Managing Display ads in response to COVID-19

A guide to help you adapt your Display campaigns to a dynamic market.

Stay ahead of the changing landscape

COVID-19 has changed life as we know it–and as we do everything we can to keep each other safe, our routines have fundamentally shifted. The necessary measures taken to manage the pandemic have disrupted the global economy and altered consumers’ expectations, habits, and purchasing behavior. This has resulted in new challenges to supply chains, fulfillment, physical stores, and for employees and customers.

At Google, we've seen businesses around the globe–including our own–adapt to these new realities. We've also seen businesses start to think about the path to economic recovery in three stages–respond, rebuild, and recover–each with distinct priorities. Businesses, industry verticals, and markets are affected differently by each stage–with some moving faster than others–but we’ve observed that the vast majority remain focused on responding.

 

 
 

Respond

Rebuild

Recover

What’s happening? Businesses are responding and adapting to fast-changing consumer behavior and fluctuations in demand. Businesses are planning for the recovery and rebuilding their marketing fundamentals, with deeper insights, tools, and measurement. Businesses are reframing their business models and digital marketing practices to restart or maintain growth.
What can you do? Solve what matters today to get your business ready to rebuild. Prepare to capture dynamic demand and position yourself well for the recovery. Implement marketing learnings from the crisis into your long-term business strategy to drive sustained growth.

 

The timeline of economic recovery remains fluid, but there are things you can do during the “Respond” stage to act with more certainty. The intention of this guide is to help you prioritize what to do next and take action. That includes ways to evaluate the situation facing your business and next steps to shift your digital marketing strategies to meet customer needs.

Assessing the situation

Many search advertisers are experiencing change and unpredictability with the evolving COVID-19 situation. Each company has unique goals, so the current “Respond” stage will be different for everyone. Overall, we’ve seen businesses’ marketing impacted in four distinct ways by COVID-19–and they don’t always progress directly from one to another.

Identify which of these four situations relates most to your business, then consider the corresponding search marketing strategies. These best practices should help you sustain your business in the short term while laying a foundation for recovery.

 

Your business is experiencing new challenges Your business is reassessing priorities Your business is pivoting to adapt products & services Your business is investing to meet increased demand
Are you experiencing supply and demand disruptions, as well as logistical disruptions? Are you reassessing your approach and focusing on mitigating risk until you settle on next steps? Are you quickly pivoting to create new offerings and reach your customers in new ways? Are you focused on meeting increasing customer demand across product categories or markets?
Find strategies to help Find strategies to help Find strategies to help Find strategies to help

 

Your business is experiencing new challenges

The response to COVID-19 has changed the way people interact with businesses, presenting supply-and-demand disruptions, as well as logistical disruptions that have made operations unpredictable.

If your company is facing these challenges, you might be looking to invest in digital marketing only if it has a positive impact on your business in the next 30 days. You may also be contemplating pausing your advertising campaigns if you’re experiencing severe supply-and-demand volatility.

Amid these challenges, you can still be there for your customers by adapting your approach. To get started, we recommend that you review your current trends and understand what’s working well:

  • Understand shifts in demand. Use Google Trends to identify developments that are relevant to your business.
  • Maximize value. There may be ways to generate short-term ROI via top-performing campaigns, demographics, geographies, and product lines.
  • Analyze trends. Use Google Analytics to understand user behavior.

Once you’ve performed this analysis, consider the following recommendations to help you simplify your Display campaigns as you navigate this time of uncertainty:

Recommendation

How to execute in Google Ads

Manage volatility

  • Adjust campaign budgets as needed in response to business pressure (e.g. supply chain uncertainty, uncertain demand.)
  • Check budget recommendations for your top-performing campaigns if you want to only make investments that will result in short-term ROI improvements. 
  • You can view your recommended target CPA during campaign set up, and this number is refreshed every week.  We recommend a minimum budget of 10x your target CPA.
  • Campaign volume may vary on a daily basis as supply and demand fluctuate. Shared budgets can help you automatically allocate budgets across your campaigns to make sure they stay funded when volume unexpectedly shifts (not compatible with Maximize conversions bidding or pay for conversions billing).
  • If you're seeing significant changes in conversion rate, adjust your Smart Bidding targets. In volatile market conditions, automated bidding automatically responds by using real-time signals to help you maximize performance.
  • Avoid paying over your target CPA with pay for conversions billing and Target CPA bidding. This is only available for eligible advertisers*, and incompatible with shared budgets and offline conversion tracking.

Simplify campaign management

  • Consider a Smart Bidding portfolio bid strategy if your goals are similar across campaigns. This makes it easy to maximize performance across a group of campaigns, instead of at the individual campaign level.
  • Use location targeting to make adjustments where your supply chain is severely disrupted or you can’t currently do business.
  • Monitor performance of your audience segments, and if you need to prioritize, focus on remarketing & Customer Match audiences to stay connected with your existing customers.
  • Consider using audience expansion to expand reach while maintaining performance. Use similar audiences if you want more control over budget and creatives while finding new customers based on your first-party audiences.

*Your account must have more than 100 conversions in the last 30 days to use pay for conversions billing. You’ll also need 90% of your conversions to occur less than 7 days after someone clicks your ad.

 

Consider a new, automation-friendly account structure if you’ve had to pause some or all campaigns due to the COVID-19 situation. This can be a way to relaunch your campaigns under the best conditions possible–once the situation allows for it. Focus on these account hygiene and campaign structure recommendations:

  • Automation works better with more data, so consolidate similar traffic into fewer, larger ad groups (for example, based on conversion value).
  • If you’re manually targeting different types of audiences (e.g. re-engagement and awareness), consider managing them in different campaigns so you have more control over budget, conversion targets and creatives.
  • Combine these recommendations with responsive display ads for more relevant creative.
Your business is reassessing priorities

If your business is reassessing its approach, you may be focusing on mitigating risk until you settle on next steps. This can include thinking critically about how to be resilient through cash management challenges and fluctuations in customers–or even scaling back efforts so you have more time to make a decision. 

While you keep an eye on shifting trends, there are ways to adapt your campaigns to the current situation so you can be there for your customers. Below are some recommendations to help you focus on optimization while you reassess your approach:

Recommendation

How to execute in Google Ads

Deal with uncertainty

  • Use ad scheduling to control the days and times when your ads appear.
  • Proactively communicate any business changes to your users–such as reduced hours of operation–by updating your Google My Business page.

Optimize your budgets

  • Campaign volume may vary on a daily basis as supply and demand fluctuate. Shared budgets can help you automatically allocate budgets across your campaigns to make sure they stay funded when volume unexpectedly shifts (not compatible with Maximize conversions bidding or pay for conversions billing).
  • Move unused budget to the ads that need it the most using the “Move Unused Budget”  recommendation. Expand campaigns with increased demand using the “Raise Budgets” recommendation in campaigns that are performing the best. Repeat every 1-2 weeks to ensure budget allocations are updated.

Drive efficiency through bidding

  • Use Smart Bidding to control spend and drive efficiency, and automatically react to changes in the market. 
  • For Target CPA and Target ROAS bid strategies, adjust your CPA and ROAS targets as needed to manage spend and meet your goals.
  • Campaigns using Maximize conversions and Maximize clicks bidding will aim to maximize volume within your budget. Use this budget to indicate your new spend goals.
  • Avoid paying over your target CPA with pay for conversions billing and Target CPA bidding. This is only available for eligible advertisers*, and incompatible with shared budgets and offline conversion tracking.

Drive performance through optimization

  • After 2 weeks of stabilization and seeking efficiencies, start to optimize your campaigns.
  • View your recommended target CPA during campaign creation (refreshed every week). We recommend a minimum budget of 10x your target CPA.
  • After two weeks of stabilization with new targets, pause any underperforming campaigns / ad groups.

Drive performance with audiences

  • Smart Display campaigns will adjust ads serving in order to meet your goals. For Display campaigns with manual targeting, monitor and assess existing audience performance and keep investing in top-performing audience segments. 
  • Automated bidding will optimize to your target while considering the performance of any audiences. If using manual bidding, use reporting to optimize bids on top-performing segments that will likely drive volume in reduced investment scenarios.
  • Use predefined reports to analyze your audience performance. The Audience report can be quickly customized to assess the data that is most important for you (e.g. cost per conversion).
  • Monitor performance of your audience segments, and if you need to prioritize, focus on remarketing & Customer Match audiences to stay connected with your existing customers.
  • Use audience expansion to reach new users that are predicted to give you the same or better conversion rates. Use similar audiences if you want more control over budget and creatives while finding new customers based on your first-party audiences.
  • All audience targeting types work best in combination with Smart Bidding and responsive display ads.

Uncover new opportunities

  • Review your optimization score to identify areas that can drive performance with budgets, creative, bidding and targeting recommendations.

Evaluate your creative

  • Conduct a thorough creative review of your Display ads.
  • Responsive display ads can help you nimbly adjust marketing strategy, delivering the right message in a rapidly changing market. 
  • Optimize with the asset report. Rather than refreshing an entire responsive display ad, use the asset report to focus creative optimization on “Low” performing headlines, descriptions and images.

*Your account must have more than 100 conversions in the last 30 days to use pay for conversions billing. You’ll also need 90% of your conversions to occur less than 7 days after someone clicks your ad.

 

We also recommend you take a look at your website. An optimized user experience on mobile generally drives more conversions and a higher return on ad spend. Ensure your website is available and usable for everyone during COVID-19.

You can also use the recently launched banner feature of Google Optimize to help you keep customers informed about changes to your normal business hours, services offered, shipping policies, and more.

Your business is pivoting to adapt products and services

If your business is quickly pivoting to adapt your products and services, create new offerings, or reach your customers in new ways due to new consumer trends, you may want to focus on understanding how to shift your strategy while maintaining volume.

Below are some recommendations to help you maintain volume as you move your Display campaigns toward new objectives:

Recommendation

How to execute in Google Ads

Maintain volume

  • Use Smart Bidding to understand budget and bid scenarios required to maintain the same volume.
  • Use audience expansion to maximize budget utilization at the same performance level.
  • Drive efficiency with Smart Bidding while continuing to monitor performance. For gradual market changes, auction-time signals respond well automatically. For sudden changes, adjust targets if necessary.
  • Avoid paying over your target CPA with pay for conversions billing and Target CPA bidding. This is only available for eligible advertisers*, and incompatible with shared budgets and offline conversion tracking.

Fine-tune audiences

  • Avoid abrupt changes. Monitor audience performance and keep budget available for top-performing audience segments. 
  • Continue to invest in first-party audiences (remarketing & Customer Match) and expand your reach with audience expansion if your base of customers is expected to stay the same.  
  • For additional volume or more control over budget and creatives, consider creating a campaign targeting similar audiences based on your first-party lists. Start with similar audiences based on converters before moving to audiences that are further up the funnel.
  • If changing business models, review existing audiences and consider adding new prospecting segments like in-market and custom intent audiences that align with your new strategy. 
  • All audience targeting types work best in combination with Smart Bidding and responsive display ads

*Your account must have more than 100 conversions in the last 30 days to use pay for conversions billing. You’ll also need 90% of your conversions to occur less than 7 days after someone clicks your ad.

 

You may also find that you or your team has extra bandwidth–but you aren’t ready to make big changes to your campaigns just yet. We recommend these smaller optimizations to help you make use of this extra time:

  • Optimize your account structure and combine it with Smart Bidding, responsive display ads, and  audience expansion. A simpler, consolidated account structure can help you drive performance and save time.
  • Conduct a thorough creative review of your display ads. Pay attention to tone, highlight any business changes, and make sure your message is helpful. 
  • While Google cannot provide specific creative recommendations, we can support you by proactively flagging potentially sensitive language and landing pages.
Your business is investing to meet increased demand

Consumer behavior is shifting, leading some businesses to experience higher demand for their services and products than before. If your company is investing to meet increases in customer demand, you may be in a position to expand into new audiences, markets, and customers.

By assessing your immediate and long-term marketing plans, you can find ways to invest in your business to meet demand–and serve your customers in the best way possible. 

Recommendation

How to execute in Google Ads

Prioritize your tasks

  • Focus on your highest-impact tasks first by using tools like optimization score. This can help you discover relevant optimization recommendations and their estimated impact.

Maximize your coverage 

  • Evaluate your budgets and targeting to make sure that the right message can reach the right user.
  • Look for recommended target CPA during campaign creation. Create a budget of 10x the target CPA and use audience expansion to maximize budget utilization.
  • Estimate your results with bid, budget and target simulators
  • Accept budget recommendations to continually optimize budgets every 1-2 weeks as demand grows.

Invest in a robust audience strategy

Control spend and drive efficiency with Smart Bidding

  • Campaigns using Maximize conversions and Maximize clicks bidding will aim to maximize volume within your budget. Use this budget to indicate your new spend goals.
  • For Target CPA and Target ROAS bid strategies, adjust your CPA and ROAS targets as needed to manage spend and meet your goals.
  • Avoid paying over your target CPA with pay for conversions billing and Target CPA bidding. This is only available for eligible advertisers*, and incompatible with shared budgets and offline conversion tracking.
*Your account must have more than 100 conversions in the last 30 days to use pay for conversions billing. You’ll also need 90% of your conversions to occur less than 7 days after someone clicks your ad.

 

Below are some specific recommendations to help you evolve your Display campaigns and focus on operating efficiently in times of uncertainty:

We know that brand safety is paramount. As you look to expand to new audiences, markets, and customers, keep the following guidance in mind:

  • As part of our enforcement of Google Ads policy, we do not allow ads to run on certain keywords, regardless of ad and site content.
  • To safeguard your brand and make sure you’re not associated with the wrong content, you may use content exclusions and site category options to control where your ads appear. 
  • Conduct a thorough creative review of your display ads. Pay attention to tone, highlight any business changes, and make sure your message is helpful. 
  • While Google cannot provide specific creative recommendations, we can support you by proactively flagging potentially sensitive language and landing pages.

Consumer Trends

Today’s rapid market changes create a massive amount of data and insights, but it’s hard to find clarity in the noise and determine which trends will empower your decision-making.

To identify real-time insights and search trends that are relevant to your business, use Google Trends to explore what’s top of mind for your customers and to discover how to adjust your ads to help meet expectations:

Recommendation

How to use Google Trends

Find popular and trending terms

  • The Trending Searches page indicates what topics are trending right now, which can be helpful to get a first pulse of how people around the world are searching. You can also see a term’s popularity over time.
  • To further explore curated insights about a popular topic, click one of the examples such as Coronavirus Search Trends under Latest Stories and Insights.

Find related topics or queries

  • Related topics or queries can be used to determine the top and rising topics or terms associated with a search. This can be useful to uncover customer needs that are less obvious.

Compare search terms

  • Add topics for simultaneous comparison by clicking + Compare and typing in your search term.

Narrow your search by time

  • To be relevant in the moment and improve readability for breakthrough trends, use the Past 12 months dropdowns to refine your exploration and focus on a shorter period of time, such as ‘past 30 days.’

To put this in practice, let’s say you’re a beauty supplier who wants to find out what people need as COVID-19 is changing their beauty routine. Using Google Trends’ comparison feature, you can pinpoint increased search interest in "hair scissors", while searches for “hair salon near me” decline. 

By looking at the trend over the last 90 days, it turns out “hair salon near me” historically generates more searches than “hair scissors.” Learn more about how to use Google Trends here.

Rethink brand suitability

In the wake of COVID-19, a significant portion of content available online either references or directly addresses this topic. This creates a new brand safety challenge for marketers. To find the right approach, you may need to revise your prior brand suitability strategy. Some guiding questions can be:

  • What content presents unacceptable vs tolerable risks to my brand?
  • What content are my customers currently consuming?
  • How will my customers feel to see my brand in that context?

All brands are impacted very differently and there is no perfect playbook for times like these. The “tragedy & conflict” sensitive content exclusion available for Google Display ads allows you to avoid serving ads on tragic content without completely avoiding all COVID-19 associations. It’s a great way to protect your brand from the riskiest cases while still supporting your trusted news partners and not severely limiting your ability to reach your audience. Use the "infectious diseases" topic exclusion as a last resort if your brand has very high sensitivities to any sort of COVID-19 content. This control will prevent you from serving ads on a significant amount of inventory, including major news publishers.

In any case, we recommend using content exclusions and site category options, which are more dynamic and less laborious to manage than site or keyword exclusions.

Prepare for what’s next

While we don’t know when the disruptive shifts of this crisis will resolve, we do know that remaining flexible is the key to staying connected with customers and giving them the support they need. 

Only time will tell if certain consumer behavior shifts will endure, but the sum effect will be a lasting acceleration to digital. So as we work to be there for one another, use this time to reevaluate business priorities, test new approaches, and connect with customers in new ways.

 

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