The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives in many ways – especially when it comes to how customers and businesses communicate with one another. With customers unable to interact with companies in a conventional way, their focus has shifted online and their search behaviour has changed, and this includes the way they search for the products and information they need.

COVID-19 and the ensuing UK lockdown has left individuals unable to make physical contact. As a result, online platforms such as social media, websites and search engines have become increasingly important for communicating with brands, accessing information and making purchases. It makes sense for businesses to utilise online content to continue to target their customers during a time when contactless communication is critical.

To optimise their online presence during COVID-19, businesses need to adapt to search trends and patterns to be able to reach their customers in the right ways. However, search has changed during this period, with trending keywords reflecting the new lifestyles and needs people have adapted to.

In this blog, we will discuss how search behaviour has changed during the coronavirus outbreak and how businesses can respond to new trends to create content that truly wins.

How search behaviour has changed during COVID-19

When any global or national event happens, you can expect popular search terms to reflect it, and this is the case with COVID-19. For example, if we take the word ‘coronavirus’, we can see that searches in the UK were relatively non-existent until January 2020, with interest peaking in mid-March, just before lockdown measures were put in place. Since then, it has gradually fallen; though it remains at a higher level than it had been before January. 

The peak of ‘coronavirus’ as a search term in March shows that this was when individuals were mostly looking for information on the virus – when the word was likely new to them, and awareness was still growing as to its symptoms and impacts. The gradual fall since then could reflect that people are becoming more aware of the virus.

Similarly, if we take other lockdown terms, like ‘stay at home’, ‘social distancing’ and ‘stay alert’, we can see they tend to peak at times where they are most ‘fresh’ – such as after a particular announcement from the government.

However, it’s not just COVID-19 specific terms that have experienced higher search volumes over the last few months. Coronavirus has impacted demand for particular services and activities, and as a result, we have seen search in these areas increase. Search based around interests such as wellbeing (such as home exercise), cooking (such as recipes) and virtual activities (such as quizzes) has increased. The graph below shows an example of terms related to these areas, and how they had grown since March when lockdown began.

Similarly, particular industries have faced different search volumes depending on their offerings and how this matches the needs of the public at this time. These have included some sectors which have seen demand dramatically fall, such as hospitality, travel, insurance, property and so on, as can be seen in the search terms below.

Others have enjoyed increased search during this time – such as the financial, food, cleaning and online retail sectors.

It is worth noting that the industries seeing reduced search are those that have been forced to close in line with government guidance or those that simply may not be on top of people’s priorities given changes to lifestyles. The industries seeing increased search are generally those that people still need (like food), that provide support (like finances) or can be seen as a direct solution to COVID-19 risk (like cleaning). This suggests that, if businesses want to stay on top of their search potential in the current climate, they need to find ways their content can address need and demand from customers while bearing in mind current public interest and context.

How to respond to changing search behaviour

During these everchanging times, businesses need to keep themselves updated with the patterns of search and customer behaviour – particularly during the different stages of the pandemic and lockdown where demand is susceptible to a swift change in line with government announcements. The most important thing a business can do to promote their SEO, however, is to make sure they are creating content that provides value to customers – here’s how.

Target customer interests and needs

Many businesses have been able to survive the impacts of COVID-19 by adapting their offerings in a way that customers can utilise them from the comfort of their home. Similarly, it is this type of content that has seen increased search volume. So, spend time brainstorming how you can take your services and products – particularly if you usually rely on physical contact with your customers – and turn them into relevant online content. Provide instructions for DIY projects customers can do at home or offer innovative ways your products can be used during lockdown to entertain or assist users. A brilliant example of this is Wagamama’s, who released the recipe to their famous katsu curry during lockdown – leading to great PR for the brand, positive engagement and a peak in branded search.

If your industry is receiving higher than average search volume during this time, focus your content on how exactly your services can address critical issues that people may be facing during COVID-19. If you see falling search volumes, you may need to think imaginatively when it comes to keeping users interested. For example, if you are a travel-related company, blog titles such as “Holidays to recreate at home” or “Best UK staycations” will allow you to continue to offer value to your customers while remaining sensitive to the challenges they may be facing at this particular time. Ultimately, if you can provide value to your customers, this will have a positive impact on your company’s SEO and reach.

Don’t be afraid to talk ‘COVID-19’

The trends show that search terms around COVID-19 have peaked in the last three months. While patterns suggest some of these terms are on the downturn, it is still worth optimising the content on your website that directly links to them. The best way to do this is to include information on what your business is doing in response to the pandemic – such as changes to your operations, working hours and other key messages that you want to put across to the customers.

Part of this should include updating your Google My Business (GMB) listings. Here, you can update opening hours – including whether your business is temporarily closed. You can also add specific updates around coronavirus, such as changes to protocol, or use the available GMB attributes to highlight how customers can shop during this time. Doing so will be beneficial to your customers, keeping them updated and giving them the answers they need as soon as they press ‘search’.

Another way to make sure you are targeting the right terms around ‘COVID-19’ is to keep yourself up to date with new jargon and slogans around coronavirus. For example, when the government’s ‘Stay Home’ messaging switched to ‘Stay Alert’, search quickly rose for this term. By being aware of changing interest and terminology around the virus, businesses can make use of keywords while they are piquing interest and embed them in their content in creative ways – like in this example from camping retailer Go Outdoors.

Base content on empathy

Some of the content and brands that have performed best during this period are those that tug on the heartstrings of their customers. With sentiment around bringing people together from a distance, protecting the NHS and encouraging people to stay safe commonplace across marketing channels, this messaging can resonate with your customers and boost your engagement.

Aim to tie this content into something your business is doing to directly address issues stemming from COVID-19 – such as building awareness, working with communities or fundraising for charities. This example from Facebook, where they announced the launch of a Community Hub, shows how effective it can be. By doing this, you can promote your business while encouraging positive sentiment towards your brand.

In line with this, you should double and triple check your content during this time for any tone-deafness. Understand the struggles your customers may be going through at this time, and try to approach them from an empathetic standpoint. Remove any wording that runs the risks of insult – doing so might make your content known for the wrong reasons.

Utilise different search platforms

When it comes to search, the likes of Google and Bing are no longer the only platforms people use. An effective search strategy should, therefore, utilise all available platforms as well as the more traditional search engines.

One such platform is social. These days, few businesses can get away without having a social presence, and social has become an essential channel for communication for businesses and customers when traditional contact has been impossible. Snapchat alone experienced a 50% increase in usage during March. Because of the growth in social during this period, it is vital to make sure you are active on the channels your customers are present on. Use these channels to provide business updates, demonstrate what you have been up to behind the scenes or even as a sales tool so that customers searching for you on social can find out about your activity. Just remember to utilise hashtags, imagery and other social features to boost engagement and help your SEO efforts.

When using social, be sure to avoid the abyss of ‘fake news’ that can appear here. Many outlets use social as a way to share false information or scare-mongering stories, and you do not want to be involved in this as it can lead to criticism and negative sentiment from users. So, make sure any content you publish or share is factual and aim to be positive in tone where possible.

Video is also a key player when it comes to SEO, with video offering huge benefits when it comes to engagement and marketing ROI. Consider what content you can create as video – whether it be demonstrations of your products, webinars or content directly related positive messaging around COVID-19. Utilising video platforms, such as YouTube, can also help you on the SERPs, with 62% of Google searches including video results – so make sure you are uploading it to these platforms. Video is also popular on social, with channels such as IGTV and Facebook Live seeing growth over the last few months, making implementing video across your strategy beneficial for your overall marketing and SEO efforts.

Audit your existing content

If your business is facing increased downtime in the face of lockdown, one way in which you can boost your SEO during this time is by undertaking a content audit. This will allow you to get tabs on how your existing content is performing, as well as re-optimising any poor-performing content. Make sure every piece of content meets the E-A-T principles. Google accounts for updated content as part of its ranking system, so doing this will help to improve your search position.

While carrying out your content audit, identify any content that might prove useful for your COVID-19 strategy or may address a particular customer pain point. This might include making edits to the original blog post (be sure to highlight that the post has been updated), re-promoting it via your social channels or repurposing it into video content.

You can find tips for optimising your existing content for the COVID-19 world here.

Find the right marketing solutions for you

In a time when many businesses are struggling, brands must utilise the tools available to them to continue to remain present in the minds of customers – and search is one of these tools.

By identifying the right ways your business can provide value to customers at this time and optimising your content to target the keywords people are searching, as well as alternative search platforms like social and video, you can make sure you are still generating demand and allowing yourself to be seen. Furthermore, the right content and empathetic messaging can increase positive sentiment and engagement with your brand, allowing you to succeed, even in a time of crisis.

If you need advice on how marketing can help your business to survive the effects of the coronavirus outbreak, or improve your business presence in general, we can help. The services we offer include SEO and digital, as well as PR and sales coaching, so we can find the right marketing plan for you. Get in touch today.