Throughout the coronavirus crisis, search has provided a much-needed portal to all kinds of information, products and services.

As people’s needs and circumstances shifted dramatically due to the pandemic, they have been seeking out things they might never have searched for before – like home fitness equipment, hairdressing tools, or DIY materials – and are also looking for new ways to accomplish things like banking, shopping, or remote working. At the heart of it all has been search.

As a result of this, search data has served as a kind of barometer for the changes in people’s daily lives – from spikes in searches for virus symptoms and treatments to queries about online grocery shopping, hand gel, and things to do in lockdown. It is a goldmine of information for marketers who know how to tap into it.

With that said, like marketers across all disciplines, search marketers have been contending with slashed budgets and spending (particularly in the realm of paid search), a radically changing customer base with demands that barely resemble those of before the pandemic, and the need to completely reinvent how they market to consumers. Although search is a vital channel (particularly for businesses that are newly online and want to advertise their offerings), it hasn’t always been straightforward to take advantage of. Marketers have had to keep a sharp eye on search trends, get creative, and strategise on the fly.

As we move into the second half of 2020, lockdown measures are easing slightly, but the immediate future still seems uncertain. Where should search marketers be focusing their attention, and what should they be keeping an eye out for? Here are seven factors that look set to shape search marketing in H2 2020.

1. The need for research: new questions and problems

As I alluded to in the introduction to this article, search data speaks volumes about the changing day-to-day needs of consumers and the impact that Covid-19 has had on their lives.

There’s no data available yet on whether the overall volume of web searches has increased due to the coronavirus crisis, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out that more searches have been conducted as a whole in 2020 as people rely more heavily on the internet for information and access to businesses and services, and the coronavirus crisis gives rise to new questions and problems.

A Pi Datametrics report, ‘How search demand has changed in 2020’, published in June, tracked significant year-on-year rises in UK search demand across eight categories: health and household (295%), fitness equipment and classes (293%), home and garden (91%), things to do at home (73%), sportswear and loungewear (60%), food and drink (57%), electricals (51%) and e-learning (44%). A further two categories, online gambling and insurance, saw notable increases (34% and 10%, respectively).

Year on year change in search volume, tracked by Pi Datametrics, illustrates the extent to which search volume has grown across many categories. (Source: Pi Datametrics)

For some of the highest-growth categories, this represented an increase of anywhere between 10 million and 40 million additional UK searches over the January-April period – which is a lot of demand to capitalise on. And even though we’re less likely to see these huge volume increases in the second half of 2020, keeping a close eye on search trends will still reveal a lot about the high-growth search areas that you can capitalise on, and the unmet needs in your sector that you might be able to cater to.

A good search data or keyword research tool can provide this information, but a lot of it is also available for free through Google Trends (which gives insight into trending search topics in different parts of the world) and Rising Retail Categories (a new tool that Google released to help retailers during the coronavirus pandemic that gives week-by-week, month-by-month or year-by-year data on the fastest-growing retail categories and the top search queries within those areas). As an extra tip, you can cross-reference these with Answer the Public to get natural language search queries and long-tail keywords for each topic.

Nor is this technique limited to categories where search interest is growing. Even for a sector like travel where search volume may have dropped off significantly, keeping on top of the research consumers are carrying out can tell you about the small pockets of demand that are growing. In a recent article about how travel brands can inspire confidence in the sector through content strategy and SEO, Croud’s Laura Green pointed to two areas of rising search interest in the travel sector: searches for ‘where to go for winter sun’, which were increasing as would-be travellers researched the possibility of a winter break to replace summer plans that were stymied by the coronavirus crisis; and searches for ‘staycation’, which showed that consumers were looking for safe alternatives to a tourism-heavy trip abroad.

She also noted that searches for ‘travel quarantine’ had been picking up interest throughout May, showing that there was an appetite for understanding how feasible it might be to travel overseas – and providing an opportunity for travel brands to step in and provide that information.

Some of these areas of demand will showcase an intent to purchase, while others (like ‘travel quarantine’) provide an opportunity for informational content that will satisfy customers’ search queries and keep your brand top-of-mind – which could later lead to a sale or further business. Either way, keeping on top of what consumers are researching, the questions they are asking and the information they are seeking out will help you to market more effectively in the second half of 2020.

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