The world has changed in the last weeks. The countermeasures against the coronavirus affected almost everyone’s personal and professional live.

First of all, it is essential to stay healthy and support others to keep up the same.

While this is the biggest crisis I have seen, it is not the only set-back I experienced while working for over ten years in the ad-display business. It always bounced back or found new opportunities.

The following post is a collection of thoughts about the current situation for publishers in times of corona.

Where is my traffic?

Some of you reported less traffic. Well, others reported significant growth. How is that?

In general, you might expect more people to be online since they have nowhere else to go.

Found in similar words in many articles about the effect of the crisis on online businesses

Let’s take this statement for granted. It shows the two sides of the current situation for publishers. Your website might get less traffic because potential visitors have nowhere else to go physically. Think about every website around traveling, events, and businesses that include meeting people. This sharp drop in visitor numbers hits both the small travel blog as well as giants like Airbnb or Booking.com.

Search volume for "Airbnb Rome" for the last two years in Google Trends
Google Trends shows the decline in people looking for an Airbnb in Rome now.

I also heard from owners of online stores who lost a lot of traffic and revenue because they sell products that are not essential or a bit costly. A lot of people are not sure about the security of their jobs and might hold back any investment. The same accounts for items that are mostly bought as presents.

Niches affected by the corona crisis

Let’s take a look at which online marketing sectors the corona crisis could have positive or negative effects.

Negatively affected:

  • travel blogs and destination websites
  • sports-related websites, except of personal health that can be accomplished at home
  • any site related to local businesses
  • real estate sites
  • any topics about events one has to go to

possibly positively affected:

  • medicine health blogs (positively affected, because people head out for medical and hygienic equipment)
  • food blogs and cooking content (positively affected, because people tend to eat at home during the social distancing)
  • garden, crafts, and DIY (positively affected, because people spend time in their gardens and need to sew masks)
  • news
  • websites with online entertainment
Traffic growth or decline due to the coronavirus
Traffic growth or decline due to COVID-19, (chart: neilpatel.com)

Marketing expert Neil Patel has written an insightful round-up about the impact of Corona on online marketing. The following graph chart shows the growth or loss of traffic for selected industries due to COVID-19.

You can’t tell by the chart, but e-commerce was a mixed bag, depending on what sites sold, traffic was either up or down. For example, if you were selling baby products like diapers or wipes then you saw a nice bump in traffic.

But if you were selling luxury goods like big-screen televisions you saw a drop in traffic.

Neil Patel

Should you create content about Corona?

One idea I heard to increase traffic these days is to add content about the corona pandemic to your website. It might not work for everyone, though.

Should you start a corona-related website? I can guarantee you a lot of competition since we see a few of them in customer support. Maybe it is worth a try, but no one can say how big the pie is.

Even if you succeed in generating traffic from covering the current situation, there are no valid experiences about whether this could generate revenue. This topic is too young to be backed with legit products and online campaigns to make up for the decrease in revenue due to traffic loss.

If your genuine content is directly related to the current corona situation, and you have more to say than just repeating the news then go for it.

Whether you start a new project around the coronavirus or add content to your existing one, please don’t exploit the general uncertainty by spreading fear and fake news for more traffic. This would harm us all in the long term.

How the Coronavirus affects the ad world

Our living conditions and consumer behavior have already changed. This affected businesses and their budgets for advertisement. Companies in the travel business do not know when people can travel again. As a result, they hesitate to spend money in advertising. Small and local companies are often not allowed to open their doors now. So local advertising does not make sense to them up to the point where they simply need the money to survive.

Online ad rates typically follow the general economy. Given the current situation around the world, countless companies will be suspending their online ad buys (DisneyWorld, airlines, travel, retail, gyms, events, local advertisers, etc). Not only does this remove their money from the market, but it also decreases competition in ad auctions, depressing prices for everyone.

Ezoic (updated regularly)

If you are monetizing your site with display ads like Google AdSense or The Moneytizer, click prices might be a lot lower since there is less competition on each ad impression. I know from different partners and publishers that monetization services that are built on top of header bidding were hit significantly more than AdSense.

If you are monetizing with affiliate links, the simple fact that people might not want or need the products you advertise might heavily affect your revenue. The same accounts for websites selling ads directly.

There are definitely exceptions here, again, in niches that are untouched by the crises or even benefit from it.

Screenshot of Google Analytics showing page impressions of a website to almost triple over the last months with the coronavirus.
This online-gaming website is on a good track to triple the amount of page impressions due to the current situation.

Online shops might also see an increase or decrease based on what they are selling. On the one hand, people might spend less money now due to economic insecurity. On the other hand, they might shop online to prevent physical contact in a local store. The bestseller trends on Amazon reflect a raised demand for medical products, food, home office supplies, and books for children.

Advertisers are people, too

As publishers, let’s not forget that there are people behind advertisers and agencies, too. They might not work as efficient because they have to do it from home. The more people involved in an ad campaign, the more it might be delayed due to canceled meetings and low budgets. They also feel the uncertainty in the advertisement market. And they are anxious when a campaign is canceled because of the drop in revenue.

Chances of the corona crises for publishers

I know too many people who are profoundly affected by the current state in a personal and professional way than to tell you not to worry. At the same time, I see chances for those who have a bit of time and space to try something new.

Build relationships

As mentioned, the lockdowns during the COVID-19 crisis are causing people to be online even more. These times of social distancing in real life can be a starting point to tie your audience closer to your website in the digital world and to gain traffic by reaching out to your audience more through social media.

We see this a lot these days with artists, musicians, organizers, and other people of the culture industries. Some of them use this channel to call for donations, promote merchandise, and bond with their fans and followers. Interpersonal activities do not generate income by themselves, but they can help to catch attention, to promote your business, to generate traffic to your website, and to increase the number of your followers on social media

Ezoic, one of the leading ad networks, responds to that chance in their continuously updated article on how the Coronavirus affects web traffic and ad rates.

Many Gen-Zers and Millennials will be on social media off-and-on all day and online most of the day. Publishers who use social networks can use this as an opportunity to reach your audience through social media more than in the past. If it makes sense for your brand, consider how you can get in front of and connect with your audience on a more personal level through social media, which can then convert to website visitors.

Ezoic

I have experienced this myself. In the weeks were corona was the biggest news in the western world, and people had to adjust to the different lockdown conditions, we noticed a lower amount of support requests. This was the moment where I started getting in touch with users directly and offered more video chats. I helped and learned a lot during these few calls that only had to stop because of the bad internet connection I had at home.

Rethink your ad setup

Most publishers experience a significant seasonal drop in revenue every year. The travel business normally has a peak in bookings around this time of year. Revenue of retail companies and their advertising budgets are growing towards the holidays in December and free-fall in January and February.

Earlier this year, we published a list of ideas and experiments to optimize your ad setup. While the current situation is different from the repeating business cycles, testing is best when you have less to lose.

When you are working with ad networks that are based on the header bidding technology, reducing the number of ad spaces can have a positive effect. By shortening the ad slots, the demand and, therefore, the bidding prices may increase. But you should test this carefully because reducing the number of ads can still lead to lower total revenues.

Look out for new partners and products

If you run a website about currently trending topics like gardening, household, home crafting, or DIY, you might consider testing affiliate marketing. Another suggestion would be looking out to selling ads directly to first-party advertisers to promote their products on your website. These businesses might also look for new opportunities to reach their audience.

If you are running a website that generates its traffic through unique content, you also might consider offering online courses, membership deals, or ebooks. These can be revenue channels beyond advertisements, even for the future. If you have spare time now, why not use it to build and explore new ways to monetize your content?

Summary

Things are changing, and there is no way of saying if they will ever go back. Maybe, that is a good thing.

As a publisher for over ten years, I have experienced multiple occasions where traffic went down. Do you remember the various updates to Google search results?

There have also been a lot of challenges regarding generating revenue from display ads. Just think about the times when mobile browsing and ad blockers became popular, or about the current changes regarding privacy and cookies usage.

All of the mentioned changes have caused huge waves. But none of them hit the majority as hard as we first thought. There will always be a number one position in the Google search and businesses looking to reach new clients and, therefore, companies investing in ad budgets.

You can always count on the AA-Team (pun intended), to support you not just with technical solutions.

Stay healthy and – if you can – stay home. Don’t take the limitations in effect as a personal punishment, but as a protection of you, your family, and everyone else.