How COVID-19 Has Affected Insurance Search Activity

May 27, 2020 Dylan Brooks


Search engines can help your insurance agency grow its audience.

Each day, people enter billions of searches into Google, Bing, Yahoo, and similar websites. Some of those people are even looking for insurance information.

Consumers don’t choose one day or one month to flock to search engines. Demand tends to be constant. Unlike industries with a seasonality, searches for insurance occur year-round.

This demand for insurance indicates that consumers are out there, looking for help. Day-in and day-out, you have an opportunity to get in front of a new audience. Month-after-month, you have a chance to bring in new business.

At least, that was the case until recently.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the landscape for search behavior. The behavioral change has affected the insurance industry and independent agents in particular.

Let’s take a closer look.


The COVID-19 Effect

As the world locked down because of COVID-19, something interesting happened on Google.

Daily searches doubled.

The world’s largest search engine has seen an uptick in activity during the pandemic. More people staying at home equals more time to search online.

Yet, while the pie is bigger, not everyone sees the benefits. Google searches for insurance keywords declined during the pandemic.

As I write this, the crisis is ongoing. I have analyzed data from 12 insurance agencies that I’ve worked with over the last couple of years. And, the data is revealing.

These agencies cover different parts of the United States. They serve different clientele and offer different types of coverage. But, they have all invested in their digital marketing. And, they have improved their rankings in search results.

In other words, they’re perfect for this study.

For my analysis, I looked at the 65 days from March 11 to May 14, 2020. Why those dates? On March 11, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. And by May 15, almost every U.S. state relaxed some of its stay-at-home restrictions.

I tallied up how often these agency websites showed up on the first page of search results during this time. I also looked at how often people clicked from these results to the insurance agency websites. Then, I compared the findings to both the preceding 65-day period and the prior year.

When looking at the immediate change, there was a sharp drop-off. Here is how these 65 days of the pandemic compare with the early months of 2020:

When looking at the annualized data, the decrease was also evident. Here is how the pandemic compares to the same dates in 2019:

(Note: One website saw a significant drop in visits during the pandemic compared to 2019, which skewed the annualized data.) During the pandemic, the search click-through rate was about the same as it was before. People clicked on these agencies’ search listings 8% of the time before the pandemic. They clicked on the listings 7% during it.

This decrease was the sharpest among non-standard insurance agencies. These agents often sell auto insurance in high volumes. They often rely on walk-in traffic as well. So, it could be that auto insurance searches were most affected by the pandemic.

Of course, this is only a small sample of what’s been happening on search engines. But, it’s a valuable snapshot into the impact that COVID-19 has caused to agents online.

ITC maintains a regular baseline of expected quoting volume for our comparative rater TurboRater. We also maintain an expectation of submission and traffic upon the Insurance Website Builder, TurboRater for Websites, and TurboRater Rate Engine API platforms. Starting in March, ITC began tracking variance from that data to provide our clients with state of insurance rating weather reports.

One notable trend is that although during the period from March 11 – April 15, quoting and rating activity for insurance agencies was down nearly 29%, online quote requests have been up more than 22% during the pandemic.

Although many factors led to the increase in online quoting, it’s apparent that consumers who usually would obtain quotes over the phone or in-person are now relying on websites to submit forms. So, insurance shopping is continuing to happen. Instead of searching generic insurance keywords, we believe consumers are going directly to known insurance agency websites to obtain quotes.

Let’s take a look at what this all means.


What On Earth Is Happening?

Spring is typically the busiest season for insurance.

Spring is when the school year wraps up. It’s when Americans file their taxes. And, it’s when businesses review their first-quarter numbers.

Each of these events can lead to major purchases. Families can shop for a new home, as their children can start at a new school in the fall. Tax refunds can turn into down payments for new vehicles. And, earnings results can spur business investment decisions.

As they start spending money, people and businesses look to insure their new investments. These factors are why spring can be lucrative for insurance agents.

But, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended all that.

The tax filing deadline got extended. Quarterly earnings have looked bleak. And, spiraling unemployment has put a dent in consumer spending.

Even if people could afford to buy new homes or vehicles, there would still be roadblocks. Stay-at-home orders have curtailed open houses and auto dealership visits. And, health concerns have been omnipresent.

This behavior flows downstream. It means fewer people have considered buying a new insurance policy. And that wane in consideration has led to a decline in search activity.

When search activity goes down, insurance agents feel the sting. Picture agency websites as retail stores, and searchers as foot traffic. If fewer people are walking by these stores, there’s a good chance fewer will come in.

That appears to be what’s happened in recent months. Search engines are still ranking insurance websites. But, not as many people are viewing those results pages.


What To Do About It

The decline in search activity for insurance should be temporary.

Components of the CARES Act have given many Americans a financial lifeline. And, many businesses are re-opening.

Car sales have been rising for weeks. More homes should start to go on the market. And, business investment could tick back up as the lockdowns ease.

We believe that insurance search activity should pick back up in the coming months. Better days are on the horizon.

But, don’t wait for the world to return to normalcy. The world has changed in an instant, and the way people search has changed as well.

COVID-19 is an omnipresent threat. So is the economic downturn it’s caused. Searchers will continue to wonder how these factors impact insurance coverage.

Don’t wait for your clients to ask you about this. Provide resources on your website for them. Write blog posts and content pages, or create videos covering these topics. This can save your clients a phone call. And, it can connect you with searchers asking the same questions.

Also, consider the impact of price. The world has experienced a shock. Now, insurance shoppers are more price-conscious than ever. If you’ve positioned your agency on value, mention affordability in your content. If you’re focused on price already, let consumers know how you provide value.

And, be sure to focus on individual lines of coverage. Bundles can be cost-efficient for consumers and lucrative for agents. But in the months to come, some Americans could cut back on assets.

With budgets tight, that motorcycle or vacation home might no longer be viable. They might put those items up for sale. Bundling opportunities will still be there when you speak to prospects. But, people might not be searching for them for a while.


A Final Thought

The COVID-19 pandemic has been scary for everyone. And, it’s dented search activity for insurance agencies.

But, it’s important not to lose faith. We all have a clearer view of the impact of this crisis than we did a couple of months ago. And while much is still uncertain, you can still set a roadmap for success. One that allows your website to meet the changing needs of searchers.

So, don’t panic. Prepare.

About the Author

Dylan Brooks

Dylan Brooks helps ITC clients improve the visibility of their agency websites, working directly with them to improve their search engine rankings. Dylan has a bachelor’s degree in communication from the University of Miami and an MBA from Southern Methodist University. Dylan has extensive experience with writing, strategy and marketing analytics. In his spare time, Dylan enjoys cooking, participating in 5K races, and spending time around Dallas.

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