5 Key Strategies for Client Communication During COVID-19
As the world grapples to contain and bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses are beginning to reopen, and we're seeing signs of a rebound in online advertising. For digital marketing agencies, this likely means that your clients—who may have significantly reduced spend in their accounts or paused their campaigns entirely—should begin to think about ramping back up.
Knowing how to ramp up that Google Ads account is the first step. For agencies, however, the know-how is only half the battle. Clients are understandably shaken by the economic impact of COVID-19, and the instinct to tighten purse strings on their advertising budgets is natural. So, communication around the reasons (and opportunities) for reactivating ads when the time is right is both a sensitive subject and incredibly important to your relationship.
So whether you’re looking for guidance for challenging client conversations or a place to start with your entire portfolio, we're here to help. Here are the five fundamental, data-backed talking points that we’ve found to be effective when guiding our own clients through COVID-19.
1. Review paid search conversions data
This point is quick, but it’s important because it’s a good reason to start having these conversations with your clients now. The drop-off in overall keyword searches and conversion rates in late March and early April was dramatic, but so was the rebound in late April. In fact, by the second half of the month, conversion volume on Google search had returned to nearly 90% of its pre-COVID level.
This means that opportunity exists for your clients, and this opportunity is especially compelling when presented alongside the fact that many of their competitors may still not be advertising as aggressively as they were before the pandemic.
That brings us to our next point.
2. Check Auction Insights for competitive analysis
Overall trends are a great starting point, but what clients really care about (and rightfully so) is their own specific situation. Google’s Auction Insights have always provided invaluable competitive insight, but they are now more useful than ever in their ability to show clear opportunity if competitors have scaled down or paused their advertising efforts outright.
Start by showing clients their Auction Insights from a period of time pre-COVID. Here’s an example of an account’s impression share compared to competitors in February and early March:
Next, compare this to more recent data that reflects the impact of COVID. Here’s that same account’s impression share compared to competitors from April 1 to May 18:
In this case, the account’s primary competitor has nearly dropped off the map entirely, and as a result, the account’s impression share has shot up—even while spending significantly less than before. If you can find a similar example in your client’s account, it paints a clear picture that ramping up spend or reactivating certain campaigns is in their best interest.
3. Walk your client through strategy changes for account reactivation
Change has always been a constant in the world of online advertising, and keeping up with change is always a challenge. But over the past few months, changes to online behavior has accelerated in pace with the other large-scale changes. Keeping up is a nearly impossible challenge—and that’s on top of all the other challenges of living through a pandemic. It can seem safer or simpler for clients to stop spending money on ads and avoid that challenge entirely right now.
That’s where you come in. As an agency, you are your clients’ expert guide to navigating these changes and employing strategies that will make their advertising effective at growing their business. This talking point will need to be the most detailed and perhaps the biggest conversation, so we’re going to give you more to work with. Here are some key strategies to discuss with clients, showing them that you’re up-to-date and can keep their account that way, too.
On a related note, here are some ways to get to know your post-pandemic customers, because they have certainly changed, too.
Use Google Trends to research changes in search terms
For clients in many industries, search terms related to their products and services may have changed significantly as a result of the pandemic. Google Trends can provide this insight for you, allowing you to view the relative volume of your clients’ core keywords and test them against other search terms that may have become more popular by comparison.
Here are a couple of examples that show major shifts in search terms related to the restaurant and fitness industries.
This tool can also drill down to the state level, so you can view trends for your clients’ geographic area. Test some core keywords against any new search terms that might be relevant for your client’s business. Then, when discussing their account with them, it’ll be clear that you’ve already identified traffic changes and are ready to help them adapt.
For national advertisers, viewing these trends at a regional level is especially important, because different parts of their target market will experience an increase in search volume at different times. Google’s Community Mobility Reports show detailed data on movement trends at a regional level, providing a clear view of when people in various geographies are returning to more normal levels of activity, and when it will make sense to reactivate advertising campaigns targeting those areas.
Shift focus to social, display, and any top-of-funnel campaign types
Search ads are not the only way for your clients to reach their target customers online, and some recent trends indicate that this might be the right time to explore other types of ads.
Facebook’s Q1 2020 report shows that more people than ever are using social media during COVID-19, and as a result the platform has reached a new record high in terms of monthly active users. At the same time, the cost of Facebook advertising has declined during the pandemic.
Similarly, ad traffic on Google display, YouTube and shopping increased significantly in April, while Google search traffic was still depressed.
Even if your clients aren’t seeing the same volume of traffic or conversions they’re accustomed to with Google search, maintaining their online presence via these more visual, top-of-funnel campaign types is a fantastic way to stay in front of their target audience, which is online now more than ever.
Review ad copy (and extensions) for relevance
Before reactivating a client’s campaigns, a full review of ad copy and associated ad extensions is critical. While ads cannot speak directly about COVID-19 (this will result in disapprovals with Google), they should highlight any unique value propositions the business is offering during the pandemic (such as a shift from in-person to virtual services). Ensure all messaging in existing ads is still relevant and up-to-date.
Callout extensions are a great way to highlight quick bits of information that show your client’s business is staying with the times. Think along the lines of “High Sanitation Standards” for any home services business that requires employees to visit customers’ homes. Clickable sitelink extensions can also direct traffic to pages on the client’s website that cover safety protocols or changes to the business’s operations due to COVID.
Ensure client’s website speaks to COVID-19 circumstances
As you begin driving traffic to a client’s landing pages through paid ads, make sure they are acknowledging the COVID-19 situation in some way on their website. Some businesses have created dedicated pages on their site to address how their business is operating during the crisis, while others employ banners or blurbs on their homepages. The most important thing is simply that they acknowledge the situation in some way and speak to any changes to their business operation or safety protocol as a result. At this point, a website that does not share any information about the impact of COVID-19 makes the business appear disconnected and outdated—or, worse, out of business.
Employ the 80/20 rule
The famous 80/20 rule is often applied to all sorts of business cases, and this is a great time to remember it. Review past performance of your client accounts, and focus on the campaigns, ad groups, and keywords that drove the best results historically. Focus on reactivating the top 20% and ignore the rest. Clients will feel more comfortable knowing that you’re taking a smart, tempered approach to their reactivation, and sticking with the top performing components of their account will put them in the best position to see good results.
Stay up-to-date with reopening in key areas
As countries and states reopen different businesses at different times, staying current with each client’s industry and geographic status is vital to know when you can make a strong case for ramping their advertising back up. This interactive map from The New York Times not only shows which states have reopened but also provides specific details as to which types of businesses can operate.
Again, leverage Google Trends to ground your case in data. A search for certain businesses, such as those in the beauty and personal care industry, may reveal only a slight uptick across the United States.
Viewing the same search at the state-level in a state where those businesses have been allowed to reopen, however, may show a much stronger resurgence.
Knowing any restrictions your client businesses face, and when those restrictions are lifted, ensures that you can present a reactivation strategy at the right time.
4. Find out if your client is eligible for any credits
Providing your clients with expert guidance and maximizing their return on ad spend is nearly as good as it gets … but nothing beats free ads. That’s exactly what some ad platforms are offering to help businesses survive COVID-19, and helping your clients obtain these offers will go a long way during this challenging time.
- Google Ads credits for SMBs: Google is leading the charge with $340 million in ad credits for SMBs. Eligible advertisers who spent on ads in at least 10 out of 12 months in 2019, as well as January and/or February of 2020, will see this credit appear in their account sometime in late May or the following months. Read up on the eligibility requirements and other details on Google’s FAQ page.
- Free shopping listings on Google: For ecommerce advertisers, Google is also providing free Shopping listings to help retailers capitalize on the increase in online shopping that has occurred during the pandemic. Review our blog post on this announcement not only for details about the free offer but also for guidance on starting and optimizing Google Shopping listings.
- Facebook small business grants: Facebook announced its small business grant program in late March, and the application for the United States has since closed. Their page states that they are “still working through eligibility details” for other countries, so this is worth keeping an eye on. The page also promises new resources coming soon for businesses that were not able to obtain a grant in the first round of applications.
5. Set proper expectations for the reactivation period
As your clients become ready to reactivate their advertising, it’s important to set the expectation that performance will not immediately pick up where it left off. Their online advertising landscape has almost definitely changed, and their account will need to adapt to those changes. One of the most important things you need to do is to advise your clients that there will be a learning period. Any time an account experiences significant changes, it will take time for the ad platform’s algorithms to adjust to things, such as bidding strategy and campaign structure.
Here are three other ways you can set expectations for your clients.
Evaluate current search volume and compare to pre-COVID levels
Use Google trends to determine how current search volume on your client’s core keywords compares to the same time period last year, and set expectations accordingly. There simply may not be as much available, or the nature of those searches may have changed (as mentioned above), so be sure to keep their expectations in line with these developments.
Highlight current metrics with WordStream’s New Business Center
While WordStream’s New Business Center is primarily used for generating proposals to pitch prospective clients, you can also use this tool to estimate traffic and conversion volume for your current accounts.
The New Business Center pulls real-time data for its impression, click, and CPC estimates, as well as its industry benchmarks. That means it will reflect the current climate and help you provide clients with foresight as to how traffic volume and click prices have changed in their industry and location.
Assure clients you will be monitoring their account closely as it reactivates
Clients may be a bit nervous about reinvesting in advertising, and who can blame them? The last couple of months have been the strangest most of us have ever lived through, and the global uncertainty is unprecedented. Knowing that you’ll be monitoring their account daily (as well as the changing trends in their industry, location and paid advertising overall) should help to put their mind at ease.
Communicating with your clients is key
As an agency, it has never been more important to position yourself as the expert your clients can turn to for a wise investment of their ad spend and the growth of their business. By following these strategies—and keeping clients informed of them along the way—they should have full confidence in you to help them navigate the uncertainty, ramp their account back up and take advantage of the opportunity that exists.
Let’s do this!
For more tips on marketing during COVID-19, check out Goal Talk Podcast Episode 15: Updates on Marketing During COVID-19—Data, Reactivation, & More.