With the UK experiencing a long period of lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak, many people are finding themselves with an increase in spare time and nowhere to go. This has resulted in many looking to use the time productively and learn a new skill. We’ve examined changes in search behaviour trends to see what it is the UK is looking to learn and which brands and sites might be benefitting.

Fitness and Wellbeing Trends

With gyms and fitness centres closed and team sports suspended, a lot of people are turning to search to find ways to work out at home. E-commerce sites have seen significant growth in orders for weights and fitness equipment, activewear, and indoor cycling equipment. Such was the demand that it fast became difficult to find retailers with dumbbells in stock.

But not everyone is into pumping iron to keep fit. A lot of people are looking to include elements of mental health and relaxation into their exercise routines and who can blame them for looking for some inner peace right about now?

Three fitness activities we’ve explored that normally require a teacher but can be self-taught and practised at home are yoga, pilates, and meditation.

Google Trends shows a significant spike in searches for ‘learn yoga’ at the time the UK lockdown came into effect. Typically, this term is searched more often than the counterpart terms for ‘pilates’ and ‘meditation’ but we’re not seeing anywhere near the same level of increase in people looking to learn pilates or meditation at this time.

Using the Search Trends after COVID-19 tool from SEOmonitor, we can explore how this is reflected in changes to monthly search volumes for these head terms and also the topic as a whole.

Year on year, there has been an 85% increase in search volume for the keyphrase ‘learn yoga’ and two close variants. As a topic trend (a collection of search terms closely related and associated with the primary term) we can see a year-on-year increase of 79%.

Exploring the topic and associated terms in more detail highlights an increase in the use of ‘at home’ and ‘for beginners’ within search terms and phrases.

The brands reaping the benefits of this increase in search demand are a mix of the expected and the surprising.

Yoga Journal is a well established and highly authoritative site in this sector, so it’s not a shock to see them benefiting from this increase in interest. They have a wealth of content for beginners, as well as offering a free webinar series with a landing page that has been adapted to reflect the current crisis.

Seeing the growth in visibility of The New York Times was more of a surprise, especially as we’re only looking at searches from the UK. Whilst they do have occasional articles about Yoga, it is the small collection of guides - one in particular - that is responsible for their strong presence.

The Yoga for Everyone guide was published in December 2016, so isn’t something that’s been produced in response to the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent user search behaviour. What they have produced here is a beginner’s guide of exceptionally high-quality information, incorporating custom-shot video. And at well over 4,000 words in length, it definitely falls into the category of long-form and comprehensive.

Before we move on from fitness and wellbeing, there was one surprise to come out of the research. There has been a marked increase in the number of people looking to learn how to skip, with searches up 238% year on year.

On the surface it seems a fairly basic skill but every home workout article published in the past few weeks is recommending it. With the relatively low cost of equipment and minimal space required, it’s clear skipping is on the up and retailers are likely to be seeing booming sales of skipping ropes as a result.

Learning to Bake and Cook

Next we’ve taken a look at some creative skills, starting with baking and cooking. With many of us limiting supermarket trips and with social media awash with pictures of the incredible achievements of enthusiastic home bakers and parents entertaining kids, we’d expect to see an increase in baking-related searches especially.

This does prove to be the case when we drill down and look at the search-trend data for both topics, again using the Trends tool from SEOmonitor. Whilst the individual head terms have not seen huge growth, as a wider topic ‘baking’ is up 122% year on year whilst ‘cooking’ is only up 25%.

Despite the trend in learning to bake being significantly up, there is one area of this topic that has seen a decline. Because of lockdown, searches for courses, classes and lessons have taken a significant hit.

Whilst traditional courses, classes and lessons are feeling the effect, online courses are seeing an increased demand. So, brands that have pivoted to online offerings need to ensure they are making the online element clear to users.

Other areas are seeing huge increases in search demand too. One in particular is seeing huge growth and that is for ‘easy baking ideas’. This may well be beginners looking to fill time productively or it could be parents searching for simple baking ideas to do with the kids.

So it would seem simple baking ideas and recipes are the order of the day. Perhaps it’s because they are baking with kids, just beginners or a sign that people are looking more for a way to pass the time, rather than to learn or hone a skill for the long term.

In these trying times, banana bread seems to be the simple baking product of choice. But with an increase in searches for the topic currently at over 270% and searches for ‘banana bread recipes’ now totalling over 300,000 searches a month (an increase of over 300%), it seems there’s going to be a lot of banana bread to be eaten before lockdown is lifted.

The baking search environment is dominated by BBC Good Food and their easy baking recipes page. An already strong presence has only further increased with recent moves into the top organic spots for a collection of high-volume related terms.

This is supported with a classic hub-style page for Baking for Beginners, offering links to articles about recipes, equipment, terminology, and tips from well-known bakers.

These pages naturally benefit from the high authority of the domain, and whilst they do have a number of links pointing to them, their volume, diversity, and value are not particularly high for such pages that typically command such a high number of searches.

It would not appear that pages have been amended or updated to reflect the changes in search behaviour or in reaction to coronavirus. Neither have the pages on the Tesco website but they are another beneficiary of this change in search behaviour. Their visibility in this search environment has grown by more than 30%, the bulk of which has come from users seeking simple and easy baking ideas and recipes.

Their Real Food hub has an extensive collection of food-based content with a dedicated landing page for Easy Baking Recipes. Tesco has been producing this content for a number of years and even incorporates it into their offline marketing activities through its ‘Food Love Stories’ campaign.

It is a clear commitment to producing user-centric content, which connects to the product they sell, that has helped establish them so strongly in this area. Rather than a reaction or adaptation based on the current climate, the long-term content strategy and production is now reaping them even greater rewards.

Learning Languages

Languages are often one of those things people would love to learn but never seem to have the time to dedicate to it. Now, with an abundance of free time on their hands, some are looking to sharpen up their skills.

Searches for ‘learn a new language’ are up by around 173% a year, with Spanish leading the way, ahead of English and French, and German and Mandarin not proving nearly as popular options.

As with the baking sector, searches for physical classes, courses, and schools have dropped as people are restricted to learning at home. However, searches for online language learning have exploded over the past month as users search behaviour and intent react to the lockdown conditions.

Drilling down into the online language providers shows us who is benefitting from these changes in search behaviour.

Duolingo leads the way, with an already strong organic presence, boosted by some recent positive changes in rankings to high volume phrases. But there is little evidence to show they’ve changed the site in any way in response to either the lockdown or increase in search demand.

The BBC landing page for Languages also has a strong presence and has seen an increase in visibility. This remains the case despite the fact users are greeted with an above-the-fold notice that the page has been archived and is no longer updated. It would also appear that all the country-specific language sections have been archived too.

Despite the fact the page is no longer updated, its maintaining its position in the search results due to the comprehensive nature of this hub and a backlink profile that has more than 23,000 links from nearly 3,500 different domains since it was first published back in July 2003.

Both Future Learn and Open Learn (part of the Open University) offer a wide range of online courses and are not specific to language learning sites. Neither appears to have made obvious changes to the site despite recent increases in search visibility and increased searches for this type of learning activity.

Learning Creative Activities

With spare time on their hands people are turning to search to brush up on their creative skills too. Be it a pencil, a paintbrush or musical instrument, more and more of us are trying to find ways to learn new hobbies or hone the skills for our creative outlet of choice.

Learning to draw and learning to paint are two areas seeing an increase in demand. ‘Learn to draw’ has seen a 236% increase in searches year on year and ‘learn to paint’ is up by 122% in the same time-comparison period.

Exploring both topic areas in more detail reveals similar patterns to the search behaviours we saw for both baking and languages. There are understandable drops in searches for terms related to classes, unless they specified that they need to be online, and a clear increase in searches relating to beginners and people looking for ideas of what to draw or paint. Below are just a few of the keyphrases reporting significant changes.

There may be a mix of reasons behind these increases. Clearly there are a lot of parents out there turning to Google to help them find ways to keep their kids entertained, or to add a splash of creativity into the homeschooling programme.

We can also see some searches with a commercial intent where users have a product-need rather than informational-need. The Works and Amazon have likely seen increased sales due to their strong organic positioning for these types of terms and we can even see a number of products out of stock on the Amazon Canvas and Paints landing page at this time.

Musical instruments are another popular learning activity, with guitars and pianos being the clear instruments of choice.

You can only assume those now looking to learn the piano were fortunate enough to have one in their house before the lockdown came into effect. It’s hard to imagine sales of grand pianos are booming at this moment in time.

Looking at the trend for “learning to play guitar”, it's entirely possible that those guitars bought as Christmas gifts are being hastily pulled out of storage as people have some spare time to dedicate to this hobby now. It would seem that both Christmas and the coronavirus crisis provide the perfect chance to channel your inner Hendrix.

What Does This Tell Us

What has become clear whilst researching this piece is that the beneficiaries of the changes in search behaviour and increase in searches are not those brands that have reacted to these changes. Instead, we’re seeing that brands and websites that have been investing time into their content marketing are solidifying their position at the top of search results, and seeing increases in traffic as a result of the increases in searches.

The long-term investment in content and the authority it has earned over a number of years is paying dividends. Those looking to simply react are not able to build organic visibility quickly enough to take advantage, especially with content that isn’t related to their core offering and expertise. Yes, many of these sites are naturally highly authoritative but if you were in the yoga sector, who would have thought the New York Times would be one of your biggest competitors? Or that a BBC page that has been archived and is no longer updated would still have a greater organic presence in the language learning vertical than the like of Babbel?

It suggests that quick-to-produce, reactive content can’t compete organically with well-established, highly authoritative content over short periods of time. Reactive content may be worthwhile producing providing you have reasonable audiences on your owned channels - primarily email and social media - or significant promotion budget to enable you to drive awareness quickly. But even then, a single page on learning to draw or speak Spanish isn’t likely to truly satisfy those users’ needs.

For long-term success, it’s vital to invest in producing content of exceptional quality that addresses all the users’ potential needs so you are there, front and centre as and when users need you, rather than making short-term reactive decisions.

What Can You Be Doing Right Now

There is no better time than now to get started, so here are four steps to get you on your way;

  1. Review existing content - identify content pieces that are not currently performing as well as you’d like and have scope to be improved, updated or refreshed to better address the user needs. Check out our guide to Conducting a Content Audit for how to do this.
  2. Keyphrase research - take a deep dive into what your target audience is searching for to better understand how you can address their needs. There are plenty of guides and tools to get you started.

  3. Content competitor review - your content competitors are not always your direct competition or who you might expect. Understand who owns the search space you're competing in and what you can learn from their content.
  4. Create a content marketing plan - Take the research from steps 1,2 and 3 and build a content marketing plan to give your content creation some focus and structure.

Alternatively, if you need some support with conducting a content audit or creating a content marketing plan, get in touch and we’d be happy to help.

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