April 7, 2020

How is Coronavirus Changing Search?


COVID-19 (a.k.a. the coronavirus) has become a global pandemic which has had an impact on human health, the economy, and lifestyle. These topics have become the most common topics of discussion, as well as widely searched terms.

Numbers of Google SERPs for “coronavirus” queries grew drastically in the last month and outscored the most searched terms globally.

Number of search results for the “coronavirus” query in Google index
November 2019 542,000,000
December 2019 646,000,000
January 2020 344,000,000
February 2020 344,000,000
March 2020 3,840,000,000

Popular Google search terms

Search Engine Changes

Search engines’ missions have always been to provide the best answers on topics of great concern to their users.

Google and Bing, for example, responded with SERP enhancements in order to provide timely information on COVID-19 with alerts, maps of worldwide cases, safety tips, help & info, and a common questions feature. They have also created specific pages on their main domains to directly provide information on the topic: https://www.google.com/covid19/, https://bing.com/covid.

SERPs related to COVID-19 moved towards providing the info that meets EAT (Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness) factors the most. Therefore, medical organizations, local government agencies, and some news sites moved up, while Wikipedia (as a community-generated content site) moved down.

There have also been changes to Google My Business – the Business Posts feature has temporarily been disabled for some businesses. However, it is possible to post COVID-19 updates that will be featured more prominently within the profile itself.

Health-related businesses are prioritized by submitting new listings and verification, but are still unable to post new reviews, replies, videos, and Q&As.

Google Trends added a separate Related Topics category with a Most Searched Questions map.

Google Trends - Most Searched Questions - Covid-19

User Search Behavior – Possible Changes

  • People tend to browse and shop online more because of the lockdown and lack of live communication. Many searches have been affected by the coronavirus situation.
  • Mobile search volumes are expected to decrease because of people’s limited outdoor activity and desktops being more immediately accessible.
  • There is a growing demand for life’s daily essentials and a shift towards products that people need in order to avoid and/or deal with the pandemic.
  • Confidence, trust, and a company’s ability to fulfill orders tend to be more important buying factors than a product’s price.
  • Big purchases have been postponed, and searches related to expensive products have thereby

Economic/Business Landscape Changes

  • Businesses dependent on foot traffic have been seriously affected.
  • Affected businesses are prompted to be more flexible with business activity, shifting their focus to build or increase online presence.
  • There is a growing importance of customer service and reputation management.
  • Offline media advertising has been pulled back, and sporting/live event sponsorships are less effective.
  • Businesses need to be aware about the possible changes in digital audience profiles.
  • Budgets for specialized offline conferences and trade shows have been frozen or repurposed.
  • The businesses that manage to survive will be in a much stronger position when this all passes – similarly to previous digital recessions.
  • The overall situation created a welcoming field to grow curbside-pickup business
  • Remote work has created highly specific product demand.

Product demand during Covid-19

In-demand niches:

  • Food delivery
  • Video conferencing
  • Online learning
  • Gaming
  • Home cooking
  • Consuming goods (not including luxury segment)
  • Digital streaming
  • Games and toys for kids
  • Home gardening
  • Home fitness and wellness
  • Productivity tools
  • Telecom
  • Medical device manufacturers
  • Home office supplies

Suffering niches:

  • Travel
  • Events
  • Airlines
  • Hotels, resorts, cruise lines
  • Property/mortgage
  • Furniture

SEO/Digital Marketing Landscape Changes

  • Potential of serious cut-offs for marketing budgets because of lower cash flow.
  • Popular keywords may remain unchanged, but the user intent and search context behind those keywords have potentially changed. For example, core keywords for a big event or conference may not have changed, but the context of the search could be quite different now, as people searching for the event in Google may want to check whether it was postponed, cancelled, streamed online, etc.
  • Following search trends is getting more important. New keyword spikes are happening daily and, if related to their market, websites can gain traffic by providing informative content to help their audiences. Some brands are even building a coronavirus content hub.
  • Informational COVID-19 content can be very successful, especially if businesses can apply the information as closely as possible to their own audience – through local, demographic or professional context.
  • Websites can experience speed issues related to the growing tension on hosting providers.
  • With a rapid rise of news-related queries regarding COVID-19 and growing popularity of publisher websites, correctly setting up an AMP is very important in order to appear in the news carousel on SERPs.
  • Interest in Search Engine Optimization is high in many countries around the world, e.g. Denmark, Sweden and Israel. There was a spike in searches in the US and UK at the beginning of 2020, and the interest remains higher compared to the previous year.

SEO interest - US

Why Do SEO in Downtimes?

  • The decrease in demand by itself is causing a decline in revenue. However, less marketing efforts means fewer sales which, in turn, means even further decline in revenue.

Despicable Me - businesses cut marketing

  • Digital marketing is very flexible and strategies can be adjusted in relatively short terms in order to respond to the current situation.
  • Unlike branding efforts and overall offline marketing, digital marketing’s effectiveness can be easily measured.
  • In case a business is suffering, there’s still opportunity to keep contact with current and potential clients by changing focus and allowing the business some flexibility.

Example 1: gyms that provide online workout lessons

Example 2: restaurants that re-oriented themselves with ready-food pickups & delivery

  • SEO is the least intrusive or pushy way to do marketing in hard times: it provides answers to the questions people are searching for online.
  • Downtime is the right time to concentrate on building an online visibility base, which takes time to build up, by concentrating on strategy, creating evergreen content, and doing everything in terms of technical & internal website optimization that was previously postponed.
  • As most companies experience difficulties, digital competitive fields tend to weaken. Those who put a little more thought, effort and resources get rewarded by winning market shares and gaining stronger positions.
  • The demand for quality content that responds to user intent will never be exhausted. This is the best time to strengthen websites’ EAT factors in correspondence with Google ranking factors. Recognition of a brand as trustworthy will always be a competitive advantage.

Marketing Activities Worth Giving Special Attention to in Downtimes

  • Content audits
  • Optimizing for SERP features; structured data implementation
  • Website redesign
  • Videos creation and optimization
  • Technical audits (and implementation of tech changes)
  • Backlink audits
  • Correct outreach strategy to strengthen client relationships
  • Referral programs creation
  • Deep dive into audience analysis
  • Online events creation

Each challenge presents an amazing opportunity to better understand your customers. Marketing to their interests first makes for an essential part of doing business.

Stay at home and take care.

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