How COVID-19 Is Impacting Paid Search

Brianna Desmet, Media Specialist, R2integrated

As the COVID-19 pandemic unrolls in real time, users' search behavior and needs are changing by the day, forcing marketers to be even more flexible and agile with their search strategies. The changing needs of searchers have resulted in improved performance in industries like B2B and e-commerce, while other industries like travel and healthcare, have struggled with poor results, requiring a shift in their strategies. According to Rik van der Kooi, Microsoft Advertising’s Corporate Vice President, “Search is more important than ever ... given stay-at-home and online media consumption, consumers are doing more online researching, searching and shopping.” 
Vertical Highlights 
Healthcare. According to eMarketer, 50.6% of February respondents reported they would avoid medical centers and hospitals if Coronavirus worsened. As non-essential medical services are put on hold and rescheduled to later dates, from bariatric surgery to physical therapy, users are shifting their searches for healthcare needs. Most recently, searches for telemedicine and virtual healthcare have skyrocketed as users encounter shelter-in-place orders nationwide and seek to receive care while staying in their homes. 
-   B2B. For many B2B clients, sales cycles tend to be longer; ranging anywhere from three to nine months, or sometimes even longer. Extreme changes in paid search strategies could have long-lasting effects on performance. During this time, it’s important to continue filling the funnel and building brand awareness to alleviate large sales gaps that can occur later in the year. 
-   Non-Profit. As uncertainty continues to grow, many searchers have shown interest in empathy and giving back to the community. According to Google, searches around, “How to help others during Coronavirus,” was up +3,650% on 3/26 and, “Donate PPE,” (Personal Protective Equipment) was up +4,805% on 3/23. As a result, non-profit organizations are seeing spikes in donations through paid search efforts. 
Moving Forward 
Invest in brand. Continue to invest in your branded keywords, regardless of industry. According to Google, “Even in categories where consumers have pulled back spending right now, creating a branding impact now will have a halo and pay dividends when the market normalizes. Research and historical examples of economic downturn have shown this to work.”  The last thing an organization wants is competitors monetizing on branded search results. 
Pivot messaging. Ensure that messaging is both accurate and appropriate for the current landscape. First, confirm messaging is updated with current business hours and offerings. For example, review and revise CTAs that include, “Visit In-Store,” to reflect more accurate business operation. Second, keep an eye on the tone of messaging. Is your copy appropriate or empathetic? Captify’s VP of Global Marketing, Lauren Pleasants, shared, “This is an opportunity to shape your communication around your brand identity and values, don't prioritize profit or gain.” 
Adapt offerings to what your customers need. Consumer behaviors are shifting rapidly, and marketers must be able to quickly adapt. Continue to connect with your customers virtually, letting them know you are there to support them. For healthcare clients, this might mean decreasing focus on patient acquisition and increasing focus on telemedicine or prescription delivery. For B2B clients, now is the time to repurpose content planned for conferences into virtual webinars and encourage continued thought leadership while professionals are spending a majority of time at home. 
Desktop Usage Increases. With the rise of remote work conditions and people being less on-the-go, mobile search traffic has declined nearly 25% in March while desktop searches have drastically increased. While we’ve all become accustom to a mobile-first world, the changes in search habits is especially important to ensure all search ads and landing pages are optimized for both mobile and desktop. 
As we continue to navigate this changing landscape, remember all industries and businesses are not the same, so it’s critical to utilize data to make strategic decisions for your campaigns. Additionally, we must be mindful of how short-term decisions can affect long-term goals, while keeping offerings and messages in-line with market needs. 

About the author: Brianna Desmet

As a media specialist at R2i, Bri is responsible for the day-to-day strategic execution and management of cross-channel media campaigns. Her primary focus at R2i is around the planning, implementation, optimization, and reporting of digital media strategies for a variety of clients across several industries, including healthcare and manufacturing. Bri is especially skilled at aligning media mix and strategy to the each client's KPIs and overarching business goals.

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