Across the country, “social distancing” is a term that has become a part of our daily vocabulary, and unfortunately many businesses across the country have shut down. Those that have been able to remain open are at a limited capacity. We are in a new era of human life, one that is ever-changing, and amidst this uncertainty our daily lives have been turned upside down. As a result, we have had to consider how we can do things differently. New norms range from our regular person-to-person interactions like visiting neighbors or working out, to our interactions as we shop for much needed goods and services. As consumers, our search behaviors online are also changing due to our newfound societal needs.
As a digital marketing company, we can look for the details in the data of the changing search environment. While somesearch trends during Covid-19 are obvious, like the spikes in search trends for “online learning”, there are some search volume increases for terms like “mortgages” that without understanding user intent can be unexpected. As we move through this evolving landscape, it is essential to understand intent and the needs of your audience.
Changes in the Search Landscape
There have been drastic shifts in search over the last few months, many happening basically overnight on March 11, 2020, when the global pandemic was announced. Search patterns changed entirely, as coronavirus was the top item on all of our minds and has continued to be throughout March and into April.
The Noble Studios reported on the astounding volume of searches at any given time for “things to do”, which has decreased by 72% since March 1st. This could be perceived by some as though we are bored all the time as a society, however, there was much more available to us prior to that time. Think entertainment, travel, events, sports, etc. Even though that specific search term has seen substantial decreases, the searches around topics that are more available to us have seen increases, the same report notes that searches for “outdoors” grew 45% and “hiking” by 58%. Similarly, based upon accessibility and need, searches for “restaurants” have dropped 46% while “food delivery” has skyrocketed 113%.
Although “physical” interaction has been drastically limited, we still have the need to interact and behave as we normally would, just a different kind of normal, one that we were already engaged with, but now is an even more essential part of our everyday lives. Look at the chart below from Google Trends, showing the search demand for “digital” and “virtual” over the past 90 days.
What does this mean to the search landscape? To us as marketers? Or, to you as businesses? The majority of our population is under Stay at Home orders, we have had to change our behavior, and will have to continue to change as we navigate through this. The adaptations the food service industry has made by offering curbside pickup, food delivery, text ordering, or pickup and drop-off solutions to service the needs of the public may be one of the most noticeable changes businesses have made. One necessitated by our needs. Consider the “digital” and “virtual” trends shown above. Both are things that have been readily available to us for quite some time now and while “digital” saw a bit of an increase, “virtual” jumped up. It has become a more commonly searched phrase as we explore different ways of fulfilling our communication or entertainment needs, and as businesses look to facilitate new ways of providing a service.
Internet users have become accustomed to searching for “things to do” or (xyz) “near me”. It is part of our normal behavior as we look to satisfy many of our daily consumer needs. Due to the changing accessibility and availability of the products and services we all use, the way we receive information about them is also changing. To facilitate this, many of the major search engines have changed the way information is presented to make the search process easier for both the consumer and the provider. For instance, Google has stopped all reviews and questions and answers on Google My Business profiles, and asked business owners to update their business hours during the shutdowns to reflect if they are open, closed, temporarily closed, or have adjusted hours. As business owners looking to provide a product or service, it is more important than ever to adapt and change how your information is made available to the search engines, as well as the audience who needs you.
Pivot your marketing to meet the needs and behaviors of the consumer.
There are two main types of marketing in search: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Pay Per Click Advertising (PPC). When it comes to marketing and the effects of Covid-19, many businesses are cutting unnecessary costs, a decision we can definitely understand. For many businesses, reducing expenses will assist in reserving necessary resources at this time, however, other businesses are doubling down by adapting to new ways of search marketing.
Covid-19 and SEO
We are noticing the changes in search, mentioned above, not just in the food and travel industry but also housing, home services, and more. Over the last two months we have been making banners, landing pages, and changing the content on many of our clients’ websites to better address the needs of their consumers during a time like this. With the goal of improving accessibility to the information the website users are seeking.
The search trends around Covid-19 are appearing for the first time. This is uncharted water, and search volumes for new ways users are finding information are changing as new normals develop. As more and more new searches are performed and more websites change to address the situation, users affect the search algorithms and how search engines evaluate the intent of a user’s search and the sites they rank for the query.
For clients engaged in SEO campaigns, our response is to help clients pivot their website content to address customer needs at the present and for the future as we come out of this pandemic. We have had to take into consideration the needs of their users right now. Asking, what are their expectations when dealing with a business at this time? And then assisting clients in their ability to answer those questions upfront.
Consider the example noted above, the search volume for the term “mortgages” is still up, but what is the intent around that type of search? Due to the immediate concerns of the public, it is not likely around those buying a new home. The term “mortgages” is more likely being used by people looking for information about making their payments, or delaying payment during this pandemic. It’s intended to find information on their financial situation and on their ability to make payments, and what the outcomes will be.
There was a large dip in search volume for “apartments for rent” in the beginning of March, which has now rebounded somewhat. New search terms like “apartments with virtual tours” and “self-guided apartment tours” are now popping up in that space. People still want to move, and Covid-19 is not slowing them down. What has changed is how websites must help those users. Improving SEO for these types of businesses does not just mean adding new keywords to the site, it is improving accessibility to the new forms of content, by first and foremost making it available to them.
Much like how people are still looking for apartments (maybe even more so in the future after they have been stuck inside their current one for so long), people are still searching for businesses near them for the goods and services they need. Even Google is trying to catch up with and improve accessibility to information in these new times. The necessity of showing search engines like Google your geographic and business information, when you are open, and the specifics of your offerings are more important than ever. With adjusted keyword strategies and Google’s evolving algorithm for Covid-19 searches, this uncharted territory can be navigated.
Covid-19 and PPC
Although many business owners are cutting costs, there are some industries that are seeing a drop in cost per click, and their budget is being stretched much further than before.
Now is a good time to reexamine your budget and advertising spend. You may want to shift budgets into products or services that have more relevance during this national emergency. You will want to shift budgets to best performing campaigns to maximize results. Take some tips from Search Engine Journal on how to manage a PPC campaign on a small budget.
There are also more nuanced updates that can be made to PPC advertising during this time as well. Since many of the people seeing your ads are at home all the time now, the times that you are showing your ads to your target audiences may have changed. Wordstream helps to explain these details further, but considerations of when your audience is searching for your products and services may have changed. Users who were searching more leisurely in the morning or evening may now be searching more sporadically throughout the day, or may not be searching at those times because they are reviewing the news, and if ads are shown to them during that time, their sentiment may be down because their thoughts are elsewhere.
Through mid-March, many of our clients experienced a large drop in overall performance due to users changing their focus from their daily lives to their overall health and wellbeing. As focus switched, search volume around many successful campaigns saw an immediate downturn, with some industries even seeing search volume drop to the lowest points they had been in over five years.
As the overall search volume dropped, many accounts saw their clicks decrease, leads slow down, and cost per acquisitions take a hit. A little over a month later, we are seeing accounts recover and even have some industries see really strong numbers. This is due to users settling into their new normal and having their needs and priorities change.
Not only do we see accounts and user interest changing, but also we are changing our strategies. We have worked closely with our clients to determine the best plan of action during this difficult time. In some cases, we advised lowering budgets to combat low search volume. In other cases, we have created new campaigns and ad copy, developed new bidding strategies, and much more to help build awareness, drive traffic and generate leads. For example, we have advised clients to invest in the upper funnel with strategies such as remarketing and display.
Eventually, life will get back to normal, but for now we are dedicated to assisting our clients in developing winning strategies and solutions to help navigate the search landscape through these tough times. Paid advertising and SEO are always changing, and we saw that happen more quickly than ever. Adapting to the circumstances and helping our clients are top priorities at Results Repeat, now more than ever.