COVID-19 changed every facet of life for millions globally and disrupted local search trends for the majority of the past year. Businesses were forced to close their brick-and-mortar locations, workplaces went fully remote and consumers were subject to strict stay-at-home orders, and the world turned inward.
Rio SEO has been tracking changes in local search behavior month-by-month and has noticed new trends as more people receive vaccines and global restrictions start to ease. You can find the latest trends here.
In this post, we’ll look specifically at the trends among those local consumers who’ve received their vaccines and are ready to “get back to normal” — which remains unpredictable going forward.
What Are Consumers Searching for Now?
Local search trends have certainly shifted lately, with Google reporting searches for “cast iron dutch ovens” up 90% year-over-year, “walking trails near me” up 100% and “things to do during quarantine” up 300% year-over-year. If people weren’t baking sourdough in their new cast iron pots, they were making candles and going for walks.
At the same time, people are eager to get out of their homes. Searches for “resorts near me” have grown 80% year-over-year. Searches for “romantic getaways” have increased by 60%. In addition, interest in travel apps and passport requirements has increased 100% and 60%, respectively.
Rio SEO has been tracking Google My Business (GMB) searches throughout the pandemic, which touched virtually every aspect of the business landscape and consumer search behavior.
Before COVID, consumers were generally aware of the location, hours of operation, and store policies of the places they visited for everyday needs. The pandemic changed everything. Some stores closed, some open with restricted hours, some offering hours for people with compromised health or first responders. Conversion rates showed people were interested in local delivery options, curbside pickup, contactless payment, and health and safety protocols.
Local Search Listings
As things continue to open up and the vaccines become more readily accessible and available, there are a few things businesses can do to prepare for re-opening and make it easy for their customers to return.
While each type of business will have its challenges and regulations depending on geographic location, there are some common things to keep in mind.
Ensure your local listings are up-to-date
Keep your operating hours, special extended or shortened hours, special attributes such as curbside delivery, dine-in, order and pick up, or other information up-to-date. Consider adding an FAQs page if you don’t already have one so customers can find all the important information in one spot.
Customers may also be utilizing Google Q&A to ask your store questions regarding store policies, such as if masks are required. Ensure you’re actively responding to these queries to provide searchers with accurate information.
Be active on social media
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media channels are a simple way to communicate information to your customers, generate excitement for your reopening, and entice people to come back and visit again. Get creative—start a countdown to reopening campaign, make use of special offers or promotions, encourage engagement by asking people to like, post and comment and be sure to interact with anyone who takes the time to reach out.
Social media also presents an opportunity to respond to customer service inquiries. And don’t forget about Google Posts!
Catch up on missed reviews
Your review profile and average star ratings are a heavily weighted part of the local search algorithm. How you respond to a negative rating is just as important as five-star reviews because customers want to see how you deal with feedback. It’s also an opportunity to identify things you could be doing better or local issues you may not be aware of. The customer took the time to leave feedback. Many won’t.
Add information about pandemic safety measures
Google, Yelp and Bing have all developed COVID-19 features that let you quickly provide all the information your customers need to feel safe returning to in-person visits to your business.
Consider adding FAQs to your Local Pages to provide information like mask policy, occupancy limits, sanitization measures, physical distancing requirements and other information like dine-in or patio, whether dressing rooms and washrooms are open and whether customers can bring their bags for groceries. FAQs are a great way to optimize for voice search, as well.
Remember, rules could vary widely across your locations, so now is the time to provide detailed information about each location. Make use of GMB’s health and safety attributes to make it easy for your customers to know what to expect.
Vaccines are top of mind
People want to return to whatever “normal” will look like post-pandemic, and vaccines are part of that strategy. Google trends report searches for “vaccine” has reached an all-time high globally, with COVID-19 “vaccine” at 67% in US searches, with COVID “testing” at 33%. The fastest rising searches involve new vaccines, with a search about novavax up 1450% and rising.
Healthcare brands can use GMB features to inform local customers about COVID-19 information such as clinic hours, availability, whether referrals or appointments are required, insurance information and other details, including state and regional vaccine distribution.
Healthcare providers and pharmacies can optimize their GMB listings by taking advantage of Google’s tools. Rio SEO has taken some of the guesswork out of it, and you can read more about it here. As with any healthcare-related information, timely, accurate, and complete information is the goal.
Keep service delivery methods and attributes up to date
Eighteen months into the pandemic, people are ready and more comfortable with shopping in person again. Curbside pickup searches are on the decline. As you shift back to normal business operations, make it easy for customers to know what to expect.
Taking advantage of all the tools available to you will provide peace of mind to customers who are nervous about returning to in-person shopping.
Remember to update your Yelp pages, as well. They have similar health and safety attributes, and with 90 million users a month, it’s a marketing tool you cannot ignore. Not only do they offer Custom Location Targeting, but Yelp is also a great way to interact with your customers and start to generate buzz about reopening. If you’re new to Yelp, here’s some information to get you started.
There are very few people alive today who lived through the Spanish flu, so the global pandemic has been uncharted territory for the entire world. One of the biggest challenges for enterprise companies was the myriad of local, state, and national regulations that may have varied widely from location to location in your business operations.
As things continue to re-open, local search data and analytics can help your organization plan next steps and pivot in response to changing demand.
Local search trends can help target advertising, address and respond to local concerns and customize messaging that speaks to local customers and gives them the peace of mind to return to in-person experiences. Since reopening guidelines will continue to vary geographically, having the ability to respond to local situations will help your enterprise recover from the pandemic faster.
Get in touch to learn more about how we can help you achieve this at scale, across all of your target markets.