Trends in Search Engine Behavior: Is There Hope for Websites Hit by COVID-19?

At the end of March and beginning of April, as the COVID-19 pandemic was at the height of its expansion on a global scale, we were looking at a grim perspective not only for health, but also for a wide range of economic sectors. As a company focused on website analytics and on supporting website owners all over the world, we were concerned about how the lockdown and social distancing measures were impacting businesses. Website traffic stats for just about everyone were fluctuating a lot. There were a few winners, but the losses for most were disastrous.

In order to have a global overview, we looked at consumer search engine behavior using global search trends. As expected, the topic of the virus was dominating search interest, to the point where it had become more popular than all the other most popular searches (weather, Youtube, Facebook) put together. In the context of the pandemic, there was greatly increased internet activity, but it wasn’t evenly spread out. Some search topics were registering massive losses. Among those that were hit the hardest were event websites, hair & cosmetics searches, restaurants (but interest in food delivery had grown), sectors from hobbies & leisure, real estate, sports and travel.

As stated at the time, we believed that those businesses (and their respective websites) that managed to survive these tough times, would see a turnaround and bounce back, maybe even stronger than before.

In the meantime, companies, big and small, have been suffering. Hertz recently filed for bankruptcy and more high-profile failures are still expected in the air travel industries. So things may not be looking up yet, at least in some sectors. 

But, as restrictions are being lifted, consumers will be looking to start spending again. Once again, these consumer intentions on a global scale can be researched and even predicted by looking at big data in search trends. And it gives us hope.

Are people moving on after the coronavirus? 

At least in terms of their active interests, it looks like it. The virus no longer dominates the entire news sections and interest towards it has dropped. After the incredible peak at the end of March, It is now only slightly more popular than search engine queries about the weather. Hopefully, a sign that people are planning to spend more time outside.

Interest in sectors hit by the lockdown are bouncing back

One area that has not only bounced back, but looks like it is reaching new heights is Beauty & Fitness. After several months of no service, people are looking for much delayed help from hair salons and beauty centers. Beauty & Fitness as a whole is now at a 12-month high in terms of search interests. Hair care is at an all-time high. Cosmetic procedures are almost at pre-lockdown levels. Spas & beauty are a bit slower to recover, but have still seen about a 30% increase since the end of March.

Worldwide search interest for “Hair care” topic in the past 90 days. Source: Google Trends

Many were assuming that people would avoid public spaces even after the lockdown, for fear of catching the virus. It was thought that restaurants, for example, would still have a tough time convincing customers to get back to their old habits in terms of eating out. Data is showing that they may have been pessimistic. Even the search for “restaurants near me” has bounced back from an all-time low to a more than 60% increase in interest, in a short period of time. It looks like, as long as restaurants are allowed to function, there will be customers available, although we’re still far from pre-lockdown levels.

Search interest for “restaurants near me”. Source: Google Trends

Contrary to our own initial forecasts, there is also an unexpectedly quick bounce back for search terms related to Real Estate. There is a rise in consumer interest of more than 35% since the lows of March and April. And the trend is upward for everything from rentals to property development and investments.

Interest in Sports has increased only slightly so far, as most major competitions are not ready to restart yet, but we are expecting an increase once they do.

There is some reason for optimism in the travel industry as well. The trend is upwards and even some of the most hard-hit sectors, such as Car Rental & Taxi Services, are on a positive trend, suggesting that people are beginning to actively look for such services.

Car Rental & Taxi Services worldwide interest. Source: Google Trends

Events are not yet ready to recover

On the other hand, there can be no customer interest for things that are simply not available in the foreseeable future. One area that is still stuck is everything related to events and tickets. No music concerts, no festivals, no sports events with spectators, no conferences and meetups. In the current context, there are obviously few search engine queries for anything related to this. And this industry may suffer almost irreparable damage.

One type of event for which there is a bounce back, however, is weddings. Searches for “wedding dresses” and “wedding rings” are on a positive trend, which will be good news for websites offering these products.

So there is hope and even the possibility for growth in several sectors. If you are a website owner whose traffic has suffered so far, there should be better times ahead. Remember to keep an eye not only on your individual data, but also check the general trends, to have an idea about your industry. The things you will find may surprise you. Worldwide trends may be too general, but you can always look into trends specific to your country or area.

Mihai Deac
Marketing Manager at Visitor Analytics
Mihai Deac is a marketing manager who enjoys writing helpful content for the customers at Visitor Analytics and for other website owners. While we are mostly concerned with website analytics and traffic stats, we also offer insights into user behavior and advise on best practice for digital marketing and how to grow your traffic.

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