Episode Overview: Uncertainty and anxiety left many companies unsure of how they’d weather the first full month of most shelter in place orders due to COVID-19. Some adapted quickly, while others came up short in their projections. Join host Ben as he chats with Searchmetrics’ Vice President of Services Tyson Stockton about which companies successfully pivoted during the first full month of the pandemic and who fell behind.
- Walmart and Best Buy experienced substantial gains as people searched for mouses, keyboards and other electronics to support their home offices.
- Home delivery categories flourished while retail-related categories like high fashion fell by the wayside.
- The overall winners for the month were Healthgrades and Home Depot.
GUESTS & RESOURCES
Ben: Welcome to our April 2020 edition of Winners and Losers on the Voices of Search podcast. Today, we’re going to take a look back on the month and talk about some of the trends behind the biggest movers, shakers, and slackers in the SEO world. Joining us for Winners and Losers is Tyson Stockton, who is the vice president of services. Tyson manages Searchmetrics, SEO content, and client success organizations. And outside of shepherding their largest and most strategic clients to SEO success, He’s dug through the Searchmetrics suite to help you understand who’s making moves in the SEO community. Okay. Here’s my monthly sit down with Searchmetrics VP of Services, Tyson Stockton. Tyson, welcome to the Voices of Search podcast.
Tyson: Thanks Ben. Back again. I think this is month two of Winners and Losers during COVID-19.
Ben: Month two of you recording podcasts from your bedroom in sweatpants. Just like the rest of us. For the record everybody, I put jeans on today.
Ben: I’m regretting it already. That said, it’s been an interesting month in the SEO world. Obviously, everything is colored by the shelter in place. The Coronavirus dominates the headlines for the news story. Let’s just start off there. In the SEO world, what are we seeing as it relates to the Coronavirus?
Tyson: Yeah. It’s been interesting kind of monitoring what’s been going on across a lot of these verticals. Because we saw, and we kind of highlighted this in the last webinar, where we saw changes in search demands that then we kind of spoke on previous podcasts even. How that impacts visibility based on just the demand rising. But then also we’ve been seeing really interesting things from a behavior standpoint of clicks going to websites but no conversions. And what the behavior between transactional versus informational. So, that has been something that’s been continuing to evolve as we go into this.
Tyson: And if we take one of the industries that in the beginning had some activity. But I think a little more kind of conservative people weren’t sure how long this was going to last, how deep the economic impact was. You saw people holding. And really I’d say in this last month we’ve seen ecommerce kind of open back up. Especially with the big players.
Ben: So last month when we talked about what was happening with the Coronavirus, it was early days. We didn’t have a ton of data. We saw some fluctuations in ecommerce. We spent a lot of time talking about which of the healthcare companies actually was benefiting. And we also looked at what the impact on the travel industry was. I think it’s interesting to talk about what’s happened to ecommerce over the last month. There hasn’t been a ton of changes in the healthcare space. People are still going to the CDC. They’re still going to WHO, people are still WebMDing and Healthling as well. But in ecommerce we are seeing some fluctuations. Talk to me about what you’re seeing in ecommerce.
Tyson: Yeah, so I think the first always have to start with ecommerce is what’s going on with Amazon. Relatively stable. You’ve seen some increases but nothing too exciting. Bigger news with them is they did announce kind of cutting back on their AdWords spend. So, that has a ripple effect. But there’s still the big elephant in the room. Still doing well. But nothing too much changed month over month from a visibility point.
Tyson: Other ones that have had substantial kind of movements, which has been a common company that we’ve talked about on the podcast. Walmart had a really strong month. They started with it about three or four weeks back. With a roughly like a 7 percent jump in their visibility. And then maintained that over the last couple of weeks with some small single digit gross. So Walmart is in that list.
Tyson: Best Buy is another one too where initially you saw this spike in like home office segment within electronics. People were looking for a keyboard, mouse, all those areas of adjusting to home. Electronics within ecommerce is something that I … Insisting. We’re kind of seeing the numbers come back where you’re seeing rises in computers, TVs. Well not necessarily necessities for the home office. But things that they’re interested in. So Best Buy is bounced back a little bit from a rough January. So they’re not quite back where they were at the start of the year. But they regained some ground.
Tyson: And then I’d say like the most interesting and most notable change has been actually The Home Depot. The Home Depot as I’d say out of this group definitely has the largest growth that we’ve seen during the quarter. And really for the last few months, even going into the tail end of last year. And this is the one of the websites among the big 10 ecommerce that’s been showing some of the most growth.
Ben: So do you think that these changes are based on user behavior and Google re-interpreting what people’s interests are because everyone’s lifestyles have changed? Or is this something that The Home Depot has done to optimize their website? Is it something that Walmart’s doing to take advantage of the search queries? Or is it really just a user intent question?
Tyson: I would say it’s less of a user intent. Like we are seeing that change where you see a website like zoom.us that’s ranking for broad general terms like rooms or conference. And so it’s like Google, because of the frequency that they’re seeing those terms used. They’re being like, okay, they’re relevant for this general broad term. And that’s part of the large increase that we saw with Zoom. With these ecommerce buyers it’s not necessarily like the intent of what the user wants. But it’s more of the demand of some of those queries. So, you have more people searching for things like keyboards, computer. Like those type of transactional intent keywords.
Ben: People are at home, they’re trying to do everything themselves. So that’s why they’re going to The Home Depot.
Tyson: Yeah. So I think some of it is you have an increasing search volume from this. And then I would say some of these websites too put out some of the changes. And I think to cue in on those, I think it’s more interesting to see the websites with the growth that had been across the entire first quarter. And ones that you see have just spiked maybe over the last four to six weeks. That I would say is more of an evolving search demand where someone like The Home Depot, that’s been having these really strong week over week wins since the beginning of the year. To me that sends more of a signal of actually making changes to the website that’s not fitting within the search volume trend.
Ben: So the other big news in the ecommerce space is Google made a big announcement saying that all of their product listing ads are essentially going to be free. Right? People can submit their products to Google’s shopping algorithm. Talk to me about the impact that that’s having on SEO.
Tyson: Yeah, and that’s interesting one. I don’t think we’ve fully seen the impact, like in the numbers yet. But that one definitely caught my attention because if you went back seven years ago or so it actually used to be a free service. And even though I saw the postings that they did on it of like helping out businesses. I don’t know if I fully believe that. Like I think this is something that we know that Google has been losing ground to Amazon and some of the other players in the ecommerce space. So to me it would be hard to separate this from a business strategy of just, hey, we’re helping people. As like a potential plan and also increasing the inventory for that space. I think it’s something that’s interesting. We’re not necessarily seeing being this is like within the shopping tab within Google’s page. I don’t think that we’re seeing an impact from a search presence on that change. But I do think there, and that’s going to be one piece that’s interesting.
Tyson: Shopify announced their Shop app. That’s putting down into the marketplace to compete with Google shopping as well as Amazon as well. But I think as far as like … And really even maybe potential kind of losers for it. One thing that we are seeing and I think this connects back to what we mentioned with Amazon on reducing spend is we are seeing that there are less keywords that are triggering AdWords.
Tyson: And there’s been several posts and studies going around that have showed there’s been a decrease in CPC. Meaning that more people are pulling back on ad spend. So you know you do have some better pricing available. But with that, as far as like what we’re seeing from our dataset is we’re actually seeing a decrease in the percentage of queries that we’re tracking. That are triggering, whether it’s an AdWords at the top of the page, bottom of the page, or a product listing. And most notably the last two weeks have brought a pretty substantial decrease in product listing. Which is typically around 80 percent of a lot of these ecommerce versus ad spend.
Ben: So talk to me about why you think we’re seeing the less ad volume. I have a hypothesis that marketers are pulling back their budgets. So there’s just less inventory being filled by Google. Is that the only factor contributing to why we’re seeing less advertising on search results pages?
Tyson: Yeah, I agree that that’s the most significant contributor with Amazon being a large part of that. And whenever Amazon makes a change in their AdWords spend you see it across the entire ecommerce space. And like when Amazon introduced, hey, we’re going to run PLA ads, you saw an increase of CPC across the board on PLAs. When Amazon announced a few weeks ago that they’re decreasing that’s going to have impact. And PLA being ecommerce specific, that’s where you’re going to see it the most visible. So I’d say that would be the most significant contributor of it.
Tyson: But I also think that advertisers, and rightfully so, advertisers are being more targeted in where they’re spending. So instead of like, hey blanket approach, every product kind of going there. Honing in on the categories that are doing well. So honing in on the home and garden, electronics. Whether it’s home delivery on groceries and stuff like that. Those categories and staying away from the ad spend on things like luxury fashion goods.
Ben: So we’re seeing lots of changes in the ecommerce landscape. We’re also seeing some changes in how people are consuming content. Talk to me a little bit about what we’re seeing in the online education space. Seems like that’s something that’s relevant. People are at home. If they don’t have kids, they have lots of free time. If they have kids may the force be with you. What are we seeing in the online education space?
Tyson: Yeah, and this is interesting too. Because we saw just kind of back on like Google trends that there was a huge uptake in the online learning categories. And I think we know that there’s been a lot of companies that have been hit hard with this. And some put in place layoffs or furlough. And so you have people that are sitting at home with more time on their hands. So we have seen from a search demand perspective, a sharp increase in online learning and type queries.
Tyson: But when it translates over to visibility, there’s really two strong winners that I spotted off the bat in these kind of like online classes, Coursera and Udemy. So those are the two ones that are really kind of like separating themselves. So not from each other. The difference between the two is only like a thousand points or so. So those are neck and neck. But interesting enough, Lynda who also has online courses has been relatively stagnant during this entire time. So I think that’s a good example of those demands catching the rising tide to it. And Lynda having actually some missed opportunity to making sure that they’re competing on those queries as well.
Ben: So it seems like the industry as a whole, online education is improving. Are we seeing the same things happening at the university level? Are people going to the university sites to get online education? Or just the content providers?
Tyson: So yeah, the university’s not the same sharp upticks that we’re seeing with these online courses. And I think a big piece of that is one, like Coursera and all the others are offering courses from universities in those platforms. So you can take classes from Michigan State, UCLA, or whatever in those different platforms. And that’s just, hey, I’m going to take one class. But as far as like the enrollment and a full bachelors, masters, et cetera. Not seeing really huge changes there. So there has been some movement in the universities. I did notice USC had a pretty decent uptake for where they are. And some movements that are not the same large significant surge that we’re seeing within these online trainings for online learning.
Ben: So it’s interesting to me we’re seeing a change in ecommerce. Obviously people are starting to think more about what they want to buy. Maybe they’re fixing up their home. The Home Depot is having a nice little run in terms of its search visibility. People are starting to think about how to get educated. So we’re seeing some of the Courseras and Udemys of the world start to see a big boost in terms of how Google prioritizes them. What about in the healthcare space?
Tyson: Yeah. So the first one to healthcare, starting with the two largest players, WebMD, Mayo Clinic pretty much flat. There’s nominal change week over week over the last month. So those ones that we know that this is a sector that has increasing demands. So I think that’s notable in the sense of, hey, these guys aren’t really capturing much in the back. And then if we say like, okay, where is that traffic going?
Tyson: No surprises here. The CDC is continuing to grow, barring week they didn’t. But otherwise … It’s been kind of stagnant this last week. But otherwise since the beginning of this consistent growth week over week of what their coverage is. Same thing for the WHO not as pronounced, and considerably lower than the CDC. But they’re also had a very obviously strong couple of months unfortunately. Kind of interesting though is the last few weeks the WHO has actually declined. So it hasn’t been substantial decline points. But in the two to five point range. So this could be interesting to monitor.
Tyson: It’s like are people having a fatigue? I’ve read enough about this stuff. But I just want to forget about it. Or, and is it kind of taking its course as far as like a certain behavior aspect? Losing grounds? I think it’s a little too early to tell from that. I’d say definitely the CDC is continuing to capture the most.
Tyson: I would say they’re really, the surprising one that had substantial increases was Healthgrades. And Healthgrades had an excellent month. This last week alone they had a 26 point increase. But you can go back to the very start of the year, end of last year, that they started this surge and this growth. And they ended the year around the visibility score of about 25,000. And now they’ve actually surpassed the 100,000 mark. So, in month in particular, substantial, I’d say roughly estimating probably like a 35 percent increase. But for the whole year they’ve definitely been strengthening. And kind of improving elements of the site have regained some of that market share.
Ben: Interesting to me that Healthgrades obviously in the healthcare industry. But really the center of their website is around finding a doctor and a hospital. And understanding who the right care providers are. Not necessarily doing home education. Probably something that’s good for the world. You mentioned that maybe people aren’t paying attention to the World Health Organization website as much because they’re over satiated with Coronavirus content. Tyson, I can tell you that I’m there. Let’s just do a deep dive. Who’s winning in the sports world? I miss it so much.
Tyson: Unfortunately, I think we’re all losing in the sports world because I miss sports quite a bit. But as far as like which websites and leagues are doing well. Not that substantial of changes. I was actually expecting to see a little bit more of an uptake from the NFL with the draft. They actually had a little bit of a decline in the last couple of weeks. But nothing super substantial. So it’s been relatively consistent. MLB very, very minor increases. But I’d say all four of the big leagues of NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, all of them are remaining rather stagnant.
Ben: How about the content providers, the ESPN, Bleacher Report, or CBS Sports of the World?
Tyson: Yeah, I mean I think, ESPN I was actually expecting to see a little bit more of uptick. Which you’re seeing some. So you know maybe Michael Jordan’s still doing his work for them.
Ben: Michael Jordan, The Last Dance documentary. Even for the non sports fan. It’s a wonderful documentary. You should check it out.
Tyson: Which yeah, it’s about the closest thing to watch sports again that I’ve been seeing. But the one that is actually has been kind of gaining some grounds, and they’re still ways behind ESPN. But Bleacher Report has had a strong start to the year, not just for the last month. But I’d say they are hitting an all time high for the last 12 months. Which given a space that is suffering a bit for recent news and things like that. I would say that’s definitely a win for Bleacher Report.
Ben: Yeah, I think that’s an interesting commentary on content businesses in general, ones that are affected without real live news. Bleacher Report is a website that really focuses on short form content highlights. Not necessarily recaps. And so they’re kind of meme oriented content. And they’ve seen an increase in visibility during the period of the Coronavirus. While we’ve seen ESPN stay flat, and maybe even go down slightly even with the launch of the Jordan documentary. I guess last question for you, since we have to talk a little sports. I can’t do more Coronavirus content for anybody else who is a sports fan. The Last Dance documentary came out. It’s the biggest thing in the sports world. Tell me how the Michael Jordan keyword is performing.
Tyson: So Michael Jordan won. No real surprise here. Wikipedia is still locking down that number one placement. So that’s kind of as we expected from the space. But ESPN has made some ground there. And they actually have a stacked ranking, as it is right now in position four and five for MJ’s file. And then also having The Last Dance documentary one spot before that in position five.
Ben: What’s interesting to me is it doesn’t look like search volume has actually changed very much in the Michael Jordan documentary.
Tyson: I mean it’s Michael Jordan, It’s like … It’s just always 10. Right?
Ben: Well his athleticism is a 10 out of 10. But the search volume is actually kind of like a seven out of 10. He’s still a retired basketball player and an NBA owner.
Tyson: Yeah, but this many years past his career if he’s at a seven that’s still amazing.
Ben: Yeah. Wonderful. All right, Tyson, let’s do it. Give me your winners and losers for the SEO community for the month. Who’s your winner for the month?
Tyson: My winner, and this is just in the volume, I would actually give it to Healthgrades. And a short close second place I give it to The Home Depot. Both of those websites beyond the month had a really strong first part of this year trending right direction.
Ben: I’m going Bleacher Report, the short form content, topical sports content. Helping keep guys like me sane and obviously they’ve had some great gains in SEO as well. Talk to me about who your losers are for the week.
Tyson: Losers. I’m going to kind of go out of the norm on this one. And I’m going to throw Google under the bus. I think seeing the kind of decrease AdWords presence. I’m sure it’s not really like necessarily hurting them. But also then really trying to scrap together a little bit more market share in this ecommerce world. That actually put that as kind of like a loser for this month.
Ben: You know what? You know who I’m going to go with a loser. I’m going to go with the keyword Coronavirus. Coronavirus we are sick of you. Go away. We want to talk about something else next month. And that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Tyson Stockton, the vice president of services at Searchmetrics. We’d love to continue the conversation with you. So if you’re interested in contacting Tyson, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can contact him on Twitter where his handle is, Tyson underscore Stockton. Or you could visit his company’s website, which is searchmetrics.com.
Ben: Just one more link in our show notes I’d like to tell you about. If you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast. Head over the voicesofsearch.com where we have summaries of all of our episodes, contact information for our guests. You can send us your topic suggestions or your SEO questions. You can even apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search podcast. Of course, you can always reach out on social media. Our handle is Voices of Search on Twitter, and my personal handle is Ben J. Shap. B-E-N J S-H-A-P.
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