The COVID-19 pandemic is having a severe impact on many different businesses
But despite the current climate, consumers in home isolation are still spending money.
Indeed, the way business is conducted has changed for the foreseeable future.
Many business owners will cease operating and pray for the end of the pandemic. Yet those who are savvy will take a proactive approach by investing in search engine marketing as a way to drive sales.
How exactly is this shift in search behaviour playing out?
Here are five observable trends and how businesses might be able to take advantage of them.
1. Search insights
Home isolation means people are spending vast amounts of time online. In their quest to make sense of the pandemic and adapt to a new lifestyle, they are consuming content voraciously.
While the government distributes advice on COVID-19, consumers are relying on brands for information about everything else.
What are some of the trending search phrases?
Searches querying how to cut hair with clippers and remove gel manicures at home have increased by 140% and 1400% respectively.
Searches for puppy adoption and virtual wedding ceremonies have also increased by hundreds of percent.
But hairdressers should not limit themselves to cutting hair. Can they take advantage of search trends by selling clippers and producing video tutorials on how to use them?
Consumers are still relying on the search for answers to their problems. It is up to businesses and their marketing agencies to devise ways to provide them.
2. Changes in Google
Unsurprisingly, the current focus of Google is the reliability of its Search and Maps offerings.
Resources dedicated to new listings and general support have been reallocated to the health industry.
Support for other businesses is slow or gradually returning. But this is not to say that businesses shouldn’t place importance on updating their details.
Restaurants, for example, can use Google My Business to update opening hours or detail food hygiene practices. They can also provide details of availability of takeout, curbside pick up or delivery.
For specific information detailing pandemic FAQs or postponed events, structured data is important.
Structured data makes it easier for search engines to crawl and display information about the pandemic. Once crawled, this data boosts search engine ranking, click-through rate and time spent on site.
Businesses can also use Google Search Console to announce changes in operations and have them appear in search results.
3. Get optimizing
Optimizing begins with ensuring businesses are operating within the guidelines of the pandemic.
They should continue to post content — this is not the time to disappear and compromise visibility.
But organizations should err on the side of caution. They should focus on showing support and providing value according to trending topics. Overt self-promotion could be seen as insensitive and self-serving.
Indeed, trends and hot topics are shifting daily during this pandemic. Businesses and marketing agencies need to be aware of the latest developments and plan content accordingly.
For some businesses, the best course of optimization is a total cessation of activities. In this case, a closure notice in a prominent position on the home page is vital.
4. Local business
Local business is well placed to take advantage of search trends during times of uncertainty.
They can leverage the human spirit which has emerged during the pandemic by becoming pillars of the community.
They should endeavour to direct their efforts at existing customers, as these are more likely to buy from them. But they need to do more than simply sell. Local businesses have to make their customers’ lives easier.
Perhaps it is by offering free shipping, locals discount, gift cards or other value-adding bundles. Floristique, an online florist in Singapore, ramped up their deliveries during Mother’s Day to cope with the rapid influx of orders.
Content has to be delivered in a tasteful manner. Businesses should continue to produce fresh content that is helpful, engaging and sensitive to the needs of others. If specific details of the virus must be mentioned, credible sources ought to be referenced. Above all, they should avoid encouraging panic under any circumstances.
For businesses without a credible online presence, there is help available. For example, eBay has released $100 million as part of an accelerator program which also includes incentives to sell on their platform.
While increased demand for goods and services is better than the alternative, certain products are now hard to source.
Managing inventory and tracking customer behaviour using analytics software is crucial. This is particularly true for those who rely on goods from countries impacted by COVID-19.
Amazon is diverting resources to meet the high demand in household staples, baby products and medical supplies.
As a result, products in most other categories are facing lengthy delivery delays. Similar retailers will follow suit. Many others are being requisitioned to manufacture medical supplies.
Nevertheless, Google has made it very simple for businesses to mention delays. Those who fail to mention supply issues run the risk of alienating their customers and losing revenue.
During periods of high uncertainty, transparency in business dealings has never been more important. Customer concerns should be dealt with in an adaptable and flexible manner.
With so much commerce occurring through virtual channels, businesses need to be where the money is. But it is not as simple as making a few website changes and waiting for the money to roll in.
To make a profit during a global pandemic, some may have to reinvent their product offerings and show up for their customers in novel ways. To some extent, businesses will have to reinvent themselves.
By investing in search engine optimization, businesses can navigate the pandemic with only a slight difference in profits.
Those who do the work now will emerge in a stronger position than those who sat on their hands and waited for things to return to normal.
Aron Frost oversees the SEO operations at our Hong Kong offices. In his role, he is responsible for keeping pace with the latest industry trends and internet marketing best practices. Speak to Aron and the First Page Digital team about how they can support your acquisition and online growth in Hong Kong.