When an economic recession seems possible, these are the PPC strategies that will keep your business stable.

Here, you’ll find:

  • How past recessions have affected marketing efforts
  • Marketing dos and don’ts for volatile economic climates
  • PPC tips that’ll stand the test of time
  • Why pulling back on paid search might be a mistake

First things first: As of now, the U.S. isn’t officially experiencing a recession.

But with reports of one potentially looming on the horizon for more than a year now (and inflation skyrocketing our grocery bills), some consumers and marketers are understandably nervous.

It’s natural to fear a possible economic downturn, of course. But if the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that plans can change in a flash. 

And while it’s true that we can’t control all the unknowns and variables in our daily lives, we can do our best to prepare.

Regardless of what the future brings, there’s reason for hope. History tells us that, during past recessions, increases in online marketing ad spend have been associated with success, even during difficult times. Not only that, but ad spend in the U.S. will grow more than initially expected this year, according to experts. 

Evidence shows brands that pulled back on their advertising efforts during recessions saw decreased returns on existing efforts and a greater risk of being lapped by competitors. 

If you’ve been thinking of pausing your pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns in anticipation of a possible economic recession, here are some alternatives to consider. 

These strategies can help recession-proof your digital marketing strategy so your business continues to not just survive, but thrive.

Stack of old receipt. Free public domain CC0 photo.

Before you leave your market share open to being snagged by the competition, we recommend seeing what optimizations and changes you can make first. (Image: Rawpixel)

9 Ways to Recession-Proof Your PPC Marketing Strategy

1. Invest in what’s working, scale back what’s not

Now is a great time to take stock of your current paid search marketing campaign metrics to analyze what’s resonating with your target audience (i.e. bringing you the best return on ad spend or ROAS) and what needs a second look.

If you or your company’s higher-ups are in talks about adjusting priorities, the marketing budget may get put on the chopping block. 

But before you leave your market share open to being snagged by the competition, we recommend first seeing what optimizations and changes you can make.

Right off the bat, a few cost-effective tweaks you can implement with your PPC ads to help preserve ad spend include: 

  • Disable search partners (unless you highly rely on it)
  • Pause broad match terms
  • Exclude any age ranges outside of your target market
  • Limit to specific geography regions
  • Limit time of day/day of week ads are serving
  • Focus on building out your negative keywords list to weed out unqualified traffic 
  • Pause Google Ads campaigns that are low-converting or high-spend 

2. Measure and monitor

Seasoned pros know a digital marketer’s work is never truly done.

That’s because, at least in our eyes, a campaign can always be better — more targeted, more optimized, more successful. And while you always want to be measuring and monitoring paid search initiatives, it’s especially crucial during times of uncertainty.

Dig into the data and look for changes that may be occurring due to a possible recession: 

  • Is a campaign or keyword seeing increased or decreased traction? 
  • Has your audience’s behavior deviated from the norm in some way?
  • Is a formerly successful campaign taking a downward turn unexpectedly?

Once you zero in on these trends or changes, you can create a plan to pivot your paid search accordingly, whether through ad copy verbiage, a more action-oriented landing page, or something more.

3. Focus on branding 

Branding is another common thing many companies tend to cut or pull back on during economic downturns

However, the last major financial crisis in 2008 showed us that investing in branded terms remains crucial. In fact, some experts say “brand building may in fact be the best approach.”

For starters, most recessions last a little over a year or so. If you make huge changes now, you’ll be looking at a heavier lift once the economy balances out (as it always does).

Some industries are affected more by these spending shifts than others. Business owners, especially those with small businesses, have to do what it takes to survive. 

That said, brand keywords are usually the most affordable — and if you’re one of the millions of companies that still have a relevant product or service to offer, then you want to think in the long term.

By keeping brand advertising initiatives in your marketing plan, you’re more likely to retain (and grow) your market share, allowing you to continue to scale. This is also an opportunity to show the human side of your business through your messaging, tone, and how you show current and potential customers that you understand their concerns.

4. Keep building your remarketing audiences

Just like focusing on your brand is important, so too are the audiences that have already interacted with you. 

While the nature of remarketing is shifting with the eventual demise of third-party cookies, marketers have been given enough heads-up about this change to find formidable alternatives that still make remarketing effective.

Gathering zero-party data (info site visitors willingly and proactively share with you) and first-party data (anonymous info gathered from people visiting your site or app) can still tell you plenty about your audience.

In 2022, Google Ads announced its Topics API project as a potential replacement for third-party data. The idea behind Topics is basically that a person’s browser will learn about their interests as they surf the web. 

As far as parameters, Topics will only keep data for up to three weeks and up to 300 topics. (The search engine also noted it won’t track demographic info like race or gender.)

Lastly, marketers can continue to use pixels across sites like Meta (formerly Facebook) and Amazon. These pixels can be included in ads on sites like Amazon and Facebook to gather data about actions someone has taken in the days after viewing or clicking an ad.

5. Adjust your messaging and targeting

Whether you’re aiming to speak to returning or new customers in your campaigns, now may be a good time to revisit your messaging. While you don’t need to take a more somber approach to the tone you use to write ad copy and other messaging, you also don’t want to ignore people’s possible concerns or fears.

Again, this goes back to your specific product or service. If you’re in the healthcare or FinServ space, for example, you may consider creating a campaign that focuses on reassurance and trustworthiness. You can illustrate this through third-party testimonials, data, or other proof points.

Consider your audience’s potential concerns and behavior changes so you can be proactive rather than reactive. If a lot of your messaging hinges on big spenders, for instance, brainstorm how you might tweak your copy to take into account those who may be tightening the proverbial purse strings.

Ask yourself: How can you keep your audience engaged and illustrate that you understand where they’re coming from?

person stacking gold coins

SEO and paid search are two sides of the same coin. As such, they shouldn’t be operating in silos. (Image: Unsplash)

6. Leverage SEO to benefit your paid search endeavors

We like to say search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search are two sides of the same coin. As such, they shouldn’t be operating in silos.

We’ve talked before about all the ways SEO and paid search work well together and can complement one another. For starters, both of these marketing methods involve locating those “money keyword” search terms that will help the most qualified people connect with your brand.

Not only that, but having your brand surface in both paid and organic Google search results only boosts the credibility of what you have to offer in the eyes of many searchers. And having a strong SEO foundation can keep your brand visible, competitive, and a thought leader in your space, regardless of the economic climate.

Along with keywords, content marketing can benefit your paid search efforts and overall brand as well. 

For example, if you create a long-form piece of content like a market research study or whitepaper, you can then promote that content via ads. Once someone hits your landing page, you can offer the content in exchange for completing a form fill.

It’s a win-win situation: You get info on potential leads, and your site visitor gets a helpful, educational piece of collateral.

When every ad dollar counts, there’s a smaller margin for trial and error. That’s why a lot of businesses opt to put their program in the hands of a PPC agency with the experience to create and optimize high-performing campaigns that get it right the first time.

7. Stay active on social media

If you’ve got a lot on your plate or are operating with a leaner team than normal, our expertise tells us social media is still worth the investment. 

That’s because this marketing channel is a relatively low lift — and a budget-friendly one, too. Just like the traditional marketing method of SEO can help fuel paid search, a consistent social media strategy can as well.

Particularly if you have a business profile or run ads on platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook, you can use insights gathered from these apps to inform your PPC campaigns. Keep an eye on the competition and test out new ads to see if you’re on the right track.

Lastly, we’re going to circle back to brand awareness. Especially during uncertain times, keeping your brand awareness in check can keep you top of mind and relevant.

8. Sync up with sales (and CSMs)

Your sales team is one of the most powerful marketing tools you have at your disposal. And it’s one you may not be taking full advantage of.

Sales teams are often the ones on the frontlines hearing directly from prospects and customers about their needs and pain points. These insights can be extremely beneficial when you’re recession-proofing your PPC plans.

Gather transcripts from sales calls or, even better, chat directly with your sales team to see what trends they’ve noticed. If you have one, the same can go for your customer experience or CSM team. What objections are they seeing? What new issues or questions are cropping up repeatedly?

Knowing where your audience’s heads are can help you craft better messaging in ads and landing pages to overcome these obstacles.

9. Make sure your site is optimized

Here’s a spooky scenario: You’ve created an eye-catching, effective paid search ad that garners clicks. But when that visitor lands on your site, they’re met with a “meh” experience that causes them to bounce.

Paid search isn’t all about the ad. You’ve got to have a stellar site and top-notch landing pages to turn a click into a lead or a closed deal. And a speedy, optimized website is how you do it.

One of the first things to check is that your landing page mirrors the voice and verbiage of the ad that brought them there. You want that ad-to-site experience to feel seamless.

Next, you want to conduct a type of “wellness check” on your site. Pinpoint things like sluggish load speed, pages that render poorly on mobile, and 404 errors. 

Optimizing your website is a smart move in all business climates, but it’s especially important when you’re being extra mindful of ad spend and want to garner the highest conversion rates possible.

The takeaway

Now is a great time to focus on the human side of your brand – and honestly, that’s almost always the case. 

When times are tough, companies that retain clients and grow their businesses are often the ones that emphasize empathy and understanding.

Being proactive can also mean offering to create a revamped strategy that’ll put your client or business ahead of the curve in the event that a recession does officially hit.

That way, you can offer comfort and peace of mind in knowing that, regardless of what the future brings, their paid marketing efforts are set up to stand the test of time.

This post has been updated and was originally published in September 2022.


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