What 700k website touches tell us about how clients’ digital behavior changed during the pandemic and what it means to your digital marketing plan in 2H 2020.
One of the recurring questions prospects and clients alike have been asking me over the last 3 months is, “How are other firms doing?” For the most part, my answer has been anecdotal. It’s based on the conversations I have weekly with our most active, engaged clients. Some have seen their revenue climb (mostly SaaS firms). And others have seen it fall quickly (primarily consulting firms who delivered services onsite, in-person prior to the pandemic). But I wanted to give our clients, and our readers, a more concrete answer. I wanted to get a layer beneath those conversations and see what the data says.
To find out, we rolled up all the analytics data from our active clients’ sites. Collectively it represents 700k website interactions spread across 20+ websites. Those websites represent a mix of firms — consulting, training and IT services firms, research organizations, A/E firms, and SaaS providers. Companies range in size from $5M to over $10B in revenue. And, it represents firms with a wide range of marketing skills and behaviors — some of our clients are prolific thought leadership marketers, others do very little when it comes to digital marketing. You’ll see the results of both strategies in the data. We compared data from two time periods — 3/23/20 – 6/7/20 and 1/6/20 – 3/22/20. We looked at the data collectively (as if it represented one huge diversified firm) and we looked at averages. We identified top and bottom performers. Finally, at the close of the article we outline what we think it means for your marketing strategies in 2H 2020.
The Pandemic Suppressed Website Traffic
As you might expect, most firms have seen a decline in traffic to their websites. In fact, the average firm in our database saw its website traffic drop -9% during the pandemic. Notably, 30% of firms actually saw their traffic increase on average +29%. Firms whose traffic declined fell on average -19%. As you might suspect, traffic was a direct function of a firms’ response to the pandemic. Firms that took an aggressive thought leadership approach — publishing pandemic-specific content — saw traffic climb, and firms that stayed quiet saw traffic drop.
New Business Inquiries Declined as Well
No surprise, COVID has made it harder to generate new sales conversations. In the early stages of the pandemic some of our clients were telling me they didn’t think they should market because “no one was listening.” I told them it was a fabulous time for marketing (assuming you have something important to say) because people are listening now more than ever. The challenge is they’re just not buying.
The data largely backs this up. Collectively, we did not see a noticeable decline in early stage conversions (people subscribing to newsletters, registering for webinars, accessing gated content) — clients are still receptive to your thought leadership. Pre-pandemic 3.3% of website visitors completed an early-stage conversion. During the pandemic that dropped to 3.2%. But, late stage inquiries (clients making contact inquiries or products and service inquiries) declined significantly from 3.3% pre-pandemic to 1.8% during it.
In short, it’s not just you. Most firms have seen fewer sales ready leads show up in their inbox the last few months than they did prior. Again, the few notable exceptions were firms that took aggressive thought leadership strategies or leveraged paid media to try to fill the void.
Search Traffic is Down
Early in the pandemic, my gut told me that search traffic would suffer. I just found it hard to believe that clients would be searching for business-related topics as much as they had been. As McKinsey put it, we need to protect our “lives and our livelihoods,” and clients were likely focused more on their lives for a little while.
But I wouldn’t misconstrue this into thinking that clients are spending less time with Google than they did before. Rather, I suspect the nature of their searches have changed. The problems they’re facing are much different than they were a few months ago. And, the answers to these new problems suddenly aren’t being found in your thought leadership. In short, their search priorities have changed and firms have been slow to catch up.
Clients are Spending More Time with Email and Social Media
Despite all the talk of inbox clutter and people being overwhelmed, our collective analytics data tells a different story. Collectively, all our clients saw significant increases in site traffic from email marketing and social media. Now, to be clear some firms were doing very little email and social media marketing prior to the pandemic and began to ramp up their efforts in response to it so the data is likely conflated. But, on the whole our sense is that clients, at least early in the pandemic, were spending more time with social media and were more receptive than usual to email marketing.
Some of Our Clients Are Having Success with Paid Media
One of the ways we have helped clients close the gap in late stage sales inquiries is through paid LinkedIn campaigns. Though expensive at $100 – $300 per lead, LinkedIn enables us to hyper-target executives in specific roles, geographies, industries, or even companies. This narrow targeting lets us place thought leadership directly in the hands of a key decision-maker. We’ve used this strategy to help 2 of our SaaS clients generated 100+ high-quality, enterprise-level leads during the pandemic.
What Does it All Mean for Marketing in 2H 2020?
To most firms, COVID was a massive shock to their marketing approaches and systems. Some products and services became irrelevant over night. In some cases demand for the service dropped (clients are less interested in workplace strategies at the moment) and in other cases the means of delivery became untenable (delivering services on-site). Traditional offline channels (events, speaking and conferences) ceased to exist and are proving to be very slow to return.
As you’re developing your plan for the second half of the year, we believe you need to be thinking about 4 things. You will need to:
- Reevaluate your product/service strategies — What products and services will sell well in the next 9-12 months? Which ones won’t? Be clear in your choices and invest your time, energy, and money appropriately.
- Rethink your editorial plans — What are the new topics you need to own (i.e. remote working, motivating over-stretched employees, avoiding management burn-out, recovering enterprise value)? And, how can you find something new and valuable to say when so much is already being said?
- Revisit downstream digital tactics — Should more resources go to paid, social and email marketing? What about SEO investments? Should you hold the course? Or invest elsewhere? At the very least, you probably need to refresh your keyword bank and look at which searches are trending up and down.
- Double-down on martech — I believe it was DemandBase who said, “intent is the new lead.” With late stage sales inquiries declining you’ll need to get serious about marketing automation to find potential clients that are exhibiting “digital buying behavior” but aren’t yet reaching out. Now may be a good time to explore an ABM program. Finding potential buyers before they inquire will be critical to sales success in the next 9-12 months.