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How Has Coronavirus Affected Higher Education?

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    Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a highly infectious disease that quickly spread around the world in early 2020 until it became a global pandemic. COVID-19 has greatly affected the global economy, shutting many businesses down and forcing others to completely adjust how they conduct business. Here at Fourfront, we wanted to use our data analytics tools to try to understand how COVID-19 has specifically affected certain industries through the search patterns of the audience.

    Higher education as an industry has had to adapt quickly to the effects of the coronavirus, especially as graduation quickly approaches. Many schools swiftly pivoted to an all-online format and sent students home as soon as the virus moved to their area, while others may have delayed due to a number of reasons. Regardless, nearly all colleges and universities have had to make the change to online classes or risk a postponement to the end of the semester.

    The industry has had to pivot, but that does not necessarily mean that there are any fewer students enrolled in universities. Students are still paying tuition whether the classes are on campus or online, so there is not an immediate effect on the industry like there is in industries like manufacturing. In fact, there may even be new opportunities to engage with students and parents during this time when up-to-date information is so valuable.

    Taking a look at our trend data across industries, we can see that higher education has not suffered the same way that other industries have, mostly due to the fact that the business does not require in-person interaction.


    In order to get a sense of how multiple industries have been affected by COVID-19, we gathered 6 high-volume keywords from each industry and created a sum to represent the average keyword strength for each industry. That 6-keyword sum was then set to a trend over time from the weeks COVID-19 was still a relatively contained disease to the present day of this report being run.


    Each industry has been affected in different ways. Healthcare, for example (search interest around conditions and treatments), has declined despite, and possibly because of the increased patient volume at hospitals. Many non-essential treatments that could be postponed have been, so interest around keywords like ‘CTEPH treatment’ have decreased while keywords related to COVID-19 have increased.

    Higher Education has been relatively stable. There was a steady drop every week since the week of March 10, but fortunately this past week saw a major recovery. This is a helpful view, but data can become more insightful at a deeper perspective.


    The higher education industry has been affected at a keyword level in various ways by COVID-19. There is an obvious peak in interest for keywords like ‘university coronavirus’ right when the news broke that universities were closing. In more subtle ways, keywords have been hurt or helped in the past weeks.


    With our experience in the higher education industry, we have a comprehensive list of keywords that represent valuable search opportunities for the target audience. These include specific programs, program variants and high-level searches. We set several of these keyword types to trend over time, to get a gauge of interest before and during the pandemic.

    There may only be several weeks of data to examine so it is hard to make a definitive conclusion. With that said, there are some notes that can be taken from this data:

    • The keyword ‘university coronavirus’ shows a clear spike when colleges and universities began to close, and has since dropped to a lower but more steady number.
    • Meanwhile, the keyword ‘mechanical engineering masters’ shows a dip since the same announcement.
    • Keywords for online programs have not been affected the same way that general program keywords have.



    Using anonymized data from a client in the higher education industry, we are able to see how keywords related to coronavirus have led to impressions since the virus began affecting universities in Philadelphia around the middle of March.


    Keywords specific to COVID-19 in higher education, including ‘coronavirus university closing,’ have been organized and set to trend over time. The trend reveals a clear spike when news originally broke that schools would be closing.


    We were also able to examine keywords specific to online or remote. The list of some of our findings can be found below, as well as a trend over the past several weeks. There was a clear spike on the same days as the announcement, but there was also a lower but still steady amount of search interest after the initial news had come out. This trend has been compared to 2019, and shows a clear increase year-over-year for many of these keywords.


    Keywords2019 Impressions*2020 Impressions*Change
    online colleges in pa325199%
    edd online programs317898%
    online colleges in pennsylvania310797%
    online music performance degree611295%
    edd programs online2627691%
    masters in engineering management online7137381%
    {brand} online classes8129973%
    instructional technology certificate online5113863%
    accelerated bachelors degree online accredited3910563%
    coronavirus online07029100%
    online mba03733100%
    mba online01592100%
    masters in social work online0943100%
    online msw programs0800100%

    *Data taken from March 1 to April 9




    1. Online and Remote Programs

    Keywords that contain ‘online’ or ‘remote’ have greatly increased year over year for the month of March. This a growing opportunity due to the virus, but has also increased in value over time as the needs and technical capabilities of students have changed.

    1. Temporary Traffic

    The traffic brought in for keywords specific to COVID-19 was temporary, including queries as to whether the school would be closing. Once the user obtained the information they were looking for, they did not return to the website. As opposed to some other industries, there was not interest bringing the user to the site multiple times.

    Many of the keywords that have improved year-over-year are related to online opportunities, such as ‘online colleges in PA’ and ‘{brand} online classes.’ Online represents a very large opportunity, in general but also as a response to COVID-19 forcing all students to stay home. This has already resulted in higher impressions to this client and will only continue to grow in value over time.

    Although there are many negative effects to businesses around the world due to COVID-19, there are also new business opportunities. Industries like e-commerce, online learning and delivery services have already begun benefitting from this crisis, and search patterns indicate that the opportunity will only continue to grow over time.


    Gain More Insights on Your Changing Market

    This perspective of the higher education industry provides helpful data on the effect of COVID-19 at a high level, but in order to get more impactful insights you can reach out to us for detailed reporting or a report customized to your business.

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    About the Author

    Former Employee (Senior Content Strategist)

    Craig was a member of the FourFront team as a Senior Content Strategist from 2017 to 2024. Read More »
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