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Changes in Consumer Search Behavior in the Wake of COVID-19

How can business leaders and marketers take this information and determine the right search engine marketing (SEM) strategy, especially when the topics that people are searching for are changing so quickly? Companies will need to adapt to not only the shifts happening in the economy at large, but also the current state of their specific industry. Here, we’ll explore COVID’s impact on six industries that professionals should be aware of when looking to market towards consumer behaviors and demands.


  • In many places, when states began issuing shelter-in-place orders, utility companies refrained from shutting off gas, water and electricity for those who couldn’t pay their bills. Now, as those same states are beginning to reopen, consumers are left wondering what happens with their frozen utility payments. Experts are predicting that many households won’t have the funds to resume paying their bills, much less catch up on payments from their deferred bills.
  • Searches for “deferred bill” increased 88 percent between March and April compared to the prior two months*. How can utility companies address this increase in search demand? Consider adding a specific page to your website focused on bill deferral to ensure consumers can easily find and understand how their utility bill payments may be impacted. You can also run a branded search campaign focused on “defer [brand] bill” to ensure you achieve a top search rank and point your consumers to the correct page.

Consumer Finance

  • COVID is changing the way people are banking by boosting the demand for digital banking exponentially. This has also led consumers to adapt more quickly to mobile wallets and contactless payment methods, as they seek to minimize interaction with cash or shared payment terminals.
  • Keyword research supports this by showing increases in searches related to Venmo and Cash App. Searches for both apps increased 50 percent from February to April, while searches for Venmo fees increased by 80 percent*. Consumer finance companies, as well as other billers, should look to make it easy for people to find their digital payment options and use this information to promote integration with these mobile payment apps, develop their own version or leverage other mobile billing and payment options like ACI Walletron. They may consider creating resources and content like blog posts about the new technology and payment options, and drawing a link to how they are addressing these trends.

Auto Finance

  • Auto sales decreased dramatically in March — to 80 percent below their expected levels. Yet while much of the economy has continued a steady decrease since then, car sales have been on the rise. This is in large part due to dealers offering huge incentives for consumers who can afford to buy, such as 0 percent loans for as long as seven years. Consumers are taking notice, as no-interest loans accounted for 26 percent of new car sales in April.
  • Keyword research is showing spikes in interest around car deals and low-rate loans, supporting the data showing the increase in car sales.
  • Searches related to car deals and financing increased 700 percent from February to April*. Auto lenders can educate consumers on available payment options to ensure they understand the loans available to them and stay current with their payments.


  • According to an article from the Washington Post, April showed an unprecedented number of past due loans. Mortgage delinquency rates more than doubled (from 3.06% to 6.45%) — almost three times the previous single-month record set back in late 2008.
  • Historical keyword data is showing a massive spike in searches around mortgage payment deferrals, late payments and delinquency as many Americans try to educate themselves on their options and what they face.
  • Searches for “mortgage payment deferral” and similar intent increased 900 percent between April and March compared to the previous two months*. Mortgage servicers may consider adding a page to their website outlining the company’s deferment policy and what changes have been made, as well as creating blog posts about how they have changed their policies in response to the pandemic – and push that on their social media channels.

Higher Education

  • While the higher education landscape remains uncertain for the fall, nearly all institutions are offering more online course options as students consider remote learning options should COVID continue to be an issue.
  • Searches related to online courses and classes increased 250 percent from February to April*. Schools that offer online courses should consider a dedicated landing page with information about online learning options, as well as implementing search advertising for their online degrees and any individual online courses they offer. Additionally, with in-person options limited right now, it’s important to make digital resources for tuition and other payments easier to find than ever before.


  • Several insurers that have offered insurance rebates and credits to consumers in the wake of COVID are revealing that they are extending their relief measures.
  • Keyword research shows that people are actively searching for the rebates that insurance companies are offering in order to get some relief.
  • Searches per month related to insurance rebates have increased 200 percent from February to April*. A good way for insurance companies to capitalize on this increased interest is to create a landing page or blog post detailing any rebates they offer, or send an email to current consumers to inform them about rebates for which they may qualify. Another option is to use these rebates for outbound marketing (email, direct mailers, ads) to promote them to potential consumers and encourage them to switch.

It’s no secret that COVID-19 has changed every aspect of our lives. For businesses who are looking to get ahead of this evolution and adapt, it’s important to assess the current trends of your respective industry and map SEM strategies against them. By understanding the above consumer search trends, you will be one step closer to keeping your existing consumers informed and getting potential consumers’ attention.

*Source: Google Ads

Vice President – Customer Marketing

Autumn is VP of Customer Marketing, bringing to her role nearly 20 years’ marketing experience in the global payments and technology industries. She has successfully developed and executed comprehensive marketing and communication strategies and programs globally and has a passion for helping customers succeed by acting as the voice of the customer and collaborating internally with teams to achieve goals and improve customer experience.