COVID-19 (Corona Virus) impact on online retailers and organic search performance

COVID-19 (Corona Virus) impact on online retailers and organic search performance

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More users are home avoiding public places. This has caused a great shift in online behavior. Marketers are scrambling to adjust their SEO strategies to account for the COVID-19 pandemic. There are two categories of retail sites experiencing opposite organic impacts:

  1. Retail sites that carry essential goods have experienced positive organic traffic growth, e.g grocery stores
  2. Retail sites that carry non-essential items have experienced organic traffic declines e.g Clothing stores

Essential retail sites are seeing accelerated growth in clicks, while the rate at which non-essential retail sites are losing traffic is slowing.

Additionally, the growing concern of the coronavirus has likely disrupted users’ typical search patterns and redirected their attention away from more traditional retail searches to more timely searches that reflect their concerns.

This overall shift in search interest has likely contributed to the drop in the organic performance of non-essential retail sites. Also, users are trending positively toward essential searches over non-essential searches as they pivot their search interests to adjust to the necessary COVID-19 lifestyle changes.

Historically, search interest in “Cars” has been higher than “groceries” during mid-March, but search interest for “groceries” has far surpassed search interest in “Cars” in the past few weeks. This further emphasizes the landscape changes we are seeing as users have less interest in spending at non-essential online retailers and more interest in preparing their homes for the pandemic.

Half of the U.S. users polled by Coresight Research in February 2020 were avoiding shopping centers and malls due to the coronavirus outbreak at the time of the data collection. Almost three-quarters of users planned on staying away from shopping centers if the outbreak worsened.

As concerns over the COVID-19 outbreak grow, the number of users avoiding brick-and-mortar locations will also likely continue to grow. However, according to Andrew Lipsman, a principal analyst at eMarketer, users’ “household needs don’t simply go away and may even increase, with many looking to stockpile resources.”

As the concern about COVID-19 rises, we expect users to be more concerned with stocking up on essential items in the coming weeks. Non-essential retail sites that have historically seen positive organic performance during spring should be prepared to experience Y/Y declines, as users adjust their online search behaviors to reflect their coronavirus concerns.

However, there is the possibility that as users adjust to at-home lifestyles, eCommerce shopping could increase as users move their traditional spending from brick-and-mortar to online. The future of retail in the coming weeks will be constantly changing, and we expect organic performance to reflect this uncertainty.

Takeaways

Essential and non-essential retailers are experiencing opposite organic performance changes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Essential retailers are being positively impacted. Non-essential retailers are being negatively impacted.

The organic search landscape continues to shift each week. Essential retail sites are experiencing accelerated W/W growth, while non-essential sites are experiencing slowed organic losses.

How to adapt to these uncertain times

As the eCommerce organic landscape continues to change, here are some essential SEO practices you can do to help your site (and brand) be as strong as possible during the coming weeks.

  1. Monitor your keyword profile for coronavirus and COVID-19 queries to understand user concerns.
  2. Create messaging around how your business is supporting its customers during the outbreak, such as new takeout and delivery options for restaurants and shipping changes for eCommerce brands.
  3. Review the Google Webmaster Central Blog’s recommendations on how to pause online businesses, including limiting cart functionality, updating structured data, and requesting crawling of pages that contain changes in Google Search Console.
  4. Leverage new structured data types to better communicate business updates, such as changes to events, due to the coronavirus outbreak.
  5. Adjust your Google My Business profile to reflect changes to brick-and-mortar store hours.
  6. Monitor query-level performance changes in the coming weeks to adjust organic search strategies, as needed.

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