The COVID-19 pandemic has been described as a “once in a generation” crisis, a “black swan,” and a “war on an invisible enemy.” Whatever you call it, one thing is for sure: it’s impacting all of us and it’s tough not to panic. Each day feels uncertain, and imagining the world just a few months from now feels impossible.
As marketers, we’re tasked with influencing user behavior—a challenging task in the best of times. So, how can you tackle planning at this completely unpredictable time?
In an article about decision making in uncertain times, consulting firm McKinsey & Company advised business leaders that their first step should be to, “pause and take a breath—literally. Giving yourself a moment to step back, take stock, anticipate, and prioritize may seem counterintuitive, but it’s essential now.”
Harvard Business Review seconds this advice. When asking how to make good decisions despite the human psychological factors like uncertainty and lack of control, they shared, “The best way to resist the siren call of action is to slow down. Panic makes people want to act right now to avoid a threat, but most of the actions you are likely to take will not be prudent in the face of a potential pandemic.”
When you have had a moment to calm your fears, steady yourself, and regain focus, turn to data.
The only way to make sound marketing decisions right now is to know your customers—and how they might change in the face of a recession. And the only way to know that is to use data, whether it’s yours or from the larger industry
Using Your Own Data
If you’re running Google Analytics or other tracking tools on your website, you’re sitting on a goldmine of data. And in this changing environment, you may just find a new market unfolding there.
While these tools offer a ton of data, they can be overwhelming. The first step should always be identifying the types of questions you want to answer. Lily Kennett, Director of Intelligence at Schilling Partners, told Financier Worldwide, “Monitoring is part of the answer, and for this to be done really successfully it is valuable to spend time up front to assess what you would monitor for. Simply put, what matters most, and how do you track it? This might include a focus on images or hashtags, or a close watch on influential accounts for comments or inferences that might influence the dialogue. You need to monitor in a meaningful way to inform the response.”
In terms of website traffic analysis, revenue is and always will be the single most important point to measure. However, when you have a longer sales cycle (as many tech companies do), and the world is changing rapidly, getting good revenue figures may not be possible. Instead, let’s look at some other key points to measure:
- Conversions and conversion rate
- Assisted conversions and the source of assists
- Landing pages and traffic sources
- New backlinks
- Keyword ranking fluctuations
Let’s take this one at a time and explore how we can use these data points to quickly make decisions.
Conversions and Conversion Rate
For most tech companies, tracking a conversion is a lot simpler than tracking a sale (and revenue). Conversions are often just contacts or requests for a demo, so they are simpler to get numbers for—but they are also a great indicator of interest and how it is changing.
Look at your conversion numbers week by week, overlaying those figures on the dates the coronavirus has unfolded to get an idea of how the virus is impacting your trends. Have the number of conversions fallen? What about the actual conversion rate? While you’ll likely see fewer conversions right now, thanks to declines in web traffic, hopefully your conversion rate isn’t falling as well.
Once you have a handle on how your conversion rate is faring, break down that data even further. Which sources of traffic are leading to the highest and lowest conversion rates? How is that different than it was one month ago and one year ago? (Looking at a year ago will help you adjust for any seasonality in your trends.)
Under normal circumstances, this information might help you spread dollars across all the channels based on the amount of help they need. In the short-term height of the COVID-19 crisis, however, you might consider focusing only on the best performing channel. Social media bringing in highly converting traffic? That’s where the people are right now…so follow them! Paid ads doing horribly, but organic traffic to your blog is picking up? Add new posts.
When looking at the sources of your conversions, don’t neglect multi-channel and assisted conversion reports. In B2B technology, few visitors convert on the first touch. Understanding and attributing multiple touch points will ensure you don’t neglect important channels.
Landing Pages and Traffic Sources
As you’re looking at conversions and the multiple touch points that feed them, a key data point to examine is your site’s most popular landing pages. The page visitors first saw in their session—and how they found it (organic search, paid ad, link, etc.)—can help you get inside a visitor’s head. Even with most organic search terms hidden in Google Analytics, seeing the landing page can give you hints about the type of content people are looking for. Compare the most popular landing pages since the virus hit to those in the weeks, months and a year before. What trends are you seeing, and how can you capitalize on them? If you’re getting a lot of hits on a paid ad pointing to a particular landing page, can you tweak its messaging to be more relevant right now? Can you add an offer that would entice new users? If your contact page is suddenly the most popular landing page, are you doing enough to allow customers and prospects to reach you while no one’s answering the phones?
With so much in work life rapidly changing, technology companies are seeing a surge of interest in products that enable remote work and facilitate communications. Companies who didn’t have contingency plans and good security in place are seeing the error of their ways. And people are suddenly sharing tips and tools like they never have before.
As a result, new backlinks pointing to your website might be springing up rapidly. A tool such as Ahrefs, Moz or Neil Patel’s free backlink checker can help you track the number and source of backlinks. If you’re seeing new ones pop up, look for patterns. The content linking to your site might just help you see a new use of your product or a new way to explain it. It might inspire a blog post or two, provide fodder for a case study or give you the source for a new testimonial.
Keyword Ranking Fluctuations
Google’s algorithm takes current events into account when it is determining rankings and often gives priority to content that is newer, more authoritative and more relevant. As a result, you may see fairly significant fluctuations in your SERPS while coronavirus dominates the headlines.
Google’s Search Console will give you insight into your rankings, as will those mentioned above.
While you might see some declining rankings, don’t let things get too far out of hand. If there is a term that you’ve historically ranked well for but you’re being pushed out of the top spot, dig into who is beating you and find out what they’re doing better. (Are they gaining backlinks, writing fresh content, adding “stickier” elements like videos or interactive tools?)
The number of visitors on your site is an important metric, and it can feel terrifying to watch it drop. But engagement is actually a better indicator of site health. If the visitors who are still finding you maintain or increase their levels of engagement, you don’t need to worry nearly as much.
Engagement can be defined as a combination of the time spent on the site, the pages per visit and—perhaps most importantly—the time spent on each page. You’re probably used to glancing at those numbers to ensure they’ve stayed roughly the same. However, now is the time to really dig into them. Pick out key pages on your site—the so-called “money” pages—and analyze their engagement rates. If you’re seeing a decline in traffic to those pages that does not correspond to general declines (i.e., site traffic declined 25%, but money page traffic declined 50%) or that people are spending less time on those pages, consider how to make them more visible, rank better and more relevant to your visitors’ current needs and pain points..
Data from External Sources
In normal times, we’d warn against making big decisions based on small data sets. Depending on how many visitors you get to your site normally, a week or two weeks of data may not be statistically significant. While these times call for some relaxation of the “rules,” it’s also a good idea to supplement your own traffic data with some external sources.
There are some great sources readily available.
An often overlooked tool, Google Trends can offer amazing insights into trending interests among Google searchers. Exploring their featured trends might spur ideas for new content, but digging into your own search terms can help put your own traffic trends into context and find new market opportunities.
Start with a broad term (e.g., “web conferencing”). You’ll see a chart showing the relative number of searches over time.
But, below that, you’ll be able to dig into details about which regions are searching for the term most often, and—more importantly—related topics and related searches. These terms are excellent guidance for addressing questions and areas of interest to your potential visitors.
Think with Google offers some excellent insights into using Google Trends data to react quickly.
Google Alerts & Social Media Tracking Tools
With so much change and uncertainty in the world, it’s more important than ever to keep your fingertips on the pulse of brand perception. Seemingly small missteps can result in backlash.
Take McDonald’s social distancing campaign. The international brand changed their iconic golden arches, separating the arches from each other in a nod to the six-foot-apart rule. However, the internet did not find it cute in light of the fact that the fast good giant was not treating its employees well during the epidemic.
To keep an eye on online reactions to your own campaigns, ensure you’re tracking mentions of your company name, names of leadership, product names, branded hashtags, taglines and any other key items. You can use Google Alerts to cover most areas of the web, but might also want to consider tools specialized for social media such as Hootsuite or BuzzSumo.
Both Google and Bing offer “predictive search”—those suggested phrases that pop-up to finish what you’re typing.
Those suggestions represent more than just a helpful way to speed up your typing. In fact, they represent the amalgamation of lots of great data and help show what people are searching for.
To get an idea of how searches around your product are changing, open an incognito window (so that your previous searches don’t influence the results) and type your company name, product name and high-priority keywords (one phrase at a time) to see what predictions appear. Since predictive search terms change based on others’ search habits, you’ll get a snapshot of search data trends.
You’re not the only one living in a coronavirus dystopia! Your competitors are facing the same challenges you are, and you might gain some important insight by watching what they are doing.
So, when you’re looking at search trends, setting up Google Alerts, and testing predictive searches for your own product and company, why not do the same for them?
There are also lots of tools you can use to “spy” on your competitors and ensure they’re not overtaking you. Many of the sites offer free tools or free trials, but the majority require a subscription to see complete data.
A sampling of tools for competitor research:
- - -
It’s a scary time with lots of unpredictability—the one thing marketers hate the most. But arming yourself with data can make you feel more in control and help you make quick decisions. The key is to keep monitoring key metrics, supervise fluctuations to your brand perception and study what the competition is doing. With these tools and insights, you can react quickly to the changing environment and keep growing.