Prominent events often have an influence on search traffic, but the effects are usually limited in scope to specific regions and industries. This is not the case with the current COVID-19 pandemic. Not since the 2007-2008 financial crisis have we seen an event that impacted all industries right across the globe, but the number of internet users today is significantly greater than a decade ago. Meaning that any shift in search traffic today affects a greater number of businesses.
Both our personal lives and businesses have been affected dramatically over the last few weeks, with changes coming so fast it is difficult to predict what to expect from one day to the next, let alone weeks in advance. What has become desperately obvious is that the way we shop, seek out services, and use the internet has changed dramatically since the beginning of March 2020, with the sharpest changes only now beginning to take effect. For businesses, this has not only translated in a drop in traffic to websites, online stores, and physical stores, but also a decrease in reach through online marketing activities. However, as we will repeat throughout this post, this shouldn’t result in you decreasing your online marketing activities, but rather shifting focus on where you market.
In order to do this, you need to understand how the COVID-19 outbreak has affected traditional search traffic and how you can respond to this.
A Significant Drop in Mobile Search Traffic
The number of internet searches started on a mobile device overtook that of desktop searches in 2015 and continues to dominate; until mid-March 2020. To be fair, all search traffic has shown a decline since the beginning of March 2020, but search traffic from mobile devices and tablets has had a sharper drop than that of desktops. Early in the month, many businesses started encouraging employees to work from home, and as the month progressed, various containment or lockdown measures came into effect, forcing more people to stay and work from home.
A lack of privacy, or even workplace rules, mean many people use their mobile phones at work – or while commuting to work – for personal browsing. Working from home reduces the need for this, and obviously nobody is commuting at the moment, so it should be expected that mobile search traffic would drop. But with this drop also comes a need for businesses to adjust their PPC strategy: what has worked for you throughout 2019 – and even in January 2020 – will not work right now. Start by looking at your traffic analytics to see exactly what impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on your website, and then consider the following:
Make Changes to Your Device Bid Adjustments
Any historical data you have used in the past for setting device bid adjustments is likely less useful under current circumstances, with restrictions on movement and the types of services that can still be offered changing weekly and having further impacts on search traffic. So, any bid adjustments you have set, and in particular any device bid adjustments, might need to be modified to favour desktop searches over mobile and/or tablet searches.
And for now, these adjustments should be reassessed on a weekly basis; at some point behaviour will shift again, but it is also likely to be a gradual shift, and differ from one business to the next.
Use Smart Bidding on Specific Campaigns
If you’ve never run any fully-automated, conversion-specific campaigns before, now could be a good opportunity to start doing so, since it utilises machine learning to optimise bidding on each campaign to maximise conversions or conversion value. With the current volatility in search traffic, smart bidding replaces the need for you to consider ever-changing signals to quickly adjust bidding to achieve the desired goals of each campaign you have running. Smart Bidding can be a little complicated to set up, but our team of PPC specialists are available to assist wherever they can, from consulting on strategies, through to implementing them to ensure they deliver you the desired results.
Drop Off in Google Search Traffic
As noted earlier, while mobile and tablet search traffic has shown a significant drop in the last few weeks, search traffic from desktops is also down, though not as significantly. But with so many people being encouraged to work from home or being forced to spend more time at home due to government regulated lockdowns, this does not mean that internet usage is also down. Networks across the globe are reporting increases in web traffic of between 20 and 40 percent in a single week, but a lot of this is the result of specific activities, with increases in gaming, online video and streaming services, online meetings using Zoom or Microsoft Teams, and increased usage of various social media platforms.
This does not mean you should halt any online marketing activities, or even scale them down. Instead you should be adjusting your marketing activities only to reach your customers where they are now spending their time online.
Ramp Up or Start Using YouTube Advertising
While Netflix traffic increased by more than 50 percent in some regions since the start of March 2020, YouTube traffic has also increased sharply over the same period, seeing YouTube join other streaming and online video services in adjusting the quality of video to alleviate internet congestion. YouTube has become a very important source of news and information during the COVID-19 pandemic, along with providing access to gaming streams and other entertainment, making it the perfect platform for reaching your audience right now. Whether you’re only starting with YouTube advertising, or increasing your use of YouTube advertising during this time, focus on remarketing rather than reaching new customers only. Remarketing helps you reach your existing customers who have bought from you or used your services previously, along with reaching customers who have visited your website in the past without converting. It is a way to keep your brand top-of-mind, and even get them to return to your site, especially if you are still able to offer most of your products and services throughout the COVID-19 crisis.
Google Display Network Advertising
Another marketing channel you might not have considered in the past, or not used as extensively as search engine marketing, is the Google Display Network. Google’s Display Network is made up of more than 2-million websites and mobile apps, including Google’s own websites, along with a network of different websites across a variety of industries and interests.
You can either opt to manually manage the placements by selecting domains where your ads should appear, or you can let Google manage the placements after you specify keywords and topics most relevant to your ads and your audience. Both require a certain amount of vigilance, especially if you’re only starting out now with the Display Network, to ensure you tweak and optimise for the best results.
We previously wrote about understanding the cycles of business, with the caveat that what we are currently experience is the new norm. For now, at least. Things will change again, but it is uncertain when, nor if they will return to what they were, or if some patterns in buying and customer behaviour are forever changed. What is critical at this time is to keep a keen eye on your website traffic – monitor volumes, conversions, and origin of the traffic, per device type – so that you can rapidly make adjustments to where and how your market to your online audience. It is definitely not the time to stop online marketing activities, but to rather adapt them to a shift in audience behaviour. Your customers haven’t stopped using the internet, they’ve simply started using it differently to how they were earlier this year, and the year before. And we are definitely available to assist any business negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in any way we can.