Coronavirus: What useful search data do we have & what does it tell us?Coronavirus: What useful search data do we have & what does it tell us?Coronavirus: What useful search data do we have & what does it tell us?Coronavirus: What useful search data do we have & what does it tell us?
Smarter Marketing

Coronavirus: What useful search data do we have & what does it tell us?

23 March 2020
Coronavirus: What useful search data do we have & what does it tell us?

by Justin

Managing Director

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Last week was one of the strangest I can remember.

At Receptional’s team meeting on Monday morning, we discussed our coronavirus action plan. And by Tuesday morning – bang – we needed it. Our world had changed.

Throughout the week, I tried to speak with as many business people – clients, agency owners, and other friends – as possible. To gauge their reaction. Sadly, there wasn’t much good news around. Several friends told me they felt in danger of losing their livelihoods.

By comparison, I feel very lucky. Receptional is financially solid, we have a highly skilled team, and we work in a sector (digital marketing) where business is possible. Necessary even.

And I feel very strongly that we should be using our skills to help our clients and friends through the challenges they face.

As marketers, it’s important we understand:

  1. How the world has changed;
  2. How to prepare our businesses, so we’re ready to bounce back; and
  3. How your marketing will need to adapt

Are there lessons we can draw on?

The events of the past few days feel unprecedented. Yet, there have been similar events that we can learn from. So, what we can learn from previous economic downturns?

After the 2008 financial crisis, Harvard Business School studied 4,700 businesses. The aim – to understand the best approach to dealing with a downturn.

They divided companies’ responses into four categories:

  • Prevention
  • Promotion
  • Pragmatic
  • Progressive

The companies that favoured cost-cutting (Prevention) fared least well.

The authors were clear, “Firms that cut faster and deeper than rivals … have the lowest probability of pulling ahead of the competition when times get better.”

On the flip side, those that increased investment (Promotion) across the board also fared badly.

The more successful firms were either Pragmatic (a combination of cost-cutting and investment) or Progressive. The Progressive firms made changes that delivered operational efficiency in both the short- and long-term.

The authors conclude, “Progressive companies stay closely connected to customer needs”.

Which is why keyword research is so useful. The team and I have spent the weekend poring over search data to see how consumer behaviour has been changing. Here’s what we found.

Search Trends

Clearly consumer habits have changed. And we want to understand how.

Our friends at Google tell us they’re seeing more searches than ever. In fact, most marketers expect to see an increase in searches as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

A Marketing Week survey found that 88% of marketers expect to see an increase in the use of online services. While 86% expect to see an increase in the use of social media.

Which makes sense. Those trends were already happening; they’re now accelerating.

Rising Searches

So, where are we seeing rising numbers of searches?

Here’s the Google Trends data for searches for ‘coronavirus’. As we’d expect, there’s been a big increase since the start of 2020:

Last week, the government announced that all pubs and restaurants should close.

There was an immediate change in search behaviour – here’s the data for ‘beer delivery’:

You’ve probably seen that we’re looking for toilet roll …

Silly examples, perhaps. But if we look more broadly, we see consumers looking for information about supermarkets – here’s ‘Sainsburys’ data, as an example:

Pharmacies too. A big increase for ‘Lloyds Pharmacies’:

Which simply shows the importance of brand. And how important it is to continue investing in our brands so we’re well placed for the inevitable recovery.

Inevitably, there’s greater interest in ‘home working’:

Which means we’re not only spending more time using online collaboration software, such as Teams:

But also setting up our home offices – and buying products, such as ‘computer mouse’:

And while at home, we’re watching more ‘Netflix’:

There’s little doubt consumers are feeling uncertain. Which may be why, since the start of the year, we’ve been seeing more searches for ‘life insurance’. The finance sector is seeing a variety of changes:

And, of course, more people are looking for work – here’s the data for ‘jobs hiring near me’:

Suffering Sectors

There are some obvious losers.

The travel sector has been badly hit, with more consumers searching for ‘flight cancellations’:


And fewer searches for ‘sun holidays’ – we’d expect to see more traffic at this time of year:

With similar patterns in other affected industries, such as ‘sports betting’:

In uncertain times, we expect fewer people to be making large purchases. Which is why we’re seeing falling searches for estate agents – Rightmove is the proxy here:

The same for cars. Falling searches for Volvo, for example:

With a similar drop for second-hand cars:

And furniture:

Some of the changes may be unsurprising. But there’s clearly lots of change.

I’d suggest you revisit your keyword research, so you better understand how your sector has changed.

Conversion Rates

A recent Wordstream study suggested conversion rates have fallen in some markets. A finding that’s backed up by data from Ubersuggest.

Clearly, generic figures are fairly meaningless. It’s important you understand how your conversion rates have been affected.

If search is converting less well, you may temporarily want to switch some budget towards brand building. Either prospecting or remarketing, using display and video campaigns.

What should marketers do differently?

More than ever before, we need to be agile. Which means understanding the data. And in particular:

  • Search trends;
  • Conversion rates; and
  • Ad costs

Decisions should be based on data. Consider the following:

  • The downturn is likely to be short-lived. As we’ve seen, it’s important to invest in your brand.
  • Many marketing channels, such as offline events, are no longer available. So digital will be even more important. Consider switching offline budgets to online channels.
  • Inevitably, some companies will be cutting back on advertising. It’s an unthinking reaction, and not always the best response. With less competition, the cost of advertising falls. So, counter-intuitively, your campaigns may become more viable.
  • Prepare for the recovery. If your ad campaigns have become less effective, switch your budget to longer term strategies, like SEO. Or to remarketing activity.
  • We’ve seen that consumers are spending more time in front of screens. Google tell us that in the second half of February, YouTube impressions were up 38% YoY.  Which will mean YouTube ads cost less. So, if you’re not already advertising on YouTube, it’s a good time to test the platform.
  • The same thinking applies to Facebook and Instagram. As your competition retreats, it becomes easier to hit your target cost per acquisition.
  • Make sure your tracking is up-to-date and you’re monitoring results frequently and consistently. Constant monitoring will help you adjust your budget across different channels.
  • Check your conversion rates. If conversions are down, it’s worth revisiting your messaging and design. Are they suited to the times?
  • Re-evaluate your content strategy. Optimise your existing content. Perform competitor research. Prepare your next outreach campaigns.

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    About the author

    Coronavirus: What useful search data do we have & what does it tell us?

    With 20+ years’ marketing experience, Justin has worked with many of the UK’s leading businesses including AVIVA, MENCAP, Ladbrokes, Freshfields, PWC, and the Foreign Office.

    Outside of work

    Justin loves spending time with his daughter, going to the theatre, sandy beaches, decent wine, and Manchester United.

    contact Justin

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