As the coronavirus pandemic sweeps the globe, the way we are living, operating, and using the internet is shifting. It is unsurprising to see wholesale changes in search in an event like this, and whilst I do not enjoy the word ‘unprecedented’ being used so frequently, it is extremely appropriate for most cases.

Unprecedented is exactly what we have seen in search in the last month, so much that it is like watching a continuous algorithm update happen each week as users shift their behaviour dramatically and the algorithm adapts accordingly. This is creating massive volatility in ranking for a duration that we have not seen before.

So, let us discuss what that means, what we are seeing, and what that means for us as businesses looking to navigate these tricky waters…

User behaviour is dictating change

Of course, there is no way Google can be releasing updates every few days, so we must conclude that ranking changes are happening to adapt to user behaviour change – the algorithm is adapting itself for user behaviour.

Here are some examples of Google Trend shifts that highlight the bizarre demand we are seeing across some verticals right now. I have chosen six different examples that have shown the rapid rise (and subsequent in some cases) of search volume.

Hand sanitizer

Hand sanitizer (and toilet roll of course) were the first major demands of the UK public when news of the pandemic broke. The trend line dwarfs anything in the search terms history and supply shortages soon followed. The chaos around the product has calmed somewhat now, to the point we have nearly returned to normality.

An interesting point is how serious Google monitors the ranking for these terms, as we do not often see new websites ranking in the top spots. Since Google’s Medic update last year, only highly reputable websites tend to rank for these terms, presumably to ensure proper healthcare advice is given to searchers.

Home gym and workout

You can almost time the huge spike in the UK home gym market with the moment gyms were ordered to close by the British PM. I had some first-hand experience with this as I took straight to Amazon to get some equipment for home. That was a Friday afternoon, and by Monday, stock was sparse, and we were seeing extortionate pricing and lead times on any home gym equipment.

Either through the lack of supply, or perhaps everyone that plans to buy some has already got their order in, we have seen that begin to drop again in the last week. It is worth noting that even after a drop it is at a higher point than the previous five years.

Gardening

This is an interesting one, as the gardening industry is currently in its peak season anyway – however with users stuck in their house all day, some perhaps worrying about food stock or grocery supplies, the garden industry is experiencing its busiest high season in recent memory.

Dog adoption (pets)

Quite an interesting one, as the lockdown began, people likely looking for some company and not wanting to endure lockdown on their own turned to mans best friend. Not as dramatic rise as some categories, but outside of the usual Christmas high time for search volume we have seen the greatest demand in the last five years.

How-to queries

As people continue lockdown in their homes, things might break, boredom might coerce them into finally putting up that shelf. Regardless of the motive, we are seeing the biggest spike in how-to queries ever. This could continue to rise as lockdown status is prolonged – Are you covering these topics if they are relevant to your business?

COVID-19 Search Terms

As enormous COVID-19 volumes occur around the pandemic, and news outlets fighting for the traffic that comes with it, we have seen Google taking the traffic for themselves in many queries. For example, if you are looking for the current number of cases of coronavirus in your country, you will most likely be presented with this:

Of course, it is incredibly useful, however it minimises the possibility that websites will be getting any traffic of note from these terms now. There are many terms we have not checked in this instance though so please correct me if I am wrong!

Ads vs Organic

Depending on industry, ads could have increased/ decreased which has an impact on organic ranking. In times like these, companies in verticals that are suffering, that have looked after their SEO will be the ones that survive and thrive. In these industries that are having trouble, many will have to switch off advertising whilst demand is not there. When this happens, demand never falls to a flat zero, and there is always at least a tiny amount of business to be won – these sales still come through organic results and can be crucial cash flow in these times.

Within eCommerce verticals where demand has increased, such as some of the industries/ search topics mentioned above, we are seeing 4 ads instead of 2, more Google Shopping ads than ever. This means increase CPC, lower impression share, so PPC agencies and departments must be on their toes right now. If the correct care and attention is not taken in temporarily booming sectors, then companies will find a rapidly rising CPA and little to no profit left in their campaigns.

Here we can see a how-to query triggering shopping ads:

What does it mean for you?

At a time like this, it is probably quite evident which side of the line you fall whether it be positive or negative effect from COVID-19. But what can you do to turn bad into good, or good into incredible?

Research and communication are vital to understanding where your business falls in all this. Work out the pattern of behaviour in your industry off the back of the pandemic. Ask fellow businesses what they are experiencing, ask existing customers how they are doing and what their thoughts are. Ask them what you could do for them during this time. These are some questions that you should ask:

  1. What are your customers motivations normally, and what might they be right now?
  2. How will they react when this is over?
  3. Will your audience change the way the search/ shop online forever or will they return to normal?
  4. What can you do to prepare for those eventualities?

The reality is for hard hit verticals such as travel, is that there will be a huge comeback when this is over. The first thing users will do as soon as the borders are lifted, is book a holiday.

What could travel companies do to prepare for that? They could be creating content such as guides on where to go post-coronavirus, as I am sure people will wonder if everywhere is now safe, or just some places. What is the best? Answering these questions for users will help to ensure that when people are ready, they come to you first.

Think about how that could relate to your industry, and whilst the time is there and the custom is not, what you could be doing to come out of this stronger than ever.

If you need any advice at this time, whether you have budget or not, please get in touch and we would be more than happy to offer suggestions specific to your business on how to handle the coming months – I know for some it is an extremely difficult and somewhat scary time, and it is important that every does what they can to support each other.