Developing a Paid Search Marketing Strategy After a Crisis

At the time of writing this article, we are still locked down during a global pandemic with some uncertainty about what the future of paid media looks like. For me, this looks like a ping pong ball furiously bouncing between Zoom calls, Google Docs and Slack. And if you are anything like me, you are now blind to the number of articles, webinars and emails that detail “How to market during a pandemic”. But what about when life starts to return to normal? Should we just pick back up with our previous paid search marketing strategy? 

Heck no! 

Every business, vertical and market is different so it is almost impossible to follow a blanket paid strategy, but what we can do is take what we know from previous crises, create a plan and be ready to pivot. 

What Should You Expect After a Crisis?

For industries that have been highly affected due to the global crisis, like travel and airlines, expect to be operating in a new era of marketing. As companies rush back into the market, we will see costs (CPCs and CPMs) increase considerably. With this in mind, yearly goals will be difficult to meet compared to the previous year’s benchmarks. At this point, new baselines are being set.

For industries that have seen a minimal effect, like select B2B or governmental organizations, you may see a slight increase in costs with business returning to normal. What this means is that KPIs should be retained and less drastic adjustments need to be made. 

Either way, what we do know is that we are all changed completely by this experience and this will affect our future search behavior. After quarantine, we expect to see trends similar to what we saw during the 2008 recession; there will be more people searching and more competitors, but due to economic conditions people will be less likely to buy. Businesses will need to think outside the box when connecting with audiences and I am not talking about a brand new channel mix. We need to reexamine our old buddy, paid search.

Why is Paid Search Marketing Important After a Crisis?

The great thing about paid search is that it is an intent-based form of advertising, that is, it is a form of pull advertising. Paid search encourages consumers that are already interested in products you offer or users that may have some brand loyalty to purchase your product. In times when yearly marketing budgets may be adjusted, paid search is a must to move already qualified users closer to conversion.

Right now is the perfect time to focus on making your paid search the best it can be, get those quality scores up, and rake in the conversions. It is as simple as focusing on the right message, the right place, and the right time. 

Finding the Right Message

Much of the messaging that we see right now features things like “we will get through this” and “stay home.” As things return to a relative normal and we fade out of more reactive messaging, we will need to rethink our ad copy. Before diving in, nail down the tone and voice of your messaging. This should be a reflection of your brand values and should take into consideration the current state, ie. don’t hard sell people, be empathetic and understanding. 

Another consideration to make during this time is how shoppers’ behavior will be forever changed, so taking learnings from the crisis and applying them after. An example, you may make more products available for online purchase using Google Shopping.   

What we do know, is this is the perfect time to do a full audit of text ads and extensions. Keep in mind that if you are running dynamic campaigns, you will need to be sure that your website has updated copy as well. Take advantage of machine learning technology by creating ad copy at scale with responsive search ads. By entering up to 15 headlines and 4 descriptions, Google will test and dynamically adjust to show the most relevant message to each user. 

As it is now, it will remain essential to remain agile and ready to pivot, so closely monitor your search term reports and use Google Trends to help inform search campaign strategy changes. 

Determining Right Place

During the last couple of months, we have seen less focus on paid search and more companies focusing on organic content, leading to changes in the SERP landscape for all businesses. Reexamine your organic search terms to see if you are now ranking in the first position for any terms you are paying for or alternatively, if you need to bid on keywords that you lost rank on. 

As search behavior changes, we can take these insights and apply them to our paid search campaigns coming out of the crisis. For example, if you are seeing the percentage of your users on desktop increasing, use this information for making device bid adjustments. Or if you are a destination, you may see significantly fewer travelers flying, so this would indicate an opportunity to adjust location bid adjustments to be aimed at drive markets.  

One thing to note is it may take users longer to convert during these times, so we recommend switching from last-click attribution to position-based to better understand how users are interacting with your ads. 

Calculating the Right Time

In many cases, marketing budgets may be changed as we come out of a crisis, so it is important to use our budgets efficiently and effectively. Be sure to monitor search term changes and similarly adjust campaign budgets accordingly. We recommend making a priority list of your campaigns, so rather than turning on all of your campaigns at once, you can roll out campaigns according to this list in order to make the best use of your budget and show your ads at the right time. 

Another great tool for reaching your user at the right time during and after crises is audience lists. Having a dynamic remarketing list will allow you to tailor your messages to users that are already familiar with your brand as well as allow you to make bid adjustments for this audience. In addition, by uploading your customer match list, you can build an audience from customer data and show your ads to a highly engaged audience.

Lastly, you want to be sure that you are using smart bidding techniques in your search campaigns. With quickly changing search behavior, this will allow your account to be optimized using machine learning in real-time so you can get back to what you are best at, looking highly engaged in Zoom calls even though you can see your cat tearing up curtains out of the corner of your eye.