How COVID-19 is changing search
Web traffic across industries during the pandemic has been all over the map. Some businesses are seeing traffic skyrocket, like those in news and financial industries, idea sites like Reddit, ecommerce sites like Amazon, and other nontraditional retailers. Other businesses have seen traffic drop, like those in travel, hospitality, events, real estate, and automotive industries.
Then there are the industries experiencing something else – an unexpected shift in search behavior. Healthcare companies are experiencing a shift towards more infectious disease and telemedicine searches. Home and garden searches are trending down for seasonal home repair projects that require outside help, but up for in-home cleaning and smaller home projects like fans and water filters. Fitness searches are shifting from “gyms near me” to virtual fitness, gym equipment, and solitary workouts.
In fact, search behavior on the whole is shifting, which is changing the typical customer journey timeline between the stages of awareness and action. People are spending more time on devices overall, with 95% of consumers saying they’re now spending more time on in-home media. Desktop and Bing traffic is growing as more people are at home with their work computers (which are often PCs, with Bing set as the preferred search engine). Social media sites are also experiencing spikes in traffic, like Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, and even the often forgotten Tumblr. As people stay home to protect themselves and loved ones, content consumption and engagement will continue to change and evolve.
With all these rapid-fire changes, it’s difficult to know what to do first. In addition to our look at COVID-19 across the digital ecosystem, we’ve pulled together some of the key SEO and content marketing aspects you should update or consider during the coronavirus pandemic.
By now, it’s obvious that messaging needs to be updated during the pandemic
Now, more than ever, messaging needs to be helpful, genuine, and aimed at establishing trust with your audiences. Ask yourself how your company can support customers during this difficult time, and adjust your messaging accordingly. This messaging shift needs to be the same across the marketing landscape and on all digital channels, from new coronavirus-specific content on your site to email, paid and organic social, and paid media efforts. Here are a few scenarios to consider when reviewing messaging across the digital ecosystem:
- Are you outside the healthcare, sanitation, or finance industries?
If your product or service is nonessential during these trying times, recognize that some consumers might not want to hear from you right now. Think about questions like: How can you be helpful to your current consumer? Can your product or messaging bring joy or levity? Can you alleviate a problem caused by this new way of living?
If your product is essential, make it easy for consumers to access and learn about it. Be clear about availability, wait times, customer service backlogs, etc.
- Are you offering a highly considered purchase, like new cars or large home improvement projects?
If you offer highly considered purchases or services, understand that the consumer journey will likely be longer than normal. Switch your messaging focus from sales to information, entertainment, and support, offering consumers help to make the most of their time indoors and to prepare for the day when they can purchase from you or use your service.
How to identify content that your audience needs during the pandemic
One thing remains the same, pandemic or no pandemic: content is crucial. Businesses need to have content to support new searches and to speak to questions or concerns customers may have.
COVID-19 changes to your business
You’ve likely already created content that details changes related to COVID-19 and how they might impact customers. This could be longer wait times for deliveries or responses, new disinfectant policies, new hours of operation, or shortages in products. At a minimum, this content should live on your website and be distributed via email and social platforms. Depending on the message and audience, a media plan may be essential to reach the right people at the right time.
Mine your data
You should be diving into your Google Search Console and internal site search to see if new search trends have surfaced in the past few weeks. Review your social media accounts and use social listening tools to see what people are asking for or talking about in the digital space as it relates to your business. Talk to your customer care teams to see what patterns they’re seeing. (But be brief – your customer care team is likely experiencing a wave of calls). Then compile this data to see what your customers currently care about during COVID-19.
From there, either create new content to support those concerns or update and resurface existing content that will make an impact during this time. Remember, marketing goals may need to shift during this time, but these efforts will support the overall business in the long run.
Search trends you discover in Google Search Console and internal site search can fuel social calendars in the upcoming weeks, and concerns voiced on social can fuel blog and article creation. Listen to what your own customers are saying and provide helpful content to meet their needs. These search trends should also inform paid strategies – from paid search to paid social and beyond.
Be aware of new content consumption trends
It’s important to also consider shifts in media consumption when creating or updating content. According to Nielsen, video consumption is expected to increase by 60% during the pandemic, and YouTube watch times have increased by 10x since mid-February. When prioritizing asset types, consider how you can repurpose or resurface existing video assets since customers are spending more time with video than ever before. You can also consider attempting virtual shoots, like a message from the CEO that can be shared on your site, social, YouTube, and via email.
Measurement during coronavirus
It is important to be aware of the shift in consumer and customer behavior during this pandemic, and to acknowledge that well-intentioned goals set in Q4 2019 or January 2020 may no longer be feasible. Understand that although ecommerce sales will likely be down, it is an opportunity to support consumers to encourage future first-time or repeat purchases post-pandemic.
Keeping a close eye on awareness and engagement metrics will be crucial during this time of high user activity but low conversions. Are your customers seeing your content? Are they engaging? Look at impressions, reach, organic click-through rates, time on site, bounce rate, and softer conversions like newsletter signups.
Metrics during the pandemic will severely impact benchmarking for future years. When creating benchmarks in 2021 or planning 2021 goals, you will need to treat this spring, and quite possibly summer and fall, as anomalies, relying on past years’ data to create more accurate benchmarks and goals. Don’t have 5+ years of historical data? Make do with the historical data you do have and supplement with industry benchmarks as needed.
In short, keep measuring your KPIs, keep monitoring for new unexpected trends, and take solace in the fact that Q1 and Q2 – and most likely Q3 and Q4 – will be strange and unusual for everyone.
The moral of the story for content in times of crisis
Now is the time to focus content and marketing efforts on minimizing friction in order to make it easy for consumers to find and understand answers to their questions. Someday the world will emerge from this pandemic and life will regain a sense of normalcy. However, customers will remember companies that appeared to take advantage of the situation and companies that provided levity, help, or guidance during these times.
Brands are often hyper-focused on the conversion stage of the customer journey, and rightly so. However, now that most sales cycles are severely changed, if not paused, COVID-19 provides a unique opportunity to build content and messaging around the early and middle funnel stages of the journey. Use this time to support your customers and solidify content marketing so that when the pandemic has passed, both your customers and your marketing team are ready to resume life as we once knew it.
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