PPC: Reacting and Adapting to Newness – Is It Time for Change Yet?

Strategy notes on an iPad

It would seem that 2020 is turning out to be quite the challenge so far – on a global and not-so-global scale.

Whether we wanted to think about it or not, change has been forced upon us and we as consumers had to review our living habits for the greater good.

And for those of us who are dealing with PPC and advertising budget, we have to consider both short term and long term when it comes to answering the following:

  • Do your marketing efforts require a change?
  • What can you do now?
  • Is there any way to turn this around?

Some of those decisions you’re likely to make are totally justified, and some, well… simply aren’t necessarily.

A change in perspective 

As a PPC account manager, in normal times, historical data and trends are my main indicators of when something needs to be changed in an account.

Unfortunately, whilst historical data says that now would be the time to push ads for outdoor and home improvement products (for instance conservatory upgrades), this is not the best time to ask people to risk their life and others to enhance their garden view. 

Most companies will be faced with a significant decrease in traffic and conversions if their services or products are deemed not essentials. So what happens next? And what do you do in the meantime?

Paper aeroplanes on a blue brackground

Should you hit the brakes? 

There are a few good, obvious reasons to hit the brakes on your paid advertising expenditure in this time of crisis:

  • You’re shut down: nobody to answer the phone, take and send orders.
  • You might still be able to work but you can’t get stock because your goods come from elsewhere (especially if your main providers are abroad).
  • You are losing money – the spend might have remained regular but with little to no conversions because potential customers have reviewed their priorities. 
  • You are struggling with budget and after a review of your own priorities and performance, paid advertising isn’t where money needs to go short-term.

But at the same time… with so much time on their hands to look around, should you not maintain your presence to make sure that your brand is the first one that comes to mind when the coast is clear?

Should the focus of your marketing, if budget allows, be shifted to brand awareness? 

If you have some advertising budget left and decide to keep advertising with a different focus, you could go down the Display or the social media road for brand awareness. Why?

  • You could show your response to the crisis (if it’s one you think can make you stand out).
  • You keep the traffic coming to your website so you’re maintaining people in your remarketing list, ready to be used when you decide to go back full strength with conversion focused campaigns.
  • Maintain and strengthen your brand recognition for when business is back on.

Re-strategise

Whether you’ve paused your ads or gone down the slower brand awareness road, this is no time to sit and turn your thumbs. It’s more than likely that competition is going to be quite fierce at the other end of this crisis. You shouldn’t wait until you see the clearing to prepare your plans. Yes, plans, with a “s”… there should be more than one. 

These are uncertain times and now more than even you need to look further up the chain of command in terms of advertising: Strategy.

Looking at strategy allows you to come up with clear direction for effective tactics. But first, you will need to regroup (virtually, of course) and assess damages and resources. 

  • How bad were you hit? Was there a 20%, 50%, 80% or worse, 100% drop in conversions? 
  • Was the flow broken? For those with a set communication and marketing plan that lays out when an offer or group of messages goes out, is this unexpected break going to reset the whole plan? Can it be salvaged? (With luck, your Mother’s Day and Easter creatives can be used next year).
  • Are your original objectives still possible? For some, pausing and unpausing might not be a big deal. This is where any previous investment in SEO will definitely be of benefit. But the longer the break you’re taking, the more likely you are to lose any advantage you had built up with PPC as your audience lists are depleting.
  • How soon will you be able to start? If most of your traffic is dependent on paid advertising, you might need to start thinking about budget as soon as possible.

All of those questions throughout your strategy deliberations will likely lead to a particular theme when it comes to the tactics you take: do we need a fresh start or can we just unpause?

Below is an example of a client that sells soft furnishings, while we appreciate this won’t be the case for every industry right now, taking time to assess what’s going on will give you a clearer picture of paid advertising efforts are futile at the moment. Re-strategising can help deliver consistent results and patient, rational strategic decisions are likely to serve you well:

Reacting and Adapting to Newness - The Mill Shop example

Key – Purple circle: Expected decrease (i.e Christmas) Green ellipse: Expected increase (e.g Black Friday) Orange rectangle: Unexpected change (i.e Covid-19)

The three arrows represent 3 different milestones:

The first (left): Customers start to shift interest from non-essential to mainly essential purchases.

The second (middle): Time to regroup, analyse and strategise. Plan of action at this point:

– Transactions didn’t go down to zero so people are still very much buying products related to the home
– Adapt to the change: start Easter Sales earlier than planned
– Review data after latest change: Bump in Conversions but ROAS dropped
– Move away temporarily from high spending platforms with worse return: Pause PPC → Expect drop in traffic
– Review data after latest change: Expected drop in traffic and conversions
– A need to diversify to other platforms: Facebook → Expect increase in traffic
– Review data after latest change: Expected increase in traffic and Facebook is holding its own when it comes to conversions

The third (right): Decide to stick with this for now but remain vigilant.

Although the client had a Facebook page, they never really capitalised on it until an external crisis forced them to consider it more seriously. As ROAS is their main metric, the short term decision to move to social was based on trying to reduce the cost but at the same time looking at opportunities that might have been overlooked in the past.

Collaborating closely with your marketing executive or paid advertising account manager will be crucial to make sure that the new objectives are achievable and help lay out the best plan of action for the revised strategy.

Forgive but don’t forget

When you do start again and look back at historical data – don’t forget to:

  • Make use of the notes sections available in both Google Ads and Google Analytics in order to put the days that consumer behavior might have started shifting. I know that for some of my clients, there will be a note regarding Mother’s Day and Easter being anomalies this year.
  • Exclude the “crisis data”  from the rest of your usual data collection as it will skew your review and you don’t want to make any adjustment on inaccurate data.
  • Exclude but don’t throw away. All data is data and something can still be learnt from it. If your ads ran during the first few weeks of the pandemic before the closedown, you can utilise that data to compare it with normal behavior – Next time, you’ll be prepared (we do hope there will be no next time though). That is something automation won’t do for you.

Teamwork makes the dream work

It goes without saying that there are things that you will know better than us – your product, your industry, external factors that usually affect your customer’s behaviors…

Those are discussed at the very start of setting up or taking over an account so that the account managers know of potential items to look out for.

But what makes working alongside a digital marketing agency unique, is that account managers have the additional benefit of working with clients from various industries – because of this, they are able to:

  • Identify peak seasons and other behavioral patterns (which are reflected in the account data but also on a larger scale on Google Trends).
  • Compile negative keywords list based on the sectors and client types (B2C vs B2B) and so on.

But we can’t see everything – communication is key. This is why as account managers we encourage collaboration to get the best possible results. Especially in the current climate, being made aware of changes that affect your products (e.g new variation or items being discontinued), new regulations affecting the distribution of your goods, or things like new sales that you have started to offer via other channels can really help us to maximise ad spend. Details such as these can help your PPC account manager affect relevant changes in order to make the necessary adjustment to keep ahead of the competition.

Agencies rely on clients to provide information about their business that would affect their offerings and messaging whilst we can raise questions and make suggestions when something stands out from the data. Two heads are better than one, right?

But what about automated bids? With automation and smart bidding there is the option to “cater” for short and long term changes that will affect the data and make the algorithm “reset”, but again, this won’t be possible unless it has been warned.

Wooden figures in a network

The only thing that is constant is change 

Whether you are a small, medium or large business, you must review your objective regularly enough because change is a constant.

At Boom, we talk about overarching objectives regularly to make sure that we’re still on track – optimising toward the right goals and allowing us to discover whether the client wants to either:

  • Invest more if everything is going better than expected 

or 

  • Divert and move some budget into a different platform 

This is mainly because we’re aware that there are many factors that could trigger a need for change

  • Your industry: from your product prices being forced to go up or down depending on your distribution channels or competitive landscape, to external factors like Brexit or Coronavirus shifting the needs and impacting demand in some industries…
  • Our industry: the digital world is always evolving – whether it is the platform you are currently using getting upgrades (Google Ads is constantly learning, making its algorithm and the automated bidding that it feeds more reliable) or a new platform becoming more popular.

Is all data equal?

Whilst change is a constant, the data that they are based on does vary in terms of predictability, frequency, likelihood, repercussions… 

For instance, your clientele won’t go from female to male overnight so you should also make sure that you are not changing things like Bid Modifiers in a way that would be detrimental to your account, especially if you haven’t recorded enough data to be statistically significant.

Below are things that I think you should be particularly careful with when you spot a variation that you consider strong enough to make a change:

  • Date range and frequency: Pay attention to the date range that you are using – does it include enough time to be able to identify a trend? When was the last time you looked at the specific type of data and are the length of time you’re comparing similar? 
  • Data type: Are you using the most relevant data? Are you comparing the same type of data? If you compare year on year CPA but you were only tracking page views the year before and now you can track form submissions, this will lead to misjudgment of the account performance. Are you tracking and making decisions based on what matters to you the most? This might involve but is not limited to: 
    – leads (emails/website calls/form conversions)
    – transactions as well as softer conversions (newsletter signup/new followers on social platforms…)
  • Fluctuation: Watch out for fluctuation. Not everything will have an explanation – look for a pattern or any kind of consistency before panicking.
  • Past changes: Were there any changes made that could account for the performance and could those simply be reverted if the result were not satisfactory? This also involves targets. If you have doubled your target revenue or ROAS, you would keep this in mind when reviewing the data as part of it might be at a time when the account was still being optimised towards the formal target.

It is a big step to decide to outsource the marketing of a website, but often it’s the best option for those who are not familiar enough with the whole fast moving world of paid advertising.

If on the other hand, both you and your digital marketing team have done everything mentioned above but you’re still not seeing the result you want, get in touch, we’re always happy to offer a second opinion.

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