It’s a tough time for everyone during COVID-19, and clearly our top priority has to be the preservation of human life.

If you’re a small business owner/manager, you’re probably among the group that’s under tremendous pressure. You’re not only responsible for your own livelihood, but also to help put food on the table for your employees, sub-contractors, and suppliers. Everything and everybody is, of course, connected. Making the right moves at the right time is paramount.

In this article, I’m going to share resources that help explain what’s going on in various industries. I’m going to discuss some strategies to transform or at least adjust your business. And I’m going to share what we’re recommending to our clients based on their situation.

Pay-Per-Click Market Overview

People are at home, and mostly staying there thank goodness. Considering that, it’s not surprising to see the following trends.

Clearly, the companies that have been hit the hardest are in the travel and hospitality industries. This includes airlines, hotels, travel agencies, restaurants, bars, and event venues, among others. Travel is all but shut down and likely will be for many months. Some restaurants can still operate but in most places only for take-out or delivery. Personal service businesses like gyms, spas, therapy, and elective medical services are shut-down in most areas.

Longer-term, it’s likely we’ll see luxury products and major purchases (auto and home) decline as folks tighten their belts. Similarly, demand for many B2B services will wane as companies make hard choices about what’s essential to keep operating.

Conversely, demand is up for some industries such as video streaming services, couriers, gaming, non-profits and beauty care products. This will probably continue as long as we’re told to maintain a physical distancing protocol.

Importantly, unless there’s virtually no demand, it’s probably best to at least continue running your search/shopping ads. If people are still searching they are interested in what you have. Overall, search volumes are mostly down and conversion rates are too. Consider lowering your bids to maintain your target CPAs, however, with many competing advertisers suspending their campaigns this may not be necessary. If you have to cut something, cut branding and/or campaigns that aren’t driving a good ROI. But keep in mind that those continuing branding will be the winners when demand resumes later on.

Here’s an excellent article from Wordstream that goes into more detail about how Google Ads is being affected by COVID-19.

In addition, they’ve just released industrial PPC averages for COVID-19.

What if You’re Shut Down by Government Mandate or Voluntarily?

This is probably the toughest situation for any business. There may still be some demand for your products or services, but you’re not able to operate.

In most cases, a shut-down prevents you from operating at your physical location. Some businesses can stay open, therefore, by implementing remote work policies. This solution is perfect for companies that don’t have to manufacture products or serve clients on-site. If you’re a SaaS, for example, it may be (mostly) business as usual.

Other businesses like those providing therapeutic services have started to provide video-based consultations. While seeing your physiotherapist via Skype leaves a lot to be desired, it’s a good way for everybody to muddle through until things return to normal. Video-based services are popping up everywhere. If you’re considering video, Skype may be fine if you serve individual clients. If you’re a little bigger or work with groups you should have a look at Zoom.

If you’re a retail store or restaurant, you may already offer online ordering and delivery. If you don’t, consider ramping that capability up as fast as possible. If you already do, make sure you inform your regular patrons they can order online. This includes updating your Google My Business, website, and emailing your customers that you’re open for online shopping.

Shifting Ad Budgets

No matter what kind of business you’re in, you may want to make some prudent moves to optimize spending.

If you have to make some cuts, we recommend pausing your SEO program and reducing branding spend. While these efforts are very important, they are long-term strategies. Turning them off for a few months isn’t going to affect sales much for most businesses.

If you are still able to provide products/services, it makes sense to continue with paid search and remarketing. The good news here is that if demand drops, you will naturally spend less.

Consider using Google trends to monitor the rapidly changing demand for whatever you offer. Note that Google has also launched a Coronavirus Search Trends tool.

Google Trends

You also need to keep in mind what your competitors are doing. Use Google Ad’s built-in auction insights tool to see who’s currently competing with you. Facebook is a little more complicated, but you can monitor what’s going on with your competitors using the ad library tool.

If you’re one of few in your niche open for business, this is a good opportunity to let people know you can fulfil the demand when others can’t. In a situation like this, investing more into paid search and high-performing targeted campaigns (e.g. Facebook newsfeed ads) is a sound approach. You might even consider targeting competitor brands as keywords while they are offline.

If you regularly attend trade shows, congratulations, you’ve just saved a bundle! The expenses you’ve recovered from trade shows should be reinvested into staying in touch with your audience. Consider doubling down on Facebook and LinkedIn Ads.

Most importantly, increase the frequency of your email campaigns. This is the least expensive way to remarket and to keep your audience aware of your current status.

Your business is unique; talk to your agency about how you can optimize channel mix and ad spend given your evolving situation.

Scripts for Google Ads / COVID-19

Some smart people have written scripts that can help you navigate Google Ads during the pandemic.

First up, this script from Optmyzr overlays different events onto your Google Ads performance data. Events include rules changes such as banning of public gatherings, reopening of schools, store closures, and so on. This can be very helpful to see what events have decreased performance and then plan for when a reversal will happen.

This script from Martin Röttgerding allows you to compare search behaviour between two periods of time. The tool can also break things down for you by device, time of day, and day of week. Given the major shift in where and when people are now working, this can help you get a leg up on new search trends.

Google Shopping Tab is Now Free

Google has just announced that eCommerce sites may now list their products on the Google Tab for free. While these listings will appear below paid placements, it’s still a good opportunity to get more organic exposure for your products.

As there is a lot of confusion about this news, let me clarify. Google is not offering shopping ads (run across many Google properties including search) for free. Nor, are Google offering shopping actions (Google’s commission-based shopping ads that also run on search) for free. This is simply free placement on the Google Shopping Tab.

To qualify you must advertise in the US (global roll-out coming soon), have a Merchant Center account, valid product feed, and have activated Google Surfaces in your account.

Here’s Google’s help page on the new feature.

Financial Help for Small Business

Governments in the US and Canada are offering COVID-19 assistance for small businesses. New programs are continuing to roll out so check these resources periodically to avoid missing out.

In the US, you can apply for low-interest bridge financing to cover business costs while you are not able to operate at full capacity. They can provide consulting to help you adapt your business during the crisis. For employees, stimulus payment checks are on the way and income tax returns have been deferred until July 15th.

In Canada, you can apply for support to cover up to 100% of employee wages. Employees (including yourself) you must lay-off qualify for $2,000/month in support for up to 4-months. Even if you’re not a salaried employee and haven’t paid into EI, you may still qualify. In addition, there are no-interest loans for qualified businesses and deferral of some tax remittances such as income tax and the GST/HST. Note also, that there are several provincial-level programs available.

Google has announced $340 million in cash and ad credits for existing Google Ads SMB advertisers. Credits will be administered directly into ad accounts. Here’s what we know so far:

  • credits will start to roll out in late May 2020
  • to qualify you must have spent in 10 of 12 months of 2019 and in January and/or February in 2020
  • credits will be based on ad spend and country

Google has provided a help page here with many more details.

Facebook has announced a $100 million small business grants program. The program will offer both cash and ad credit grants worldwide. They have launched an application guide that will inform on whether you qualify and how/when your can apply.

Other Business Resources

Steve Blank from the Harvard Business Review created “A 5-Day Plan to Keep Your Company Afloat.” This is a great planning tool to figure out the exact steps you need to take to keep your company viable during COVID-19.

Summary

COVID-19 has impacted almost every business around the globe. While this situation may last for months, businesses will eventually get back to normal operations. And, the demand for various products and services will return.

I hope this article is a helpful resource for pivoting your PPC marketing strategy. I will be updating this post with more resources and ideas over the coming weeks and months. Please bookmark and come back for updates.