Consumer behavior shifts occur often, given economic changes, current affairs, and other unforeseen disruptions. However, the shifts seen in quick-service restaurant local consumer search behavior 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 quick-service restaurant local consumer search behavior specifically. Download our free study to dive deeper into the other verticals we studied.
Quick-Service Restaurants Local Metrics Breakdown in 2020-2021
Quick-service restaurants, or restaurants that serve fast food cuisine and have minimal table service, saw similar search and views figures as their sit-down counterparts during 2020 and 2021. This includes an increase in clicks to phone calls from April 2020 through August 2020 and clicks to websites from May 2020 and August 2020.
The notable difference between the two is their operations. Quick-service restaurants were better poised to succeed during the pandemic, with their largely takeout-focused service model. Still, the total revenue of the QSR industry in the U.S. dropped 12% in 2020 when compared to 2019.
Click conversions, however, remained much more fluid for the quick-service restaurant industry in both 2020 and 2021. Clicks to phone call metrics remained the most consistent, perhaps because quick-service restaurants saw fewer closures compared to sit-down restaurants. Driving direction clicks saw increasing growth YoY, particularly in March through May of 2021. Clicks for driving directions were up in April 2021 99% YoY and in May 2021 they were up 56%.
The global quick-service restaurant market reached a value of US$232.3 billion in 2021. The market is projected to reach US$ 308 billion by 2027, with a compound annual growth rate of 4.9% from 2022 to 2027. Quick-service restaurants, despite some setbacks, are on pace to continue to grow in the coming years and local metrics are sure to reflect this in the future.
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.
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.