Search & Discovery Writer
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Over the past several weeks, the world as we knew it at the beginning of 2020 has completely changed. As people all over the world are grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic and the changes that have come along with it, people’s priorities have changed, as has their behavior. With more and more people staying at home and practicing social distancing in impacted areas, those behavior changes include how people prioritize and spend their time online.
As we all adjust how we work and live, your customers’ priorities and needs may be changing too. Whether your business is booming or suffering, it’s more important than ever to understand what people are searching for and guide them to the best products and information for their needs.
With a one trillion annual run rate of search queries through Algolia’s Search-as-a-Service platform, we are publishing our Q1 search trends to help organizations understand and navigate the changing environment.
The purpose of this analysis was meant to look at the sites that saw the biggest increase or the largest decrease in search volume and identify what industries these sites are in to better understand how customers’ needs and search behaviors have changed between January and March 2020.
While overall Q1 search volume stayed consistent across our 8,600+ customers globally, we saw a surge in search activity across sites in several industries, including beauty businesses, online education sites, and online grocery merchants, but also saw a dip in search activity across sites in industries such as travel, real estate, and sporting goods and activewear.
We examined and analyzed nearly 3 months worth of search traffic data from Jan. 12 to March 28 and segmented this by country and industry to see how and where customer behavior has shifted in the first quarter of 2020. Below is what we found — some of which we expected and other things that surprised us, but now make sense in this “new normal.”
First, we looked at the industry categories that have seen a surge in search volume during Q1 based on the companies from our analysis. As the world seemed to change overnight — country-by-country — global search across online education, groceries and other e-commerce shopping sites saw considerable growth, especially in March.
When we chart this across six countries that have put in place stay-at-home and lockdown protocols due to COVID-19 — US, UK, France, Italy, Germany and Spain, we have seen a steady increase each week — with one exception in week 8 (i.e., week of March 1) where there was an even greater increase primarily due to a few select online grocery, gaming, and learning sites in the US and France.
Let’s take a closer look at a few specific industries that have sites that have seen significant growth in search volume in Q1 2020. As shown below, what’s clear is that during the global pandemic, while people’s core needs haven’t changed, the way people procure goods and engage businesses has.
With schools closed and parents working from home, student learning has been disrupted. As school districts have scrambled to develop some form of online teaching and assign more coursework to students, school administrators and parents have curated and sought out companies that have complimentary online education classes and resources. In addition, people are using this time to enrich themselves and develop new skills — learning a new foreign language, playing a musical instrument or improving their programming skills.
As a result, education-related sites in our analysis saw the biggest growth in search volume in Q1, growing over 10X, with the biggest surge during the back half of March.
Spotlight segment: Developers searching for technical documentation
Through DocSearch, Algolia powers over 2,000 projects including Bootstrap, Laravel, Vue.js and React to help developers find the documentation they need to build digital and mobile experiences.
Over the past month, DocSearch has helped 3.1 millions users through this service which represents a 71% increase year-over-year (i.e., 36+ million end user run rate vs. 21 million end users in 2019), indicating that developers are using this period of time to broaden and deepen their technical development expertise and exploring programming languages and environments to build new sites and experiences.
The top 5 projects — including Bootstrap, Laravel, Materia-UI, and Vue.js — drove over 40% of this volume. Something tells us that we’ll see more of these projects in the coming weeks and months ahead, including hopefully more to aid in the effort of overcoming COVID-19.
As shelter-in-place and social distancing guidelines were put in place all over the world over the past several weeks, more people have been avoiding even the occasional trip to the grocery store and instead opting for home delivery or buy online, pick-up in store (BOPIS) options for their groceries.
As a result, grocery sites saw over a 6X increase in search volume in Q1. Due to the need for weekly staples like eggs, milk, coffee, and bread, first-time users will likely become loyal customers (at least during the pandemic) — re-ordering from their last online grocery order — as new users continue to join in and shop online. Based on this dynamic, we expect this upward trend to continue and steadily increase over the coming weeks.
At first glance, we were surprised to see beauty sites on the list of categories with growing demand. After all, people were going out less and less, so why would they need beauty products?
As we dug into the data, with over 3.5X growth in search volume driven mainly in March, it became clear that the companies in this segment were benefiting from more people staying at home for a longer and longer period, while local salons and other beauty-related services stayed closed. This likely means more people self-grooming including cutting or dyeing their own hair (or asking a housemate.)
Unfortunately, with social distancing and a degree of lockdown measures in place for over a third of the world’s population, people’s behaviors have changed dramatically; certain activities and prior interests are no longer the priority — or aren’t even possible in many cases. Travel, attending one’s favorite sporting event, and purchasing new real estate are no longer part of most people’s daily routine — and the search data we analyzed supports this.
As expected, search across online travel sites has dropped significantly — down by 97% from the beginning of Q1. This started as the US, China, UK and other EU countries began limiting and then prohibiting flights from certain regions of the world. As COVID-19 became a global pandemic and the World Health Organization issued stricter guidelines, it became clear that going on flights, cruises and family vacations during Spring Break were at one’s own risk.
As the COVID-19 outbreak began to affect local communities and schools closed with stay-at-home measures in place, outdoor activities and school sporting events declined. Similarly, as popular sports figures were reported to have contracted the coronavirus and professional sporting leagues like the NBA and FIFA suspended their season, sporting events stopped overnight. Search activities across sports-related sites, especially those selling activewear, saw a decline of 69% this past quarter with a steady decrease week-over-week.
Spotlight company: Fitness equipment provider
While many activewear and sporting goods-related sites saw a decrease in search activity, some companies in certain sporting goods categories saw a huge search volume growth — and presumably greater conversion rates. One example is a fitness equipment provider that saw up to a 74% increase in search volume from the beginning of the quarter. This likely was due to people looking for ways to stay active and in shape indoors with equipment such as treadmills, free weights, and stationary bikes.
The combination of stay-at-home measures, social distancing, and indications of a long bear market, industries such as commercial and residential real estate have slowed in activity. While some realtors are offering virtual tours for their clients and potential investors are looking to buy property should real estate prices come down, overall momentum in this market is down based on our search activity data across several sites, which shows a steep 85% drop from the peak during the week of February 24 and the bottom during the week of March 16.
At times like this, every company should be looking for ways to reduce friction in their online experiences.
Search is often a key friction point for customers when they can’t find what they are looking for. On the other hand, delivering a search experience to provide customers what they want quickly is a best practice any time — but especially during this unique period when customers are actively spending time online, seeking essential and value-added products, information and services.
To learn how to evolve your online experience and approach during this time, please register for the “Digital Strategies For the COVID-19 World” webinar.
Note: no customer-specific information has been exposed for the purpose of this analysis. All data cited has been aggregated across country and/or industry or anonymized, and therefore is not specific, nor representative, of any particular customer.