Freedom Day has officially arrived, marking the end of all Coronavirus restrictions in the UK.
Thousands of businesses have suffered at the hand of these stringent restrictions over the past 2 years, so many are now breathing a sigh of relief. However, the era of uncertainty is far from over.
The global pandemic directly impacted search trends, shopping habits and SEO and in a way that no one could predict. The eCommerce industry thrived whereas the hospitality sector was left to starve.
As we begin to traverse life after the pandemic, we must ask ourselves: what does the return to normality mean for SEO? Will pre-pandemic search trends return overnight? Or have our habits changed for good? We explore this in more detail in this article.
The impact of COVID on search
The global population was thrust into a world of lockdowns, curfews, Zoom quizzes and social distancing virtually overnight. So, it’s no surprise that online searches changed dramatically to reflect this new, unconventional lifestyle.
We’ve taken a closer look at the direct impact that the pandemic had on online search habits below…
Pre-pandemic search trends
If we take a look at some of the most popular UK searches in the year before the pandemic, we can see some clear differences.
Major sporting events such as the rugby and cricket world cups dominated search trends over the year. Whereas, in 2020, Coronavirus and Eat Out to Help Out were amongst the most-searched topics.
From this, it’s clear to see our searches reflected the UK populations’ daily life when things were normal. For example, large gatherings at sporting events were a regular occurrence. People could watch the latest blockbusters at the cinema and major TV shows were produced and aired as normal.
In terms of SEO, this meant that strategies focused on the here and now, rather than the future.
Search trends during COVID
The UK lockdown in March 2020 incited a huge shift in online search trends. This is reflected in Google’s Year in Search 2020.
Of course, Coronavirus dominated searches in the UK and worldwide. However, a wealth of other key themes emerged; reflecting the UK populations’ adjustment and adaptation to life indoors.
How-to and DIY queries soared:
In true British fashion, searches for afternoon tea deliveries peaked, as well as searches for many other delivery-related terms:
In addition, searches that reflected the nation’s uncertainty emerged:
All of these factors, and our inability to leave our homes, gave rise to a boost in online retail sales and the eCommerce sector in general. In 2020, online retail sales grew by 37% in the UK – this is triple the growth rate of 2019!
Some of the sectors that benefitted the most included:
- Electricals e.g. hair clippers, home-office equipment
- Home and garden e.g. garden furniture and DIY equipment
- Health and beauty e.g. home beauty treatments, healthcare
However, online clothing sales suffered as the need for outerwear, formal clothing and occasionwear basically vanished.
SEO became more important than ever in 2020, as many businesses pivoted towards online channels in order to survive.
Shopify’s revenue skyrocketed in 2020 as sign-ups to the platform increased dramatically; the number of new stores created increased by 71% between the first and second quarter of 2020.
It’s essential that SEO strategies adapted to these changes in consumer habits, whilst tentatively preparing online businesses for the latest Coronavirus updates and the easing of restrictions.
Local SEO, whilst not totally redundant, was put on the back burner for many online businesses. However, for those that were fully operational, tools like Google My Business became essential for informing customers of new opening hours; contact-free pick-up/drop-off services; social distancing measures and proximity.
In terms of content marketing, more long-form, informational content pieces were needed to answer consumers how-tos and DIY queries, as well as COVID-related questions.
Post-COVID search trend predictions
As we emerge from the pandemic and restart life without COVID-restrictions, it’s only natural to wonder what the future holds for SEO.
Some of our predictions are as follows:
- Nightlife, hospitality and events come back with a bang
- Greater focus on health and wellness
- Social distancing measures and mask mandates remain
- Demand for international travel increases significantly
- Remote working is here to stay
Which industries were affected the most?
We’ve taken a look at the events over the past year to see which industries were impacted the most by COVID.
The eCommerce industry offered a lifeline for consumers that couldn’t leave their homes. Online shopping and door-to-door deliveries soared giving the sector an unexpected boost.
Research from Ofcom found £113 billion was spent online by British consumers in 2020 – a 48% increase on the year before.
Travel and tourism
Global travel came to a complete halt in 2020, as countries around the world closed their borders to protect their citizens from the new virus.
According to ONS data, 96% fewer people visited the UK in Q2 of 2020, compared to the same period in 2019. As well as this, turnover in the travel and tourism sector fell to just 26% in May 2020. By contrast, all other industries achieved a turnover rate of 73.6% in the same period.
The construction sector was amongst one of the worst-hit by the pandemic. Almost a fifth of construction firms stated that the pandemic decreased their turnover by over 50%.
Unsurprisingly, over 80% of construction firms also had to cancel or postpone projects as a direct result of COVID.
The legal industry covers many areas, some of which benefitted from the pandemic, whereas others suffered.
For example, employment law firms saw a significant increase in inquiries from employers and employees over COVID. Whereas, conveyancing and property law firms struggled following the temporary closure of the housing market.
The hospitality industry essentially became redundant over the course of the pandemic. Social gatherings were banned, social distancing measures were implemented and nightlife establishments closed completely.
The impact of this is likely to be felt for a significant amount of time after the pandemic subsides. Economic output in this sector was down 90% in April 2020, compared to the year before.
How does this impact SEO campaigns?
For those who weren’t previously trading online, the pandemic highlighted a need to go digital – fast. This increased demand for high-quality SEO content, conversion-friendly copy, website design and more.
In many cases, SEO strategies were also geared towards survival, damage control and bounce-back.
For hospitality, construction, legal and travel firms that ceased trading during the pandemic, the main focus of SEO was to prepare for society to re-open and protect rankings.
Going forward, SEO strategies should be more focused on getting back to pre-pandemic traffic levels and conversions – and maybe even exceed them!
Check out our guide to marketing in a post-pandemic world more information.
The (potential) solution
We can no longer afford to think short-term when it comes to digital marketing and SEO. As we’ve seen, this leaves businesses vulnerable to attack, when unexpected economic events occur.
Whilst we can’t predict the future, we can certainly put the right measures in place to ensure your online strategies aren’t hit hard like this again.
Future-proofing your SEO campaigns, amongst other things, is the key to improving the longevity of your business.
How CandidSky can help
Here at CandidSky, we adopt a long-term approach to all of our SEO strategies and campaigns. We’ll show you the right search terms to target to ensure your business thrives long after the pandemic. Get in touch with one of our SEO experts today to get started.