Managing Search Ads in response to COVID-19

A guide to help you adapt your Search 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. There may be new trends and opportunities that are relevant to your business.
  • Maximize value on search. There may be ways to generate short-term return on investment via top-performing campaigns, demographics, geographies and product lines.
  • Analyze auction dynamics. Understand how the auction is shifting in turbulent times via tools like Keyword Planner and Auction insights.

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

Recommendation How to execute in Google Ads
Manage volatility
  • Optimize your budgets every one to two weeks as demand shifts over time, or as needed in response to business pressure (for example, supply chain uncertainty, uncertain demand).
  • Use Performance Planner or Search Ads 360 budget management to understand the implications of different budget scenarios.
  • Check budget recommendations for your top-performing campaigns if you want to only make investments that will result in short-term ROI improvements.
  • 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.
  • 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.
Simplify campaign management
  • Consider a Smart Bidding portfolio bid strategy if goals are similar across campaigns. This makes it easy to maximize performance across multiple campaigns, instead of at the individual campaign level.
  • For Search Ads 360 users, consider using an inventory feed to generate and manage Search campaigns, ad groups, text ads, keywords, and sitelinks. As your inventory data updates, Search Ads 360 inventory management will update these generated campaigns and other items.
  • Use location exclusions for regions where your supply chain is disrupted, or where you cannot currently do business.

 

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:

  • Consolidate your traffic into fewer, larger ad groups. This gives tools like Smart Bidding more data to work with.
  • Consider broadening your keyword match types for campaigns that use Smart Bidding. This makes it easier for you to reach more people while maintaining your performance.
  • Maximize coverage and incremental reach with Dynamic Search Ads.
  • Combine the above recommendations with responsive search ads and dynamic ad extensions 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.
  • Add a new pinned asset to your responsive search ads that highlights changes to business hours or shipping time updates.
  • For Search Ads 360 users, consider using an inventory feed to generate and manage Search campaigns, ad groups, text ads, keywords, and sitelinks. As your inventory data updates, Search Ads 360 inventory management will update these generated campaigns and other items.
  • Review products and services that are affected by demand issues and adjust your campaigns accordingly. For example, mark online or local products as “out of stock” across channels if you’re unsure of real-time inventory or restocking times, and pause corresponding ads as needed.
Optimize your budgets
  • Changing patterns of demand means some campaigns may perform better than others. This may require you to optimize your budget allocation. Use Recommendations, shared budgets, Performance Planner, and other tools to efficiently allocate your budgets.
  • For Search Ads 360 users, use budget management to plan, report on budget targets, and determine optimal budget allocation across budget groups.
Drive efficiency through bidding
  • Use Smart Bidding to bid at auction-time and query-level, and automatically react to changes in the market.
  • For Target CPA and Target ROAS bid strategies, adjust your cost per acquisition and return on ad spend targets as needed to manage spend and meet your goals.
  • Maximize conversions and Maximize conversion value campaigns will aim to maximize conversions and conversion value within your budget. Use this budget to indicate your new spend goals.
  • If you have similar goals across campaigns, consider combining a portfolio bid strategy with a shared budget. This makes it easy for you to maximize performance and spend across multiple campaigns.
  • For Search Ads 360 automated bid strategies, consider enabling auction-time bidding to allow for faster reaction time and the inclusion of real-time signals (Google Ads media only).
  • Where eligible, use Search Ads 360 budget bid strategies with auction-time bidding. This can help you hit your custom spend targets.
Drive performance with audiences
Uncover new opportunities
  • Review your optimization score to identify areas that can drive performance with budget, audience, creative, keyword, and other recommendations.
  • Use Performance Planner to adjust targets based on your budget goals.
Evaluate your creative
  • Conduct a thorough creative review of your search text ads, extensions, and landing pages. Pay attention to tone, highlight any business changes, and check that your message is helpful.
  • For Search Ads 360 users, use ad builders to make changes to your ad copy at scale.

 

We also recommend you take a look at your website. An optimized mobile website experience generally drives more conversions and a higher return on ad spend. Ensure that the core functionality of your website is always available, accessible, secure, usable, discoverable, and fast.

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 Search campaigns toward new objectives:

Recommendation How to execute in Google Ads
Maintain volume

 

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, relevant creative, and expanded coverage through Dynamic Search Ads and broader keyword match types. A simpler, consolidated account structure can help you drive performance and save time.
  • Conduct a thorough creative review of your search text ads and extensions. Pay attention to tone, highlight any business changes, and make sure your message is helpful.
  • For Search Ads 360 users, you can use ad builders to make changes to your ad copy at scale.
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. 

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

Recommendation

How to execute in Google Ads

Prioritize your tasks

  • Prioritize tasks by using tools like optimization score. This can help you discover relevant optimization recommendations and their estimated impact.
  • Use the Google Ads mobile app (iOS, Android) to help keep you connected to your campaigns.

Maximize your coverage

  • Evaluate your budgets and targeting to make sure that the right message can reach the right user.
  • Use Performance Planner or Search Ads 360 budget management to understand incremental opportunities and plan budgets for the coming months.
  • Use budget recommendations in the Recommendations page to help you optimize your budgets every one to two weeks as demand shifts over time.
  • Use Dynamic Search Ads to help show ads on new searches your keywords may be missing.
  • View keyword recommendations to help you identify new opportunities.
  • Consider opting in to search partners to find additional, qualified search traffic.

Reach new audiences

  • Create audiences such as “Recent Purchasers,” “Recent Cancellations,” or “Recent FAQ Customer Service Visitors” to reconnect with site visitors who may be ready to buy.
  • Add similar audiences to find people who may be the next most likely to buy if you see repeat traffic shrinking.
  • Reach people based on their interests and recent purchase intent by using relevant affinity and in-market audiences.
  • Use combined audiences to create niche audiences that better represent segments of your customer base.
  • Monitor the performance of each audience by applying them to your campaigns and using the Observation setting.
  • Consider using custom ad text and landing pages to ensure your audiences receive brand-appropriate messaging.

Tailor your creative

  • Tailor your creative to highlight new information for the right people at the right time.
  • Make sure you’re sensitive to how certain words may make your audience feel. Stay up to date on policy guidelines related to COVID-19
  • Avoid words with double meanings like “protection,” “checkup,” “prevention,” or “virus.” For international campaigns, be aware of local terms that have been used to reference COVID-19 and regional disruptions.
  • Edit your ads as needed to let customers know if you offer services like delivery, in-store, or curbside pick up.
  • Review shipping settings and estimated delivery time to ensure your ads accurately reflect current capabilities.
  • Use sitelink extensions to make information stand out and take people to the right page on your site.
  • Use responsive search ads to help your ad content adapt to shifting search terms. 
  • If you’re already using responsive search ads, look for ad groups that may have an opportunity to improve Ad strength.
  • Use dynamic ad extensions to make your ads more relevant without adding any additional work.
  • Use call ads to connect with people who can’t go to your physical location. Enable an ad schedule that drives calls when you have someone there ready to answer the phone. You can also include an optional “Visit website” link that can be added if call centers are closed or have limited capacity.

Choose and optimize your bid strategies based on goals

  • Use Target CPA and Target ROAS bid strategies to optimize within a specific cost per acquisition or return on ad spend target, and use this target as a lever to manage spend. For example, an increase in CPA targets or a decrease in ROAS targets will typically increase bids and spend, and vice versa.
  • Use Maximize conversions and Maximize conversion value bid strategies to maximize conversions and conversion value within a specific daily budget.
  • For Search Ads 360 automated ROAS and CPA bid strategies, consider enabling auction-time bidding to allow for faster reaction time and the inclusion of real-time signals (Google Ads media only).
  • Use Search Ads 360 budget bid strategies to hit custom spend targets. Where eligible, combine this bid strategy with auction-time bidding.

 

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

  • Remember that 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. 
  • Use negative keywords to help you focus on only the keywords that matter to your customers.
  • Conduct a thorough review of your search text ads and extensions. While Google cannot provide specific creative recommendations, we can support you by proactively flagging potentially sensitive language and landing pages.

Understand trends in Search

Today’s rapidly evolving market creates a massive amount of data, making it hard to stay on top of the unpredictable changes in people’s needs and interests. To keep up, businesses are using a variety of resources like social listening, surveys, and their first-party data. 

To help, we released a new tool on Think with Google to help you understand how consumers are changing their preferences and expectations. This interactive tool surfaces the fastest rising retail categories in Google Search, the geographies where they’re growing, and the actual queries associated with them. And the data updates daily to keep up with your evolving needs.

To identify other search trends and real-time insights that are relevant to your business, use Google Trends. This is an easy way to explore what’s top of mind for your customers–and discover how to adjust your marketing strategy to help meet their expectations:

Recommendation

How to use Google Trends

Quickly find major trends

  • 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.
  • Check Google Trends' Latest Stories and Insights such as "Coronavirus Search Trends" to explore curated insights and see how people are searching for a topic.

See a term’s popularity over time

  • The “Interest over time” graph helps you understand if a term’s popularity is steady, seasonal, or influenced by isolated events.

Expand your research

  • Determine the top and rising topics or terms that are associated with any search to uncover your customers’ needs.
  • Add topics for simultaneous comparison by clicking + Compare and typing in your search term.

Adjust your strategy to local conditions

  • The heat map highlights countries, regions, or cities where a term is popular.

 

Learn more about how to use Google Trends here.

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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