The impact of Coronavirus on search trends
The changing priorities of user search trends as a result of the pandemic is a reminder of the importance of understanding Search Intent.
Knowing what your target audiences are searching for and, crucially, why they’re searching for those terms is vital to understanding where to position your brand’s online content.
When you know the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of the search terms your target audiences are using, you can begin to know what content to present to them in those digital locations for the best chance of converting them from audience to customer.
The ‘what’ and ‘why’ of your target audience’s digital search habits often fluctuate based on a number factors including the ‘when’ of the searches.
For example, unsurprisingly, searches for alcohol spike around December as people across the world start to shop for Christmas and drop again in January as people recover from overindulgence during the holiday season.
Knowing and monitoring the ebb and flow of ‘what’, ‘when’ and ‘why’ your target customers are searching online can help you to create a search strategy that is laser-focused on the intents of your customers.
Introducing Intent Marketing
This is the basis of intent marketing, a strategy where you cater your content to satisfying specific customer needs and solving specific problems as identified by the language used in their search terms.
We’ve written an in-depth guide to search intent, but the bottom line is; when you understand what need is motivating your customers to search for a specific term, you can create content that satisfies it, making your brand the most useful and appealing option for the user.
But, what happens when a global, generation-defining event occurs and suddenly it’s all anyone on every media platform is talking about?
An event that makes your customer’s usual search habits go out of the window and searches for your products and services take a nose-dive, or, in some cases, skyrocket.
And, what if that same event also throws a wrench in your supply chain, means you have to shutter your stores, or leads to your entire team working remotely?
What happens to your search marketing strategy then?
Coronavirus’s Impact on User Search Trends
The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically altered everyone’s lives and shifted the perspective through which we view the world.
Lockdowns, shielding and social distancing have all changed the way we go about our day to day lives in the physical world. So, it’s no real surprise that it’s also impacted how we behave online and the types of things we’re now searching for.
There are obvious changes, such as a huge leap in the volume of searches for face masks, hand sanitiser and hand washing, but there are some more surprising changes too.
Google has picked up on the various changes in search habits and identified five key search behaviours which users have been exhibiting in their queries since the pandemic began.
Searches which help the user to:
- Assemble critical information
- Take care of themselves and others
- Adjust to their new routines
- Create communities
- Praise everyday heroes
These five categories of search behaviours show the shifting priorities of the public during this time.
Despite shielding, social distancing and self-isolation measures being in effect across the majority of the world, our search habits show us that people are thinking about others and their connection to other people more than ever before.
Taking note of these changes in search habits, and adjusting your strategies accordingly can help you to satisfy the shifting intents of your target audience, meaning you continue to satisfy their needs and solve their problems.
Changes to Search Trends Since the Lockdown was Announced
We live in a digital age where almost all of the population conducts large elements of their lives online. Whether that’s through social media, online shopping, working digitally or in a variety of other ways.
As the global coronavirus crisis escalated, and especially since the lockdown was announced on the 23rd of March, the population had to adjust to a ‘new normal’.
It’s natural that people would want to maintain as many of their usual habits in their day to day lives despite the cultural changes they’re having to make as a result of the pandemic.
Despite shops shutting or running on reduced hours, people still want access to the same products. Although gyms are shut, people still want to stay fit and healthy and maintain their usual workout habits. While we’re all having to stay at home and social distance, people still want to be connected to their loved ones.
The solution to retaining or redefining normality in the face of the problems posed by the lockdown was to move even more of our lives online and search for virtual solutions.
For example, rather than searching for a store’s opening hours, a user may now be looking for online and next day delivery options. Or, if someone usually attended a weekly fitness class, they might now be looking for online classes to maintain their fitness while the gyms and leisure centres are closed.
And, the Office for National Statistics reported that in March, online sales reached a record high of 22.3% of all retail sales, as consumers switched to online purchasing following the pandemic.
These shifts can be seen in the changing search habits and the spikes in certain search terms and topic areas.
For brands trying to weather the storm of the coronavirus pandemic, recognising and adjusting to these changing search behaviours is essential.
When you understand the intentions behind their search trends and monitor the changes in their queries, you can begin satisfying the new needs of your audiences, as they look for digital solutions rather than physical options.
Assembling Critical Information
The constantly changing status of the pandemic response means that the news is ever-changing and always updating.
For standardised national and international updates and information, people will naturally turn to official and trusted outlets such as newspapers, official briefings and respected news programmes.
However, people are also looking for specific information tailored to various different industries.
For example, non-essential air travel and holidays are currently impossible due to the lockdown restrictions. But, the public will still be looking to businesses in these sectors to provide relevant information for their specific needs.
For a business operating in this sector, they may not be making new sales, but they can pivot to providing up to date information from official sources, filtered through the lens of the hospitality and travel industries.
Responding to your audience’s intent, in this example for information about the changing status of travel arrangements, and providing content which answers their questions and reassures them, positions you as a trustworthy, authoritative brand in the eyes of the consumer.
So, when they are able to book travel or rearrange their holidays, they’ll remember you as a helpful brand who supported them with relevant, helpful information in their time of need.
Taking Care of Themselves and Others
To combat anxiety, fight off boredom and distract ourselves from the pressures of the current climate, many people are turning to activities such as crafts, meditation and baking to keep their minds occupied during the lockdown.
Increases in search trends for puzzles, meditation apps, baking and crafts indicate that, as they can’t leave the house, people throughout the UK are looking for activity-based solutions to the problems they’re facing during the lockdown.
And people aren’t just looking for ways to keep themselves occupied, the closure of gyms and leisure centres means that people are looking for new ways to stay fit and healthy while self-isolating.
When you’re aware of the changing search trends related to your industry you can pivot your communications strategies to accommodate the new intents behind your target customers’ searches.
For example, fitness instructors may not be able to host any physical classes, but they could publish blog posts or video content instructing their usual clients on how to complete a workout in their homes.
Adjusting to Their New Routines
With restaurants and pubs shutting their doors by Government order, many people are having to get used to eating and drinking at home every night where they would usually dine out.
And, the reduced opening hours and social distancing measures in effect in supermarkets means that ‘popping to the shops’ is no longer an option. Getting your weekly groceries is no longer a simple task, it’s an excursion for those who have the means to leave the house and even more difficult for those that can’t.
Unsurprisingly then, search trends for online grocery deliveries have risen dramatically since the lockdown was announced as people look for digital solutions to the problem of getting their weekly shop.
It’s not all About the Essentials
But, it’s not just essentials that people have been searching for since the lockdown. In March, alcohol sales increased by 32.6% in the UK. So, it would seem that the British approach to coronavirus is to keep calm and drink on.
And, this spike in alcohol sales is reflected in the Google search trends; December is the only other time of year when searches exceed the levels we saw in March.
It would also appear that there is still a healthy appetite for restaurant and takeaway food, it’s just the location where people will be eating that’s changed.
Searches for Just Eats, Deliveroo and other takeaway delivery services spiked towards the end of March. Indicating that, although we’re in lockdown, we still want to be able to enjoy our chippy tea at the weekend.
Away from food and drink, people’s changing routines and adjustments to the ‘new normal’ can be seen in the spike in searches for working from home and home office related search terms.
Where appropriate, offering tips on how to stay productive or other useful home-working related content can help businesses to support their customers through this time. Therefore satisfying their customers’ search intent for useful information to get used to their new working conditions.
Although we’re apart, people are coming together more than ever in the current climate.
Disrupted birthdays, cancelled holidays and families being separated by the lockdown restrictions means that people are having to get creative with the ways they socialise with one another.
Surges in searches for online quizzes and group video call apps show that people are looking for ways to stay connected.
Praising Everyday Heroes
As we all realise the incredible job that frontline workers are doing to keep us all safe during this crisis, people are also looking for ways to praise and support these workers.
Viral trends such as #ClapForCarers and #Run5Donate5 have brought people together to celebrate and support those working on the frontline.
Search trends reveal that there’s been a spike in searches related to NHS charities and other similar turns, indicating people are searching with an intent to find ways to support the workers. Where appropriate, businesses and brands could find ways to produce content supporting these intentions.
Whether that’s in the form of (e.g.) a roundup of viral charity fitness challenges if you operate in the health and fitness industry. Or an initiative for customers to ‘pay forward’ goods or services for those in need by paying for additional items which could then be donated to those on the frontline or people in need during the pandemic.
Focus on Consumer’s New Needs in the ‘New Normal’
If you’re a business operating during the pandemic, chances are that you’ve had to drastically alter the way you do things to survive this situation.
When you’re looking to change the way you operate or the places you situate yourself within the search engines, analysing the search trends of terms related to your industry is a great way to see what shifting direction your customers’ intentions are heading in.
And, when you know where their intentions are changing, you can pivot your intent-based marketing strategies to cater appropriately and be the source of help that consumers need as they navigate their new routines.
As Google says, brands can help consumers adjust by;
- Letting people know that solutions are available whenever, wherever.
- Assessing when people need you most, whether through your own first-party data (like site analytics or email opens) or Google Trends, and adjust your communications strategy accordingly.
- Updating or publishing often. There’s a need for content that informs, entertains, connects, and promotes wellness.
However you’re adjusting your operation in the face of the current climate, what should be abundantly clear is the need to keep your user’s intent at the forefront of all your decision making.