Spotting the COVID-19 Impact with SEMrush Data
The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly had a significant effect on digital marketing trends this year. Its full impact is yet to be seen, but businesses have been forced to adapt to the changing circumstances on a weekly or even daily basis.
At SEMrush, we have collected and analyzed recent data from over 2,000 of the world’s most visited ecommerce websites across multiple categories, including Fashion, Consumer Electronics and Health and Beauty, to determine what the new face of digital marketing looks like. The analysis revealed that shifts in the ecommerce landscape and consumer shopping patterns had already arrived:
Monthly “buy online’’ searches almost doubled in the first month of the pandemic: there were 27,500+ searches in March 2020 vs. 14,800+ in February 2020 across all categories. Looking at the overall year-on-year (YoY) trend for June (2019 vs. 2020), these searches rose globally by 50%;
Worldwide searches for food delivery services increased by an average of 180%; and
The average YoY traffic growth for ecommerce sites in the first half of 2020 was around 30%.
These are just some of the changes that have taken place in recent months. Let’s take a closer look at our research and data on this year’s ecommerce digital marketing trends to see how we can help businesses navigate their new landscapes.
Ecommerce Traffic Trends: Growth, Growth, Growth
Ecommerce sales have already been growing at unprecedented rates. In 2020, eMarketer forecasts a collective $3.914 trillion in ecommerce sales.
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, consumer interest in online shopping is on the rise for everything from daily necessities to more serious purchases, such as laptops (online searches for “laptops” have grown by 123% YoY during spring). Offline shopping, of course, is a long way from returning to normal.
Ecommerce Traffic Trends
SEMrush data gathered via Traffic Analytics show that global average monthly ecommerce traffic across all industries is around 17 billion. Spikes in November and December are typically expected as consumers flock to online stores for the likes of Black Friday and Winter holiday promotions, but the recent pandemic has caused some unexpected changes in the ecommerce landscape.
Traffic spikes to ecommerce websites in springtime were larger than the traditional spikes we tend to see in November and December. Remarkably, the traffic only continued to grow in June 2020:
Traffic growth remained consistent during the months of the pandemic (March - June 2020), with the average being 36% across all the ecommerce categories. Apart from general retailers like Amazon, Walmart, and eBay, the three categories of Home and Garden, Food and Groceries, and Sport and Outdoors are the ones showing the most significant growth in traffic during this time at 40-50% YoY.
Ecommerce Traffic Sources
Increased traffic is one thing, but understanding where it comes from is another if businesses are to see the benefits of attracting more visitors. Here’s what we found with regards to traffic sources during the pandemic:
Mobile traffic has comprised approximately 70% of all ecommerce site visits. This is why it is essential to optimize for mobile if conversions are to be improved (check out our Definitive Guide to Ecommerce SEO for more tips for mobile-friendliness).
Around 60% of all traffic in ecommerce is Direct, which is indicative of the role that brand recognition and customer loyalty play for any online shopping business.
The Fashion and Health and Beauty sectors, which rely heavily on brand awareness, have seen the largest numbers of visitors coming directly to their sites (59% and 61% respectively).
We found that, during the pandemic, search traffic in ecommerce increased 17% YoY on average across all categories. The Health and Beauty category experienced the largest growth in search traffic at 24%.
Branded traffic has increased YoY for all ecommerce categories, too. The largest spike in branded traffic has been in the Health and Beauty sector, which has experienced 16% YoY growth.
Fashion dominates the branded traffic share (which has grown by 4% during the pandemic), followed by Consumer Electronics:
Ecommerce Advertising Trends: An Opportunity in the Midst of the Crisis
Paid traffic is not the largest traffic generator within ecommerce, but to gain customers and operate in a highly competitive environment, large e-tailers have always been keen to advertise online.
Online Advertising Spend in Ecommerce: A General Overview
Globally, almost 50% of all online ecommerce advertisers across various categories spend up to $1,000 a month on Google ad campaigns, so it is not an exercise that is necessarily reserved for those with huge budgets.
Within the US, 30% of ecommerce advertisers stay within a $1,000 monthly limit when it comes to their ad spend.
Budgets tend to rise with competition across various industries. According to our data gathered via our Advertising Toolkit, General Retailers and Fashion e-tailers are the largest ad spenders, as approximately 50% of the analyzed domains within these sectors are spending over $150,000 every month.
Let’s take a look at how the coronavirus pandemic has affected these spending levels:
Online Ad Spend During the COVID-19 Crisis
Budget Cuts and Growing Gaps
It’s clear from our data that the coronavirus crisis has taken its toll on global digital ad spend.
Comparing YoY data for the months of the pandemic (March-June 2019 vs. 2020), we spotted that almost everyone, from small- to large-scale advertisers, has reduced online advertising budgets by 20% on average.
Initially, those spending over $1 million a month on online ads were more hesitant to make significant cuts, but by June 2020, all advertisers had started to show lower confidence in digital ad spend.
With lower ad spend, the costs of online advertising are also on the decline. Due to the pandemic, most ecommerce sectors have witnessed a drop in the average cost per click (CPC), which could mean that advertisers can get more value out of each dollar they spend.
This opportunity is not consistent across all ecommerce industries - a more detailed overview of the digital ad spend during the COVID-19 crisis and a look at industry-specific data can be found in our recent blog post.
Emotional Triggers and CTAs in Ecommerce Ads
Finding the right emotional trigger to encourage users to click on an ad is often the difference between a successful ad campaign and a failed one.
Examples like “Free shipping’’, “Free returns” and “Shipping available’’ are dominating the CTA landscape within ecommerce ads; our research showed that 32% of all ads emphasize free delivery. This message is getting increasingly popular during the times of coronavirus as consumers are increasingly turning to online shopping for items they might never before have purchased online.
A one-size-fits-all approach will not cut it for online ad campaigns, though, as each industry has its own peculiarities:
Health and Beauty and Home and Garden ads often highlight exclusivity factors with CTAs like “limited edition”;
Quality messaging is a big deal for sectors like Pets (“vet recommended”) and Consumer Electronics (“trusted since”, “factory authorized”, “authorized dealer”); and
Sport and Outdoors and Fashion ads often feature urgent and novelty indicators in CTAs, with the likes of “new arrivals”, “shop latest”, and “shop new” present in 26% of all ads analyzed within these industries.
Consumer Demand in Ecommerce
Here, our research looks at patterns in consumer demands and how they are changing as a result of recent events.
Most Popular Products across Different Categories
The average monthly search volume data from H1 2019 to H1 2020 reveal some interesting shifts.
Dr. Fauci’s calls for washing hands every other hour have had an impact. Hand wash has made it to the top 5 most searched for products within the Health sector this year - with the average monthly searches in the first half of 2020 at 638,400 globally (vs. 74,000 in the same period of last year).
Interestingly, the rest of the top 5 Health products remain similar YoY, so this shift is clearly related to the pandemic.
With more and more people working from home, searches for webcams (3,045,000 in H1 2020 vs. 1,000,000 in 2019) replaced those for drones in our YoY analysis of the Consumer Electronics category’s most searched products.
Home and Garden also indicates some shifts in consumer interest towards turning homes into workplaces, as office chair (1,254,000 vs. 417,200) searches overtook those for mattresses.
Searches in other industries have remained more or less consistent between these two periods.
Most Popular Products in Online Shopping During The Pandemic
Certain products experienced a remarkable spike in online searches during the pandemic. We looked at items that demonstrated the biggest YoY growths in searches across all ecommerce categories during the peak of the coronavirus outbreak (Mar-Apr 2020 vs. the same period in 2019):
The rise in demand for hand sanitizers during the pandemic is to be expected, but the numbers are astonishing: online searches for hand gel were up by 19,038%:
With a large proportion of the population spending more time at home than usual, home-based items have gained some traction in the online shopping space.
Garden chairs and outdoor toys searches have almost tripled and quadrupled respectively, while sports items like men’s running clothing (+164%) and yoga mats (+323%) have also been on the rise.
A more detailed look at changes in consumer demand during the pandemic can be taken in our recent blog post.
Ecommerce Businesses: Adapting to the New Normal
Many businesses have been navigating the unknown in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, as consumers and the market as a whole have shifted into a new reality of online shopping behaviors.
Here, we’ll take a look at what ecommerce businesses can do to make data-driven marketing decisions to fight for their shares of reshaped markets.
Top Ecommerce Platforms
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies that were not previously selling online, or had limited online presence, turned to platforms that provided quick solutions for building online stores.
In March 2020, Shopify saw an influx of 7.3 million+ site visits vs. the previous month. Shopify’s overall Q1 2020 traffic increased globally by 29% YoY with searches for “shopify free trial’’ growing by 89% during the month.
Building an online store is only a part of the challenge. Making sure it attracts qualified traffic, converts visitors into customers, and competes with the competition is critical to its success.
An Action Plan for Ecommerce Businesses
Having analyzed the Australian “retail apocalypse,” where some significant brick-and-mortar stores collapsed during the pandemic, SEMrush has pinpointed some key areas that new entrants to the ecommerce race should consider:
Increasing traffic volume: Getting enough traffic volume is essential in times when customers are time-poor, bargain-driven and increasingly inclined to look up items online before making a purchase;
Optimising for branded searches: Raising brand awareness and tackling branded search can help compete against large aggregators; and
Targeting paid traffic: Allocating budgets to Google Ads and launching efficient online advertising campaigns can build brand recognition and attract site visitors who will later spend online or offline.
The Australian cases of Jeanswest, Bardot, and Colette revealed three steps that both newly-established and long-standing ecommerce brands should take to avoid a similar fate:
#1. Analyze Competitors’ Strategies and Traffic
Checking competitor strategies is the essential first step for building and improving the online presence for any brand.
SEMrush’s Competitive Positioning Map in the Domain Overview report can provide a quick overview of competitors’ traffic share and the number of keywords for which they rank:
Similarly, the Competitors report in the Advertising Research tool can estimate how many keywords the competing brands are bidding on and how much they are spending on online ads:
Pro tip: SEMrush’s CI add-on can provide insights into the entire market segment by showing how brands stand against each other in terms of audience size and traffic growth rates.
#2. Pinpoint where Competitors are Winning
After identifying the strongest competitors, you can dive deeper into their actual strategies with SEMrush.
The Keyword Gap tool can reveal which brand has a stronger organic presence by assessing exactly which organic keywords they rank for and which they don’t in the SERPs.
This can help ecommerce businesses identify opportunities to target new keywords they may previously have neglected and improve their organic performance as a result.
A similar logic applies to paid search. The Keyword Gap tool also shows the keywords that competing brands are bidding for, so by cross-matching them with search volumes and defining which ‘new’ keywords to tackle with ad campaigns, businesses may be able to win some traffic share from other competing brands.
Pro tip: Bidding on competitors’ branded keywords is allowed as long as their trademark is not mentioned, so it could present a great opportunity to turn their customers’ heads.
#3. Craft Content that Resonates
The newly-discovered keywords from the previous step should then be integrated into the likes of headlines, product descriptions, and body copy in all relevant pieces of content to appeal to search engines and users alike.
The Topic Research tool can be used to gather content ideas that appeal to and are optimized for both, from suggestions for the most popular questions to headline ideas for the topics at hand.
When it comes to writing copy for paid search, it is also possible to research the past campaigns of competitors to glean insight for fresh ads altogether.
SEMrush’s Advertising Research tool delivers an Ad Copies report of past ads and the length of time they were running for, which can be an indicator of efficiency.
Digital Marketing in a Post-COVID-19 World
The COVID-19 pandemic has not only accelerated some of the trends we were seeing in digital marketing before, and it has also brought about some unexpected changes.
SEMrush’s research revealed that the shifts occurred so quickly that many businesses failed to adapt to the ‘new normal’, as was the case with Australia’s recent retail drama. No brick-and-mortar business can afford to stay offline if its competitors are already making significant ground with regards to market share online.
Breaking into ecommerce and developing the kind of online visibility needed to succeed is no mean feat, but it’s hardly a matter of a choice now in a competitive landscape that has no doubt changed forever.
With a solid data-driven SEO, PPC, and content strategy and key lessons taken from industry leaders, businesses can prepare themselves to not only stay afloat, but also be more resistant to any change that may lie ahead.