We’re entering a recession thanks to the spread of coronavirus. For brick and mortar businesses, the social distancing and lockdown responses have been brutal.
But what about eCommerce? That’s, of course, what we work on every day, and the solution to what these businesses should do during this period is a lot more nuanced and complicated based on what we’re seeing so far.
We don’t have all the answers yet. But in this article, we’re documenting and updating tactical and strategic marketing options for eCommerce companies during this coronavirus crisis.
Below, we discuss these options in the context of the 3 pillars of eCommerce marketing: SEO, PPC, and CRO. We also discuss general tactics and strategies you can consider right now. Finally, we briefly share what we are doing as an agency for our own business.
Things are changing fast, though. So as our thinking on these topics evolves, we’ll update this post and log any updates. What you’re reading is our latest thinking on this topic.
Your Digital Marketing Strategy: Should You Make Strategic or Tactical Changes, and If So, Where?
There are three pillars to eCommerce marketing, which are also our 3 main services:
We’ll discuss each in the order above, not as an indication of any priority, but simply because we think SEO and CRO have simpler answers right now. Meanwhile, PPC has a lot of nuance, so we’ll discuss it last.
Our Thoughts on eCommerce SEO Strategy During This Time
Based on what we’re seeing so far with SEO, there’s not much need for most eCommerce businesses to make any drastic changes. As always with SEO, the resources you dedicate to it aren’t intended to yield an immediate impact.
Yes, there may be some fluctuations in search volume right now (which could be positive or negative, depending on your industry). But SEO is, by nature, a long-term play and that’s not changing.
What should those SEO activities be? Here are some case studies and resources we’ve published that can help:
- Keep your site free of low-quality zombie pages and avoid index bloat.
- Continue creating strategic content that captures search volume. Make sure it’s tied enough to products to lead to conversions. One way to do this is through eCommerce buyer guides.
- Do careful competitor comparison keyword research to see if you’re under-optimized or over-optimized, then correct for that.
- Make sure your content quality stays high and internal links are well done.
- Scale quality content production to set your site up for long term dominance in your space.
If you have questions about SEO changes you see right now, you can reach out to us via our consultation form or ask in the comments. We’ll respond as soon as we can.
Note: Within the next week, we’ll be publishing a complementary post to this, reporting on trends we are seeing across all of our clients.
Our Thoughts on eCommerce CRO Strategy During This Time
For CRO to be successful, you need enough visits to reach statistical significance in your A/B tests. So if your site continues to generate reasonable traffic, continue doing it. But if it experiences a dramatic decrease, you should stop A/B testing. That doesn’t mean you have to stop CRO, though.
You can continue to make UX improvements to your site or work on the following:
- Improve site speed (you don’t need an A/B test to tell you that faster sites convert better—this is well documented).
- Assess where your site follows or doesn’t follow eCommerce CRO best practices. Then, propose fixes based on that. Our annual eCommerce best-in-class report can help.
- Work on a large site redesign, which may be better performed when you’re not A/B testing.
Our Thoughts on eCommerce PPC Strategy During This Time
With PPC, strategy becomes more nuanced. The answer to what strategic changes you should make during this COVID-19 response period depends on the kind of business you run.
For example, we work with one company that specializes in medical supplies. They’ve cut their PPC ad spend in half because they can’t source inventory right now. Since they can’t ship orders, they needed to make some immediate choices with cash flow to invest in other parts of their business.
We also have several clients that are seeing downturns in PPC (and SEO) traffic due to a simple and expected decrease in consumer demand during this crisis—for example, in baby products, B2B industrial products, fishing products, and more.
However, we also have clients that are seeing significant improvements in PPC metrics and ultimately ROAS. One is in the supplement and nutrition space, while the other is a paid digital magazine.
How is that possible?
There are, of course, some products and industries that are in high demand during this crisis. But we currently suspect that others may simply be seeing improved (lower) click costs solely because of lower competition as many large brands are pulling back and are in “wait-and-see” mode. For example, Amazon has already decided to reduce some of its spend on Google Shopping and text ads.
What matters most in PPC is positive ROAS. As long as ROAS meet your company’s threshold, it makes financial sense to keep spending as much as possible.
For further reading, here are 2 case studies we’ve published on ROAS for eCommerce companies:
- How We Helped Skreened Achieve a 360% ROAS in One Month on Their Google Shopping Campaign
- Our Winning PPC Strategy for eCommerce: How We Increased Google Ads ROAS by 76%
So instead of making any rushed decisions with your PPC budget, track your results as time goes on. If you experience fewer conversions and less traffic, but returns remain the same, stay the course. You may even see better ROAS than normal as several of our clients have.
Ad Spend Alternatives If Physical Retail Is a Key Channel
If distribution via physical retail partners is also a big portion of your business, you can get creative with how you use your budget. If your retail partners are open (like grocery stores), there are other ways you can spend.
Here are two ideas you can try today:
- Use your advertising budget to drive foot traffic over to those retailers.
- Discuss giving some of your budget to those retailers to do extra promotion of your products. That is, even if you’re not running ads, can you give them your PPC budget for them to run ads specific to your products?
Additional eCommerce Marketing Tactics Worth Considering
During an economic downturn, it’s necessary to experiment. Below are a few tactics we’ve seen some of our eCommerce clients try already.
Targeting New Customers
Due to the pandemic, your customers may not be in a position to buy what you’re selling right now. Consider using this time to see if your products resonate with other audiences.
For example, we work with one eCommerce company that’s in the B2B swimming pool supplies business. They remain confident because pools always need cleaning. Otherwise, they can suffer damages that cost owners much more money in the long run.
It’s possible that the economic downturn may create more do-it-yourself pool owners. These would be new B2C customers relative to their usual audience of pool maintenance companies. To reach new audiences, they’re considering creating more SEO content around DIY maintenance.
Building Your Existing Audience Cheaply Now for Retargeting Later
At the same time, your customers may not be in a position to buy your products now. But this doesn’t mean they won’t buy your product in the future.
Remember, other companies may be slashing their ad spending budgets. And as a result, costs per click are likely due to drop in the coming weeks and months. If your business has enough cash in hand, you can take advantage of this.
Instead of optimizing for sales, experiment with dedicating ad spend toward growing your email list. Nurture relationships with those who sign up by offering quality content. Then, when the time is right, you’ll have a much bigger list of cheaply acquired customers to retarget to.
Even if you’re having trouble sourcing inventory, you may not need to stop selling right now. Instead, consider continuing to take orders. You can guarantee customers you’ll send products later when they’re back in stock.
Along with cutting ad spend, Amazon has stopped shipping non-essential items to warehouses. So, if you’re an eCommerce business that fulfills orders yourself, this is good news for you. Consumers that need to buy what you sell will have to do so on branded sites like yours instead.
Repurpose Your Products with New Ad Copy
Take a close look at your current product offerings. There may be an opportunity to reposition their value in a post-coronavirus world. You can achieve this by rewriting ad copy that reflects the country’s new conditions or repositioning existing products in the context of what’s happening to consumers in the world right now.
Here are 3 examples:
- Example 1 – Stickers and Badges: A client we work with sells vinyl skins for decorative use on cell phones, laptops, and other electronics. They’re brainstorming repurposing a related product (such as stickers) and connecting it to a charitable cause in the fight against coronavirus. This would give customers who would love a way to help people hurt by coronavirus an opportunity to do so while purchasing this client’s products.
- Example 2 – Home Furniture: Another client we work with sells office furniture, and has repositioned copy and creative for the time being to be a home office emphasis, helping fill an obvious need.
- Example 3 – Home Furniture: On a similar note, here is an example of a recent email from Crate & Barrel (not a client), who sell home office furniture all year long, but simply positioned it as “WFH inspo” (working from home inspiration):
Focus on Online Events
Some eCommerce companies host live events to market to their customers. But with social distancing in full effect, these aren’t possible right now. It has opened the door for businesses to experiment with online events.
We work with one eCommerce company that’s in the health and wellness industry. To build an offline presence, they’ve hosted in-person yoga classes in the past. But now, they’re shifting toward teaching more “live” online classes instead. eCommerce brands selling physical goods could do similar things in terms of product videos on Instagram, or Facebook, that help consumers use their products at home and solve current challenges consumers are facing.
What We’re Doing in Response Today as an Agency
Every eCommerce company that we work with has their own set of circumstances to address. To help them navigate the current climate, we’re using the following two-step process.
Step 1: We’re Reaching out to Clients, One by One
Before prescribing any solutions, we need to know where each of our clients stand. We need to first learn about the problems they’re facing since this crisis began.
We based who we reached out to first on our assessment of each clients’ underlying risks. To determine who needs one-on-one calls the most, we’ve considered the criteria below:
- If the client’s site has taken a traffic hit
- If the client has already reached out to us
- Google Trends
- The client’s industry
Step 2: Offering Our Recommendations
Once we have a good sense of each of our clients’ circumstances, then we’ll give our advice.
Take for example the medical supplies business we referenced earlier. Cash isn’t an issue for them, only inventory. We may suggest that they spend it on other strategic levers, like SEO, where they can gain traction right now over competitors who may not be as focused in this area.
Where Our Business Stands in the Current Climate
Finally, for our business, most of our clients remain committed to working with us in spite of what’s happening. We haven’t received a rash number of cancellations due to herd mentality around the panic.
We’re fortunate that most of the companies we work with aren’t debt-driven businesses. Many of our clients aren’t reliant on heavy cash flow.
We may decide to run campaigns at reduced levels of ad spend for some of our clients. But the workload we carry as a whole doesn’t change.
Like you, what happens next for us at Inflow is still unfolding each day. But in spite of that, we remain confident in our ability to help eCommerce companies thrive.