The coronavirus has impacted nearly all businesses, and the Pay Per Click (PPC) or better know as the Paid Search world, is no exception. Unless your business is lucky enough to be selling hand sanitizer, face masks, toilet paper, or even vodka…the impact on your paid search account has likely not been positive.
As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe, many businesses were forced to adjust their plans on the fly. Companies switched to a work-from-home model, conferences were cancelled or moved to virtual platforms, and marketing budgets were reduced. Consumer needs and behaviour have also been altered – making it more critical than ever for marketers to be agile.
People are still spending almost all of their time at home, causing increased media consumption online, such as browsing, researching and shopping. According to Forbes, total internet hits have skyrocketed anywhere from 50% to 70% for people sheltering in place. On top of that, 32% of people say they spend more time on social media than before lockdowns took effect. With these pivotal shifts in consumer behaviour, markets must maintain – or even increase – their paid search presence to keep up with users’ evolving needs.
Trends in Paid Search Advertising Due to COVID-19
Over the past few months, we have noticed some trends in search behaviour and online advertising concerning coronavirus:
# Virus search trends
Global pandemics have happened before, but not entirely on this scale. Swine Flu and Zika outbreaks made international media headlines in 2009 and 2016, respectively, but caused a little more impact than coronavirus. Even Ebola, which had a 40% death rate, only triggered a temporary spike in search interest in 2014. But Coronavirus has been dominating search results for a long time now.
# Cleaning and Personal Protective products are trending
A by-product of the pandemic is a surge in search interest for cleaning products and personal protective equipment, such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizers etc. And with businesses opening up slowly, the need for cleaning products is hitting the rooftop. Of course, initially, it was good news for companies that were already stocking and selling those products.
# Ecommerce retailers are in high demand
As lockdown restrictions tighten, relaxed, and with the second wave rising the numbers, even more, people are self-isolating in the safety of their own homes. Physical stores are closing, but online stores have never been busier. People still need to buy essential goods and are more likely to shop online for other items too. Along with any Ecommerce Search campaigns, Google Shopping is expected to see an increase in search volume over the weeks and months ahead.
# People are using more keywords related to health
Your Ads account may have nothing to do with coronavirus, but that doesn’t mean the pandemic won’t impact it. Anyone advertising in the health industry may see an uptick in traffic if they target standard terms, like symptoms or prevention. This is because a lot of people started looking up things like:
- What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
- How can you cure COVID-19?
- How can you prevent COVID-19?
- COVID tests near me? Etc.
Below are what marketers must keep in mind when crafting paid search strategies:
The impact of coronavirus on businesses marketing plans has been tremendous. As marketers and strategists have tried their best to accept the new reality and its effect, there is still a lot that needs to be understood.
The top 4 Strategy that has shown a positive result for businesses and should be a part of your paid media strategy as we advance:
# Maintain the Momentum – Even in Challenging Times
In a recent survey from The World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), 81% of large advertisers said they plan to defer ad campaigns and decrease budgets, and 57% said budgets were slashed considerably or somewhat because of the pandemic.
While some companies must go this route, experts say a downturn is not the time to shy away from advertising. In fact, cutting those efforts could make it more challenging in the long run. For example, companies that continued investing in brand awareness came out of the 2008 housing crash stronger than those that didn’t.
In resources shared by Google, the company states, “Even in categories where consumers have pulled back spending right now, creating a branding impact now will have a halo and pay dividends when the market normalizes. Research and historical examples of the economic downturn have shown this to work.” This emphasized the importance across all industries of continued investment in your brand and branded keywords. Plus, the last thing your company wants is to see competitors monetizing on branded search results.
When every penny counts, paid search emerges as an excellent option for companies because of its cost-effectiveness and the ability to adjust campaigns as needed. The process of getting up and running, conducting tests, collecting information, and updating is quick and simple – making it a viable tactic when the landscape is changing daily. With the ability to track conversion, click-through rates, and engagement levels, marketers can track the ROI of the campaign and determine how to adjust.
While day-to-day life is continuously shifting, the learning and testing marketers can do with paid search makes it an incredibly flexible resource to use in this volatile market.
# Paid Search Isn’t One-Size-Fits-All
Industries across the board are affected by COVID-19; however, not all industries are impacted equally, so paid search strategies should fit each changing industry’s specific needs. For example, e-commerce and B2B companies have improved paid search performance during the pandemic, while travel and healthcare have yielded poor results.
At first, it seems odds that healthcare is struggling considering the need for healthcare services. But, while many hospitals are busy treating COVID-19 patients, people that aren’t sick with the virus choose to avoid hospitals, medical centers and elective medical services like bariatric surgery. This changes how people shift their healthcare searches to find care options without leaving the house, such as telemedicine.
CBC reported in June this year that 47% of Canadians have used “virtual care” such as calls, email, texts or video during the pandemic. Of these, 91% said they were delighted with the experience.
To accommodate this changing need, the hospitals and healthcare providers are updating their messaging and offerings of virtual medical services.
On the other side of the spectrum, B2B companies have a longer sales cycle, so they’re concerned about how the current landscape with affect them in the months to come – or years to come in some cases. A company’s gut reaction may be to decrease marketing budgets to save money in the short term, but making drastic changes to the paid search strategy could negatively impact the long run. It could also give a competitor the opening to take the lead. This time is essential for building awareness and directing leads into the funnel to continue filling the sales pipeline.
# What Works Best
When it comes to adjusting strategy, there are a few best practices to keep in mind when optimizing paid search: Pivot the message, track the tone of marketing copy, adapt offerings for customers’ needs and update based on changing digital behaviour.
– Start with updating the messaging of the marketing copy. This is as easy as confirming store hours, and offerings are updated to reflect any COVID-19-related changes. Additionally, ensure all call to action messages are revised. For example, be sure to steer clear from the language like “Visit In-Store” if the location is under strict regulations to limit in-store business.
– Next, test the tone of the message to keep the copy appropriate. Customers want to build relationships with the brands they interact with by connecting with the brand’s identity and values. They don’t want to support companies that come off like they’re gaining from the pandemic. It’s tone-deaf to run a campaign around booking a vacation package, but it’s helpful when businesses share how they’re maintaining a safe work environment for their employees. Find ways to adapt offerings to fulfill customers’ needs. Like the previous examples, healthcare companies can highlight their telemedicine offerings, or restaurants can promote carry out and delivery options.
– Finally, your customers’ digital behaviour is changing, and your ads should change, too. As more people stay at home, desktop usage has increased correspondingly. With more people using desktops, mobile search has decreased by almost 25%. It’s crucial to craft paid search ads and landing pages to be optimized for desktop and mobile experiences. Since we’ve grown accustomed to a mobile-first society, marketers need to refocus on these types of behaviour changes.
# Be Agile
This pandemic has forced marketers to be even more flexible. Previously, marketing professionals and agencies could create multiphase processes for campaigns with lots of planning, feedback and various iterations. Now, everything is accelerated, and ads must be current to avoid appearing tone-deaf. Paid search provides marketers with the flexibility they need to be quick while also being cost-effective.
We’re all in this together, taking it one day at a time. There isn’t a specific plan to follow in times like this, but that’s why many people rely on marketers to bring smart, agile strategies to stay connected with customers.
Takeaways for digital marketers
The paid search sector gives us a fascinating glimpse into the disruption at play across the global business. But the positivity, agility, and resolve on display are heartening too.
The real-time data are available to paid search marketers to answer three key questions.
- How consumer habits sometimes shift rapidly?
- How are their brands retaining visibility in the melee?
- How are competitors changing strategy and focus on adapting?
In some cases, we can undoubtedly see prices go up and click go down as users and brands change their ways. The flipside of this is that gaps and opportunities are opening up in surprising places as big names shift their focus to specific products and services. Smart marketers will be observing those gaps and acting on them.
Even with multiple vaccines on different development stages, it is pretty clear the coronavirus pandemic could rumble on for a long time. We’re sure to be dealing with the immediate effects for at least another couple of months, and the lasting impact will reverberate throughout global economies and industries for the next year or two.
If you haven’t already embraced the digital age, now is the time to experiment with new business ways. With PPC advertising and new approaches to reaching your customer base, even small businesses may be able to ride out the storm. Innovation is the key to survive this challenging period.