Global lockdowns have understandably led people to be more reliant on the internet than ever, from online grocery shopping, to news updates, to keeping in touch with friends and family. The changes to people’s day to day behaviour have also been followed with changes to online search behaviour.
We can see clear changes in three main areas:
Information about coronavirus
Amongst the confusion and constant updates around Covid-19, people have regularly turned to the new for updates about new cases and testing in their area. There has also been a spike in people researching flu-like symptoms to compare them to coronavirus. Questions about the flow on effects of the virus have also been trending, including searches for how long the lockdown might last and how to access wage support during this economically challenging time.
As people settle into their new lockdown routines, Google has also noted an increase in searches related to hobbies and other ways to relax at home. Common themes include DIY tutorials, online fitness classes, and games.
While physical distancing was mandatory, social distancing became heavily discouraged as people were urged to stay in regular virtual contact with friends and family. Platforms like Zoom surged in popularity, and social media sites also appeared more frequently in searches. Not only were people connecting with others in real time, but there was also an increase in searches related to doing activities “with” others including the YouTubers. Activities such as cooking or doing fitness “together” became more popular as people searched for a sense of connection during their lockdown distancing.
What do these search trend changes mean for Google?
Google’s algorithm uses machine learning models which make it highly sensitive to human behaviour changes, so we have seen a shift in how Google responds to people’s new behaviour. But machine learning isn’t perfect and drastic changes to behaviour like we’re seeing during lockdown can easily confuse the algorithm.
Also related is the latest Google core update, released in May, which many have found is disproportionately favouring big brands and social media sites in the SERPs. It’s hard to say whether the SERP changes are a result of the big update, the drastic behaviour change, or a combination of the two. Whatever the reason, search queries related to purchase have often led to results largely dominated by Amazon and other large retailers.
Even within Amazon there has been a massive shift in the items people are searching for. There was a shift in the Amazon top 10 items, which quickly became virus related for example face masks, toilet paper, and hand sanitiser. As lockdown progressed and boredom replaced panic, the top 10 then shifted towards games and fitness equipment as people sought ways to keep entertained.