How Retailers Must Re-Tune Their Search Strategies to the New Normal
The coronavirus pandemic is changing both the way people search and what they’re searching for. And e-commerce SEO professionals must adapt their strategies accordingly, even as we inch out of the crisis.
In early March, when the pandemic first hit, research by Searchmetrics identified search spikes for terms such as “freeze dried food” and “microphone” as people stocked up on staples that would keep for longer and rushed to kit out their home offices. Then, as everyone realized they could still buy fresh produce, we saw searches for “fresh fruit delivery” raise as “freeze dried food” dropped. Unexpected keywords such as “ukulele” started trending (perhaps as people explored new interests while locked down or furloughed). As we move through this event, we'll continue to see search patterns evolve.
These trends suggest SEO pros must keep a close eye on search demand and user behavior. It’s highly likely, for example, that the seasonal retail calendar will look very different this year. How will search activity be impacted in niches such as shopping, vacation, fashion or back-to-school? Will social distancing linger and disrupt preparations for Halloween or Thanksgiving, or modify festive end-of-year celebrations? These policies will impact how retailers compete both this summer and likely the retail sales peak in Q4.
Informational Searches Are Rising
One very noticeable change is informational searches increased while transactional searches fell. For instance, a sports brand might be detecting fewer queries that use transactional terms such as “fastest running shoe” in favor of more informational questions such as “how to get into running?”.
This fits in with locked-down consumers having more time to explore online — even when economic uncertainties mean they’re reluctant to spend. And it may continue once lockdowns loosen, with many people continuing to feel safer at home, where they’ll use the web to distract themselves.
Retailers should use this as an opportunity to focus on boosting search visibility by creating informational content that satisfies people’s queries and increases coverage earlier in the buying cycle. While it won’t trigger immediate purchases, it’s a great way to engage with potential customers and improve long-term brand awareness.
Desktop Search is Back in Fashion
Another consequence of everyone spending more time at home is that they’re choosing their computers over their smartphones. Desktop and laptop searches are overtaking those on mobile for some keywords.
As a retailer you shouldn’t ignore either the desktop or the mobile experience, but ensure your pages are optimized for both. Create longer, more detailed content that satisfies typical desktop queries, as well as maintaining shorter, more collapsed material for those on mobile. And keep in mind that conversions are usually higher on desktop, which could be a positive outcome from this trend.
Keep Your Messaging Up to Date
As various regions begin to loosen restrictions, user needs and interests will continue to evolve, similar to search demand. Terms like “curbside pickup” will likely grow as consumers gain confidence. Updating some elements like title tags accordingly could influence clickthrough rates or improve conversions.
Page Speed Remains a Priority
While other things might change, technical SEO remains unaffected. Therefore, with some other marketing initiatives postponed, focusing on technical areas like site performance and page speed might be a good way to come back stronger.
Page speed is a critical factor in conversion rates because many shoppers give up on purchases if pages take too long to load. Searchmetrics’ data has revealed that higher ranking sites on Google tend to load faster and provide a smoother user experience. Therefore, working on projects that improve speed — such as optimizing images and server response times — could help drive up search visibility as well as increase conversions.
There’s a lot we can’t predict right now. So aside from going back to core activities such as technical optimization, successful search strategies will likely come out of tracking and pivoting to shifts in emerging online behavior.
Tyson Stockton is vice president of client services at Searchmetrics, the search and content optimization specialist.
Related story: How Long-Form Content Moves the Needle for Online Retailers
Tyson Stockton is the U.S. Vice President of the Digital Strategies Group at Searchmetrics. Over the past 10-plus years, he has driven success in SEO & Digital marketing in both in-house roles and externally with some of the top online businesses. Over the last 4+ years at Searchmetrics, Stockton has led Fortune 500 companies in utilizing search data to drive SEO and content strategies. Stockton leads the Client Success, SEO & Content Services, Account Management, and Data Services teams at Searchmetrics.