Podcast: How COVID Changed Search Behaviour

Shahin Hoda 18  mins read Updated: March 11th, 2024

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How COVID Changed Search Behaviour & How Marketers Should React

In this episode, host Shahin Hoda chats with David Gottlieb from Microsoft Advertising about how COVID-19 has changed user behaviour in search engines.

David analyses trends that have emerged during 2020 in Australia and the world. David explains how Microsoft’s initiatives can help marketers get better insights and what’s going on with digital advertising and voice search.

This episode’s guest:

How COVID Changed Search Behaviour & How Marketers Should React

How COVID Changed Search Behaviour & How Marketers Should React

David Gottlieb, Director at Microsoft Advertising APAC

As the Director of the Microsoft Advertising Business Team in APAC, David is responsible for marketing, insights and monetization strategy.

Before joining Microsoft Advertising in 2010, he was working in a global role responsible for Advertising Quality.  

He worked in Europe, North America and Asia before returning to Australia. He loves travelling, running, reading and spending time with his wife Kim, and their two cats.

Connect with him on LinkedIn

Conversation segments on this episode:
  • [00:22] About David's background
  • [01:12] Microsoft's focus on staying connected and the initial consumer trends
  • [05:28] Current status of search user behaviour
  • [09:18] David's take on the changes in education
  • [13:19] Australia's specific trends
  • [14:29] The impact of COVID-19 on online advertising
  • [17:03] The Microsoft Audience Network initiative
  • [18:48] The current scenario with voice search
  • [24:19] Voice search as an opportunity for more personalisation
  • [26:11] David's final words on Microsoft's products

Resources mentioned on this episode:

About the Growth Colony Podcast:

On this podcast, you'll be hearing from B2B founders, CMOs, marketing & sales leaders about their successes, failures, what is working for them today in the B2B marketing world and everything in between.

Hosted by Shahin Hoda & Alexander Hipwell, from xGrowth

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Episode Full Transcript:

[00:22] Shahin Hoda  Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode. I'm Shahin Hoda of xGrowth, and today I'm talking to David Gottlieb, Director of Advertising for APAC at Microsoft about how COVID has changed our behaviour when it comes to using search engines. What are the trends that have emerged? And what does all of this mean for marketers? David has an amazing background and his experience working at eBay. And now Microsoft has taken him across the globe, from Sydney to Dublin to Vancouver to Seattle to San Jose and now back in Sydney. I mean, you name a major hub, and he's been there and worked there. And now he's leading the team delivering Microsoft advertising, monetization strategy, marketing and insights in APAC. David, thanks for coming on the podcast. 

[01:08] David Gottlieb  Thank you so much for him. This is fantastic. Thank you for the opportunity. 

[01:12] Shahin Hoda  Oh, it's an absolute pleasure having you. Let's start at a high level, okay? Let's go and start at a high level. What are some of the immediate changes that you and the team at Microsoft saw in the early days of the pandemic when it came to search engines? And, you know, what people were searching and how people were interacting with the, with the beast with the engine? 

[01:32] David Gottlieb  Yeah, sure. That's a great question. I probably keyed off one word that you said there, which was team for me and for the team that I work with, and the, you know, the direct group. We really were focused on the importance of how we were going to work, and how we were going to work to empower others every day. And so that meant that we really had to dial in on the importance of staying connected, the importance of the changes that we all had to make, and what we had to adapt in terms of how we worked every day. And, you know, for that, it meant that we had to keep it kind of organic. 

[02:08] David Gottlieb  You couldn't get too stale in terms of anyone approach in terms of staying connected. And, you know, making sure that things like well-being just became part of the normal conversation that we had, making sure that I was modelling certain behaviours. Like, how do I step away at the appropriate time and not get consumed, being in front of a computer all day, and then all night, and kind of manage that balance and ensure that to the team. So definitely, you know, when the pandemic hit, there was definitely that focus on the team, first and foremost, so that we could do our work, our best work for our clients and our partners, both internally and externally, within the Microsoft advertising family. 

[02:51] David Gottlieb  And so then, yeah, maybe going a little bit broader than that, to the consumer trends that we saw, you know, obviously, Microsoft Advertising is the advertising platform that enables clients and brands to reach Bing and we also power a few, a couple of other search engines like Ecosia, and Yahoo. And for us, what we really saw was just how important searches are to a lot of people. And so the consumer trends, actually, we sort of shift in the way that people were searching, an increase in terms of the number of desktop searches and for us at Microsoft advertising, you know, where a lot of users are using Windows 10 computers, on their PCs, that's a great thing in terms of sort of seeing the increase in terms of desktop searches. 

[03:38] David Gottlieb  But it also meant that people were, you know, less mobile, they weren't doing their, you know, searches on their phones during their commute, that sort of stuff. And so we really did what we could to kind of understand the types of things that people were searching for. While those with it as there's been an increase in terms of desktop searching. And some of those maybe if I just go to the third part, then the changes in terms of what people were searching for, you know, we really saw things like online groceries. I mean, if you think about what you were searching for, right at the start of the pandemic 

[04:11] Shahin Hoda  Toilet papers, that was me. Toilet papers, I was the guy at the Coles. 

[04:15] David Gottlieb  We definitely saw an increase in terms of searches for toilet papers. Yes. The online grocery searches were up quite a bit as well as delivery services. In general, food delivery services. And, you know, it kind of went through different waves or cycles through the pandemic. People kind of went through their own personal hierarchy of needs. And so, you know, once people had their food in place, then they were focused on their work from home situation. So we saw a lot of queries around, you know, broadband service providers, or definitely the work from home questions. 

[04:27] David Gottlieb  And then underpinning all of this was a huge increase in terms of news and information that people were looking for about COVID, and Bing actually responded by creating a Bing tracker that was launched, and really went through kind of like a very agile approach in terms of the way that it was adapting to feed in more information from trusted sources and help people understand. You know, where cases were being located, and how infection prevention could occur, as well as just surfacing different sorts of information around hotspots, that sort of stuff. And it still is a work in progress today in terms of providing people with information that they care about reading. 

[05:28] Shahin Hoda  Yeah, it's fascinating the changes that we saw in such a short period of time. But you know, compared to those early days of COVID, how does today compare? Like what are you seeing today, in terms of user behaviour with search and their queries? 

[05:46] David Gottlieb  Yeah, we, we see a kind of a process of where it's gone from responding. So kind of the toilet paper query, to people kind of getting to a place of rebounding. So adapting to a new way of doing things, you know, kind of like that rebound or reimagine phase is sort of where we think we are at now and what we're seeing in terms of searches. And it's interesting to sort of see, or to contrast, maybe travel, travel is down, obviously, in terms of global travel, none of us are travelling, but definitely local, local searches, opportunities to travel within a state, things like that are seeing sort of strong increase, as well as retail, eCommerce has just massively accelerated during this time. 

[06:34] David Gottlieb  And we really do see that COVID brought about a kind of an eCommerce or bought really eCommerce to the forefront for many Australians. And, you know, I was looking at,  I was listening, rather, and looking at some of the work that the team had put together for a webinar that they ran on retail, and there was some industry data there about just how, you know, the searching, search behaviour, as well as online trends have changed. 

[06:51] David Gottlieb  And, you know, just to quote some numbers here that 73% of Australians are now shopping online, as to before. 86% of Australians are increasing the frequency of their online shopping and avoiding going in-store, and 50% of people are buying products that they never bought online previously. And I think that, you know, Australia had a long way to go pre COVID in terms of its online or eCommerce environment, it was really pretty nascent. And it really just has been brought to the forefront, as I said, for a lot of Australians. And I think that's a trend that we saw, we're seeing, and I think we'll continue to see. 

[07:37] Shahin Hoda  That is so cool that, you know, I always complain, but you know, I compared some of the delivery capabilities in some of the other countries in Europe and in the US, and you know, how quickly you could potentially get something from an online shopping. And I feel like that is becoming a forefront focus now here in Australia, and we're gonna see more and more of it, you know, of getting faster and faster delivery. So I'm looking forward to that. I am looking forward to that. 

[08:06] David Gottlieb  Well, I think that you see, you know, certain retailers promoting things like pick up or click and collect. And I think that's got a really strong value proposition as well, where it cuts out time in the day, but it also allows people to go out, or if people are indeed starting commuting again, or anything like that, it just means that they're able to get time back in their day. You know, I think that's, it's really interesting to watch the whole kind of acceptance, and then you know, people just valuing their time differently. And I think that that will be a big, big driver. 

[08:35] David Gottlieb  And one thing I didn't mention was the push towards, with working from home around skills and education, we really saw, you know, with the broader Microsoft family, including LinkedIn, very much a push towards what people could do in terms of increasing their skills, online learning, that sort of stuff. And I think that that's an ongoing interest that we'll probably see as online learning becomes more and more of the norm or people, again, comfortable with it as it's gone through a bit of a disruption, that we'll see people kind of comfortably using platforms like LinkedIn Learning to increase their skills and knowledge beyond perhaps how they approached or indeed, just things like remote working or working from home, how they do that in the most efficient way possible. 

[09:18] Shahin Hoda  That is so cool. And, you know, I had this question for myself of what is education going to change? I know there are a certain number of thought leaders that some of them we both might know, like, like Prof. Scott Galloway that have very strong opinions of how things change. But so like, can you give any more details on like, what are some of the shifts that you're seeing in the educational space from professionals and people who want to get trained? 

[09:47] David Gottlieb  Yeah, Microsoft and LinkedIn released an entire skilling initiative and it is easy enough to search on if you open up Bing and type in a Microsoft skills initiative. What it really highlighted was there were seven or eight, and I can't remember the exact number, seven or eight different industries that really were going to be rising to the forefront. As we kind of go into this reimagined world, certainly things like digital advertising, understanding, you know, kind of the, how we, how we pass things through the cloud, all the kind of technology, things that are at the forefront in terms of technology, those areas were really the most popular ones. But I think there's also a balance of that with doing it in a way that you understand empathy, and how people work together in an environment where we are not necessarily seeing each other on a day to day basis. 

[10:37] David Gottlieb  And how you kind of managed through that is kind of the really important stuff. And I think they're the things that through the skilling initiative, sort of showing that there's value, not just in the technical but also that personal aspect. And then more broadly, you know, things that can be done around education, around areas like inclusivity, and some of the social injustice issues that we've seen through the last six to twelve months, or indeed much longer in reality, and really opening up people to the notion of what their own circumstance might be in terms of privilege, and what that really means in terms of other people and how things like bias and other things are preventing us sometimes from seeing the situation that some people are in. 

[11:44] David Gottlieb  What was one thing that really surprised you when you were looking at this? Let's call it COVID data, right? and translate? What was that one thing that you like? Oh, really? 

[12:21] David Gottlieb  It's an interesting one. Um, the one thing that it probably shouldn't have surprised me, but I thought it was very interesting was how consistent some of these trends were global. You know, typically, we do see a lot of similarities in terms of the way that people do search for things. But what we really were able to see in waves, as we went into the pandemic period, was really looking at markets, markets, like Italy, for example, that was kind of, if you can think all the way back to that time, they were sort of, you know, suffering first, and then a couple of weeks later was the US. 

[12:59] David Gottlieb  And then we sort of followed here in Australia a little bit after that was up to sort of see these patterns emerge and take sort of some of the understanding and really sort of under, like learnings and understand from that. So it was really, I would say it was more of the meta patterns that I found interesting, other than a specific leader, rather than a specific sort of like, search or query that people were doing, I think it was just that, you know, we did see these waves across kind of the entire world of search trends and search behaviours 

[13:29] Shahin Hoda  Unfolding going through a sequence, and it says, was there anything or even right now? Is there anything unique to Australia? 

[13:38] David Gottlieb  Definitely going back to the online shopping piece, I think that's just, it's grown from a fairly small base. And so I think that's why we're really seeing that we think that this coming retail period that we're going to go into around the end of this current year will sort of capture, you know, an online shift in terms of behaviours from Australian shopping. You know, I think that certain things that stood out, were, you know, some of the early education pieces for how people were going to help with the teaching from home. 

[14:12] Shahin Hoda  Ah yes. 

[14:13] David Gottlieb  And those sorts of things, whether that was specific just to Australia, I don't really probably not, but again, sort of some of those things that, you know, the coping mechanisms that people had from not just working from home, but educating children from home, and how to kind of manage through that. 

[14:29] Shahin Hoda  Right, gotcha. Gotcha. Okay. So, you know, I also want to kind of change gears a little bit here and talk about advertising. 

[14:38] David Gottlieb  Yep.

[14:38] Shahin Hoda  And, you know, first maybe, let's talk about what this means for PPC, really and online advertising. Like what do you think? Do you think this is going to change online advertising in any way? 

[14:52] David Gottlieb  Definitely. I think that you know, this is just the reduced mobility of you know, by that I mean, people spend less time in front of probably their mobile devices. If they're spending more time at home. I believe that will probably be one of the trends that we continue to see, I would say more broadly, where we're focused on delivering value to marketers, and making meaningful connections to people through what I would say is three key pillars. And this is really how we think about the evolution of advertising. And those three key pillars are around trust, intelligence, and empowering. 

[15:28] David Gottlieb  And with each one of those trust, we think about privacy, and how you have to start with a foundation of trust, and helping people to keep connecting with brands, but doing it really in an uncompromised way, when it comes to respect for privacy, brand, safety, data security, those kinds of aspects. And so we really see that as a pillar going forward for the industry. When I said intelligence is that second pillar, it's no joke that we have a lot of data, and that that amount of data is only increasing. 

[15:58] David Gottlieb  And I think that you know, at Microsoft, we feel very well equipped in terms of being able to provide a complete sort of understanding about, you know, we have a huge investment in terms of cloud, massive investments in terms of AI and how to utilise things like machine learning to persist through that data. And then how to actually leverage that data as insights and turn those insights into actual marketing-based understanding so that brands again can really understand in an intelligent way to improve things like campaign performance, and how to create, you know, post more personalised experiences. 

[16:36] Shahin Hoda  Right. 

[16:37] David Gottlieb  And then that empowering thing is kind of bringing that together. So really just saying, how do we take, how do we as a platform really help marketers to achieve more, and do more with the time that they have available to them, and help them to grow and to really either rebound their business during this period, but to hopefully reimagine it and hopefully grow beyond where they thought they were going to be original as well. 

[17:03] Shahin Hoda  Yeah. And one of the initiatives that you're working on that note is the Microsoft audience network. What is that? What is that all about? 

[17:12] David Gottlieb  Yeah, thanks. Thanks for asking about that. We, it really is twofold in terms of the way that we're thinking about it. But at the core of it, it's an AI-powered audience solution. And so what we really help people to do, or what we're really helping marketers to do is to connect to the audiences at day one, through native placements in brand-safe environments. So allowing through the Microsoft audience network, allowing advertisers to reach that highly relevant audience using the Microsoft advertising graph. And that advertising graph is really old, the rich consumer understanding that we have through all of the Microsoft assets being Microsoft news, Outlook, LinkedIn, and others. 

[17:57] David Gottlieb  And really using those signals to help target in terms of, you know, a more productive way across the audience that the advertisers or marketers are trying to reach. And when I said twofold, it's now available as an extension of search campaigns. So typically, for advertisers that are running search campaigns today, they can extend into that audience network immediately. And then in the coming weeks will actually release it as a standalone audience capability where you can target campaigns or specialised campaigns just in that audience network. 

[18:34] Shahin Hoda  Very impressive. Okay, definitely, definitely something to dig deeper in and check out. David, tell me a little bit about voice like, what is happening with voice, you know, those uh, I mean, you know, I love the fact that you said, hey, we're seeing a lot more activity on desktop, right? A, not a contrarian view. But you know, or, I mean, it's not a view, it's a fact. It's different than what everybody used to say before COVID, right? Mobile-first platform, and, you know, you got to take the responsiveness and all that stuff. And I think all of that is still important. And I like but it's also really interesting how COVID is challenging the marketing manifesto that was out there. What about voice? What is happening with voice? 

[19:22] David Gottlieb  I definitely think the voice is here. And I think about it more broadly, probably in terms of, you know, digital assistants, and smart speakers are becoming ever more present. There are a lot of announcements about new technologies in that area, all the time. And so it's not just limited perhaps to smartphones. I think it's you know, definitely powering those digital assistants or even things like chatbots, and taking on you know, kind of the those going from maybe a more rudimentary thing to an evolved sort of like more engaging personality opportunity there as well. The interaction is almost like a close friend if you can think about it. So I think the voice is definitely here. 

[20:04] David Gottlieb  We think about it, Microsoft thinks about it in terms of, we are gathering, you know, tons of information, tons of data points through Bing, and then exposing through API's ways that people are actually able to power some of those experiences. And we call those cognitive services. And so I think about, you know, the world of technology and engagement through voices, just one of the ways that people can have that more natural interaction than perhaps typing on a keyboard seems. And I think that it's vital, we certainly feel like, you know, in terms of accessibility, people that might have a disability and not able to use traditional methods of typing and entering, voice is fantastic. 

[20:46] David Gottlieb  But we also see that it's not just limited to voice, I think that there's things like, certainly visual search, and we have made huge investments in visual search. And today, if you want to go and search for an image, and I do actually do this all the time, you're actually able to copy and paste an image into the search engine. And we'll search the web for that. And I think it's fantastic if you want to sort of see the source of a chart, or if you want to, if you have an idea for something and you look for it, and then you can see other things that appear like that. It's great. So we think that that disruption is definitely here, voice-enabled to devices, chat, bots, digital assistance, and then the internet of things more broadly, it will definitely kind of pull all these technologies together going forward. 

[21:30] Shahin Hoda  Yeah, I mean, I remember years ago, I got when Microsoft bought Nokia, I got, I think, maybe a year or two after that I got an I got a Microsoft phone, right. And there were things that I liked, and there were things that I didn't like, but I loved Cortana. Like when I moved to Siri, I was like, this is dumb. Like Cortana was like, way better and way smarter. But now, you know, I wake up with Alexa. And, you know, she's right there with a lot of stuff that I or it is right there, I guess is the right term, for a lot of stuff that I need to get done. But have you seen any kind of trends in the Australian market? Or that you know, that that data is not conclusive right now? You know, have you seen any numbers around voice, or even image, I mean, visual search. 

[22:29] David Gottlieb  Not specific numbers. But I think that these are global trends, that we're seeing an evolution of the way that people are interacting, interacting with devices and expectations of how they do interact with devices. And maybe back to your comment, I would say that all of this technology is just getting better and better and leaps and bounds, you know, the more data that it has to work with. the more machine learning that happens, and the more the AI system can grow. On top of that, I think that we'll see. And, you know, ongoing evolution in terms of performance, um, no matter what the services, the interesting thing is Cortana is still here, ‘cause Cortana is still with us. It's integrated as part of Windows 10. 

[23:11] David Gottlieb  And other experiences, I think, I think that it's available through, you know, certainly different, definitely Windows 10. And it's perhaps more of an enterprise-focused application now. But it definitely tells me every week, how I'm spending my time, and gives me insights in terms of, you know, where I should be spending more time focusing and that sort of stuff. So it's fantastic technology. And I think about things like, and it might be a little bit, you know, it's not so much on voice, but it's just this, this power that we have of using these technologies to just give us a better balance in life. 

[23:46] David Gottlieb  And even the you know, you use my analytics, which is built into what the insights tab that's built into Outlook, helps you understand where you're spending your hours in a week, and actually then make suggestions like, hey, you might want some more time to actually focus on your work rather than spending time in meetings and click that button. And suddenly, it made a bunch of time available for me over the coming months. And it was like an absolute win in terms of being able to, you know, manage the constant delusion of work as well. 

[24:19] Shahin Hoda  I love that. I love that. Okay, last question that I want to ask. And this is, this goes back to Voice. Do you think, because, you know, we're fairly passionate when it comes to B2B right? And I'm curious how you see voice playing in B2B space because I personally feel like it has still compared to in the consumer space. It has a lot to go and there's little uptake in the B2B space for Voice but I'd also love to hear what your thoughts are on that. 

[24:57] David Gottlieb  Yeah, I mean, I think we could probably grab a whiteboard and spend half an hour an hour, three hours together, socially distanced, of course. 

[25:07] Shahin Hoda  Of course. 

[25:10] David Gottlieb  You know, kind, of brainstorming what we could think of here because I think that that's the beauty of it that, you know that it really comes down to the consumers need whether, you know, B2B or B2C, but at the end of the day, it's a person wanting to do something. And I think that there's so many different applications that just for Microsoft, we see it as our opportunity to really help technology reach people, no matter where they are, and what thoughts they have and equip them with infrastructure to get to realise sort of a dream. 

[25:41] David Gottlieb  I think that the opportunity is, you know, for, you know, more personalisation, and more opportunity for brands to, for brands, and also for B2B environments to kind of understand, you know, at the end of the day, there is somebody looking at something. So, how do you help them? How do you do the application that works? So I would, I would say, it's more, from my perspective, I probably don't have the answer, but hopefully, it can help with the solution. And Microsoft more broadly can help with that solution as well. 

[26:11] Shahin Hoda  Fantastic. Well, David, those are most of the, pretty much all the questions that I wanted to ask. Do you think there's something that we should touch on that I didn't bring up? 

[26:21] David Gottlieb  You know, it would be remiss of me not to encourage everybody to try out Microsoft advertising, to go to the website and have a look at that, of course. 

[26:28] Shahin Hoda  That's it. 

[26:29] David Gottlieb  But, you know, what I would really encourage everybody to do is have a look at the latest version of Edge. Edge just was recently rebuilt this year, using a new back end, and it just works perfectly. It's a great browser. And what I would say is that this last week, we just had an announcement around, Give with Bing. And Give with Bing is an extension that you can put into the Edge browser, but it's also just through your Microsoft rewards account that you can set up as a Bing search. And it means if every search you do, you can actually donate to a charity, and there's thousands of charities available, thousands of invites, thousands of opportunities to give. Give with Bing and to do it in a way that, you know, you're leveraging an activity that you're doing already. So you might as well.

[27:18] Shahin Hoda  That's so cool. I mean, you know, I know Microsoft puts a lot of emphasis on, you know, social, the social elements of business and it's so cool to see when businesses, in general, put their money where they claim that they're focusing on. That's an awesome initiative. Well, David, thanks so much. I really enjoyed this conversation. And thanks for jumping on the podcast.

 [27:44] David Gottlieb  Yeah, really appreciate as well Shahin, thank you very much.

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