Rob Laver
Rob Laver Senior PPC Manager

PPC and Covid-19

Rob Laver
Rob Laver Senior PPC Manager

For a lot of businesses, these past three months have seen the biggest ever shift in user behaviour. Coronavirus has been devastating in some industries, whereas for others it’s presented unexpected opportunities and forced them to innovate at a rate they didn’t know was possible.

As a digital agency working across multiple industries, we’ve been well placed to observe the various emerging trends. Pay-per-click has always been a good way to see fast, real time data on how businesses and consumers react to world events, and that’s never been more true than right now.

So, what impact has Covid-19 had on the PPC industry and how can your newly revised marketing budgets be utilised best? Below we’ve highlighted some of the key things to be aware of.

Cost Per Clicks

As Coronavirus started hitting Europe, advertisers began to pause their campaigns in unprecedented numbers. Even in industries that shouldn’t theoretically be as badly impacted, the uncertainty was enough to cause a global slowdown in marketing activity. The result was a severe drop in cost per click across major platforms such as Google and Facebook, because of the lack of competition suddenly. The below is fairly representative of the change we observed across the board, with CPC’s on this UK account dropping by 56% Jan to March, with a particularly steep decline when lockdown was announced:

graph showing costs per click from december 2019 to march 2020

Online consumer trends didn’t really change until lockdown was fully imposed, so those who stuck it out as long as possible benefitted from a sharp rise in clicks for the same daily spend, and an increase in conversion rate because of the lack of valid competition. For online retailers this was just the start, but there were benefits too for lead generation focused businesses, as they managed to build up large pools of contacts that could be utilised when things started to ease again. Of course this model didn’t suit everyone, and relied on having good cash flow during the quieter weeks, but the shift in daily cost per click gave some the opportunity to avoid starting from scratch later.

Cost per clicks have started to increase again as advertisers restart campaigns, however it hasn’t yet reached pre-Covid levels so there is still an opportunity there.

Search Habits

People being forced to work from home and only leave their house for a small list of reasons naturally caused a significant change in search habits. Here’s a few:

  • Higher numbers of desktop searches and conversions during lunch breaks and after working hours, as users stay on their laptops to complete personal tasks
  • Growth in search terms related to ‘remote’, ‘virtual’ and ‘online’. As work patterns changed, the need for services and products that could be provided virtually grew exponentially. On the B2C side, there was an increase in ‘next day delivery’ searches and how to’s, for example ‘how to cut hair’

graph showing remote team building searches from June 2019 to May 2020

graph showing how to cut hair searches from June 2019 to May 2020

  • Greater impact of weather on behaviour. You might assume that weather no longer plays a role in conversion rates when people aren’t allowed out. In reality, the compounding effect of poor weather on people being locked down caused several surges in online retail purchases and enquiries for things like interior design. Conversely, when the sun finally came out, there was a noticeable drop in search volumes and intent across the board as people were more desperate than usual to get out in their gardens for bbq’s and go for their daily walk

Advert and Landing Page Copy

For many online retailers, the issue quickly became supply rather than demand as lockdown kicked in. Changes to advert copy and landing pages to clarify the status of the business, as well as likely delays in deliveries or even accessing websites all became necessary. Price points suddenly less important, the key pieces of information users need are:

  • Are you operating as normal
  • How soon can I get my item
  • What safety precautions are you taking

A simple acknowledgement of the fact that there may be a delay in processing orders but that this is due to the company taking additional safety measures or not wanting to compromise the quality of the product is enough to reassure most users.

For B2B, extending free trials or flexibility over contracts makes a difference at a time where long term commitment is an issue. There is a need to consider what you are offering to existing clients that helps them through this period of uncertainty, as well as potential new clients. Messaging on brand adverts is therefore equally as important as non-brand.

Post-Covid Behaviour

If you’re waiting for this to all blow over before restarting exactly as you were previously, the chances are that things will never truly go back to “normal”. Businesses have been forced into setting up long term working from home infrastructure and are unlikely to scrap it now that they’ve worked through the pain points. People have had to utilise online services for the first time and will continue to do so now they know how straightforward it is. Your competitors, top converting locations and devices may all look very different going forward. 

Our advice is test, test, test, test. Assume that previous bids, advert copy and audience layering are now out of date until proved otherwise. Revisit negative keyword lists to check terms which were once irrelevant aren’t unnecessarily being filtered out now. It might feel counterintuitive to be more aggressive than before, but the quicker you can get high levels of data through, the more impact your strategic decisions will have on return on investment.

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