Hannah Mitchell, organic strategy director at Croud, looks at search trends during lockdown and offers some advice for marketers who are setting content strategy in the run up to some kind of return to normality.

With shops set to open next month according to the lockdown roadmap in England, now is a good time to ask – How have our behaviours changed as we have become accustomed to the rituals of lockdown? And what are consumers searching for online?

Comparing search data across all three lockdowns for various categories like games, exercise, baking, and store opening times, it’s evident that some of the trends we saw during lockdown 1 are on the rise again in lockdown 3, while others have dropped off completely. It’s important, particularly for the brands that saw increased traction during lockdown 1 and who adapted their content strategies accordingly, to maintain this momentum if search trends are still up, and pivot if they are down.

Search trends: Games and quizzes

Most searches around Zoom quizzes and online games had a huge spike in interest during lockdown 1, but have not seen the same level of demand since. Drinking and Zoom drinking games, however, had an even higher peak during December compared to April – but this is more likely down to the seasonal period. Whilst board games have dropped off after the Christmas rush, puzzle searches were still seeing a considerable increase in January as lockdown 3 extends. The likely reason for this could be a range of things – people are more likely to purchase more puzzles than they are board games, because they can be played with a smaller number of people, are more varied, and are a good activity whilst staying inside during the colder months.

Jigsaw search demand 2020 (blue) and 2019 (red) comparison: 

Search trend: Exercise

Following the closure of gyms in lockdown 1, there was a huge surge in people searching for home workouts and home gym equipment. Searches for gym membership also peaked in lockdown 1, likely people searching for how to pause or cancel their own. Searches began to rise again during the summer as restrictions lifted, possibly when people thought gyms would re-open for good. Usually there is a consistent demand for gyms with a peak at the end/start of the year, but in 2020 demand considerably dropped every time there was a lockdown, and again in January 2021, which would have been a peak month during any other year.

Gym membership search demand 2020 (blue) and 2019 (red) comparison: 

Search trend: Baking

Baking searches also increased considerably during lockdown 1 as many were unsure what to do with their time, and flour and other baking materials sold out as a result. The two most popular activities were baking banana bread and starting a sourdough starter. However, subsequent lockdowns have not seen the same level of interest or demand, possibly down to people refining their skills and having recipes at hand – or perhaps everyone still has their sourdough starter from lockdown 1.

Banana bread search demand 2020 (red) and 2019 (blue) comparison: 

Search trends: Opening times

Searches for opening times for stores peaked slightly during lockdown 1 and lockdown 2, though to a lesser amount, before a massive spike during Christmas – likely people looking for Christmas trading hours. Searches around stores closing spiked considerably during lockdown 1, understandably, as the situation was completely new, however these searches have completely dropped off. Searches for stores opening, though, have had peaks throughout the year that parallel announcements from the government about both easing and introducing restrictions.

Store opening search demand 2020 and 2019 comparison: 

Top tips for marketers:

1. Take a step back and look at the data for your brand specifically

Collect your keyword research by looking across multiple data sources, making sure you are doing this on a regular basis. Checking search volumes is key, as it’s important to determine if enough people are searching for keywords to justify the need to create new content. Then compare this to what Google, and other search engines, are returning for those keywords and to understand user intent – is it ecommerce product pages or blog content, and if so what type? Is it a listicle, or a how-to guide?

2. Then review the areas of greatest search opportunity for your brand

This is a combination of assessing which areas look most desirable to target from an SEO perspective, and which areas align with business objectives. For example, you might determine 10 different topics to create content for that might be good for SEO, but then overlay this with the top business objectives, like driving sales or lead generation. This will help prioritise content and ensure that your SEO strategy will have the greatest impact on the business’s bottom line.

3. Next, determine if you need to create new content, or if you need to optimise existing content

During your audit you might find you already have content on the website that is similar or relevant that you can expand or refine, rather than starting from scratch. Make the most of your existing resources, and streamline where you can. Two or more pieces of similar content may end up competing against each other – cannibalisation, as it’s also known.

4. Hijacking trends has a time and place, but SEO performs at its best when it is most aligned with a business and its objectives

In a similar vein, ensure you are not optimising existing content at the expense of other keywords. If you are removing any terms to replace with new keywords that are performing well, check first to see if those original terms aren’t already driving traffic – you might end up cancelling out your efforts.

5. Ensure that any new content is integrated into your site architecture

It’s important for users to easily navigate to this content on your website, so have consideration for internal links.

6. Above all, your content should be evergreen

Content that is timely but relevant can exist over time and eventually benefit from traffic during different surges, like we are seeing with the different lockdowns. If demand goes down or up again, you’ve got that content ready to go.

Principles of search remain unchanged

While we’ve seen a lot of search trends stick over the various lockdowns of the past 12 months, brands cannot be complacent and assume that these trends will stay for the long term. It’s important to go back to the data on a regular basis – we recommend at least quarterly during the pandemic – and look at areas of new opportunity, rising search trends, and then reprioritise the pipeline of content creation if necessary. Search opportunities themselves might change, but the principles of search will not.