In the year since the COVID-19 pandemic struck the country in full force, no industry was left unscathed. Operations screeched to a halt, and as the search landscape became unrecognizable, industry experts and marketers were forced to adapt to the new normal.
The Paid Search team at 829 Studios works with clients across a range of industries and helps them navigate uncertain markets with new evolutions of traditional strategies. Here are a few insights into how some of our core clients were impacted by the onset of COVID-19, how we responded from a Paid Search perspective, and how the markets are changing in early 2021.
The Education sector was hit hard by the onset of the pandemic due to the timing falling during peak application season, which can last from January through May. Many clients, specifically private K-12 schools, saw prospective students withdraw applications and retract deposits, while current students and educators raced to adapt to remote curricula.
In an effort to continue paid marketing engagement, we adapted keyword lists with variants like “open”, “reopening”, “safe”, and “next year” or “2021” to target parents who were still interested in private schools and who were hoping to enroll their children the following year. We also adjusted messaging to promote virtual admissions events, schools’ reopening plans and safety policies. Several clients also began producing creative content to highlight outstanding teachers and innovative hybrid learning programs.
As of winter 2021, private school applications are down 12% across the country. One client saw a 42% improvement in conversion rate for the Search campaigns compared to last year, and the overall mood within the industry is hopeful for the coming school year.
Summer camps across the country were devastated by the onset of the pandemic when it struck during summer enrollment, threatening the whole fiscal year. Many families who had enrolled in summer camp by mid-March canceled enrollments and rescinded deposits, while camps scrambled to come up with safer programs. Many were forced to close down for summer 2020, and those who stayed open needed to come up with plans to adhere to ever-changing state guidelines, train staff, and make sure families knew their children would be safe.
The search landscape for summer camps saw a dramatic drop in March and April, followed by a rise in volume to near normal levels from before the pandemic. The rise in search volume did not, however, generate new enrollments for many camps. Families were still researching options hoping to send their children to camp in the summer, but the state of uncertainty prevented them from feeling comfortable enough to actually enroll.
Some of 829’s camp clients started creating Covid resource pages, blog content, video messages, and even virtual campfire activities. Many of these initiatives were supported by paid advertising efforts; the 829 team helped direct traffic to these pages and shifted the focus of messaging to providing helpful information that was less focused on driving enrollments.
The 2021 marketing season has been much more optimistic for summer camps. The first camps to enter the market were largely those who were able to open camp in the summer of 2020. It has been a strong selling point for these camps to promote the fact that they were able to open, that they have effective safety procedures, and that they’re gearing up for another successful 2021 session. We are increasingly pushing keyword variants around phrases like “open”, “reopening”, “safe”, and “next year” or “2021” compared to last year, and many camps are reporting that they’re ahead of 2020 and even 2019 performance.
You don’t have to be a digital marketer to realize how dramatically the travel industry has been hit this year. As peoples’ planned trips came screeching to a halt, so did the search landscape. Many travel companies were forced to go dark as people began rescinding deposits for trips, or else refusing to pay altogether. Those companies who were still advertising at that point were running on significantly lower budgets and were trying to survive on any new bookings they could clinch. But the rise in search volume did not generally bring new bookings right away.
Throughout the summer and into the fall of 2020, we saw bookings begin to rise for certain types of travel services. Domestic trips became easier to sell, and marketers saw conversion performance begin improving in 2021 for evergreen ads. Luxury travel has also been securing traffic and bookings at a strong rate, which may be due to trips needing to be booked far in advance.
Even in ordinary times, we expect to see a longer decision-making process for people looking to travel, and we now have to factor in things like case numbers and testing requirements as well. As we inch closer to a state of normalcy, the travel industry is beginning to rebound as well, providing marketers an opportunity to test new strategies and explore new approaches.
While the world has seen many severe disruptions since March 2020, our findings show that many industries are recovering and acquiring new business. Each industry, and each client, was affected differently, although almost all had to find ways to engage users who were interested in their services but were unable to commit to bookings.
As premier marketing partners, we were challenged in an unprecedented way to adapt our approach to help engage and nurture users in the face of great uncertainty. And even as things slowly begin to return closer to normal, we will have this new arsenal of creative approaches, industry insights, and patient resilience at our disposal for years to come. If you are looking for a creative partner to implement the strategies we have discussed, or to tackle other challenges presented by the pandemic, contact 829 Studios for a consultation!