Search insights and shifting consumer behaviors and trends during COVID-19

As people following the stay-at-home requests, we’re seeing an increase in searches. We want to provide regularly updated insights and trends specific to different verticals to help you understand the search trends and shifts in consumer behavior happening right now.  

What’s driving change in the auto vertical?

Sources: COVID Insights: Autos Consumer Sentiment – New & Used Searches and COVID Insights: Automotive Click Trends

For many of us, the thought of our daily commute is slowly fading off into the distance as we continue to stay home during the mandated shelter in place. With most cars now sitting idle in their garage or driveway, we’ll look under the hood to determine what’s driving the biggest changes in consumer search trends for the auto vertical. Since this time last year, the marketplace has seen a decline in searches for new cars by 19% and used cars by 8%. This doesn’t come as a huge surprise as people are more apprehensive to purchase big ticket items during times of uncertainty. These consumer behaviors become even more pronounced when you look at those searching for luxury compared with non-luxury vehicles. Those able to afford luxury cars are likely not as worried about financial troubles ahead which is why we’ve seen an 18% year over year increase in this sub-vertical compared to a -29% year over year decline in non-luxury vehicle searches. 

As a whole people are less interested in buying cars right now but that doesn’t mean they’re any less likely to take care of their current car. In fact, since the beginning of April there’s been a significant increase in searches related to car maintenance and improvements. Audio equipment clicks were up 49% and body repair clicks were up 29% compared to the previous week in late March. While part and service are down slightly year-over-year, it’s clear that people are using this newfound free time to get some work done on their own cars.

For those in the parts and service sub-vertical, it’s important for you to maintain your presence online as people are still showing a strong desire to maintain their cars amidst COVID-19. Now switching gears to vehicle retailers. It’s true that year on year trends show a softening in auto searches, but with such a long purchase cycle this could be a good time to enter your future customer’s consideration set. A good way to get additional visibility right now would be with image-based native ads, especially since we know people are online more now than they were before the coronavirus.

Rise of the hobbies – and they mean business

Source: COVID Insights: Hobby Trends

The question is coming up more and more lately, have you picked up any new hobbies? Whether talking to friends, family, or colleagues, this seems to be an increasingly popular topic of conversation as we all look to fill our spare free time. Whether it’s arts and crafts, cooking, or brewing your own beer, we’ve seen a massive surge in interest around hobbies since the US declared COVID-19 a national emergency on March 14. From that point forward the increase in hobby related searches has been a global phenomenon. 

The US and APAC have both seen a 16% increase in search volume compared to pre-COVID forecasts. European markets saw an even greater lift at 23%, which to put in perspective constitutes a 27% lift compared to last year.   

For the hobby vertical, more searches don’t necessarily mean more clicks. Within several sub-segments, we’ve seen increases in searches, but decreases in clicks. For example, in the US more people are turning to birding which has seen a 54% increase in year over year searches but a 16% decline in clicks. Jumping across the pond to Europe we see birding with a similar year over year search growth and correlated click growth. All this is to say that sub-segment click volume seems to be less predictable than its related search volume by category, which across the board has increased. 

All these trends point to once clear take away; clicks are up for grabs in the hobby marketplace. There’s a huge opportunity for you to get creative to entice these homebound hobby enthusiasts to click on your ads. Aside from shoring up your search basics, responsive ads can be a helpful tool to make sure your potential customers see the most relevant and compelling ad copy for their hobby-du-jour.

How pets are helping people through coronavirus. 

Source: COVID Insights: US Pets & Animal Trends

Not to make light of the global COVID-19 pandemic, but if there was a winner in all of this it would be our pets. There’s no data confirming this but we would wager that dogs are getting an unprecedented number of walks right now. 

Pet and Animal search behaviors have changed since the US declared COVID-19 a national emergency in mid-March. Several pet-related services are no longer needed with most people staying home, and the data backs this up. We’ve seen the biggest year over year decline in clicks for pet sitting and vets at around 66%, followed by 34% dip in dog walker clicks. We see a broader trend of click softness across the board for this category except for pet food and supplies, which is up 9% year on year. This lift is driven primarily by online retailer searches which have increased 89%, followed by their brick and mortar counterparts which have benefited from a 29% increase in related search terms. 

We may even see the volume of pet supplies searches increase further as many people have turned to adopting or fostering pets during the quarantine. With an 11% increase in searches, people are at the very least looking for some furry companionship to help get through these times. 

To wrap up with some recommendations to those in the Pet Food & Supply space or Animal Adoption: 

  • One, make sure you’re being competitive with your bids, especially on desktop and brand-related searches which have both seen a slight shift upward. Also, be sure to leverage the power of bid modifiers on things like your remarketing lists or In-Market audiences.  
  • Two, add negative keyword for lion, tiger, and snake, unless of course you have related offerings. We’ve seen volume for these terms increase significantly, likely driven by the fact that it’s the Year of the Snake and the Netflix show Tiger King has been trending. 
  • Lastly, we recommend those with BOPIS (buy online pick up in-store) options to listen to last week’s BOPIS podcast for more takeaways there – since this has been a major marketplace shift with significant upside.

The rise of photo printing as people reminisce on the good times 

Source: COVID Insights: US Photo Printing Trends

We live in a digital world, there’s no arguing that point. With platforms like Instagram and TikTok making content more consumable than ever, there’s been a cultural shift to documenting life’s moments on a more and more regular basis. While the rise and popularity of these platforms show no signs of slowing down, there will always be a soft spot in our hearts for physical photos, and the latest search trends prove it.

Even before COVID was declared a national emergency on March 14 we saw a slight year over year increase in Photo Printing search volume. Since then the trend has gone up and to the right with a whopping 61% lift in searches. It’s hard to say exactly what’s driving such massive interest in photo printing. The latest data shows that consumers are clicking almost exclusively on text ads from their PCs and there’s about a 50/50 split on whether they’re clicking on brand or non-brand ads. The device preference data supports a trend that I’m sure many of us are experiencing firsthand, more than ever before we’re home with free time and a laptop in front of us, so we search there rather than our phones. 

So how should we be thinking about this growing group of photo printing searchers? 

  • We know this group is relatively brand indifferent, so be sure to call out your specific benefits or offerings in your ad copy, since brand doesn’t seem to carry as much weight. 
  • We know they’re stuck at home, so be sure to include the word ‘Online’ in both your keyword and ad copy strategy since we’ve seen this term pop up regularly across top searched terms. 
  • Lastly, just because this group is only clicking on text ads doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have your text ads stand out. Consider getting creative with ad extensions, including image extensions.

How Mother’s Day is going virtual

With Easter now behind us we each have a better personal understanding of how major holidays will be different amidst coronavirus quarantines. Setting our sights now to Mother’s Day, we’ll investigate the latest search data and help you understand how this year will look different than last. 

At this point it should come as no surprise that ‘virtual’ is the name of the game, especially for those looking to celebrate a special event. We’ve seen queries with the term virtual increase by 25 times compared to this time last year. This includes everything from the more generic ‘virtual cards’ to the more specific like ‘virtual baby shower games. We’ve even seen significant volume for ‘virtual weddings’, something I’m sure no one was thinking about before the virus. 

We know that Mother’s Day is going virtual this year, but what does that mean for consumer’s spending habits on how they show appreciation for mom? To answer this, we’ll look at our data from 2019 and see who was getting the lion’s share of Mother’s Day gift spend. In the US alone, moms were showered in $5.2 billion dollars’ worth of jewelry on their special day, now that’s a lot of love. Jewelry was followed relatively closely by special outings like brunch or dinner, which as you guessed it, is going to change this year. As we’re all keenly aware, restaurants across America are closed to sit down dining, and the likelihood of them opening by May 10th is questionable at best. This huge bucket of 2019 spend will likely get diverted to other tangible gifts like flowers, clothes, or likely more jewelry. 

These are some important take away to keep in mind as you prepare for Mother’s Day. 

  • The first thing to remember is that traffic begins to increase 30 days prior to Mother’s Day, so if you haven’t already started preparing, it’s time to get a move on.
  • Now for some specific search recommendations, and I can’t say it enough, virtual. Include terms related to virtual offerings in both your keyword and ad copy strategy. Also consider how the actual buying and gifting process will change this year as we shift to virtual. Use promotions to make it clear and easy for shoppers to do all their Mother’s Day shopping from the comfort of their home. 
  • Lastly, don’t forget to call your mother.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Nikki joined Microsoft Advertising in 2017 with more than 5 years of experience in online advertising and digital analytics. As a Senior Program Manager within the Advertiser Analytics & Insights team, she is focused on driving the analytics strategy for Microsoft Advertising. Prior to joining Microsoft, she worked at Digitas as part of the Strategy & Analytics team, focusing on cross-channel analytics, media effectiveness and strategic planning. Nikki has spoken about the importance of consumer data strategies and the future of the modern marketing ecosystem at several Microsoft and industry events. Nikki attended Boston College with degrees in Political Science and International Studies.

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