Managing Discovery ads in response to COVID-19

A guide to help you adapt your Discovery 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 opportunities that are relevant to your business. 
  • Maximize value. There may be ways to generate short-term return on investment via top-performing campaigns, demographics, geographies and product lines.
  • Analyze trends. Use Google Analytics and Google Search Console to understand user behavior on your website. 

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

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Manage volatility

  • Adjust campaign budgets as needed in response to business pressure (e.g. supply chain uncertainty, uncertain demand).
  • A Target CPA bid strategy is recommended for Discovery campaigns to put you in control of your costs. You can view your recommended target CPA using the tCPA simulator. We recommend a minimum budget of 10x your target CPA.
  • Proactively communicate any business changes to your users–such as reduced hours of operation–by updating your Google My Business page.

Simplify campaign management

  • Use location targeting to make adjustments where your supply chain is severely disrupted or you can’t currently do business.
  • Enable campaign-level conversions and optimize for the objectives that matter most for your business.   
  • Monitor performance of existing audience segments and understand what’s driving the strongest results. You can focus on audiences that use your first party data (Remarketing and Customer Match) to drive sales from existing customers, or alternatively exclude these audience lists to focus on acquiring new customers for your business. 
  • Consider using audience expansion to expand campaign reach while maintaining performance.

 

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).
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:

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Deal with uncertainty

  • Proactively communicate any business changes to your users–such as reduced hours of operation–by updating your Google My Business page.

Drive efficiency through bidding

  • A Target CPA bid strategy is recommended for Discovery campaigns to put you in control of your costs. Adjust targets as needed to manage spend and return on investment goals. 

Drive performance through campaign optimization

  • After two weeks of stabilization and seeking efficiencies, start to optimize your campaigns. Pause any underperforming campaigns and reallocate budgets to campaigns driving results. 
  • View your recommended target CPA using the tCPA simulator. We recommend a minimum budget of 10x your target CPA.

Drive performance with audiences

  • Use predefined reports to analyze your audience performance. The Audience report can be quickly customized with columns to assess the data that is most important for you (e.g. cost per conversion).
  • If investment prioritization is needed, focus on engaging existing customers and website visitors via first-party lists (Remarketing & Customer Match). If you want to find users similar to those in your first-party lists, use audience expansion or similar audiences. 
  • Use audience expansion to reach new users that are predicted to give you the same or better conversion rates. Similar audiences allow you more control over budget and creatives while helping you find new customers.

Drive performance with landing pages

  • Optimized landing pages with targeted, relevant messaging generally drive more conversions and provide higher return on ad-spend. 
  • Make sure your landing page focuses on a single goal promoted with a descriptive call-to-action (CTA) above the fold. Ensure the CTA of your ad matches the CTA on your landing page (e.g. sign up, shop now).

Evaluate your creative

  • Conduct a thorough creative review of your Discovery ads with the asset report. Determine which assets are performing the best and focus creative optimization on “low” performing headlines, descriptions and images.
  • Understand the Discovery ads creative guidelines to ensure your ads provide a high-quality consumer experience and are in line with our advertising policies. 
  • Review our creative asset guide to learn how to build stunning ads that catch people's attention and get them to take action. 

 

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. Use this guidance to ensure that the core functionality of your website is always available, accessible, secure, usable, discoverable, and fast.
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 Discovery campaigns toward new objectives:

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Maintain volume by fine-tuning your audience strategy

  • Avoid abrupt changes. Monitor audience performance and keep budget available for top-performing audience segments. 
  • Communicate to existing customers by investing in first-party audiences (Remarketing & Customer Match) and use audience expansion to reach new users and maximize budget utilization at the same performance level. These users are predicted to give you the same or better conversion rates.  
  • 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, consider building an audience strategy to communicate with new customers outside of your existing customer base. Add new prospecting segments like in-market and custom intent audiences to reach people based on their interests and purchase intent. 

 

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:

  • Review our best practices guide for tips on how to drive better performance with your Discovery campaigns.

Conduct a creative review of your Discovery ads with the asset report. Determine which assets are performing the best and focus creative optimization on “low” performing headlines, descriptions and images.

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 Discovery campaigns and focus on operating efficiently in times of uncertainty:

Recommendation

How to execute in Google Ads






 

Maximize your coverage 

  • Use the predictive machine learning that powers Google Audiences to reach new consumers and grow your customer base even when user signals are limited. 
  • Use audience insights from your first-party audiences (Remarketing & Customer Match) to identify favorable user behavior and use other audience strategies based on these characteristics. 
  • 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. 
  • Reach people based on their interests and what they’re actively researching by using relevant in-market and custom affinity audiences. 
  • Use custom intent audiences to reach customers who have recently searched for specific keywords on Google and have a high purchase intent. 
  • Advertisers that add custom intent, customer match, remarketing, or similar audiences to their Discovery campaigns have seen 81% higher conversion rates and 25% lower CPAs.  

Control spend and drive efficiency with Smart Bidding

  • A Target CPA bid strategy is recommended for Discovery campaigns to put you in control of your costs. Adjust targets as needed to manage spend and return on investment goals. We recommend a minimum budget of 10x your target CPA. 
  • Campaigns using Maximize conversions bidding will aim to maximize volume within your budget. Use this budget to indicate your new spend goals.

 

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 certain ads to run based on their content.
  • Discovery campaigns automatically apply exclusions to help ensure your ads appear next to advertiser-friendly content
  • Since Discovery ads appear in connection with feed-based content on YouTube Home and Watch Next feeds, Gmail, and Discover, they don't use account-level content exclusion settings that are only applicable to websites, pages, videos, and apps. To ensure that your ads appear with content you believe is suitable for your brand, we instead apply account-level content exclusions to the main video on the YouTube Watch Next feed. 
  • Conduct a thorough creative review of your Discovery ads and review both the Discovery ads creative guidelines and creative asset guide. Pay attention to tone, highlight any business changes, and make sure your message is helpful.

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 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 what's top of mind for consumers. 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 Mother’s Day 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, and allow you to build out a relevant custom intent audience strategy. 

Compare 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 consumer interest in "hair scissors", while interest in “hair salon near me” is in 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.

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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