We have been talking of Coronavirus for months and by now we are all aware that the ongoing pandemic has had an influence on each aspect of our lives as well as a significant impact in all areas. So, could the web be exempt from all this?
Rhetorical question, of course: we are all so used to surfing the net for everything already in normal times, let alone now that we have had to give up entertainment, going out, travelling, social relationships, and can find some entertainment thanks to the web.
The effects of the Coronavirus on the Internet, and on Google in particular, are enormous and of different kinds, and do not only concern the massive increase in the use of the network (it is estimated that in April traffic in Italy increased by 30%), but also more 'qualitative' aspects, which can also be useful to companies in order to better understand the period we are living in terms of consumption and promotion.
Let's start from the fact that less than any other should surprise us: as we noted at the beginning of this pandemic, consumer habits have changed and have recorded, among other things, the growth of e-commerce. Online shopping is the sector that is benefiting more than any other from the pandemic, even if, as one would expect, this growth does not concern all types of products sold online, but mainly basic necessities. What is certain is that the pandemic has brought many people closer to a world, the one of online sales, which before some might have looked with little interest: according to the Netcomm consortium, in Italy there have been 2 million new consumers since the beginning of 2020, and it is estimated that the increase will touch 55%.
The growth in online sales is part of a broader context of increased internet access. Here too, however, distinctions must be made: if more people have started to surf the Internet with more conviction, leading to an increase in organic traffic, it must be said that the type of searches and, consequently, the type of results returned by Google have changed. The first aspect to be considered is the exponential decline in searches for certain sectors compared to the increase in others, as a consequence of what we can do and what we can’t do in this period and how our interests have changed during the pandemic: nor does it need to be said that searches for the travel sector have sunk while those for health in all its aspects have increased. A survey carried out by Seozoom makes it clear that there are sectors which have worsened in some ways, but improved in others: the automotive sector, for example, has seen a sharp decline in organic searches related to car rental, car sales or motor sports, but has seen an increase in motoring news and, albeit to a lesser extent, searches on manufacturers and models.
As if to say that, even if buying a new car does not seem feasible at the moment, nothing prevents us from informing ourselves about the car that we may want to buy in the future. This also means that a user looking for this kind of information expects to find an answer on the web: for this reason, even if the sector may seem to be declining, we should not stop communicating via the web.
According to Gianluca Fiorelli, this point of view can also be applied to the sector that has suffered the most from the crisis, i.e. travel: although at the moment it is unthinkable to book a holiday, when we can finally do so there will be an awakening of interest in the topic, and consequently the related research will increase. As Fiorelli suggests, we must not be found unprepared, which means continuing to update your sites with quality content so to be found when users start looking for us again.
It is not only the sectors of interest that are changing, but also our search intentions. Google couldn’t fail to notice this, and so if we type in the search bar not only the words 'coronavirus' or 'covid', but also the term 'crown', which could have other meanings (from the beer brand to the headgear of kings and queens), what we get is a specially designed SERP, bringing back real-time information, maps of contagions, and so on.
SERP Changes (even if not so revolutionary) can be found also for other terms that we used to type, but with a less specific meaning, such as “tampon”: if we now search for this word, the results that Google shows are news on the tampons carried out to ascertain CoVid-19 infection, or information sites on pharyngeal tampons, whereas before the contagion the SERP returned explanations and in-depth information on the term and on the subject 'tampon' in the broad sense (not only the pharyngeal one). This phenomenon could also be repeated for other terms and topics, and it could therefore happen that a piece of content, previously first placed among Google's top pages, has now had to give way to a piece of content which Google currently considers to be more relevant. If there is room for modification and adaptation, we may consider changing our page to bring it up to date.
If organic traffic has had some shocks, the changes have surely not spared paid traffic. First of all, some words have become taboo: everything related to masks can no longer be promoted on Google through paid ads, a decision also shared by Facebook in order to avoid speculation in this area. For other terms, on the other hand, competition has become really low, because, as it is logical at this time, some topics or products are not even searched for any more, so publishing paid ads is of little use (other sectors, such as the organic, are not suffering the blow). In short, also Google is suffering from the Coronavirus crisis, since it is losing many advertisers. Nevertheless, in order to meet the difficulties faced by SMEs during this period, Mountain View has decided to offer small and medium-sized enterprises some free advertising credits. As with the organic results, Google has shown that it can interpret the times by providing solutions to real needs.
In short, the pandemic is changing the world, but also the world wide web. It is up to us to try to figure out how to adapt to these changes (or anticipate them) without being caught unprepared.