It’s easy to think of paid search campaigns as a passive way to capture low hanging fruit—if someone happens to search for something relevant to your keywords, you can serve them a helpful ad. However, the ways in which external factors influence consumers are constantly changing. Marketing campaigns do not exist in a vacuum, so “set it and forget it” will never be an effective digital media tactic. This is true at any given moment, but with coronavirus impacting life in countless ways, it is more timely than ever to examine current search trends to ensure your campaigns align with user behavior.
Track Relevant Searches With Google Search Trends
Google Search Trends is a free tool provided by Google that allows you to follow search trends over time across different geographic areas and content categories. To inform the strategy of our higher ed campaigns, we decided to research trends of “campus tour” searches compared to “virtual tour” searches. Late winter through spring is when most high school seniors are making their final decisions on what school they will attend, so campus tours were becoming increasingly important just as COVID-19 was really starting to impact the US.
Using Google Search Trends, we started exploring search terms that we would expect to be relevant this time of year, comparing their popularity with their “virtual” equivalents. For this case study, we looked at US search trends in the “Colleges & Universities” category for the following search terms: “visit”, “campus tour”, “virtual tour”, “virtual college tour”, and “virtual.”
Analyze Results To Find The Big Picture
Looking at the time series, it’s quite apparent that March 11-12 is when trends began to shift. “Virtual” and “virtual tour” started becoming the more popular searches, while “visit” went from being the most popular term to one of the least popular terms. What’s happening in this chart can be tricky to measure due to how Google presents this data. Google ranks these searches against each other’s relative popularity for the time frame you select, with a score of 0 meaning there isn’t enough data to report on that day, and 100 being the height of that search term’s popularity. We exported these charts into a spreadsheet, helping us better analyze and quantify the trends over time.
We were then able to calculate the average popularity score of each term for each month, and used that to track its changes over time.
“Visit” initially showed a 35% increase in popularity from January to February, which was expected as prospective students would start planning more visits then. From February to March, there was a 49% decrease in average popularity for “visit” and a 43% decrease in popularity for “campus tour.” From March to April, popularity continued to fall for “visit, and “campus tour” popularity was stagnant.
While “virtual tour” and “virtual college tour” saw relatively minimal activity in January and February, in March their popularity increased 160% and 239% respectively. Positive trends for these terms as well as for the more broad search term “virtual” continued into April.
Adapt Campaigns To Match Consumer Behavior
We updated our campaign strategy in mid-March, and following these search trends helped guide us. This data supported a pivot from “campus visits” to “virtual tours” in our ad copy, keywords, and landing pages. We even adjusted our KPIs, making virtual tour visits the main focus of our efforts.The results spoke for themselves, with unprecedented numbers in virtual tour visits and user engagements within the virtual tour. Year over year, virtual tours increased 1,493% and engagements increased 520%. A huge benefit of digital marketing is the ability to swiftly change course as needed. Making the right changes at the right time is the key to a successful campaign.
Sarah Hanley is a Digital Marketing & Analytics Specialist