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8 Experts on When & How to Ramp Up Your Ad Spend During COVID-19

July 2, 2020

At the beginning of May, our data showed that PPC accounts were rebounding after the initial impact of COVID-19.

COVID-19 rebound: conversions graph

That’s good news for the online advertising industry—and the economy—but it’s hard to tell what that means for your account. The question of when to start advertising online again seems simple, but there are so many things to consider. Should you ramp your spend back up now or is there a threshold to wait for? Should you reactivate any paused accounts or is waiting until more businesses are reopening better? How do you know when it’s time to start advertising on all channels again?

To help answer these questions, we asked eight experts, both here at WordStream and in the larger PPC community, when they would suggest reactivating Google, Facebook, and Microsoft Advertising. Here’s their expert advice on when to start advertising online again, including what signals to look for in the industry, what to look for in your account, and how to start building back up channel by channel successfully.

When should I start advertising online again?

Senior Account Manager Holly Niemiec has a clear answer to this question: “Now! Or as soon as possible, at least,” she explained. “There are many reasons why you should never go completely dark, but the biggest is that platforms like Google and Facebook work best when they have strong historical data to optimize from.”

Of course, as Lead Acquisition Manager Kristina Simonson points out, this is a question of available funds: “In many cases, pulling back on ad spend is a necessity, based on the cash flow and ability that your business has to invest in your normal levels of advertising during this time.” But if you’re able to keep some presence, this can benefit your account history, as well as your customers.

Holly recommends running a brand campaign if you’re able to. “This helps you to show customers that you are still active, and also prevents other competitors from bidding on your brand and taking away potential market share during this crucial time,” she said. “Change your ad copy to reflect your company’s current state.”

Toyota notably left out their slogan “Let’s Go Places” in this recent commercial.

Multiple marketers recommended using ads as a tool for communicating with customers. The shut-downs during the coronavirus pandemic impacted businesses in different ways—not only have brick-and-mortar storefronts and restaurants been closed or in limited operations, but production lines for all types of businesses have also been impacted.

“Some businesses are still waiting on inventory, or permission to re-open,” Co-Founder of Paid Search Magic Amy Hebdon said. “But once you're able to solve problems and pain points your audience is experiencing—whether it's business as usual or through new and creative solutions—it makes sense to run ads to let people know how you can help them.”

Letting people know how you can help them calls for a different strategy. “For some clients we pulled back on budget because their operations took a hit with the pandemic, for example those in factory production or with limited resources such as global acrylic shortages,” explains Akvile DeFazio, president of social media advertising agency AKvertize. “We restrategized our approach to keep people aware of products and services during this time and how they have pivoted.”

“If people are able to convert,” she added, “we give them the opportunity to do so with updated messaging, such as shipping delays, curbside pick-up, contact-less delivery, etc., and/or special promotions.”

Chase ad during COVID-19

Running even limited ads now can help make re-opening more successful. “As you prepare to ramp your business back up, you need to ramp up your marketing in advance to make a splash on day one,” said Mark Irvine, director of strategic partnerships at WordStream. “If your business isn’t ready to operate at 100% capacity yet, then think of how you can get the most out of your best customers first.”

Here are the strategies Mark suggests starting with:

  1. Build out audience lists for your past customers. If you’ve got their email or contact information, you can use those customer lists in both Google Ads and Facebook to specifically target your ads to just those audiences. On average, your past customers will be 3x more likely to convert from you when they search for your product than a new customer and they often spend far more than your new customers.
  2. Build lists for prospects or past website visitors and target them separately. Someone who was considering buying from you in March is still a lot more likely to be considering your brand than someone who just started searching today.
  3. Remember that new customers still take time to consider your brand, product, and competition before buying from you. If they don’t immediately convert, don’t fret! Consider testing lower friction CTAs or adding a popup to your landing page to collect their email or contact information. Then you can add these new prospects to your drip campaigns and remarketing efforts and help them convert when they’re ready.

What industry signals mean it’s time to start ramping up your ad spend?

Greg Herrmann, who has trained hundreds of digital marketers here at WordStream, offers one signal that is a little beyond the online advertising industry, but it’s an important place to start. “Certain locations are opening sooner than others,” he said. “If your state is opening non-essential businesses, then consider advertising. This is regardless of whether your essential or non-essential business is allowed to fully open (as many states are proposing phased integrations).”

Kristina stresses that a growing or returning business demand is a key signal that it’s time to start spending more, and search trends are a good way to gauge business demand. Senior Manager Mike Emiliani recommends starting broad. “Advertisers should consider how people are searching right now,” he said. “Are people searching for these particular goods and commodities again, and are they the same or different than they once were? Are people buying less overall than they once were? Are they expecting something different from you now post-COVID as a small business?”

Customer Success Manager Francine Rodriguez suggests digging further into keywords, too. “Check out your main keywords in Google Trends and see how searches are trending now compared to pre-COVID. If they are reaching similar levels, it's time to start building spend. Here is an example of the term ‘plumber,’ and you can see in the last weeks it's returning to normal levels. Time to advertise!”

Google Trends for "plumber"

What account signals mean it’s time to start ramping up your ad spend?

Both Greg and Francine recommend looking at impressions. “Impression share is a great indicator of what your competition is doing,” Francine said. “If your impression share starts to decrease it could mean more advertisers are entering into the space and it's time to increase that budget.” As for Greg, he suggests paying attention to changes to total impressions. “If impressions have dropped during COVID-19 and are suddenly increasing, then it means the consumers are getting comfortable to interact again with your product or service. They are searching, and they are getting ready if not already ready.”

Lower average CPCs are key for Holly. “Have you looked at your Auction Insights report lately? If you are in an industry that was hit hard by COVID,” she said, “you are most likely not the only one who had to pull back on their advertising spend. In my client accounts, especially those in travel and related industries, we have noticed a sharp decline in other advertisers bidding on the same keywords that we are. This not only means that average CPCs are lower for certain keywords, but that we are able to own more of the SERP, more frequently, even with decreased budgets! Not only will turning campaigns back on get you ahead of the competition now, it will give you more historical data to continue to out-perform them once they do get back into the space.”

Covid-Benchmarks-Big-CVR

“We've been keeping a close eye on CPCs, CPMs, conversions, CPAs, and conversion rates week over week since most of the US has been under shelter in place ordinances, and for some clients, several times daily as we headed into big holidays such as Mother's Day,” Akvile said. “Those monetary and sales-related metrics have been the largest indicators of performance for our clients and help us identify our next options to optimize strategically.”

Akvile also mentioned that it’s important to track other metrics like social engagement for signs of a higher demand or other signals from your own customers. “On the engagement side, we have also been reviewing comments on social ads to have a better understanding of how our audiences feel about what we are advertising and what common questions arise, which we can utilize with solutions in our marketing efforts.”

Brassica Instagram post

Brassica, a restaurant in Boston, got some promising engagement when they posted about their delicious extra offerings on Instagram.

When should I reactivate across online advertising channels?

As a marketer, you know that what works on one channel might not work on the other. That’s why I asked our panel of experts for any advice on when to reactivate specific channels.

I would keep things on Google Ads Search to start,” said Mike. “It's inherently mid-funnel, offers high visibility into intent, and there's plenty of options available to dial up or down, limit or open up search. Whether search is taking the form of a brand campaign and a few very important non-brand ideas or something more extreme, it's the place to get the most flexibility from both a cost and performance perspective.”

Francine offered a different take: Bing. “This network has been pretty agnostic to change throughout COVID-19. While all other networks decreased significantly, Bing stayed at manageable levels. If you were on Bing it's time to restart. If you were NOT on Bing consider exploring this network ASAP!”

Other marketers stand by a cross-channel strategy, even while you’re reactivating or ramping up spend. To start on Google and Bing, Holly said, “Turn on (or start to increase the budget) on your most successful prospecting campaign.” And for social, “Overall traffic growth on Facebook and Instagram has been huge in recent months, with so many more people spending time at home and browsing their phones. If you are not on Facebook, now is the perfect time to start advertising. Brand awareness, reach and frequency, or traffic campaigns are all great strategies for you to get traffic to your site at a low cost. This is a great place to advertise blog content on your industry, or related case studies. You can remarket to these people later on with a more direct call to action. This is a great way to build your brand presence, and start building your remarketing lists (which generally convert at a higher rate, and at a lower cost).”

Like Holly, Akvile recommends focusing on building your audience for remarketing later. “If your business or your clients' has been heavily impacted and ad accounts have been disabled as a whole, one way to ease back in is to reactivate or launch new upper-funnel campaigns to cold and warm audiences in Facebook and Instagram,” she said. “This way, you can begin to feed your funnel again with new people and to remind warmer audiences that you can still offer them your goods or services. Upper funnel campaigns are less expensive and assessing the success of those can help you gradually expand back to your pre-COVID advertising volume.”

Remember, it’s a process

One of the reasons why the question of when to start advertising online again is so hard to answer is because it’s not one simple start. Ramping up your online advertising spend or reactivating accounts is a process, and it’s one that you need to keep working on. “PPC isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it industry,” Greg said. “Sure, there is a lot of automation, but automation doesn’t account for pandemics or a human approach.”

Instead, Greg advises a measured, hands-on approach. “Take smart, conservative updates to things like budgets and bids to slowly ramp up. Don’t be shy to put the pedal to the metal if the data shows you it’s time, but, at first, take it gently.”

And be sure to keep these takeaways in mind:

  • Keep advertising online if you can.
  • Use your ads to communicate updates with your customers.
  • Watch for signs of increased business demands, including growing search volume and impressions.
  • Pay attention to geographic information, especially as communities re-open in different stages.
  • If your budget is limited, start with Google search ads and brand campaigns.
  • If your budget is strong, stick to a cross-channel approach to ramping up spend.

For more information on industry trends, ramping up spend, and marketing during COVID-19, check out these resources:

Céillie Clark-Keane

Céillie Clark-Keane

Céillie is the managing editor of the WordStream blog. 

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