Consumer behavior shifts occur often, given economic changes, current affairs, and other unforeseen disruptions. However, the shifts marketers have seen and experienced over the past two years are a reminder that your local strategy must continually evolve.
Keeping a pulse on how others are performing in your industry is one way to recognize ongoing trends and benchmark your success. That’s why each year, we release an annual study on how COVID-19 and other external factors impact Google Search trends for enterprise brands.
Methodology Used in the Study
In the study, Rio SEO analyzed local search data for more than 205,000 U.S. business locations over the span of 2021. These locations were organized into eight diverse categories including:
- Service Businesses
- Financial Services
- Sit-Down Restaurants
- Quick-Service Restaurants
- Multi-family Residential
For each business location, we tracked:
- Clicks on a MapPack listing
- Clicks to a website
- Local organic search volume
- Clicks for driving directions
- Clicks to make a phone call
- Local search (Map Pack) views
- Direct local search volume
- Discovery local search volume
In visualizing the impact of the pandemic on local search volume and clicks to call, get driving directions, or visit a website, we get a clearer picture of the level and type of disruption to local businesses when in-store restrictions are imposed.
For the purpose of this blog, we will cover financial services businesses’ local consumer search behavior specifically. Download our free study to dive deeper into the other verticals we studied.
Financial Services Businesses Local Metrics Breakdown in 2020-2021
Financial services businesses for the purpose of this report include mortgage brokers, banks, wealth management advisors, and retirement advisors. Collectively, these businesses saw more volatility in terms of searches and views until the late summer of 2020.
Real personal consumption expenditure (PCE) fell in 2020 as options for spending declined and the economic impact of the pandemic cut into people’s wallets. Savings too increased last year as even those employed held back on spending amid economic, job, and health-related uncertainty.
Starting in August 2020, searches and views picked back up for financial services clients and remained relatively steady throughout 2021. In April of 2021, searches were up 76% YoY and views were up 183% YoY, which aligns with consumers gaining more trust in the economy around this time. In fact, spending by U.S. consumers in major cities was up more than 15% compared to two years ago in December 2021, fueling a rapid economic recovery. Additionally, the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 3.9% in December 2021 when compared to the 6.7% unemployment rate in December 2020.
Phone calls and clicks to websites saw steady declines in 2021 when compared to 2020. This seemed to be the case for many industries studied. This can be attributed to consumers gaining more confidence in a business’ hours listed on their Google Business Profile (GBP) and fewer unexpected business closures.
Driving directions were most noticeably up starting in July of 2020 through the end of 2021. This aligns with customers feeling more confident meeting in person with financial advisors or visiting banks in person.
Despite financial concerns and an evolving regulatory environment, 80% of respondents in a Deloitte survey expect their commercial real estate company’s revenue in 2022 to be slightly or significantly better than 2021 levels. Additionally, according to Deloitte, most insurers expect an accelerating economic recovery in 2022.
COVID-19’s Impact on Local Search Behavior
COVID-19 continued its worldwide spread in 2021 and accelerated with more contagious variants. On November 26, 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified a new variant, B.1.1.529, as a Variant of Concern and named it Omicron. On November 30, 2021, the United States also classified it as a Variant of Concern.
In 2021, however, we also saw the rollout of vaccines at the start of this year. This marked a noticeable turning point in a pandemic that created mass devastation for consumers and businesses alike throughout almost the entirety of 2020.
In March of 2021, President Biden said that every US adult will have access to a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of May. The president also called for every state to ensure that teachers, child care providers, and school staff receive at least 1 dose by April. As more consumers had access to COVID-19 vaccines, all industries studied saw a large lift in search views, total searches, and total clicks in March 2021. This was the most significant lift in Google Search metrics seen throughout all of 2021.
Prior to Omicron sweeping the globe in fall, businesses saw restrictions ease in late spring. By the end of May CDC data showed the risk of COVID-19 infection among fully vaccinated individuals was 0.01%. The news came on the heels of the announcement that the United States has fully vaccinated more than half of its adult population. Mask requirements were lifted in many states, more consumers felt comfortable being indoors. Search trends followed suit.
In May, service businesses saw a staggering 97% increase month-over-month (MoM) in views. Similarly, hotels saw an 89% increase.
How was consumer search behavior affected in different industries by COVID-19?
Each of the industries studied faced its unique set of challenges as well as opportunities amid the pandemic. For example, financial services clients, such as mortgage brokers, saw record years in 2020 and some drop-off in 2021 as mortgage rates began to rise again.
Sit-down and quick-service restaurants are two of the most impacted verticals we’ve studied. Online ordering has quickly become essential for restaurant owners. Nearly all full-service restaurants (95%) using one or more online ordering platforms. Loyalty programs also saw a major uptick during the pandemic. Two in five operators implemented their loyalty programs in the last one to two years.
Phone calls to businesses were up in 2020. This aligns with consumers who were calling to confirm hours, services available, and if products were in stock. In 2021, phone calls trended down across all verticals as lockdown concerns dissipated. Clicks for driving directions saw significant downturns at the start of 2020. They picked back up again and remained relatively steady throughout the remainder of 2020 and into 2021 as consumers became more comfortable shopping in-store.
Download the study for even more in-depth insights.