COVID-19 Google Ads Impact Report - March 2020

We're now a month into actively monitoring the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on Google Ads performance and user search trends in the HVAC, Home Performance, and Solar industries and we are beginning to see clearer patterns emerge across KPIs such as impressions, clicks and conversions. 

With a full month of data now available for analysis, we're able to form better hypotheses and draw more informed conclusions as to how the crisis may be impacting consumer demand and conversion behavior for products and services in the better building and clean energy sectors.  

Here is a detailed analysis of the PPC data we’ve been tracking as it relates to the potential impact of the COVID-19 health crisis:

TL;DR Summary:

  • Home Performance search volume is down more than it was this time last year, likely due to COVID-19’s impact on the industry’s availability to deliver non-essential services.

  • HVAC search volume has held very steady over the past two months (as opposed to the typical seasonal decline we usually see this time of year), and clicks and conversions have increased as well. 

  • Across both HVAC and Home Performance, avg. CPC is on the rise indicating increased advertising competition despite the temporary downturn in the industry. This is attributable, at least in part, to a decrease in consumer demand and spending but a lack of proportional decrease in advertiser spending.

  • For Solar services - Impressions, clicks, and conversions all declined from February to March, as opposed to last year when clicks and conversions rose during the same two month period (despite a greater decline in impressions).

  • Across the board, search volume and engagement for all categories declined from February to March - but we saw a similar decline across the board during the same time last year. This implies that typical seasonal patterns are definitely contributing to Google Ads performance, albeit likely slightly exaggerated in certain categories because of COVID-19.

Detailed Report

The following analysis is based on a sampling of Energy Circle Google Ads accounts, broken down as follows:

  • Average monthly click spend per account in this data sample ranged from $1K to $15K in February and March 2020.

  • 75% HVAC & Home Performance campaigns, and about 25% Solar campaigns

  • Accounts sampled represent businesses in each major region across the US

  • All accounts were active and running at consistent spend levels for all of February and March 2020. 

  • We did not include any accounts in our sample for which performance was likely impacted by external factors not pertaining to COVID-19 (such as a significant reduction in budget, or change to targeting strategy)

Paid Search - Home Performance

Search volume is down for the most common Home Performance services, as COVID-19 related restrictions on non-essential businesses become more wide spread, and consumers shift focus away from discretionary spending. Search volume and clicks are up dramatically for indoor air quality tests and solutions.

  • Keyword Performance: 

    • Searches for terms related to "insulation", "spray foam", and "duct cleaning" continue to generate the most impressions of all HP related keywords, however all but “duct cleaning” have dropped in volume by about 35% compared to the previous 30 days.

    • Even though impressions for the broader “insulation” and “spray foam” keywords have decreased, search volume for "duct cleaning" and the more specific “attic insulation” have both increased by 25% and 29% respectively, month over month.

    • While impressions may have dipped for the most common Home Performance keywords relating to insulation, air sealing and energy audits, impressions for “indoor air quality” related tests and services rose dramatically - spiking in some areas by over 77%.

  • Month Over Month Performance: 

    • We're seeing a slightly more consistent downward trend in KPIs across the Home Performance category than in HVAC or Solar.

    • Impressions are down by 5.5%

    • CTR is down by 1.8%

    • Conversions are down by 34%

    • Conversion rate is down by 28%

  • Year over Year Performance:

    • For the same time frame last year (March vs. February 2019), we saw even greater decreases month over month in 2019, with click through rate and conversions rates both decreasing significantly despite an 11% increase in spend (MOM) and a more than 71% increase in impressions. 

    • In comparing March 2020 to March 2019, impressions and clicks are both up for HP related searches - by 81% and 24% respectively, while conversions, CTR and conversion rate are all down.

    • The February to March decreases in click through and conversion rates we see this year are similar to those we saw during the same time frame last year.

    • While we are seeing a drop in impressions from Feb to March as opposed to the increase we saw the same time last year, we’re still seeing far more total impressions this March than we saw in March of 2019, which tells us that the even though month over month trends may not be following typical seasonal patterns, year over year interest and awareness in the Home Performance industry continues to grow despite COVID-19’s impact. 

Paid Search - HVAC

  • Keyword Performance:

    • Across the category, Impressions held relatively steady for most generic "heating and cooling" related terms (ie: "ac" "hvac" "heating and air", and “water heater”.) 

    • Keywords with the highest conversion rates over the last 30 days include searches relating to “generator services and repair” as well as “boiler repair” and “hvac repair” services. 

    • Searches relating to “water heater”, “heat pump” and “mini-split” all still dominate the top 20 most searched keywords in the HVAC category - despite declining impressions month over month. 

    • CTR for “tankless water heater” “mini-split system” and “heat pump” has increased significantly.

  • Month Over Month Performance: 

    • From February to March 2020 - in the HVAC category, impression volume stayed almost exactly the same, while clicks and click through rates both decreased by about 4%. 

    • Conversions, conversion rates, and average cost-per-click are all up by about 15% on average. 

    • While we're seeing more motivated searchers, converting at higher rates, and relatively steady search volume month over month, we are also seeing fewer clicks and those clicks are getting more expensive on average, which indicates increased competition.

    • During the same MOM comparison from last year (March over Feb 2019), impressions were down slightly, CTR was down by over 10%, clicks were down by over 11% and conversions down by over 16%. 

  • Year Over Year Performance:

    • In March 2020, impressions increased by 20%, and click through rate increased by 6% over March 2019.

    • Conversions and Conversion Rate both decreased by 8% and 35% respectively, while average CPC increased by about 6%.

    • Unlike what we are seeing in the Home Performance category, search volume and demand for HVAC related services appears to be holding steady as the COVID-19 crisis unfolds. Competition is increasing however, as we’re seeing average cost-per-click rise, month over month at a greater rate than we saw during the same time last year.

Display & Video Ads 

Display and Video ad campaigns are showing somewhat unexpected patterns week over week and month over month.

  • Impressions, clicks, and conversions have all declined, and average CPCs are on the rise (although very slightly, still making Display and Video advertising extremely cost effective brand awareness building tactics). 

  • With anticipated declines in search volume for services (both due to seasonality and the pandemic), as well as a likely uptick in users on platforms like YouTube and content sites across the display network, we expected to see opposite trends.  

  • We're still watching these data points closely, however, as we shift paid ad objectives over the coming weeks toward maintaining brand awareness, impression share, competitive viability, and momentum for key services while many companies are decreasing operations during COVID-19 related social-distancing and shelter-in-place recommendations.

 

In Conclusion: 

The “Shoulder Season” is having its usual impact on Google Ads Performance 

In looking at all of Energy Circle’s Google Ads performance data over the past month, we are starting to see patterns emerge that appear to be, for the most part, typical for the season and industry. February to March is a difficult shoulder season for almost everyone in the better building industries, and we're seeing similar dips in search volume and engagement this year as we were last year at the same time. 

Search volume has declined, but competition has not. 

There is no denying that search volume has been impacted for specific service categories, and competition from other advertisers for consumers’ attention has not declined proportionally to demand. This does, however, give us increasing confidence that the best strategy for marketing through this crisis is to shift focus to those service categories that are less impacted by COVID-19 and always essential regardless of business or economic turmoil, as well as to maintaining viable and consistent brand presence among your usual competition in the field.

Expect some rebound in April & May as the cooling season arrives.

If trends continue to follow seasonal patterns, as they have been, we should expect to see the typical upward momentum begin to build in April and May as the cooling season picks up. 

How quickly will performance rebound by industry and region?

The biggest unknown now is what the lasting impact may be on both the consumer side as well as the paid advertising competition side. Once COVID-19 regulations start to relax, and the economy and daily consumer life begins to stabilize - we’ll be paying close attention to how quickly Google Ads performance rebounds by industry and region, and bring you more information on the tactics we’re finding to expedite that rebound. 

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