The first UK lockdown, in March 2020 saw a significant change in consumer behaviour. With offline shopping no longer a possibility, so consumers turned online to find what they needed. In this article we look at how the lockdown impacted search behaviour and what we can learn for future restrictions.
TLDR – On March 25th search volume for many products went through the roof. From dumb bells to dog food, we saw a massive spike in searches for products and home delivery. (This was counterbalanced by a collapse in search volume for new travel requests and other location based searches.) Brands that were on page 1 of Google saw unprecedented demand without the need for increased ad spend. Brands not in the listings lost out. With talk of another lockdown, should brands be optimising for another spike?
Lockdown in the UK meant a national shutting of various business, services, and recreational areas. This began with the shutting of all pubs, restaurants, cafes, bars, and gyms closing. The lockdown was focused on reducing the spread of the virus, reducing the strain on the NHS, and therefore stopping excess deaths caused by COVID.
This was shortly followed by the immediate closure of all shops selling non-essential goods as well as other premises including libraries and places of worship. This meant clothes shops, homeware shops, DIY shops, technology shops, charity shops, and many others had to shut their physical premises all over the country.
When Did Lockdown Happen?
Lockdown was announced on March 23rd 2020 where Johnson stated all UK residents must stay at home to protect the NHS amid the growing threat of coronavirus. Previous to this, on March 20th the Prime Minister announced the shutting of all pubs, clubs, restaurants, cafes and gyms. Additional restrictions were added in April with lockdown rules being reviewed every three weeks.
What happened to consumer behaviour after Lockdown ?
Internet usage increased to a record high during the Lockdown period. This was predominantly down to the radically changing ways people were having to communicate with families, friends and work colleagues.
EE reported a 45% increase in traffic for communication apps such as Zoom, WhatsApp and Facetime with many having to teach elderly relatives how to use to stay connected to the outside world.
- Between January and April TikTok had an additional 5.9 million visitors.
- In the same months Zoom increased its users by 12.3 million.
- Over half of all adults used WhatsApp to make weekly videos calls
What happened to search Volumes?
As our world moved online our search trends began to change. People were looking for not only products but also solutions to their new-found problems. Most notably online working solutions saw a surge in searches shown by Zoom’s dramatic incline that began just under two weeks before the official UK lockdown. A possible hint that the business world was looking to get ahead of the government when it came to working from home.
There was also an increase in searches for lockdown activities such as ‘how to make banana bread’ which peaked within the second week of the UK lockdown.
Similarly, people also took to Google to replace their normal gym routine with an at home version. With gym-goers seeing that they may not be able to access their usual facilities for the foreseeable future we saw a notable spike in searches for items including ‘dumbbells’ , ‘exercise bike’ and ‘turbo trainers’ .
We also saw an increase in ‘panic buying’ searches for items such as ‘loo roll’ and ‘dog food’ as people desperately tried to get their hands on essential items for themselves, their loved ones, and their animals.
Winners & Losers
Whilst lockdown was a great opportunity for increased searches and conversions for many companies, we can see from other search trends that many industries suffered a loss of interest in the items they sell. Most obviously is perhaps the travel industry, with ‘flights’ searches having a little peak in the weeks before lockdown – most likely a result of many people living temporarily in the UK trying to get home before movement was restricted – but then drastically dropped and have only recently begun slowly increasing again.
Another industry that has seen reduced searches is the fashion industry, in particular those companies focused on evening-wear or ‘going-out’ clothes. This can be seen from the large drop in searches for terms such as ‘going out outfits.’ This keyword saw a collapse from early March as clubs were shut and people stayed home.
What Happens Next? Autumn 2020
With the threat of another lockdown starting to make headlines, we might see a return to increased search demand. Whilst we may not see the extreme search spikes of the first lockdown, there will certainly be more growth opportunities for brands ranking high in the organic search listings. With Black Friday coming, and the concept of a ‘Digital Christmas’ there are still plenty of opportunities to benefit from these behaviour changes.
How can your search benefit from the next lockdown?
Brands were made from search during lockdown. Not every brand in the top organic listings were household names. Yet the brand exposure from these positions and the resultant traffic and sales will have cemented new customers and new prospects for their CRM programs. Your brand could too, if it is in the right place (at the top of Google) at the right time.
Companies with an active SEO strategy will have ensured their place in the listings for organic growth before lockdown and gained the added benefit of a surge in demand. Unlike paid ads, the benefits of this demand surge would not have cost them any extra investment.
With this hindsight many brands are waking up to the potential of SEO, not just for lockdown or Christmas but for the long haul. Unlike paid ads, returns from SEO may not be instant but can be far more profitable.
For brands looking to benefit from organic search, and another lockdown should already have plans in place to conquer those top positions. It is never too early to start with your SEO.
Success starts with the right SEO Strategy including Technical Improvements, User Experience, SEO Copywriting and much more.
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