The COVID-19 crisis, self-isolation, and work-from-home period have certainly changed how we use the internet and the search engine. In turn, this situation has forced various significant changes in customer behaviors, including online search behavior. Google has also changed its preference for the types of content displayed on the SERP and essentially changed the organic search visibility as a whole.
Here, we will specifically discuss the impact of COVID-19 on organic search visibility, and how SEO practitioners and digital marketers can adapt to these changes.
Changes in Google’s SERP: COVID-19 Queries
According to Google themselves, the mission of Google Search is to deliver the most reliable and relevant information for the target audience. C
So, in this COVID-19 crisis, Google (and also Bing) responded with SERP enhancements especially on queries related to COVID-19 and health/medical queries in general. Google has also created a dedicated page (https://www.google.com/covid19/) to directly provide information on the topic.
Obviously queries related to COVID-19 are considered YMYL (Your Money Your Life), and so only websites with sufficient E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness) can rank on these keywords. So, if you are thinking to look for opportunities in these queries, keep in mind that you might not be able to rank in these keywords unless you are an authoritative site in health/medical niche (or other niches that are directly related). In general:
- Top health websites like WebMD and Healthline have fallen off the top 2 pages of Google SERP for COVID-19 queries. These sites normally rank on top of virtually all health queries.
- WHO and CDC have moved into the top organic positions to replace these health sites
- Local governments and various reputable media/news sites have climbed into the top positions
Possible Changes In Search Behavior
Here are some expected changes in user search behavior that might affect organic search visibility:
- Due to more people staying at home, a lot of people tend to search and browse with the intent to make an online purchase. This can affect some queries positively and some queries negatively.
- With more people is stuck indoors, they are expected to use desktop devices and so mobile search volumes are expected to decrease. Searches related to local businesses (near me searches) are also expected to decrease.
- Due to the extreme situation, the product’s price, especially for essential products, might not be an important purchase factor compared to the company’s ability to deliver and trustworthiness.
- Purchases for expensive, non-essential products (i.e. cars) have been postponed, so search for these products have also dropped
- On the other hand, daily essentials and products people need to survive will be on steady demand.
Organic Search Visibility Changes for Specific Businesses
Many businesses and niches have experienced significant traffic drop, and as we have mentioned, there has been an uptick in desktop traffic (which hasn’t happened in the past half-decade).
In general, here are the changes that have happened and are expected to happen for various business landscapes:
- Businesses that are very depending on physical crowds (restaurants, concerts, events, sports events, nightclubs, etc.) are heavily affected and a lot have closed doors. Searches for these industries have also dropped significantly.
- Many businesses have pivoted to increase online presence or shifted into an online business altogether.
- Offline media advertising has dropped significantly, and obviously promotional live events are not possible at the moment.
- Demands for customer service have grown significantly, especially related to refunds in various industries (travels, hotels). Online reputation management has increased in importance.
- The WFH situation has created new, highly specific demands for products related to improving remote working qualities and productivity (office supplies), decorations, etc.
- Digital audience profiles in several niches might be changed permanently.
- Curbside-pickup and delivery businesses are on the rise
Below are some industries that are positively impacted by the COVID-19 situation:
- Video conferencing and online meeting apps
- Health and medical niche
- Food delivery services
- Online learning
- Home cooking and recipes
- Online streaming services
- Video games and toys
- Home gardening
- Fitness and wellness
- Home office and stationery supplies
- Productivity niche
And here are some niches that are severely affected by the crisis
- Live events
- Hotels, resorts, cruise lines
- Real estate
Changes in SEO and Digital Marketing
Here are some expected changes caused by the COVID-19 crisis in SEO and digital marketing in general:
- Due to many businesses experiencing downgrades in cash flow, there is the possibility of various businesses lowering their marketing budget significantly
- The context and intent for various queries have remained unchanged. For example, many people are searching for queries related to the airplane industry not to book a ticket, but to check their refunds. Searches for live events might still be high and the focus keywords might be still similar, but the intent has significantly changed as people may want to check whether the said event was postponed or canceled.
- Informational content related to COVID-19 can be successful even if you can’t pursue the keyword(s). You can provide related information that is closely related to your niche and/or target audience.
- With search trends rapidly shifted in recent weeks, new keyword spikes especially related to the latest developments of the coronavirus crisis are happening daily.
Summary and End Words
Organic search visibility in many different niches has changed dramatically since March as an impact of the COVID-19 crisis. However, we must continue our SEO and digital marketing efforts with the expectation that eventually, things will go back to normal (although probably, not all).
While there may be a ‘new normal’ across many different niches, one day and hopefully pretty soon, the world will stabilize, and SEO won’t die.
In fact, although most startups will probably need to adapt various aspects of SEO from adjusting target keywords to adjusting approach in content marketing to be more appropriate to the post-COVID 19 world, SEO will be more important than ever as the world slowly restabilizes.
Search marketing is the most effective way to market your business in downtimes, as we have experienced in previous crises (the closest, in 2008-2009). On the other hand, it takes time to get results from an SEO campaign. So, it’s best to start planning and executing your SEO campaign today.