It’s no doubt the COVID-19 crisis has had a significant impact on business. Many  have had to adapt their services and offerings in order to cope. In the e-commerce sphere, there has been both a shift in consumer search trends as well as a rise in questions around the impact of COVID on various retailers/stores.

But these changes can also bring about several opportunities. By using the data and tools at hand, we can uncover valuable information about trends and changes in  performance. This can be used to form strategies and in turn, lead to actionable insights for our clients. In this post, we aim to go through the process we used to make proactive recommendations for a couple of our clients amidst COVID-19.

Understanding changes in search trends

The COVID-19 lockdown has had a big impact on search behaviour. To make matters relevant to the retail/ e-commerce space, search trends for ‘online shopping’ saw a rising interest according to a search insights report from Google. Other related terms such as  online delivery & click and collect have also seen notable spikes during this period.

This kind of information is relevant to any e-commerce client but especially so if they are retailers that have physical stores and or  provide straight to door delivery services in conjunction. Armed with this basic insight, we can start to dig deeper into our tools to start analysing how our clients may have been impacted by this change.

Data

Google search console

The best place to start our analysis is Google search console. The kind of questions we should be asking to kick-start our analysis include the likes of:

  • Has these been a rise in covid related terms for your client? How is performance looking?
  • Are there any particular service related terms that are getting more attention? 
  • Are users typing in more question based queries? What about performance - are the pages returned relevant to the query?
  • What about local searches? Store pages?

Once we’ve identified some areas to focus on, we can then start applying filtering to build on our analysis.

Google Trends

To supplement data from in GSC, we can also use Google Trends for a broader picture. For instance, with our client, we saw huge spikes in GSC for Brand + COVID Terms and Brand + Service Oriented Terms. So we queried the same set of terms in Google Trends to see if there was a correlation.

It should be noted that Google Trends is  an estimation and not a reflection of direct clicks to your site. But it’s still a useful tool to supplement any original findings from GSC.

Data Studio

Once we’ve identified key areas from GSC, we can use DataStudio to put together basic dashboards to help with our analysis. Although we can technically still use GSC to perform the analysis, DataStudio has some key advantages:

  • Helps save a lot of time through making efficiencies (e.g. reduced load time, no need to login, apply filter every time etc) 
  • Can merge other data sources for a more rounded view

Filtering using Regex

Another key reason to use DataStudio is for it’s filtering capabilities which is not possible through the GSC interface. In our case, we needed separate reports to cover the following:

  • Performance for ‘covid/coronavirus’ terms
  • Performance around question based terms (we noticed an influx of questions around opening times, delivery options etc)
  • Performance of local store pages (huge spike in both clients for local store related searches)

Therefore, we needed to apply specific filters to track each particular area. This is where Regular Expressions (Regex) comes in as it allows us to apply granular and specific filters. The Regex Guide for DataStudio came in very handy! Here are some example of those tips put to use:

Requirement: Filter out multiple terms, e.g. ‘coronavirus’ + ‘covid’ 

Solution: 

Requirement: Filter out all terms that are questions related to the client, e.g. Is [client] open for business, are [client] still doing delivery, Can I still order items online from [client] etc

Solution:

Making Observations

Collecting and analysing data is crucial. At the same time, it’s equally important to make general observations around our client’s pages in SERPs with the COVID situation in mind. Doing so will help provide a broader picture of the scenario and help steer our recommendations.

In the SERPs, we can perform queries based on the data collected previously and ask questions such as:

  • Is our client ranking for the terms they should be ranking for?
  • If they are, are the pages relevant and aligned with the user query?
  • If not, who else is ranking? What kind of sites are they?

For instance, with one of our clients, we observed that for business impact related queries (e.g. is [client] still open for business?), our client - at the time - did not have suitable content to match these queries. As a result,  they were being heavily outranked by news articles that were potentially enticing clicks away from our client’s site.

As well as SERPs, we should also ask questions about our client’s website/webpages:

  • Is the client’s website clearly explaining their status amidst COVID-19? (through sitewide banners, on-page messaging etc)
  • Does the website have dedicated content for COVID?
  • Are key pages still working as they should? Visible to search engines & users?

Recommendations

Now we can look to put together recommendations based on the data we have & the observations made. Below are a suite of recommendations we’ve suggested for clients as part of a COVID SEO Strategy. Some are ‘quick wins’; others may require more resource/planning.

Up-to-date messaging to reflect business status 

On-Page Tweaks

Whether your client is open as usual, operating limited service, closed their in-store browsing etc it is important to communicate this effectively to searching consumers and dominate the narrative in SERPs. 

Here are some message templates that we’ve recommended our clients to be included in the Page Title & Meta Description of relevant pages:

  • “Open for Business”
  • “Delivery Still Available”
  • “Operating as normal”
  • “Limited range of services”
  • “Open for essentials only”

Product Availability Alerts

During these times, some products will naturally be in higher demand than others and therefore, unlikely to be available for purchase at all times due to low stock availability etc. In order to ensure a smooth user experience, there are a couple of options:

1. Add on-page messaging at a PDP level to notify users & help set expectations for products that move in and out stock frequently

2.Offer product availability email alerts through sign-up, e.g. “Sign up to be notified when the product becomes available again!

Creating a makeshift COVID FAQ ‘Hub’ 

If there is one already on your client’s site, it’s highly recommended to create a dedicated page around COVID and it’s business impact. For our client, we suggested creating a FAQ style page that captures all trending questions we observed in the DataStudio Dashboards. Here are some examples of questions that were generating interest for our clients:

  • Is [client] still open for business during Covid?
  • Are [client] still delivering?
  • Is [client] open as normal?
  • Is [client] open during lockdown?

To maximise the benefit of this hub, it is recommend to:

  1. Utilise FAQ schema to help capture more visual estate in SERPs. For more information on the types of schema & how to implement them, check out our previous article
  2. Prominently link to it to aid search engine discovery of this new content, e.g. from the homepage or the footer

Local SEO

If your client has a local presence through physical stores then it’s worth seeing if there are opportunities from a local SEO standpoint. With both our clients, there was a notable increase in clicks for store related terms amidst COVID-19. Here are some recommendations to consider:

  • Include business continuity messaging for every local store page in the Page Title & Meta Description
  • If store opening times have changed, Include a boilerplate message on all store pages communicating the updated opening hours
  • To improve performance around generic terms, do Keyword research to identify important category terms that you’re trying to/improve ranking for. Once you have a list of generic terms to target, include them as part of the local store page’s:
    • Page Title
    • Meta description
    • On-page copy with a clean link back to each category referenced

We hope this article was useful and gave you some ideas to help your clients during this period.

Key Takeaways

  1. Understand ever-changing search trends amidst COVID-19 
  2. Use data sources available to investigate further & understand how your client is impacted by them
  3. Make observations - both from a performance standpoint & generally (SERPs, websites)
  4. Make Actionable Recommendations

More Guides

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Technical SEO Guide for Retail and Ecommerce

25 August 2020

May 2020 Digital Roundup

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