How search data will save businesses in 2021

Few people will look back on 2020 with fondness but the priority for businesses now is to make it through the next 12 months. While there’s reason for cautious optimism that things will improve this year, we’re facing an uncertain Q1 and a long recovery process, at best.

Vertical Leap on how marketers had to adapt their use of search data had to keep up with business opportunities.

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The big positive is that we learned a lot in 2020 about dealing with unprecedented crises and one of the biggest lessons from last year was how valuable search data is for guiding business decisions during uncertain times - something that could save many businesses in 2021.

How search insights saved businesses in 2020

We’ve talked about SEO being the saviour in times of crisis before, as your search ranking continues to generate traffic, even if you scale back spending on other channels. However, your biggest asset in search marketing is the wealth of data now available, which not only reveals new marketing opportunities but can inform key business decisions.

According to McKinsey data, the first three months of the Covid-19 pandemic spurred 10 years’ worth of digital adoption in the space of 90 just days, changing the way consumers engage with brands at a faster scale than we’ve ever seen.

Meanwhile, ONS figures for online sales as a percentage of total sales illustrated the move to online spending in the UK while the graph below hints at how disproportionately businesses in different industries were affected.

There was no guidebook, no case studies or best practices for how to deal with the coronavirus pandemic yet businesses had to adapt to the most disruptive event in living memory.

Search data reveals the latest needs, interests and concerns of consumers. Covid-19 rendered historical data almost irrelevant beyond comparison to “the new normal” but real-time search data mapped out comer trends, as they changed, in response to overnight lockdown measures and the other market disruptions caused by the pandemic.

In June, last year, Vertical Leap published a series of Google Search trends for the post-first-wave recovery period.

Here are some of the key insights from that article:

  • Searches for “blinds, shades and shutters” were up by 109.95%

  • Searches for “office furniture” were up by 83.74%

  • Searches for “bicycles and accessories” were up by 71.32%

  • Searches for “bakeware” were up by 66.85%

  • Searches for “yard, garden and patio” were up by 57.81%

  • Searches for “home improvement and maintenance” were up by 45.07%

  • Strong decline in searches for consumer electronics

  • Strong decline in searches for clothes, cosmetics and beauty

Even during the first lockdown, search data revealed how consumer interests were shifting away from luxuries to essentials and purchases for the home, health and lifestyle. Using this data, businesses could adapt to satisfy changing interests, as we saw in our summary of search insights for restaurants and takeaways.

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Food businesses that quickly adapted for delivery, takeaway, online ordering and other emerging demands were best placed to survive lockdown closures - and many even managed to grow during the peak of the outbreak.

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By monitoring search data during volatile times, businesses can find new opportunities in surprising places - anything from a spike in demand for balloon deliveries to the popularity of new hobbies, such as painting.

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Finding new business opportunities in your search data

Covid-19 highlighted the broader role search data can place in business intelligence, largely because so many other data sources were devalued or invalidated. However, using search insights to inform key business decisions shouldn’t be anything new.

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Back in 2017, we published an article explaining the importance of data visualisation where we fed Google Ads location data into Microsoft Power BI to visualise impression locations on a map of the UK for a client with branches across the nation.

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We could then manipulate this data to show impression volumes per location and, going one step further, show impression volumes in relation to users’ distance from the nearest branch. This revealed a number of areas where our client was paying for clicks that were too far away from a branch to realistically convert.

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The easy answer would have been to use location targeting to stop showing ads in these locations but this would leave existing demand unsatisfied. So, instead, we looked at the two areas generating the highest number of impressions within a 5-mile radius and this revealed Manchester and Portsmouth as two cities where our client could open new branches and increase profit through growth.

Search insights revealed a significant business opportunity where existing demand was left unsatisfied.

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More recently, we’ve been using search insights to help one of the country’s favourite fast-food chains create its Veganuary menu and several clothing retailers to choose which product ranges to promote on their website and marketing campaigns.

With consumer interests being so unpredictable and subject to rapid change, the latest search insights can help businesses make key decisions with some degree of confidence.

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