Probiotics and the immune system: How consumers are searching during the COVID-19 crisis

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How are consumers’ online searching habits changing in relation to probiotics as the COVID-19 crisis unfolds across the globe?

How did they feel about immunity-positioned probiotics pre-coronavirus?

This article provides an overview of search trends and makes suggestions for how B2C and B2B companies in the probiotics space can create or enhance content pages (whether a product page, a blog post, press releases or case studies) to maximise their visibility during this period of enhanced search volume for immunity-related searches.

Consumer sentiment around immunity-positioned probiotics captured in Lumina’s January 2020 data update is also explored, with key facts from our recent report on immunity, inflammation, respiratory and oral health presented.

Consumer search: Probiotics + Immunity

The fact that searches focused on probiotics and how they might aid immune function have increased in the past two months will come as no surprise to most. However, if you are a probiotics business attempting to prioritise website tasks based on possible ROI, it’s crucial to at least have a rough idea of the extent of this uptick.

Take a look at the chart below from Google Trends, which tracks how the popularity of certain searches has changed over time. To put the results in context, searches containing “probiotics immune system” have been plotted alongside two other key health claims in the space, wellbeing and digestion.

Note that the chart is a live feed, but at the time of writing (mid-April 2020) we can see strong growth in immunity-related searches between early January and late February, with a very dramatic spike in mid-March, which then settles again, albeit at a higher level of interest than pre-crisis. Immunity searches go from receiving around the same level of interest as their digestion-based counterparts to quickly outpacing them.

The critical questions are:

  • How long will this inflated level of interest continue?
  • Does it translate to an increased commercial interest in probiotics?
  • What will interest be post-coronavirus?

Ultimately it is difficult to be certain of anything, but in March GlobalData suggested coronavirus will drive sales of probiotics, based on consumer behaviour in Asia, which as we know experienced the pandemic ahead of Europe and the USA. If this trend of consumers making investments in their wellbeing goes long-term, immunity is likely to be an even greater key concern than pre COVID-19 (immunity was already one of the top 3 health claims on probiotic products in 25 countries worldwide, pre-pandemic).

Key point:

If you are a probiotic business offering (or developing) ingredients or products designed to bring the end-user immunity benefits, there has never been a better time to execute keyword research and optimise relevent content on your website (or a third-party seller such as Amazon). The inflated search volume at present means your digital teams have more data than ever to work with – increasing their chances of delivering a well-considered, tailored SEO-strategy that will heighten your products/services visibility to the correct audience.

View all our reports

See the range of reports we offer for the probiotics market including market overviews, deeper examinations of niche markets, country insights and more.

Quick recommendations for search engine optimisation (SEO)

Did you know that organic makes up 42% of traffic to e-commerce sites in retail and 35% of revenue vs 18% and 20% respectively from paid search? (Wolfgang Digital Study, 2019)

Paid channels like Google Shopping Ads or Search Ads can work really well for e-commerce and B2B businesses alike. However, this sort of advertising can be very expensive and after you stop paying for your campaign you will cease to see a return on it. Many businesses in the probiotics space are missing a huge opportunity by not optimising their content to rank organically. Product pages and other content that successfully ranks well for relevant search terms will continue to drive traffic to your website long after you have stopped investing in it.

What can businesses in the probiotics space do right now to make the most of the increased interest in probiotics and their effect on the immune system? How does this differ between B2B and B2C companies?

B2B (e.g. probiotic ingredient suppliers)

  • If you supply a specific strain or ingredient with ties to immunity ensure your press releases, published studies or blog posts are optimised to capitalise on these key searches.
  • Investigate longer-tail immunity keywords pertaining to the product or service you offer, as these are likely to also be seeing rising interest and ranking for these terms is slightly easier than highly-competitive broad terms.
  • Take a look at the long-tail keywords your site already gets organic traffic from via Google Search Console, or a paid tool like SEM Rush if you prefer. Content sitting in positions 4 – 11 for relevant keywords can make quick gains if you optimise it for those types of searches.
  • If you supply a probiotics ingredient involved in multiple immunity studies and trials, consider writing a longer piece of content summarising these with target keywords in mind. This content on COVID-19 facts and information from Biogaia also addresses probiotics and immunity generally, summarising findings from studies involving their strains – with references and links to them where possible.
Above: Featured snippet in Google search engine results page (SERP) on lactobacillus casei and immunity
Above: Clicks, impressions, CTR and position data as seen in Google Search Console.

B2C (e.g. manufacturers, brands etc.)

  • Consumers are more interested than ever in the efficacy of immunity-positioned probiotics and many want to understand the science behind this. There is a unique opportunity for brands to create/optimise product descriptions or blog content to answer the most common questions consumers have. The more niche and long-tail your target keywords the less competition you will have for them.
Google's "People Also Ask" feature when searching "how probiotics help immune system"
  • Get ideas for longer-tail keywords by simply typing a broad immunity keyword in Google and Amazon’s search bar – both will make suggestions based on popular searches.
Above: Google predictive search
Above: Google predictive search
Above: predictive search
Above: predictive search
  • Note the difference between the two sites above. Think about adapting different strategies for any product pages hosted on both your own e-commerce site and Amazon’s. This also means your content on each site will be unique, which can help your own e-commerce product page rank better in Google. 
  • Set up a system that will invite your existing customers to leave online reviews. Now more than ever consumers are asking “But does this work?”. Positive online reviews demonstrate efficacy to potential customers, influence decision making and, critically, increase your visibility in search engines like Google or Bing and shopping platforms like Amazon.

A critical task for businesses selling via any e-commerce platform is to ensure customers are leaving online reviews. Not only do positive reviews bring the benefits mentioned above, but review data can be a vital marker for how existing products have been received by their audience on the market.

Lumina Intelligence gathers this data along with other attributes like formulation, labelling and pricing so that probiotics companies can utilise review data to gauge how consumers feel about their products, undertake competitor research and increase the chances of success for new products in development.

Immunity is a leading health benefit in terms of prevalence in probiotic products – coming 2nd only to digestion. How did consumers feel about immunity probiotics before the COVID-19 crisis?

Immunity and consumer sentiment as of January 2020

Lumina Intelligence’s recent report “Immunity, inflammation, oral health and respiratory probiotics” provides a top line market overview of probiotic products positioned for these health benefits and corresponding online customer engagement.

Reviews have become a critical data point for understanding post-purchase consumer sentiment and, when combined with formulation and pricing data, can provide powerful insights as to what attributes underpin products that successfully resonate with consumers.

Here are just a couple of facts from the report on immunity-positioned probiotics:

  • Over 1000 immunity probiotics saw a spectacular 786% growth in online customer reviews in two years (December 2017 – January 2020) to reach 1.8 million across 25 countries.
  • Immunity positioned probiotics are the lowest priced of the four groups covered in the report (under US$16 per pack), whilst being formulated with the largest daily dose of bacteria (over 20 bn CFU).

For this report, Lumina Intelligence considered probiotics positioned only to support immunity, inflammation, oral health and respiratory. This included 1116 products in 25 countries on five continents across probiotic supplements, juice,  kombucha and cosmetics.

View all our reports

See the range of reports we offer for the probiotics market including market overviews, deeper examinations of niche markets, country insights and more.

Disclaimer: The focus of this post is on the utilisation of the digital marketing tools in response to the current consumer search trends.  It is a company responsibility to ensure compliance of its marketing communication with the relevant regulations.

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