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What did we learn after 1 month of COVID-19? A behavioral analysis of search shifts using real GSC data

We conducted an analysis to evaluate how searcher behaviour shifts during the COVID-19 crisis has impacted different industries. Using our extensive pool of Google Search Console Data, we analyzed the clicks, impressions, CTR and position of keywords from 4800 domains to get valuable insights into which industries have profited, and which have lost out. In this article, we share our learnings, and give advice how to adapt your website and SEO strategy to the current situation.

The COVID-19 global pandemic is unlike anything that most of us have experienced. Not only are lives threatened but the very way we work and exist has changed rapidly, and normal daily life has reached a whole new level of strangeness.

As many of us adjust to working and functioning fully from home, most of our wants and needs can only be satisfied via digital channels and virtual spaces. We are all seeking outlets of entertainment, social interaction, fitness, grocery shopping, and education quickly and reliably without having to leave our homes.

I consider myself a total ambivert so the introvert side of me is cuddled up on the sofa in a onesie and feeling fine about everything but my inner extrovert is struggling. Home office is not my natural environment, nor is it my preferred one, but obviously those preferences don’t matter anymore when the health of others hangs in the balance. To try and appease my extrovert, I’ve been attending after-work beers, board game nights, and even Netflix viewing parties with friends, all remotely while sitting at my desk and digging into the quarantine snack rations.

The physical and mental health of ourselves and our loved ones is incredibly important right now, but what also matters is that when all of this is over and done with, or at least when the grip is loosening, is that we all have a job and a business at the end of it.

Working in the digital marketing or SEO industry should be a huge advantage as we witness the world move offline to online exclusively. However, having the knowledge to uplift online traffic means little if that business simply can’t operate any more. As well as this, many businesses are suffering from reduced demand or need that continues to throw more unfortunate circumstances and unemployment in the mix.

This ongoing uncertainty and turbulence is evident with the huge changes in searcher behaviour and consumer demands we witness right now. It’s crucial for us to understand and adhere to these shifts as we move forward and ensure that digital strategies rapidly adapt in order for our businesses to survive.

Due to the increased online-activity and dependency on reliable search results, SEO and website optimization is now not only an important marketing channel, it can ultimately become a defining factor in whether a business survives. Proper SEO helps assure our information is factual, well-represented, and that websites are technically capable for search engines and users. In doing so, we can ensure that we are prominently ranked for search queries.

We’re in an important position to guide online strategies effectively and help out businesses wherever we can.

Figure-1-USA-impressions search shifts search performance covid-19 behavioral shifts

Overall impressions per day (in this example: for USA) are increasing over time, showing Search is in high demand and usage right now. Dips are caused by expected limited usage over the weekends.

I’ve seen some fantastic analyses being published in the past weeks, as well as many intelligent speculations guided by thoughtful research and expertise. It’s advancements and shared studies like these that help us collectively get our businesses through such events and crises.

At Ryte, we also want to help. Our Search Success module extensively collects and stores only real Google Search Console Search Performance data which is imported via the API. Without a doubt, the GSC is the most reliable organic search data source. This is the universally accessible data logged and stored by Google, as opposed to scraped data which uses 3rd party sources and bots to discover organic ranking information from set locations. We get as much data as we possibly can from GSC to ensure that our software users can see the full scope of their organic search performance.

With all of this information, our Data Science team has a lot to play with, and can therefore uncover a realistic understanding and outlook on Searcher behaviour shifts during the COVID-19 crisis.

Using their in-depth analyses, I’ve put together some important findings that will help you as practitioners or business owners gain a deeper, data-driven and reliable understanding of what’s taking place in search across affected industries and regions at the moment, and put this to good use in your ongoing strategic planning.


We used in total over 4880 connected GSC accounts and categorized them into their main industries using linked Google Ads CPC data. We pull as much data as possible from GSC, with all KPIs (clicks, impressions, position, CTR), as well as sortings such as device and country of searcher.

The data for all the main industries of 15 different countries were aggregated and analyzed to determine how organic impressions changed over the week of February 15 to March 30. These dates were selected to see a short-term impact, yet we will continue further analyses over time to assess how these shifts develop.

Analyzing specific industries

It’s worth bearing in mind that an increase in clicks and impressions does not necessarily translate into financial success for businesses within the industry. It could be highly informational intent traffic, visitors requiring customer support, or an increased demand that simply cannot be met logistically. I’ve broken down the Coronavirus Crisis impact on businesses like so:

Figure-2-businesses-interest search shifts search performance covid-19 behavioral shifts

Unfortunately, many businesses will suffer from the COVID-19 crisis, whether because they cannot operate, see heavy-to-low reductions in interest, or receive a high demand they cannot cater to. For the sake of brevity, I’ve only analyzed the most significantly impacted businesses, but please reach out to me if you would like to see data for your specific niche or country.

According to our analysis, the industries negatively impacted are:

The positively-impacted analyzed industries are:

Travel & Tourism

If there was ever an overtly obvious contender for the negatively-affected Corona crisis industry, it has to be travel and tourism. Bans on travel and enforced lockdowns have grounded many tourists since the early days of March. This has led to the majority of all vacations and unnecessary trips being cancelled. Unsurprisingly, very few people are considering planning new travel.

In the below plots, we can see that the largest dips in Italy and Germany took place directly after the government-stated lockdowns. These measures made the crisis seem all-too-real, and set the public firmly in place.

Figure-3a-italy-travel-impressions search shifts search performance covid-19 behavioral shifts

Figure-3b-Germany-travel-impressions search shifts search performance covid-19 behavioral shifts

We see similar trends when we look to English speaking markets UK & USA, yet with a slightly deferred signature peak followed by drop.

Figure-4a-USA-travel-impressions search shifts search performance covid-19 behavioral shifts

Figure-4b-UK-travel-impressions search shifts search performance covid-19 behavioral shifts

It has been a common trait of travel websites to receive a large influx of impressions and clicks shortly before the drop. We can see this very clearly using Ryte’s Anomaly Detection feature, which identifies unexpected activity outside the system’s defined confidence interval.

In the below example from a large travel booking domain, the performance stays within the confidence interval steadily through 2020, aside from increased New Year’s vacation interest at the beginning of the year. However, early March brought almost double the amount of website traffic.

Figure-5-anomalies search shifts search performance covid-19 behavioral shifts

When we analyzed the positive clicks anomaly in early March, we can see clearly that a large portion came from Customer Support related queries, e.g. keywords containing "cancellations", "contact", "hotline" and similar. The segment "Brand Keywords" also had a significant increase, showing a lot of navigational intent traffic is taking place, as searchers may be looking directly for contact details on the SERP or via the homepage.

Figure-6-anomaly-details search shifts search performance covid-19 behavioral shifts

Note: The project’s directory names have been hidden to protect their privacy.


Staying at home for a long period of time isn’t exactly favourable, but highly necessary now to help stop the spread of Coronavirus. Some fortunate car owners can hop into their vehicle and drive off into the desolate countryside whenever they want to, but the rest of us have to stay put.

However, car ownership is definitely not on everyone’s priority list right now. Paying for and owning a car is expensive, and with economic uncertainty it’s not a sound investment, nor is it good timing to sell your own car. In fact for some manufacturers, new car production has been heavily reduced or stopped completely, given that this is not exactly something that can be worked on from home.

Our data shows that vehicle-related domains took a dramatic loss in impressions, with a particularly steep decline in car-loving nations Germany and Italy.

Figure-7a-Germany-vehicles search shifts search performance covid-19 behavioral shifts

Figure-7b-Italy-impressions_Vehicles search shifts search performance covid-19 behavioral shifts

When I dig into the data of a popular Italian car seller, large ongoing negative click and impression anomalies have been triggered due to decreases for keywords containing and revolving around "used cars" and "car evaluation", so this tells us both the buying and selling vehicle demand is declining.

vehicle-domain-anomaly search shifts search performance covid-19 behavioral shifts

Real Estate

Real estate industry domains in Germany and the USA are experiencing a high loss of impressions, for similar reasons that are affecting the vehicles sector. Luckily, many nations have protective policies in place forbidding homeowners evicting tenants due to crisis-impacts on their salaries, so there is a limited need to quickly find a new place of residence.

Figure-9a-USA-real-estate search shifts search performance covid-19 behavioral shifts

Figure-9b-Germany-real-estate search shifts search performance covid-19 behavioral shifts

However, in the UK there is a less dramatic drop (compared to the previous month of January) for Real Estate impressions, and even a minor increase taking place around the week of 23rd March, which is somewhat unexpected considering the British government has frozen the housing marketing, urging buyers to put their transactions and mortgages on hold.

Figure-10-UK-real-estate search shifts search performance covid-19 behavioral shifts

Quarantine won’t stop people from browsing or looking around, so you need to make sure you’re ranking and ready for them. It could even act as a catalyst for prospective homeowners to be searching around online to see if prices have dropped and what’s available on the market (being at home all day does make you question your living environment) with limited competition to fight for it. Some real estate opportunists might even take the crisis as a chance to hunt around for a good deal.

Beauty & Personal Care and Apparel

Impressions for beauty and apparel related terms have dropped since the lockdown was instated. As self-isolation is an important step for all of us to take right now, there is little need to invest in beauty products and fashion for the outside world.

However, in Germany and to a smaller extent in Italy, we see increases in impressions after the initial drop. I’m hopeful that these rises are due to the “calm” after the initial panic took place. People right now are seeking welcome distractions from the unsettling turn of events, and retail therapy can greatly assist with that, something which eCommerce sites should definitely consider with their marketing activities.

Figure-11a-Germany-beauty search shifts search performance covid-19 behavioral shifts

Figure-11b-Germany-apparel search shifts search performance covid-19 behavioral shifts

Figure-11c-Italy-beauty search shifts search performance covid-19 behavioral shifts

Figure-11d-Italy-apparel search shifts search performance covid-19 behavioral shifts

Key takeaways and advice for Negatively Impacted Industries:

  • Provide informative and optimized FAQ sections on your website. In industries like travel & tourism, the demand for customer services has increased as people need to cancel or reschedule bookings, which results in overburdened hotlines and frustrating waiting times which incurs further costs for your business. Providing FAQs will satisfy these questions and actions directly on your website, saving costs, reducing demand for customer support, and reducing customer frustration.

  • Work with your support team to discover new questions that are not yet answered on your website. Use GSC keyword data to discover what common question keywords are generating new impressions and clicks to get a reliable insight into what content is required.

  • Create enriched, easy-to-use online resources and content. This will help to reduce the uncertainty and worry around topics such as delivery and cancellations, so your customer base and audience can deal with the crisis better at home. This will also help your reputation once normality has returned.

  • Give your browsers the option to save items for later or create a wishlist, and then gather this information to see what is most yearned for at the moment. People need welcome distractions right now, and we see this with increases to beauty and apparel. However, the financial situations for your website visitors might not be secure enough right now to turn inspiration into purchases. Giving users the option to save items for later will give you great insights into what discounts to provide so that you can effectively convert wishlists.

  • Expect some loss of traffic yet be geared and prepared for a renaissance once all of this is over. The housing market could be growing as pre-crisis home browsers revisit their searches and new prospects arise, and people will be seeking escapes and travel rapidly.

  • If your industry simply can’t operate right now or has heavily reduced demand, take the chance to invest time in large projects that were put on hold but necessary for growth. For example, a domain relaunch or content revitalization strategies might have been postponed due to other pressing tasks, but now is a good time to focus attention on these while business is low.

Positively Impacted Industries

I waited some weeks before making this analysis to get a better idea of the impact. Some industries that were initially hit badly by the crisis are now seeing a positive trend again. However, for certain niches, demand has increased significantly overall since the COVID crisis first became a real threat, and this is reflected in the organic impressions data.

News, Media and Publications

During times of high uncertainty, it’s expected that the demand for news-related topics increases, and this is reflected strongly in our data.

Figure-12-UK-news search shifts search performance covid-19 behavioral shifts

Figure-12b-USA-news search shifts search performance covid-19 behavioral shifts

Since I started analyzing the data two weeks ago (March 16th), the impressions for the news and media industry has been continuously increasing. However, the amount has now started to decline after reaching a peak. We can expect the amount will still remain higher than in previous periods, due to the fact there are updates on a constant basis.

Figure-13-Germany-news search shifts search performance covid-19 behavioral shifts

Figure-13b-italy-news search shifts search performance covid-19 behavioral shifts

An additional noteworthy finding is that the amount of unique keywords for our connected news domains decreased by around 50% (yet clicks increased). This shows that the Coronavirus subject preceded many other trending topics and halted the diverse keyword reach that news domains usually attract.

Figure-14-Google-visibility search shifts search performance covid-19 behavioral shifts

There is high competition in the news sector, so securing rankings and clicks may be difficult, and might lead to some practitioners reporting on sensationalist stories in order to increase their website traffic. Editors and news SEOs should avoid targeting any Coronavirus topics without the necessary expertise, as this could spread unwarranted panic and unrest for the sake of incoming traffic. Not only will this harm your reputation and trust, such an act is unethical during such a time.

Food & Groceries

Full lockdown is in place in many countries, with the exception of leaving the house for essentials and necessary grocery shopping. However, goods and food delivery is in high demand as people try to avoid visiting busy supermarkets. Companies within the food and grocery industry are not always able to cater to this high demand, and some sought after products simply can’t always be found.

Figure-15-Germany-food search shifts search performance covid-19 behavioral shifts

When lockdown was first enforced within Germany, this fuelled panic searching for necessity items which is detailed by the strong peak in impressions. This then began to decline gradually after the awareness and reliance of the available stock within supermarkets.

The demand is still high in many countries, yet many popular goods delivery services don’t have the means available to cater to this demand so they might simply have to switch off online marketing activities to avoid high volumes of unsatisfiable visitors.

A strong positive anomaly was detected for this popular German supermarket chain after clicks for keywords around "toilet paper", "disinfectant" and "flour" more than doubled. Even though the supermarket may not be able to currently keep up with the high demand, this clearly shows online shops what products are most sought after, and therefore worth restocking as soon as possible.

Figure-16-anomaly- search shifts search performance covid-19 behavioral shifts

Computers & Electronics

Computers and consumer electronics are heavily relied on for entertainment, and by employees and companies working from home. This industry, as well as the related Internet & Technology niche, was one of the biggest immediate winners of the crisis. In some cases, consumer electronics stores couldn’t keep up with the hardware demand as only limited products were available in-store and online meaning the need can’t always be met.

Figure-17a-Germany-computers search shifts search performance covid-19 behavioral shifts

Figure-17b-Italy-computers search shifts search performance covid-19 behavioral shifts

Hobbies & Leisure

The Hobbies & Leisure industry is seeing a huge increase in impressions as people seek inspiration on how to keep busy during self-isolation time. I predict that this topic may see a decline after initial bouts of motivation dwindle, but it’s worthwhile in terms of a content and product strategy to see how your business can bring value to someone's stay-at-home life, for themselves and / or their families.

FIgure-18a-Germany-impressions search shifts search performance covid-19 behavioral shifts

Figure-18b-UK-hobbies search shifts search performance covid-19 behavioral shifts

There has reportedly been a shortage of jigsaw puzzles (who would’ve thought it would’ve come to this) and children’s books, showing there is a strong need for entertainment that can’t always be fully met. However, services that can be supplied online or remotely help the cause greatly - such as gyms providing remote fitness classes and apps dedicated to helping you communicate and play games with friends.

Takeaways and advice for positively impacted industries

  • Use increasing impression data as a key sign for which products to restock online as a priority.

  • Keep a close eye on the new keywords that are rising in impressions and clicks, as these are clear indicators of trending topics which your domain may already be ranking for (even if it’s a low position yet relevant placement) so you can pipeline these to editorial teams and work to be ranking highly for those keywords as fast as possible.

  • Invest time into analyzing your search snippets and seeing how you can best stand out to drive more clicks. There aren’t many industries who’ve been positively impacted, so the competition is fierce and standing out more in the SERPs is a must. To improve your search snippets, you can test providing better copy, apply Structured Data for rich snippets and structured content for Featured Snippets to help you secure traffic for your rankings.

  • Create fantastic online services and resources that keep people active, productive and happy! This is not just in your best interest as a business, but it does a great deal of good to those who need and deserve a welcome distraction.

Impacts on devices

As many are required to work from home, it’s only natural that we see user behavior shifts in regards to the devices used to carry out searches. Mobile device search is used for on-the-go browsing and fact finding, but with the vast majority permanently at home, it’s only natural that we mainly use our desktop devices for these actions. Italy was the first European country to put a lockdown in place, and this is clear in the data, as there was a complete shift from mobile device usage to desktop.

Figure-19-Italy-devices search shifts search performance covid-19 behavioral shifts

France follows Italy closely in this regard. Whilst advancements and paradigm shifts towards mobile-first are important and necessary efforts, websites can still be built solely with mobile visitors in mind, ignoring the look and feel of desktop performance. This data during the Coronavirus crisis tells us that desktop is still an important device to consider during onsite optimizations.

Figure-20-France-devices search shifts search performance covid-19 behavioral shifts

Final thoughts

Many of these trends are expected. However, a detailed analysis into organic search impressions provides a deep and reliable understanding of what is taking place in search during the current crisis. People are relying on search to discover information and facts about the crisis, but more importantly, search helps people fulfil the needs they can no longer meet offline and in person.

Whether your business stands to be positively impacted by the crisis, or scaled down due to lack of ability to operate, we digital marketers and SEO practitioners have a duty to ensure our website and content are making a positive contribution to the current situation. By building enriched online experiences, resolving worries and uncertainties with informational content, targeting and solving upcoming topics, creating happy distractions, and adapting our services and products for the stay-at-home period, we can help make dealing with this crisis a little easier.

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Published on Apr 16, 2020 by Izzi Smith