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Reactivating Search Marketing Post COVID-19 Lockdown

Darko July 2, 2020


Since offering to help charities and businesses adversely affected by COVID-19, one of the questions I have been asked the most is “How do we start our search acquisition campaigns again?”.

This question is especially poignant for businesses that, for various reasons, had to shut completely for a while. People are spending more time and resources online. In fact, mobile data usage increased by over 50% in March alone (Source: Comscore TotalHome), and if while consumers develop these new habits you were not open to the world, you risk being considered less moving forward as well.

As stocks slowly become more manageable and businesses are beginning to reopen, organisations are shifting to a world where many of their customers increasingly shift from in-store to online. Search is naturally one of, if not the most prominent channel where this will be felt, but the way in which this channel is reactivated will depend heavily on both industry and each organisation’s unique expected user behaviour.

One-Size-Fits-All Doesn’t Exist – and Here’s Why

First things first – this might sound obvious to some, but switching all of your campaigns back on at once is unlikely to be a good idea. Industries where a long sales process and large investments are involved (financial services, vehicles, property etc.) will struggle to get the same sort of conversion rates as people are more frugal and likely to save rather than spend. Therefore, even if you switch everything on and achieve the same cost per lead as pre-lockdown, overall business results may still suffer.

There are some exceptions to this – tourism and travel are likely to pick up immediately, for example, as soon as people are allowed to safely use their services. I have no doubt that hotels, holiday resorts and leisure activities that people have been stopped from using for months, will find themselves at the end of a surge of bookings without needing discounts or other incentives.

If you are in an industry where demand took a sharp hit, it’s a good idea to use organic / unpaid conversion rates as an indicator for when things may pick up enough for paid campaigns to be profitable again. If you are less able or unable to do this, then now’s a great time to visit what you’re measuring and why. If your own first-hand data and analytics collection doesn’t allow you to get this business insight, then this downtime is the perfect opportunity to audit and fix that problem (if this is you, feel free to send us a message).

In short, the change in desire (note: not sales!) for your goods or services going into lockdown is likely to play the single largest role in determining how aggressively new leads or sales will come in, once your marketing budget is reactivated.

Double Check Your Moat…and Others Too

The first thing you want to set live, almost universally without question, is your brand activity. I won’t delve into the argument about whether organisations should be bidding on their own brand terms here, except to say I am firmly (with comfortable evidence) on the side of keeping these on, even during periods of low budget. If you’d like to know more about this or have a question, feel free to reach out to me.

Nearly as important is to take a look at your nearest rivals, products and services that your audience may also consider. Many organisations that have suspended all marketing, brand included, and therefore this will be a rare opportunity to get some competitor branded traffic from competitors at a much lower cost per click.

In most cases, you won’t know the date when this competition will return, so ensure you set your maximum bids very low and keep these campaigns budgeted separately. While it’s a sensible idea to take advantage of the gap, the moment their brand returns your costs will suddenly increase.

Prospecting: Time to Reap the Keyword Harvest

Most accounts that are using best practice strategy will have a mechanism for segmenting keywords between Exact Match and other match types (I am being deliberately vague here as the precise form this takes could vary from account to account, but Broad Match Modifier vs Exact is usually appropriate for most). The amount of time and dedication spent “farming” new profitable keywords from Non-Exact campaigns prior to lockdown will hopefully pay off well now.

For prospecting campaigns, start by introducing the lowest cost-per-action Exact searches and slowly broaden from there. However, this applies to all stages of your marketing funnel; if your desired visitor actions are different during a visitor’s research phase, consider turning this on too. Otherwise, while you’ll get bottom-of-funnel sales you will have a very limited idea of how the rest of your funnel is performing and be more reliant on guesswork later.

If you don’t currently structure your campaigns in such a way that this style of “farming” profitable terms is possible, I’d strongly recommend it. If you’re unsure as to whether your current setup effectively enables this, feel free to reach out and we’d be happy to take a look. Remember, if you are:

  • a non-profit organisation,
  • small business,
  • an organisation who left their agency contract (or were forced to) during the pandemic / lockdown or
  • a business heavily impacted by COVID-19,

we are currently assisting a number of organisations pro-bono.

Be well and stay safe!

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