3 Ways To Keep Your AdWords Account Afloat During A Natural Disaster

March 22, 2018

Natural disasters claim lives and lay waste to property each year. Second to these harsh realities is the dire if not irreversible impact on small businesses. Potential customers in affected areas are concerned with survival, not making a purchase. Brick and mortar locations are destroyed. And advertising efforts fall by the wayside.

No matter how well a small business is doing before a disaster, putting the kibosh on PPC and paid social until conditions improve can have a profound effect on business once the dust settles. AdWords and Facebook are finicky; like a street-parked car after a bitter cold weekend, they can take forever to warm up after lying dormant for even a few days. 

Hurricane Matthew satellite image

Here at WordStream, we’ve got a handful of clients in the travel industry whose safety and bottom line were impacted by Hurricane Matthew. One is based in Florida. While PPC falls lower on the hierarchy of needs than preserving life and securing shelter, it was certainly on their mind: the account manager was instructed to pause the AdWords campaigns since there wouldn’t be anyone in the (evacuated) office to take calls. Another client, one that focuses on bringing tourists to the storm-ravaged region but isn’t located there, took a similar approach. Both accounts have since been reinstated, but the number of leads lost while the accounts were paused might be felt well into the holiday season.

On a more personal level, I work remotely from South Carolina. My flight back home from Boston was delayed by Matthew and I still don’t have power. While damage in Columbia (where I live) was mostly limited to downed trees and a rescheduled football game, the state’s gorgeous coastal towns were ravaged.

Hurricane Matthew Charleston

According to USA Today, Hurricane Matthew’s estimated economic impact will be somewhere in the vicinity of $6 billion. That figure, while astounding, barely scratches the surface: it only includes damage to insured property. In reality, the tempest, flooding, and resulting power outages shuttered businesses for the better part of a week, leading to unmitigated losses like the ones faced by our aforementioned clients.

Truth be told, nobody wants to think about value propositions and bid adjustments when there’s real shit to worry about. But shutting an account down and forgetting about it until the skies clear isn’t your only option. With that in mind, here are 3 things you can do to keep your PPC and paid social accounts running the next time Mother Nature kicks you in the teeth.

1. Focus On Top of Funnel & Branding, Not Conversions

If your business relies on phone calls and you know you’re going to be evacuated, your first advertising-related instinct is to pause your active campaigns. After all, if there’s nobody in the office to man the phones, what’s the use in driving calls through paid ads?

While bottom of the funnel keywords (those which indicate a prospect is in “buy now” mode) might not prove particularly valuable at a time when you’re not going to be able to interact with your prospects, top of funnel keywords represent an opportunity to grow your list of prospects.

marketing funnel

If for tertiary, research-based keywords, you’re driving prospects to a landing page with a gated offer (meaning that in order to view your offer the visitor must share, say, an email address), such as an informational whitepaper instead of attempting to get them on a call for a demo or to schedule service, you don’t need to be physically present.

This is even more effective when you pair your PPC strategy with a drip funnel. Let marketing automation work for you while you’re under duress, and return to a slew of nurtured leads instead of having to start from scratch.

The same strategy can be used for Branded terms, provided they aren’t exclusively a bottom of funnel avenue for your business. Keep a set of ads that you can rotate in when direct leads become scarce that will drive branded traffic to an offering rather than a phone call. Better yet, keep a set of branded ads paused in your account that don’t include a call to action at all. This will allow you to occupy space at the top of the SERP without necessarily incurring any clicks. While this won’t result in leads, it will keep your brand at the forefront of the searcher’s mind (for free!).

If you tend to exclusively drive bottom of funnel traffic through branded terms, (which might be likely if you’re in a small niche or you’re a relative newcomer) pause your branded search campaigns and focus branded efforts on Display…

2. Build Up Brand Recognition With Display

The Display Network isn’t known for driving direct conversions (though in some industries it does). It is, above all else, a brand-building channel: a system of digital billboards you can target towards your desired coterie. Many of the users who see your ads won’t click them, and that’s totally okay: as I mentioned above when discussing CTA-less branded search ads, the object is to create and spread brand awareness.

PPC for branding

That being said, sometimes searchers will click on your Display ads. When this happens, be sure traffic is being sent to a page with a top of funnel offer (such as a gated download, as mentioned above) so you don’t run the risk of inciting phone calls or consultations that cannot be fulfilled.

The Display Network gives advertisers a variety of means by which to bolster brand recognition and bring new prospects into the fold. These include:

  • Keyword Targeting - Identifying websites for ad placement based on a set of chosen keywords that relate to your business and/or the related interests of your desired demographic.
  • Managed Placements - Specific websites frequented by your prospects that allow the placement of Display ads.
  • Interests/Topics/Affinity - Audiences based on interests as indicated in Ad Preferences and browsing history.
  • GSP Ads - Ads sent to Gmail inboxes based on either a) an existing email list or b) keywords present.

3. Create New Remarketing Audiences

Oftentimes you’d use remarketing to bring a user back to your website to ensure a conversion. Cookied site visitors are shown an enticing ad based on the pages they visited and/or actions they took, and they plummet down the funnel accordingly.

Why, then, are we focusing on remarketing at a time when your business may well be shuttered for days or weeks? Remarketing lists must have at least 100 active users within the last 30 days to be used on the Display Network, and a minimum of 1,000 to be used for RLSA. The more specific the parameters of a list are, the longer this process can take. By building out remarketing lists before closing up shop or evacuating, you allow them time to grow.

If you aren’t already using remarketing…

Skip the headache of learning how to build out granular audiences for now and simply import the Core Remarketing Lists Engagement Pack in Google Analytics. This will give you everything you need to get started.

Google Analytics Engagement Pack Core Remarketing Lists

If you’re a remarketing veteran...

You can begin to further segment audiences and create new, hyper-specific remarketing lists.

For these highly-qualified, granular groups, it can take weeks to build an audience large enough to use. That being said, when paired with appropriate ad creative, the lists you make now will likely convert at a much lower CPA than your average “site visitors.”

Carrying this same logic onto Facebook, these small, highly qualified remarketing audiences make for exceptional Lookalike audiences.


Obviously nobody should hole up at their desk with a natural disaster approaching so that they can make bid adjustments and rotate in fresh ad copy. But preparing your PPC account to weather the storm (...) by pivoting your SEM budget away from lead acquisition and towards top of funnel terms and branding means can avoid shutting down your marketing efforts entirely.

Allen Finn

Allen Finn is the co-founder of Toasted Collective, a cannabis-focused digital agency. Many moons ago, he worked at WordStream, where he reigned as fantasy football champion for some time.

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