunity, and customer at the bottom. There are also accompanying types of pages that customers in each stage of the funnel may be viewing, such as “contact us” for those closer to conversion, and “free trial” pages for those that are opportunities.

This isn’t necessarily the wrong approach (as it works for so many eCommerce stores), but during a recession, in my opinion, it is the wrong approach to be taking if you want to grow and secure your consumer base.

During a recession, resources on both sides of the transaction are often stretched and I’d argue most marketers, agencies, and consultants have heard the words “bang for the buck” spoken in a meeting reviewing channel performance.

As we know, this translates to “we need to see more ROI,” which either means increased consumer spend with maintained budgets or maintained consumer spend with decreased budgets. More often than not, it’s the latter, which is natural because that’s the lever you have direct control over.

By moving away from the big marquee search volume queries, you’re free to focus on value propositions and customer feedback. You can then build your wider SEO strategy whilst achieving ROI and focusing on competitive advantages that you can use existing reviews and consumer feedback to socially validate.

This doesn’t mean overhauling your existing personas or segmentations, but it does mean you need to understand how circumstances may have changed your audience’s value perceptions.

A good example of this during economic downturns is a shift from wanting free shipping/next day delivery, to increased accessibility through pricing (e.g., bundling products and offers for increased value, or as a wider business decision, working with a vendor to enable installment-based payments).

Value proposition examples for changing buyer behaviors

An infographic labeled “example value propositions for changing buyer behavior” with three bullet points: availability and shipping, social validation, and use cases/case studies

You will primarily communicate your value propositions through content, some of which can be built into PLP (product listing page) or PDP (product detail page) templates, but others will require pages of their (own such as blogs, support guides, or resource pages).

Not all of the value propositions I mention below will be relevant to your products, so bear that in mind and you may identify others unique to your market that your competitors aren’t communicating effectively, opening the door for you to do so.

Availability and shipping

Accurately communicating your stock level can be a major driving force for first-time and repeat customers. After all, the customer wants to know that they can get what they need in a timely manner.

When you craft content to communicate product availability as a value proposition, use clear wording to appeal to customers and frame expectations:

  • Fast and reliable delivery. Call out fast shipping options—including same-day, next-day, and express delivery. This helps customers feel confident that their item(s) will arrive quickly and safely (which can certainly be a consideration for businesses selling high-value products, like electronics or jewelry).

  • Product range. Highlight your selection of products across different categories (e.g., clothing, beauty products, etc.) to assure shoppers that you have what they need and drive them to explore your site further.

  • Stock level transparency. Accurately reflect how much of each product is available and remind customers of limited editions or seasonal items so they know what’s available before it runs out.

Express shipping is a great way to add value to whatever you’re selling. Customers always appreciate discounts and free shipping, but they also value their time—that’s why fast delivery is important.

Write copy that emphasizes the value of express shipping to draw attention to this benefit. Here are a few tips on how to highlight your expedited shipping options in your copy/content:

01. Be explicit about what's included: Clearly explain what comes with your express shipping service, including how quickly orders are fulfilled and the types of packaging options. You can also call out any other added benefits of the service, like tracking or signature confirmation.

02. Highlight customer testimonials: Feature positive customer reviews about your express shipping options to show how reliable and efficient your delivery times are. This is an effective way to communicate the value of fast delivery without directly talking about it yourself.

03. Focus on convenience: Stress the convenience of fast delivery—as long as customers can trust that their order will arrive in a timely manner, they're likely to place an order. This can be an especially important element to highlight to appeal to last-minute shoppers during your busiest seasons.

Social validation via reviews and testimonials

Reviews and testimonials offer social proof that a product is worth buying and that the business actively works to support its customers. Incorporating these into your content will give potential customers the confidence they need to make an informed decision.

A screenshot of the Life Alert protection services page with a ticker showing 44,446 testimonials since July 3, 2008, a testimonial video featuring several customers, and a testimonials section in the site navigation.
The Life Alert website prominently features both written and video customer testimonials.

When customers are more discerning, reviews and testimonials can not only enforce the actual product quality, but also validate your other value propositions.

You can gather reviews/testimonials specifically for this purpose by incorporating prompts and focused questions when you reach out to past customers to leave a review.

  • What do you think of our product/service?

  • How would you rate/describe your experience with us?

  • Was our customer service helpful?

  • Would you recommend us to your friends and family?

  • What could we do better next time?

Make sure to customize these questions to fit the specific products your business offers.

When phrased correctly, they can give you valuable feedback that helps improve the customer experience and better inform marketing strategies, in addition to providing social validation for the value propositions you’re communicating.

Product use cases/case studies

Creating content around specific use cases can be so beneficial. Use cases are detailed stories that allow potential consumers to better understand the product and visualize how they would use it.

Examples of this could include outlining any technical specifications, listing any special offers, or talking about any personalized customer service.

You can even deploy an automated content experience to help potential customers make informed decisions. As an eCommerce store owner, you can do this by designing content in a way that allows customers to forecast their own experience with the product.

The content experience you design can range from product knowledge hubs and advanced buying guides, efficiency and cost calculators, through to VR experiences for tangible products.

To create effective product use cases for your eCommerce store, try the following tactics:

01. Make use of virtual assistants: This AI-powered technology can give customers personalized recommendations based on past interactions with the product or service.

02. Highlight customer reviews: Reviews from real customers give others an insight into how the product or service works and if it is suitable for them.

03. Offer video tutorials: Video tutorials can be extremely helpful for customers who want to gain a better understanding of how your product works before making a purchase.

04. Integrate chatbots: Chatbots provide customers with instant responses to their questions, allowing them to make faster purchasing decisions without having to wait for a human response.

By integrating these automated content experiences, you can provide potential consumers with the knowledge they need to make the decision that best suits their situation, without a heavy need for content production resources.

Adjusting your SEO strategy for a recession can help you come out on top

Marketing is probably one of the most important things you should continue to do throughout a recession. You may find your competitors dialing back spend across multiple channels, leaving an opportunity for you to step in and fill the void.

The key is to pivot your messaging and understand that the value that prospects once saw in your product might have changed as times got tougher. This change in messaging and brand portrayal can also work to improve retention as well as appeal to your SOM’s (serviceable obtainable markets) new, pressing pain points.


Dan Taylor

Dan Taylor is an experienced SEO and has consulted for companies such as Cloudflare, Gitlab, and Proton. In 2018, he won the inaugural TechSEO Boost Research prize and has previously talked at BrightonSEO, TechSEO Boost (Boston, US), and Optimization (Moscow). Twitter | Linkedin


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