COVID-19 has evolved into a global event impacting public health as well as the economy. These are uncertain times, and we don’t have all the answers, but what we do know now is that small businesses have felt sudden changes in their campaign performance as a result of this worldwide pandemic.
We’ve seen that global events often impact PPC performance, and COVID-19 is no exception. As businesses change their operations, people stay in their homes more, and the world reacts to a pandemic unfolding in real time—they turn to online search and news for answers to their questions and solutions to their new needs. For some advertisers, these new searchers are driving new audiences to find their way to advertisers’ sites, and some are becoming new customers. For others, the results aren’t as great, and the strategies will need to shift.
At WordStream, we’re looking across tens of thousands of advertisers to understand the impact of COVID-19 on PPC advertising. In this article, we’ll examine several industries that have noticed serious changes to their Google Ads accounts over recent days and weeks as COVID-19 has spread and interrupted normal life and business.
In the United States, Google’s searches have shifted, but largely remained constant. But in the past week, we’ve noticed Google search ad impressions begin to decrease modestly—7% below average. That’s not uncommon, particularly during holiday weeks, but it was certainly not expected by many advertisers.
What is uncommon is how searchers are behaving. As they flock to the SERP, we’re seeing that searchers might be looking for something entirely different and so the clicks aren’t worth your PPC ad spend. Others are more hesitant to convert today. Since COVID-19 became an epidemic in the United States three weeks ago, we’ve seen conversion rates drop by an average of 21%.
Of course, every industry sees different performance with Google Ads. So it’s imperative that we look at things a little more closely.
Here are seven industries seeing an increased volume, seven with mixed performance, and seven industries hit the hardest.
Some businesses are experiencing increases across metrics during the time of this pandemic.
In times of crisis, we often see the best in people, and that’s even true on the Google SERP. As COVID-19 has spread, non-profits and charities have seen:
Google Ads does support a number of Google grant programs to allow non-profits advertise for free, but keeping them in compliance is often difficult. Luckily, it’s clear that they’re finding searchers more easily than ever in this crisis.
Unsurprisingly, many of us are turning to search for information on how to protect ourselves and our communities. As users turn to the stores and the SERP to purchase everything from over-the-counter painkillers to vital medication, many advertisers are seeing increased ease in selling their products online, with ad clicks and conversion rates both significantly higher than usual.
Google’s providing additional advice and resources to help small businesses manage through these uncertain times, particularly with setting up employees to work remotely and crafting continuity plans. It looks like many advertisers in the space are set up to help, too. Overall, business management searches grew by 23% since February 23.
The markets may be performing poorly, but it looks like now more than ever searchers are looking for experienced help. In an industry that normally has some of the most expensive keywords and a high cost per click, we’re seeing CPCs fall and relieve some pressure from a normally competitive industry. Many are also noticing increased CTRs and CVRs, as well.
Many fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) have been in high demand the past few weeks. People are searching for products like soap and hand sanitizer, as well as seeking more self-care in these hard times. We’re noticing a 41% increase in searches for beauty and personal care. Many of these verticals are seeing business boom on the SERP with lower CPCs and much higher CVRs.
|Change in search CPC
|Change in search CVR
|Beauty & Personal Care
As many of us practice social distancing, we’re consuming more entertainment at home. While most entertainment advertisers are picking up the increased demand and driving a few extra conversions, on-demand media has skyrocketed and doubled its conversions in the past few weeks.
Social distancing is a lonely experience, and it’s difficult to maintain our connections for what may be weeks or months apart. Small gestures can mean even more throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and advertisers who are wise enough to advertise on Google are seeing some great results. Over the past three weeks, since the coronavirus escalated in the US:
We’re closely watching some industries with potential to see big changes or shifts in coming weeks.
Borrowing rates remain low, and the housing market is currently holding. On the SERP, search traffic remains relatively stable, as well—with little change to search volume, CPC, or conversion rates. But some important shifts could have some important industry consequences down the road.
March is often a seasonal lull for Home Improvement projects naturally, so we shouldn’t be surprised to see that Home Improvement searches have been slowly declining for the past few weeks. The next few weeks will be a litmus test for the industry.
On one hand, Americans spending more time stuck in their homes could inspire new home projects and an excuse to get off the couch. On the other hand, economic uncertainty may discourage discretionary spending.
To date, average conversion rates remain steady but vary wildly.
Much like home improvement, things are unexpectedly consistent on these big-ticket items. Search volume, CPCs, and conversion rates have all stayed within +/-2% over the past weeks.
Smaller ticket items like home appliances and bedding and linens have seen search upticks and light conversion boosts (+7% and +12%, respectively), which may be a good sign for consumer confidence.
The automotive industry is showing some stress on the SERP—with a noticeable 30% drop in the industry average conversion rate over the past few weeks.
A 30% drop is never good, but it’s hard to attribute all that to COVID-19. Mid-March isn’t exactly car-buying season to begin with, but we’re seeing searchers shift their preferences within the automotive space.
|Average Change in Search Conversion Rate since COVID-19
|Vehicle Parts & Accessories
|Vehicle Repair & Maintenance
|Vehicle Window Tinting
Some would predict ecommerce to soar with traditional retail having reducing hours and operations. But while some families are turning to ecommerce to replace brick-and-mortar purchases, others are unsure of their future income. This instability is impacting user’s conversion rates on from search ads—with retail conversion rates having fallen 14%.
The good news? Large retailers, including Amazon, are pulling back their budgets on Google Ads and consequently, a 9% decrease in CPC on Google have evened out most retailer’s ROAS.
Data via Andy Taylor of Tinuiti
Ironically, wholesalers and liquidators seem to be noticing an opposite trend, with a 14% increase in CPCs but a 9% increase in conversion rates.
Schools and colleges around the country are closed for several weeks, prompting a forced rise in elearning and training. Although the classroom has changed, there’s yet to be short-term changes to the performance of higher education advertisers. With the college application rush over and the June SAT yet to be cancelled, prospective students haven’t changed their behavior on the SERP.
There’s modest increase in paid search traffic for new careers and vocational training (+10% and +8%, respectively) in the past weeks, but that’s largely aspirational for the moment, as conversion numbers haven’t shifted noticeably.
The legal industry is seeing some minor shifts on the SERP, with modest (under 5%) to search volumes and conversion rates. Luckily, this is offset by a similar decline in the cost per click—keeping search conversions and CPAs mostly steady.
However, we’re seeing more of these conversions arrive in the form of phone calls instead of website submissions. And, unfortunately, over 30% of these calls are unanswered. If COVID-19 is impacting your firm’s operations or hours, be sure to:
The biggest concern during COVID-19 is undoubtedly public health. Unfortunately, this has put some industries at risk, and those working in these industries are particularly impacted—on and off the SERP.
2021 update: if your account was paused during the peak of the pandemic and you’re looking to reactivate, follow these steps to audit your account post-COVID.
With businesses, governments, and consumers avoiding unnecessary travel at all costs, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that fewer people are looking to book travel today. As a result, many travel advertisers are struggling to convert new searchers on their site.
To compound the issue for these advertisers, searches for flight cancellations, delays, and restrictions are at an all-time high, making their ads more exposed to curious searchers.
To mitigate some of this disruption, be sure to:
With many communities closing dine-in restaurants and bars, these small businesses will be hit hard during our time in social isolation. While many are learning to shift to delivery and take-out services, they’re already hard-pressed finding success on the SERP this past week.
|Change in search ad impressions
|Change in search CVR
|Bars & Nightclubs
Public safety and strict limits on group size have performers and venues cancelling shows across the globe. As a result, search volume for live entertainment has reduced by 24% and conversion rates have fallen 30%.
I know too well that many large conferences have either cancelled, postponed their events until the fall, or are attempting to host a virtual event in place. Unfortunately, many businesses rely on event marketing to fill their marketing funnel so these event cancellations will have ripple effects to other businesses, as well. Since the COVID-19 outbreak at the end of February, event marketers have noticed a 33% reduction in conversions as more events continue to cancel.
Major sports leagues and rec leagues alike are cancelled for the foreseeable future. As many communities increase their social distancing efforts, many more gyms are due to close and those that are open will see fewer new members walk through the door. All said, many verticals tied to sports and fitness are seeing strong declines to their conversion rate.
A notable exception is that sports programs (online and offline) and sports camps have gained significant uplift in the past few weeks as many begin to plan to get out of the house.
A sudden economic downturn and worksites being closed puts an unexpected damper in the building and construction industry. As future projects begin to stall or get delayed, prospective clients are becoming less likely to convert, as well. Recent timing is poor, as seasonal advertising costs in the industry are already beginning to rise.
As manufacturing operations are slowed, we’re seeing PPC campaigns for manufacturing and industrial goods are also impacted. Costs per click have increased 5% and conversion rates in the industry have decreased modestly, but advertisers are hurting from a 13% decrease in search traffic.
We’re all in for change over the next few months—both online and offline. Stay safe, healthy, and practice social distancing. While you’re stuck inside, keep an eye on your PPC accounts and the WordStream blog. As we see new trends emerge and strategies to keep your account’s performance healthy, we’ll be posting regularly.
This report is based on a sample of 15,759 US-based WordStream client accounts in all verticals who were advertising on Google’s Search throughout 2020 thus far. Each industry includes at minimum 30 unique active clients. For indexing purposes, we’ve evaluated weekly account performance since February 24th against the prior six-week average.
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