Today in the face of COVID-19, we take our exploration several layers deeper and dig into the real-life performance data. Innovator’s digital team explored more than 15 active client development websites and digital lead generation campaigns over the first half of March, then stacked those results against marketing performance from the back half of the month. Monday, March 16, arguably marks the first business day that the pandemic was indisputably spreading across the United States and other parts of world, so the month offers a clean symmetry for a “before/after” comparison. Let’s put the data under the microscope.
Starting on or around March 15, many brands scaled back or completely shut off all paid advertising campaigns. (Your brand may have been one of them!) As such, we have two major variables to study: 1) the impact of Covid-19 on target audience behavior, and 2) the relative impact of maintaining, reducing, or completely turning off all paid budgets.
During this time frame (and as always), we continued to manage websites for the brands, and tracked both paid and organic traffic and lead generation. Amid a mountain of data points, let’s shine a spotlight on numbers that really matter. Comparing March 1–15 against March 16–31, we first examined organic traffic. (If you’re wondering what organic (or “free”) traffic has to do with paid advertising, bear with me for a minute.)
> Brands (spending normally) on paid advertising at pre-Covid levels saw a 6.52% decrease in organic website traffic.
> Brands (spending at reduced levels) on paid advertising saw a 16.56% decrease in organic website traffic.
> Brands that (stopped spending) on paid advertising saw a 37.06% decrease in organic website traffic.
With overall Internet usage up, time spent online is primarily being spent on things like messaging, Zoom meetings (along with getting Zoombombed!) and social media. However, brands that are investing in paid advertising are holding steady organically. Why? While paid advertising does not directly affect organic results, third-party studies (and years of accrued proprietary data) clearly demonstrate that the awareness created by paid advertising correlates with increased organic traffic. People who see ads on Facebook and Google while web browsing, watching YouTube, sending emails, etc., organically enter the website later when they are in the right frame of mind for researching product/service needs.
Now let’s look at the impact of Covid-19 on paid ad impressions (the number of times ads appear on Google, Facebook, websites, etc.).
Brands that have continued their ad budgets at the same rate have experienced a 28.29% (increase) in ad impressions. (Of course brands that reduced or stopped spending saw reductions, so those data sets are not relevant.)
Ad inventory is up, with more people spending their time online than ever before. Competition for ad inventory is down, with brands scaling back ad campaigns. Thus, (inventory is more available and less expensive,) helping budgets stretch further.
Last, we look at the bottom line: Covid’s impact on paid advertising lead generation.
For brands still spending on paid advertising at pre-Covid levels, overall leads are down about 15% thanks to the drop in organic results, but paid leads are up 3.69%.
Across the board, organic leads and entrances are taking a material hit (again, innovator clients have seen between a 6.5% to 37% reduction in organic traffic depending on continued or adjusted paid spend levels). Paid advertising is driving more visibility now and helping to counteract a reduction of organic leads. Continued paid advertising at pre-Covid levels is proving to keep overall lead volume steady for those brands that haven’t shied away.
For brands still spending, why are paid impressions up more than 28%, but paid lead volume up only 3.7%? The buyer sentiment study suggests that while interest remains high, some buyers may be holding off on active discussions with brands. Consistent lead volume plus increased awareness and engagement now (even if you aren’t aware this engagement is occurring) can potentially give brands that remain in the fight a massive competitive advantage for new partner acquisition when economic activity resumes.
This is a time full of uncertainty and angst, naturally causing us to pull back and default to safe positions. But, armed with the demonstrable data, hard-won lessons learned from past recessions, and a fantastic value proposition, bold brands can seize this moment and position their brands to win in the Post-Covid world.