PPC In The Time Of COVID-19: You Asked, We Answered

PPC In The Time Of COVID 19

Coronavirus seems to be the topic of every news channel, industry, etc. So it is no surprise that it’s the primary topic of discussion PPC as well. Businesses are seeking ways to conserve spending in this time of economic uncertainty and business closures – and unsurprisingly, marketing is often one of the first cuts to be made. Therefore, in-house marketers are fighting their executive teams to keep digital up and running, while agencies are seeing large swings in spending from their clients.

In last week’s PPC Hero “Ask The Expert’s” installment, our very own Jeff Baum and Maris Rutkis took to the screen to answer marketers’ most pressing questions on the PPC trends they are seeing and how to handle the COVID-19 situation in the digital sphere.

Judging by the questions users had for Jeff and Maris, there are 3 resounding questions marketers have:

  • Should we be spending money in PPC right now?
  • What trends are we seeing in performance?
  • What type of messaging should we be pushing?

So let’s take a closer look at each of these areas.

PPC Spending In The Time Of COVID-19

While businesses are seeking ways to become more cost-efficient, PPC should not be completely nixed from the marketing mix. Jeff and Maris didn’t explicitly cover the reasons why, but there are several negative effects caused by a complete shutdown. For one, restarting paused campaigns can re-initiate the learning phases for any automated bidding you previously had in place. This can, in turn, result in some unsavory fluctuations across the account once it’s back up and running. Additionally, cutting all PPC spending will eventually dry up the conversion funnel, making the ramp-up period long and slow. Without traffic coming through ads, website visitor lists and look-a-like audiences will dry up over time. So in theory, a short pause may not rock the boat, but the longer this crisis continues the more likely it is to have a negative impact on later performance.

Jeff and Maris did have some great suggestions for how to effectively use a lower budget over the next few weeks and possibly months, and the overall theme was to “look towards the future.” As Jeff pointed out, it is understandable that businesses suffering from low sales are looking to put money behind tried and true methods that will bring in the most conversions right now. These areas being branded search, remarketing, and low-funnel targeting. However, upper-funnel targeting may bring about the most revenue in the long run. Many people are of the same mindset as businesses – saving money. So, it is likely that fewer people looking to convert right now. However, this crisis will not (or hopefully not) last forever, therefore getting in front of users now, when they are more engaged with their phones and social media may result in higher sales post-COVID-19.

Reinforcing this line of thinking is the overall lower CPCs we are currently seeing. As the experts pointed out, this does vary by industry, but in general, competitors are spending less across the board, which serves to decrease auction costs. Therefore, capitalizing on lower CPCs and building your upper funnel through brand awareness may be an advantageous move for down the road.

COVID-19 Performance Trends

It’s exactly what we’ve all heard before, the infamous cop-out of PPC: it depends. But, sadly, the trends we are seeing really do depend on the industry. I would wager to say the majority of industries and businesses are being negatively impacted by the global pandemic. Other than the industries being hardest hit by the stay at home orders such as travel, hospitality, restaurants, etc., general retailers and business services are being hit by sudden conservative spending trend.  So overarchingly it is reasonable to see lower CPCs, lower conversions, etc.

However, some industries are booming right now. Healthcare, home fitness retailors, and some SAAS verticals are seeing higher performance than ever before. In general, this is a great thing! But in some cases, too much of a good thing…is, well, not a good thing. While we would expect these booming businesses to capitalize on the current high conversion volume and increase their budgets, many of them are finding that they can’t handle the number of orders and transactions coming in! Therefore, they are overwhelmed on the back in and ultimately need to pull back PPC spending to slow conversions to a manageable rate.

Deciding how you proceed in PPC is completely up to the nature of your business and its part in the global pandemic. What I recommend is wracking your brain for how your product or service is beneficial to a consumer in this time period. If there is a strong argument for why your product is needed, push your budgets to the limit. If there is no practical use for your product or service, it may be time to pull back.

Ad Messaging During A Global Pandemic

Data backs up the statements made by Jeff and Maris that consumers have positively responded to sensitive ad messaging. However, the data also shows that the majority of consumers are not turned off by your average marketing messages.

This is simply a personal opinion, but I think the majority of consumers are aware of the situation many businesses are in and can understand the various angles they are taking in their advertising right now. The whole world knows we are in a state of economic crisis and that businesses are struggling to stay afloat. Therefore, I don’t see promotions, for example, as a point of contention with the public. Rather, I think that they would expect to see sales on retail items and services, whether or not it entices them to actually buy.

Building on this example of promotions, many people have not and do not expect to be financially hit by this crisis. That means they are working for one of those booming businesses and they are lucky, but that also means they still have disposable income. These people could likely be persuaded to convert if a promotion offers a good enough price, and in fact, may be actively searching for those deals that they may not otherwise get. So I say, put out those promos! You aren’t likely to offend anyone and you may just get some more converters.

There are also ways you can use messaging to your advantage in these uncertain times. For example, if you are a small or locally-owned business, play this up in your ad copy! There is a huge push to support local right now, so placing this distinguishing factor in your ads will likely catch a few eyes that would otherwise keep scrolling!

A final point on this, which Jeff and Maris covered pretty well, is simply to use common sense. While consumers aren’t opposed to your normal ad messaging, they may not be happy if you advertise for an activity that they are explicitly not allowed to do under the stay at home orders. So make those easy language changes from “visit us in-store” to “shop online,” etc.


A lot of things are changing and will continue to change over the coming months. We aren’t likely to see a sudden shift back to normal, as states are likely to introduce a gradual return to life as we knew it. When your business will be back to normal completely depends on what industry it is and where it falls in this rollout. Until then, keep asking us questions and keep a pulse on the trends in your specific industry vertical!

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