Early Take: How COVID-19 Is Impacting Website Performance

  • March 17, 2020
  • Nick LeRoy

Most of you are reading this post from your own home very likely working in some sort of remote capability. This is just one side effect of the recent COVID-19 pandemic. In a time where schools are locked down, sporting events are canceled, and many restaurants are limited to take out, you might think the biggest impact on business would be to brick and motor. It’s not. 

Early reports show that many websites across many niches are seeing significant declines in their performance. This post covers 10 sites that cover the gamut, some finding major success while others worry about early signs that their businesses could fail during this pandemic. 

The analysis of the sites below occurs between Thursday, March 12th, through Monday, March 16th and are compared to the same days last week Thursday, March 5th through Monday, March 9th. WOW = Week over Week

4 Sites That Are Winning

Online Health Food ShopOrganic sessions +56.19% WOW | Organic Revenue +188.58% WOW
Direct sessions  +19.8% WOW | Direct Revenue +72.53% WOWinsights: The world health organization stated we should avoid groups larger than 10 people. This makes shopping online for necessities such as groceries an instant win for businesses like this online health food shop.
Small Ecommerce RetailerOrganic sessions -20% WOW | Organic Revenue +84% WOW
Direct sessions  -16% WOW | Direct Revenue +183% WOWinsights: This retailer sells what could be considered an “essential” item, which is driving up revenue despite overall traffic being down week over week.
U.S. Based AirportOrganic sessions +7% WOW | Organic Revenue N/A
Direct sessions  +10% WOW | Direct Revenue N/Ainsights: It’s important to note that this is not an airline but a site for the actual airport. I’m not too shocked to see an increase in traffic as folks are looking for information regarding their trips. Many are also searching for precautions the airport is taking for those still finding it necessary to travel.
Recipe WebsiteOrganic sessions +20% WOW | Organic Revenue N/A
Direct sessions  +14% WOW | Direct Revenue N/Ainsights: With the recent quarantine recommendations stating people should stay home, it’s natural to see an increase in traffic to sites giving instructions and tips on how to best prepare food.

4 Sites That Are Losing

Hotel ChainOrganic sessions -20% WOW | Organic Revenue -34% WOW
Direct sessions  -2% WOW | Direct Revenue +7% WOWInsights: I’m certain nobody is surprised that a hotel would be in this “losing” category. With folks backing out of vacations and all sorts of events canceling it would make sense that hotels would see the impact of this.
Large Furniture RetailerOrganic sessions -23% WOW | Organic Revenue -4% WOW
Direct sessions  -12% WOW | Direct Revenue -30% WOWInsights: Buying a new bed, couch or end table simply isn’t a priority for those looking to load up on toilet paper. I suspect this industry will continue to struggle until this pandemic turns a corner.
Large SaaS CompanyOrganic sessions -16% WOW | Organic Leads +7% WOW
Direct sessions  -2% WOW | Direct Leads -46% WOWInsights: Traffic to blog content declining, very likely due to search volume decreasing. Conversions remained steady since their service is relevant for some industries (but not all) during this crisis.
Household Cleaning BrandOrganic sessions -1% WOW | Organic Revenue +28% WOW
Direct sessions  -9% WOW | Direct Revenue -22% WOWInsights: This site’s data surprised me. With a growing trend of those sites providing solutions to current needs, I expected this site to soar. However, after reviewing where their revenue/traffic is coming from its from smaller recurring purchase items vs large unit purchases the company relies on. I wouldn’t call this one a “loser” per se but definitely a site worth watching.

2 Sites That Are In Really Rough Shape

Govt. Backed Lottery GameOrganic sessions -66% WOW | Organic Revenue N/A
Direct sessions  -66% WOW | Direct Revenue N/AInsights: In a time of uncertainty it’s not hard to imagine people passing on the lottery. Revenue is not tied to this site’s analytics package but I imagine it’s not too much better than the traffic numbers reported above.
Ecommerce Site Selling Commercial MachineryOrganic sessions -25% WOW | Organic Revenue -35% WOW
Direct sessions  -32% WOW | Direct Revenue -45% WOWinsights: This business is a leader in its industry but the industry is very niche. Traffic and revenue could get tight if their customers relying on this machinery go out of business.

It’s Early but This Could Be Scary

The data provided in this post come from my personal access to various analytics accounts in addition to some partners who were willing and able to share there’s. While the data is over just five days so far it looks like overall search demand is down.

COVID-19 has generated an extremely high demand for life’s daily essentials. If your site is relevant or sells these products then your site’s performance has probably never been better. If your site covers a luxury or is impacted by the various shut-downs/cancellations then you are rightfully a bit nervous. 

While we are all optimistic that the COVID-19 pandemic will end sooner than later, it’s important to understand how it’s impacting your business both online and offline. These few sites listed above are just a small sample but people are many are reporting very similar findings. 

Digital Marketing During COVID-19

No doubt marketing budgets will be impacted by COVID-19. With potential search demand lower than ever before, I see paid search/social getting really expensive. You’ll obviously want to continue to optimize your campaigns to meet your ROAS goals.

On the other hand, I think SEO is a full steam ahead channel. While traffic/revenue is down if you continue to work on your site you could continue to increase your SERP presence which will pay dividends once search demand for your industry increases. I know I’ll be pushing my clients to double down in technical updates that have been tabled for various reasons.

However, if you choose to move forward in your campaigns remember to balance your marketing messages. People are already annoyed with the emails every company is sending out about COVID-19 but they’re equally annoyed when companies pretend it’s not an issue. 

How have your sites fared in early performance reports? Have you adjusted your digital marketing efforts yet? 

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