The impact of COVID-19 on luxury brands
COVID-19 caused international havoc. Countries restricted travel, closed stores, and canceled events around the world.
But how did it affect customer search behavior in the luxury segment? And, what immediate learnings can luxury brands take from the pandemic to improve their SEO strategy in the post-COVID-19 world?
Luxury brands have historically had a heavy dependence on selling products in-store and experientially. The shopping experience is an important brand component. COVID-19 changed human behavior globally, compulsory store closures hastened the pre-existing swing to ecommerce.
Even by March 2022, three years after the start of the UK pandemic, footfall in city centers was still 40% below pre-pandemic levels. With this lack of a physical presence, should luxury brands move investment toward their digital platforms?
Luxury brands sell to exclusive audiences, so they don’t have to worry as much about customers radically reducing their expenditure compared to high-street brands. But, luxury brands are also more reliant on a worldwide customer base. Luxury brands need to understand how this has impacted online customer interest internationally.
In this article, we’ll shed some light on these questions and investigate the impact of COVID-19 on search behavior for luxury brands and resellers.
According to Google’s research on How Affluent Shoppers Buy Luxury Goods 75% of luxury goods customers research online before purchasing, and 68% of customers use a search engine in their research. This case study was created back in 2013, so the likelihood is that this audience was even larger before COVID. We’ll explore whether this behavior has negatively impacted searches. And, the answer will likely surprise you.
How did non-branded search behavior change for luxury terms?
Firstly, we looked at non-branded search behavior worldwide, comparing March-June 2020 search traffic after the pandemic with 2019 search data.
As an example, we’re looking at luxury terms within the fashion industry.
This data was collected using Google Ads. And, it is important to note two that we only used a small, select set of very top-level keywords to inform our findings. We encourage you to expand outward from these terms to determine patterns more specific to your business and segment.
Our findings show that the number of searches worldwide has increased for most of the designer terms we chose to investigate. Apart from two exceptions, interest remained consistent:
- Designer suits and dresses (which have arguably dropped due to the lack of events, and the lack of ability to get fitted)
- Searches for luxury watches and wristwatches
Search volume for all other designer terms increased.
Even search volumes around designer shoes increased during the pandemic- despite customers not being able to go outside as often.
This is surprising behavior and in stark contrast to high-street clothing generics (representing high-street brands for us here). These saw search volumes decline YoY across most categories, with the exception of leggings and knitwear (as more people stay at home and choose comfier clothing options).
So while high-street shops lost revenue, more luxury customers are moving online to shop since the pandemic, and are actually providing an opportunity for luxury to expand digitally.
How SEO for luxury brands changed by country
Below, you'll find search volumes broken down by different countries which have a high proportion of customers who shop luxury– The UK, USA, and UAE.
This is using the same data as above, so using the luxury fashion sector as an example.
UK Overall - Non-branded [designer] terms
So the UK experienced an increase in searches. But what specific terms have caused this growth?
UK by Category - Non-branded searches
Despite COVID-19, searches around many designer terms increased, with only suits and dresses experiencing a reduction in searches.
This was likely a result of a lack of events and public gatherings, coupled with the issue of being unable to visit a store to be fitted.
US Overall - Non-branded [designer] terms
This trend continued in the US, with 251,000 extra searches in total from May to June in 2020:
US by Category- Non-branded searches
- The graph above presents some surprising findings. Despite international travel and event disruptions, luxury searches for designer clothing and accessories increased
- The only searches which did not show growth were [designer dresses] and [designer suits], which have remarkably remained stable, differing in behavior to the UK
UAE Overall - non-branded searches (English)
Overall, searches in the UAE increased by about +2,000 searches (although it is important to note that the country also has a high Arabic-speaking population which is not accounted for here).
UAE by Category- non-branded searches (English)
- [Designer] suits reduced in searches, again probably because of the issues mentioned above, but other than that, all other searches increased.
- In the UK, US and UAE search interest has grown for designer terms, and reflects searches worldwide, with suits being the clothing type with the least interest
Overall, search interest in designer terms is showing a positive trend. This suggests that, despite lockdown and people being unable to travel internationally, luxury customers, instead of reducing purchases, began to take their shopping habits online.
This trend has continued since 2020, as the below chart shows:
Source: Google trends
The growth that we saw in searches for luxury and designer terms slowed in 2021, before exceeding the levels of 2020 during 2022. This data was recorded before the Christmas rise, suggesting that the 2022 bar on this could be even higher.
This growth demonstrates that luxury retail companies actually have an opportunity to target more online customers than ever before, and should invest and expand their digital offering, as customers previously not searching online, have begun to move into the digital environment.
SEO tips for Luxury Brands
1. Monitor search interest within your wider segment as a whole on a month-by-month basis
We’ve seen from the impact of COVID-19 above that luxury search trends are impacted heavily by global events.
Set up a monitor on Google Keyword planner and track total search volumes month-on-month. This helps you get the read of wider trends, rather than just traffic to your site.
Ayima’s SEO rank-tracking technology does this automatically. It calculates your market share as a proportion of this changing search volume, giving you a daily view of your market penetration on search.
This is a strategy you can use to identify product categories with more interest. This will help to dictate the types of categories you need to concentrate on optimizing, for each country.
However, this data is only available the month after the searches occurred. When it comes to tracking search behavior as soon as possible, Google Search Console is your friend. With a data delay of 1-2 days, you can track changing behaviors week-on-week to identify when searches pick up for particular terms.
2. Build your international SEO strategy
Luxury brands rely on an international audience. With the increase in searches after COVID-19, it is more important than ever to ensure that your website is highly visible across international Google properties.
Page 1 generates about 90% of all clicks, which means that competition for the top spot is fierce. Investing in SEO will help increase brand visibility internationally, and drive revenue throughout the world.
We have an extensive guide on how to improve your international SEO that will be very useful to you as a luxury brand.
3. Build the right technical SEO foundations
Having the right technical SEO foundation is a prerequisite for all websites, and luxury brands are no exception.
This is what optimizes Google’s ability to crawl and understand your site.
This is particularly true for luxury brands within ecommerce.
We have a complete technical SEO guide for retail and ecommerce that will be extremely useful to you.
Luxury brands also typically have more outlying content on their site around the ecommerce store. For example, your history, values, videos and other highly-branded content.
A major area for luxury ecommerce brands to focus on is SEO taxonomy for ecommerce.
4. Strike the right balance between brand and SEO in your content
Luxury brands often have strict brand requirements. For example, particular words that you can and cannot use.
This can often impact your SEO.
For example, one word within a very high-volume keyphrase might be a word forbidden by your brand requirements. You might therefore encounter resistance when incorporating this keyword within your content.
The exact solution will depend on the situation.
Often, a key part of this battle is to show the business case and the sheer revenue opportunity from targeting those keywords. We have helped clients to pull together this business case using our own datasets as evidence to convince key stakeholders.
For very good reason, luxury brands also place a high value on the quality of their content and tone of voice. Keyword loading is therefore going to be a greater issue for you than it would be for high street brands.
SEOs working for luxury brands need to strike the right balance between hitting these brand requirements and improving your SEO.
The focus with SEO luxury brands is ultimately to design a strategy that suits your specific brand. Our experts are on hand if you’d like a more in-depth personal analysis or a bespoke strategy. Get in touch with our friendly SEO team if you want a partner you can trust.