During COVID-19, people are spending more time researching purchases and shopping online. No surprise then that Microsoft data shows search will be the least affected media channel during the pandemic.
This means there’s a big opportunity for businesses to capitalize on the increase of paid and organic searches, digital marketing, and paid advertising. Microsoft is calling search “a steady ship in stormy waters,” with forecasts showing that for many advertisers, search will see the smallest drop in spending relative to other channels, said Christi Olson, Microsoft’s head of evangelism for search and advertising.
“In many cases, budgets have been shifted from other media to search, demonstrating the value of search for brands,” Olson said this month during the Digital Air Strike-hosted webinar, “Microsoft Shares New Search & Advertising Strategies for Businesses.”
Social media marketing, reputation management, and online marketing are key to reaching consumers while they’re searching from home. Using keywords consumers are searching for, while implementing the right search engine strategies, is also important.
“Think about your evergreen strategy,” said Olson, who has been recognized as one of the top 25 most influential paid search experts in the world. “Think about how you can stack those offers and be empathetic with your message and your copy, and how you can take advantage of everything that’s available today. Because we do know, and we recognize the economy is not what it was a year ago. It was not where it was six months ago. We’re starting to see some recovery. We’re hoping that it’s going to continue down that path.”
Key themes for business’ account health
- Audit, audit, audit! — “It’s really easy when you’re running promotions or specials that you might forget to update your ad copy, or you might have changed settings during something like COVID-19,” Olson said. “You want to have some sort of list of, ‘What is your strategy,’ if you’ve made an update or change. You can make sure your account is structured and set up today that matches that same pattern. Make sure you have a solid checklist.”
- Sharpen your operational work.
- Focus on efficiencies.
- Balance automation and manual checks. Don’t set it and forget it. Your human eyes matter. Schedule regular manual checks.
- Use automation to adjust to the “new normal.” Automation can help with consistency, relevancy and optimization management.
Key themes for business’ immediate strategies
- Be more visible. Get in front of consumers throughout their journey. “Consider how you can be more top-of-mind with brand advertising,” Olson said. “Consider native and display ads, for example, to build more direct connection with customers by reaching them in a targeted, efficient and relevant context.” Companies can improve their organic visibility by getting near real-time indexing by using the Bing Webmaster Tools URL Submission tool or API by clicking here.
- Safeguard with responsive search ads. “Everyone is glued to the news,” she said. “Get in front of customers where they are. Native can be a cost-effective way to maintain brand awareness and set you up for success in the future.”
- Make sure your business listing data is up to date! Are you open or closed? What are your hours now?
Key themes: Rebound and restoration
- Modify messaging. Be thoughtful with images, especially group shots, and messages. Think about empathy, offerings and relevancy.
- Adjust keyword and budget strategies. How do you allocate your budget to make sure that you’re still visible if people are searching?
- Adjust KPIs. Make sure that you’re going back and making adjustments during each phase that would be re-opened.
- Sustain your campaigns running at lower budgets vs. turning off. You can’t just turn it on and your ads appear.
Automotive-specific paid advertising
With automotive paid advertising, Microsoft is seeing signs things are picking up and the industry is starting to climb back. “We’re doing great compared to the travel industry, which has seen decreases of up to 90%,” Olson said.
Keeping in mind how your business reaches and engages with your customers is key, she said.
“Because really, in the end, it’s always about reaching your customers, wherever they’re searching, regardless of their searching across different devices,” Olson said. “Being empathetic so that you can essentially earn the permission to be a part of their life, to have that meaningful connection at the dealership level. To help give them something they’re looking for, like a new car so they can get to their jobs and so they can be safe if they’re driving down the road.”
Top Paid Clicks
Tier 1 and dealer ads are the most common cross-category click pair, representing the top 45% of paid click sequences, according to Microsoft data.
- 47% of search paths include an OEM Tier 1 and a dealer paid click.
- 42% of search paths include an OEM Tier 1 and a third party paid click (such as Kelley Blue Book, Carfax, and those types of sites).
- 31% of paths include a dealer and a 3rd party click.
- 27% of paths include a paid click for OEM Tier I, dealer and third party.
“There’s a lot of opportunity to make sure that you’re coordinating with your strategies of what’s being advertised, and how you’re advertising, so that your ad is showing up at the same time as an OEM or second-tier ads, because consumers are going across the different types of sites,” Olson said. “Consumers are trying to understand what to purchase.”
Key takeaways from the Microsoft Consumer Journey Insights
- 67% of auto shoppers engage with more than one automotive category in their search paths, illustrating the need to coordinate strategies across tiers and partners.
- Automotive searchers move up and down the funnel. Their path does not immediately flow from OEM to dealership.
- Stacking OEM tiers results in a 194%-plus greater click-through rate to a visit to a dealer site.
While each automotive category participates across the full funnel of query intent:
- Tier 1 captures a larger relative share of fuel, incentives, financing, leasing and specs queries.
- Tier 2 and 3 captures a larger relative share of dealer queries.
- Third party captures a larger relative share of purchase and review queries.
What opportunities do dealers have right now to optimize the customer journey? “It’s good to make sure that what you’re doing from an operational standpoint makes a big impact,” Olson said.
For every query intent using a list of keywords, non-brand is key, Olson said, saying it represents 12-37% of the clicks. For example, non-branded auto queries include subjects like financing, incentives, purchase, lease and dealer. It’s important to consider this when working on your company’s marketing strategy.
“If you’ve already maximized all your branded queries, and you’re trying to drive more sales, and you have room in your budget to test this,” Olson said. “Not testing it is like shutting your door on one in three, or one in four people. That could be your next customer.”
To see Microsoft’s latest COVID-19 insights and resources for advertisers, click here.
Digital Air Strike hosts free, weekly webinars and Facebook Lives with experts in the auto and business industry. Reserve your spot now for an upcoming webinar.