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Panic Searching: How COVID-19 Has Infected Keyword Searches Worldwide

March 18, 2020
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written by Danielle Strouther
Copywriter

The UK is stockpiling loo roll, Italy is isolated and WHO have declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Here’s the latest data on how coronavirus is affecting search.

Time to hit the panic button, it’s another mention of coronavirus.

It’s not often that the World Health Organisation declares a disease a pandemic. This has been the first case in 11 years. So, disarray is to be expected.

What we didn’t expect was the UK to immediately throw logic out of the window. So much so that people have been stockpiling loo roll (of all items?).

What was that stereotype about the British being polite and loving a good old queue? Yeah, I don’t think that applies here.

Empty supermarket shelves in Sainsburys

But amongst this panic, how has COVID-19 impacted people’s search behaviour? That’s what we set out to answer.

How has search been affected? The methodology

To answer this question, we explored the search volume of 10 different keywords, over 6 European countries:

  • UK
  • Ireland
  • France
  • Spain
  • Italy
  • Germany

For comparison, we also included the USA and Australia, bringing our search up to 8 total countries.

In addition to Google Ads search data, we also used the AMZScout tool to look at changes in average price and sales on Amazon for relevant products to the keywords.

Toilet paper remains steady

It seemed only fitting to begin this keyword search data with one of the most sought after items in the UK: toilet paper.

Surprisingly, the keyword searches were not as dramatic as their in-store equivalents and have remained relatively stable over the past couple of months.

In the UK, there was a slight increase from 67,590 searches in December, to 90,580. But by February, it settled back down to 82,820.

That’s not to say people were not buying online. Sales of toilet paper increased 311% on Amazon.co.uk between the 19th of February and the 12th of March.

Around Europe, there was almost no difference in search volume for toilet paper. The only countries it made an impact outside the UK was a rise of just over 15,000 in the USA from December to January and just over 2,000 from January to February in Australia.

A face mask frenzy

Between November 2019 and February 2020, searches for face masks went up by well over a million searches. That’s a growth of over 342% in 4 months.

It’s not just the UK that saw a massive face mask growth. This is something that happened all across Europe:

  • Searches in Ireland rose by over 3 times from 24,390 to 93,330.
  • Searches in Spain rose by 162%.
  • Searches in Germany rose by 152%.
  • Searches in Italy rose by 145%.

Between December and January, face mask searches more than doubled in the USA and went up by 372% in Australia.

Google took action on the keyword, banning adverts for face masks in an effort to stop misinformation about coronavirus.

Amazon sales were not affected by this ban though. We looked at a month’s difference between face masks sales on Amazon UK, between the 12th of February and the 12th of March.

In that time, face mask sales had increased by 335%. In addition, the average price steadily rose, going from £15.90 to £16.75.

Skyrocketing demand for hand sanitiser

Hand sanitiser saw one of the biggest increases in search volume for every single country.

Between November 2019 to February 2020, keyword searches for hand sanitiser rose by:

  • 1,922% in the UK
  • 1,675% in France
  • 2,767% in Ireland
  • 17,400% in Italy
  • 4,032% in Germany
  • 3,691% in Spain
  • 1,011% in the USA
  • 1,986% in Australia

Those numbers are incredible. Particularly in Italy, which went from 2,390 searches in November to 415,870. That’s growth on an unprecedented scale.

Search volume of hand sanitiser wasn’t the only thing to go through the roof. With increased demand, sales and prices went through the roof.

Someone using a hand sanitiser.

In one week on Amazon UK, from 22nd of February to the 19th of March:

  • Average sales of hand sanitiser had increased by 560%
  • Average prices of hand sanitiser had increased 128% from £13.33 to £17.07.

In some cases, prices for hand sanitiser on Amazon rose as high as £120.

Quite possibly the biggest price hike happened in a school, where one child was excluded for selling pumps of hand sanitiser for 50p. He made £9 before his gig was ruined, which he wanted to spend on a kebab. It’s one story I’ve genuinely loved out of this crisis.

Help is coming in from unexpected sources though, as Louis Vuitton owner is setting perfume factories to create more hand sanitiser for hospitals to help combat the shortage.

More consideration for self-isolation

The search volume for “self-isolation” isn’t as high as the other keywords. In most European countries, the keywords didn’t even break a thousand searches a month.

One thing every country had in common was a spike in February 2020. This was most noticeable in the UK, which grew from 330 searches in November to 8,380 searches. That’s a big jump – but not the most sizable of the keywords analysed.

Panic buying remained in the UK

As the country with the most panic buying happening, it’s no surprise that the UK had more searches for panic buying than any other country. The search volume increased from just 110 searches in November 2019 to 5,410 searches in February 2020. That’s a growth of nearly 5000%.

Every other researched country remained calm on the panic front, with only marginal increases.

A massive boost for the Corona brand

Having a pandemic virus sharing the same name as your brand is a pretty unique situation.

There are misleading reports about the effect that the virus has had on sales of their beer. Some sources state that fears have already accounted for a £132 million loss in revenue. Others claim that this isn’t true – and that their U.S. sales are up in the early part of the year.

Between November 2019 to February 2020, keyword searches for Corona rose by:

  • 1,030% in the UK, from 37,570 to 387,020 searches
  • 1,902% in France, from 16,040 to 305,110 searches
  • 813% in Ireland, from 3,500 to 28,480 searches
  • 1,101% in Italy, from 50,050 to 551,370 searches
  • 16,802% in Germany, from 24,530 to 4,121,590 searches
  • 3,077% in Spain, from 32,710 to 100,680 searches
  • 809% in the USA from 110,000 to 1,000,000 searches
  • 419% in Australia, from 35,900 to 150,610 searches

A rise of 16,802% in just 4 months in Germany. Wow.

One thing is for sure – Corona has certainly got one of the biggest marketing potentials of the decade on their hands. Though, it’s not exactly the right thing that should be said right now.

A panic over pasta?

Pasta is another item that UK supermarkets are running out of due to panic buying. Presumably, this is because of both their long-lasting nature – and Italy (it’s country of origin) being on lockdown.

Here’s how it’s affected search.

Unsurprisingly, the UK saw the biggest increase in search volume for pasta. In just one month, from December 2019 to January 2020, keyword searches rose by 151%.

Since this, it has settled and dropped back down to 1,827,690 by February 2020.

France, who borders Italy, has been the only other country in this research to have considerably increased by 1750% from 1,602,260 searches in November 2019, to 2,804,990 searches in February 2020.

Bleach stands unshaken

Although most countries were searching for hand sanitiser, it seems as if the same concept doesn’t apply for cleaning products.

On the whole, bleach only showed micro-changes between countries, remaining relatively constant.

The most noticeable differences were in Spain, which increased by 124% from 91,120 to 113,430 searches.

Soap sales increased on Amazon, but search volume was unchanged

On Amazon UK, sales for soap increased by 380% in the 2 weeks between 23rd of February and the 7th of March. The price also rose from an average of £9.46 to £10.40.

But in terms of search volume, soap remained steady throughout Europe.

Australia, on the other hand, actually dipped in searches for December and January, before returning back to 10,100 searches in February 2020.

The temperature rises for thermometers

Thermometers is another keyword that saw an increase from COVID-19.

This increase was visible particularly in Italy, France and Germany. Between November 2019 and 2020, the countries had a:

  • 162% increase in Italy, from 139,570 searches to 226,380.
  • 157% increase in France, from 231,010 searches to 362,930.
  • 154% increase in Germany, from 201,480 searches to 310,610.

Australia also saw a 182% increase in searches –while Ireland remained unchanged.

More panic, more searches

On the whole, we can see from this data that fears around the coronavirus has increased search volume for related searches in Europe – and beyond.

In every related product, average Amazon UK sales and prices have increased, posing a potentially lucrative time for the business.

With the expected impact of lost retail sales in the EU expected to hit £3,264 million, we might be expected to see a detrimental effect to the high street and a boom in online-only retailers.

Only time will tell.

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