10 Strategies That Can Be Employed to Optimize Paid Search During Covid-19

Due to the Covid-19 virus that is extensively disrupting life as we know it, we wanted to keep you up to date on some initial strategies to be aware of to help maximize your paid search effectiveness. Now is a perfect time to employ some smart optimizations and remain appropriate and relevant in this changing marketplace.

Below are 10 trends and corresponding effective paid search optimizations that should be immediately employed to help maximize the use of this effective channel during these trying times. 

1. Adjust device bidding to heavy up on desktop and tablet and reduce mobile
Device behaviors have shifted during this time. We are seeing evidence of increased desktop and tablet usage and conversely a slight downturn in mobile device searches. We would recommend adjusting bidding by devices to capture the increase in desktop usage especially, since that device tends to have a very high conversion rate, especially for e-commerce retailers.

2. Update dayparting (especially if aligned with store hours which may have changed)
If your previous dayparting was aligned to brick and mortar store hours, then this should be changed, especially if your business has shuttered its physical location during this time period.

We are also seeing a shift in searches throughout the day, with a skew towards after business hours searching. The best course of action here is to analyze your Google Analytics (or whatever analytics system you have in place) and look at the traffic patterns by hour of day. This should yield some insights to allow you to adjust your paid search buy. But we are seeing a tick up in activity in early to later evening activity as a whole.

3. Change text ads (if there are delays in shipping/fulfillment/appointments)
This is a no brainer, but if your business has experienced a disruption in your delivery, fulfillment or supply chain, it is important to set those expectations now with clear text ads explaining this change. This sets a searcher’s expectation for when they may receive their order and will reduce any potential negative consumer reviews a business may get by not setting these order delay expectations amongst their searchers/buyers. While all of this may manifest in lower CTR % response, you will see better conversion rates and minimize any potential negative reviews (which can also impact your SEO).

Touting that you are an essential business can also help drive click volume during this time as well.

4. Tweak your shopping feeds to accurately reflect inventory related issues if using Google PLAs/Shopping Ads
Building on the last point, if you have any supply chain or inventory disruptions, it is important to continually tweak any Merchant Center feeds you have for your Google Shopping campaigns. This will ensure your products continue to sell but are aligned with your actual inventory.

5. Increase the use of negative keywords that could have been virus triggered
As one can imagine, search behaviors have changed quite a bit since this pandemic took hold. People are anxious and their searching behavior could be impacted by this anxiety.

As such, you will want to review your Search Query Reports (SQRs) multiple times a week to ensure that you are serving ads for only the most qualified search results. Scanning these reports for any potentially negative (and positive) terms that can be added to your buy will help keep your paid search program as clean as possible. This will help maintain strong account health, such as CTR % and Quality Scores.

6. Onboard custom audiences and remarketing to boost conversion rates
Utilizing custom, segmented audiences that you have had interaction with, including previous customers and site visitors can help maximize conversion rates and yield better return for every ad dollar being spent. These audiences can be leveraged across search, display, Gmail, shopping and YouTube campaigns.

Implement Customer Match as another great tactic that will segment the searchers coming to your site with customized messaging.

You can also create Look-a-Like audiences based off these segments to help boost your overall conversion rates as well.

7. Dial up competitive conquesting strategies
Many competitors may be dropping out of paid search auctions, leaving them ripe for conquesting. Beyond doing manual searches to see which competitors are still employing paid search ads, you can also look at the Search Marketplace Insights in Google Ads to see which competitors (and their resulting impression shares) are in place now and compare that to previous time frames. This will give you an indication of the competitors that were in market previously and which ones may have dropped out altogether. Then, employ a conquesting campaign inclusive of messaging touting how you, unlike the competition, are still operationally effective and open during this time frame, as this will yield a boost in your conversions. And while you may have employed conquesting efforts in the past, you may find lower CPC rates now that there is less competitive bid competition during this time frame.

8.  Decrease the use of Automated Bidding in favor of Manual Bidding Controls
There is quite a lot of volatility within the search marketplace currently, which is throwing the bid auction algorithms a bit out of whack. CPCs for non-branded terms in particular are seeing sharp increases across many industries as those broader marketplaces have really seen a lot of instability.

Automation is primarily based on historical trends and predictive modeling to assume when and where the next conversion will occur. This is what is powering Google’s Machine Learning. But during this time chaotic frame, where we are seeing advertisers reduce their spends, exit the auction place altogether or conversely the smart advertisers that are boosting their advertising spending during this time, the Machine Learning is being thrown into array.

So, if you are utilizing automated bidding controls from the engines, such as Maximize Conversions, Maximize Target Impression Share, Target ROAS, etc. you may want to immediately shift towards a Manual eCPC model. While this is a bit more labor intensive to manage, this move puts the controls back into the search marketer’s hands and out of Google’s machine learning. By doing this, you can help maximize efficiencies and properly cap CPCs and spending as a whole.

We have even seen some of our programs yield the same visibility and conversion volume for one tenth the bid cost after doing this. This doesn’t mean this is a long-term strategy however, as once the marketplace settles a bit, you can always revert back to automated machine learning based bidding strategies.

9. Increase your SEM budgets now if you can to maximize market share as competitors have exited the marketplace
Based on the previous points, if you manage your buy smartly by employing the above-mentioned tactics, you can really expand your marketplace presence at a fraction of the cost against the competitive set RIGHT NOW.

With many competitors pulling out of search altogether, you have the unique ability to capture much more of the search marketplace at a fraction of the cost now more than ever. If you launch into a new SEM program now or expand your existing presence, you will have a leg up on your competition when they enter or re-enter the fray, as their previous historical metrics (a key component of Quality Score calculations) will be reset. By entering the fray now, or maximizing your existing SEM buy immediately, you have the distinct advantage of building and maintaining high Quality Scores for when that time does come. This will force the competition to pay higher rates than you will when that time comes. And for now, you can take advantage of the great CPC rates with less competition to go head to head against.

10. Improve visibility via the Google Display Network to keep your company top of mind
Maximizing your branded presence through search campaigns has always been a best practice. But with screen time increasing due to more social distancing and remote working situations, supplementing this branded exposure with the use of a companion Google Display Network buy will help fuel additional branded searches and maximize your branded awareness across multiple devices.

We will continue to keep you abreast of any other developing trends that emerge during these trying times. But all in all, a very large opportunity exists for those marketers that expand their search marketing presence now and maximize the efficiency and response of those programs leveraging the findings we mentioned above.

To learn more about implementation of these recommendations, please contact us at (203) 857-0770. You can also email us at info@mediahorizons.com

Continue to stay safe everyone!

Thank you!

Cyrus Karimi
VP, Search and Affiliate Marketing
Media Horizons

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