Adapting Your Retail PPC Strategy in Response to COVID-19

by Sean Healy Epiphany

The unprecedented global upheaval caused by COVID-19 has had many knock-on effects, including both obstacles and opportunities for eCommerce. While many retailers are having to reduce, or in some cases pause, ad spend there can be other strategies to make sure that you’re not missing out on opportunities to engage with customers during this period of lockdown. Here are some of Epiphany‘s key recommendations for adjusting your PPC strategy in a time of crisis.

Pause omnichannel marketing strategies

With all non-essential businesses being forcibly closed, retailers with a store presence have already thought about rolling back omnimarketing strategies, at least in part.

While you might usually feed data from in-store and offline sales into your PPC bid optimisation strategy, store closures now make this data irrelevant. Now’s the time to re-evaluate your optimisation metrics, and prioritise driving online-only transactions. This shift away from omnichannel bidding might result in less spend being generated on keywords, which were previously driving value through store sales; this in turn could allow you to increase online ROI.

Another important measure for omnichannel retailers to take is an audit of the content in your current adverts and extensions, to make sure that they’re not promoting services like click and collect, or encouraging in-store purchases. Similarly, Local Inventory Ads should be deactivated to avoid promoting local stores, and location extensions in PPC campaigns should be removed. You might also consider marking your stores “temporarily unavailable” on Google My Business, as this will be reflected in organic listings.

Show how your business has adapted

Use your marketing messages to demonstrate how your brand has evolved to meet changing customer needs, and the fluctuations of eCommerce in general.

That means sharing the ways your business is adapting to help customers. Whether your company has adopted a contact-free delivery policy, increased the window for returns or made changes on the production line to maintain social distancing and a high level of hygiene – these changes are positive news. You could share this information via ad copy and extensions, or on a dedicated landing page, so your customers know that you’re implementing new safety measures to keep your business running smoothly.

Keep calm and be flexible

It’s true that paid search budgets are usually fleshed out months in advance – but with the pandemic in full swing, many people are reducing their costs or pausing account activity altogether. It’s at times like these when comprehensive tracking comes into its own. Instead of pausing all activity across the board, it’s worth doing a deep dive into your media spend to discover how each individual element is driving sales. Those that aren’t pulling their weight or are hampered by supply chain issues are good candidates to pause.

Over the next few weeks, the successful retailers will be those that allow both the size of the current market and their online performance to dictate how much they budget for marketing. Where you can, use bid automation, as it’s very responsive to auction dynamics and website performance, but try and avoid bid strategies that attempt to spend a set budget defined by an advertiser.

Ultimately your spend should be flexible; maximise conversions or revenue at a target CPA or ROAS which is still profitable for your business.

Invest in video advertising

If you’ve found that there are fewer people likely to be In-Market as a result of COVID-19, then use this time as an opportunity to build brand awareness using upper-funnel marketing.

According to recent figures from Virgin Media, the UK lockdown has caused daytime internet usage to more than double. Isolation has brought with it a huge surge in traffic for YouTube, which now has more than 2 billion active users. This increase could result in lower CPCs and CPMs for advertisers; we’ve already seen two CEOs of large YouTube properties reporting that CPMs have dropped by up to 15 per cent. More users and potential lower CPMs and CPCs offer a significant opportunity to invest in video advertising.

Be proactive, plan ahead, and get the basics right

It’s inevitable that many businesses will be heavily impacted by COVID-19, with no choice but to reduce activity and advertising spend. If yours is one of those brands, try and approach this as an opportunity to proactively plan ahead. There are a few steps you can take to get your account into the best possible shape, so you can hit the ground running when the economy begins to recover:

  • Seasonal planning. Summer is well on the way and it looks possible that the lockdown could continue for the next couple of months. Your plans will already be tailored to seasonal trends but brainstorming how you can adapt these plans for an “indoor summer” would be a worthwhile exercise.
  • Audiences. When was the last time your audience strategy was thoroughly reviewed? If you haven’t already, why not explore the latest additions to the Google audience product suite, or try testing different ad text for different audiences?
  • Ad text / extensions strategy. Put together a comprehensive ad text / extension plan for the next three months, so that you’re ready to go when lockdown lifts. However, this plan should ideally leave room for you to respond reactively to changing customer needs – this flexibility will help your brand to survive the uncertain quarter ahead.