A recent study has thrown new light on how scheduling Google Ads for evenings and weekends can impact return-on-investment (ROI).
The findings from the study indicate that after-hours advertising may be killing ROI for many small businesses.
Service Direct carried out an in-depth analysis of their own Google Ads scheduling data to understand how people’s search behaviour changes based on the time of day. The research unearthed some surprising trends, which subsequently enabled them to drive a greater number of customers to their Google Ads in a more cost-effective way.
How the research was carried out
Over a period of six months (between 01/09/19 and 31/03/20), Service Direct analysed 16 million searches and approximately 350,000 site visitors, across 856 accounts and 56 home service categories, with a total spend of $1,792,085.
Their primary conversion tracking method involved placing Google tracking numbers on their landing pages, and on the ads themselves.
The data revealed that people searching for home improvement services outside of business hours were considerably less likely to convert.
Conversions were defined as site visitors who arrived from a paid search ad on Google, and who then called the phone number or submitted a form on the landing page.
Key findings from the study
On average, the conversion rate during business hours (6am – 6pm) was 11.8%, compared to 3.5% after-hours (6pm – 6am).
The average cost-per-click during business hours was $5.35, compared to $4.50 for clicks after-hours, which made the after-hours clicks 16% cheaper.
Despite clicks being less expensive outside of business hours, the lower conversion rate for these hours led to a higher overall ad spend. In fact, converting website visitors was 3.5 times more expensive after-hours than during business hours.
On average, the cost-per-conversion during business hours was $48, compared to $129.80 after-hours – a 171% increase!
Comparing search behaviours during business hours and after-hours
The study found that there were marked differences in search behaviours when they compared searches conducted during business hours, and those conducted after-hours.
The data shows that people were actively searching for home improvement services at all hours of the day and night and that 27% of total impressions for the date range of the study occurred after-hours. However, the likelihood of a searcher acting on their need by calling or filling out a form dropped dramatically after-hours, despite many ads stating that calls were taken 24/7.
This was the case even when taking into account after-hours searches that ended up converting the next day, as these conversions were accurately attributed to the original after-hours search time.
The value of a site visitor varies drastically depending on the time their visit takes place.
During peak business hours (between 10 am and 11 am), site visitors converted 13.9% of the time. Conversely, at the off-peak hour of 1 am – 2 am, site visitors converted just 2.64% of the time. This drop represents an 81% decrease in conversion rate, meaning the value of a site visitor varied drastically depending on when their visit took place.
All of this means that there is a distinct window of time where the market dynamics are favourable, and then there is a rapid change in those dynamics after-hours, making it much more challenging to generate conversions cost-effectively.
So, what does all this mean for small businesses attempting to attract website traffic after-hours?
Well, if you are bidding on after-hours visitors without a complete picture of the value for your business, you are most likely throwing money down the drain. The solution is to carry out a similar study for your own business, and then make shrewd decisions and any necessary changes to your ad scheduling settings.
As we have seen, the best metric to understand the impact of fluctuations during business hours compared with after-hours is by looking at the average cost-per-conversion by the time of day. In other words, how much does it cost to generate a conversion (a phone call or form submission) during every single hour of the day and night? This metric accounts for any changes in the cost-per-click, while factoring in conversion rate.
What can you do to maximise your Google Ads ROI and get more customers at higher margins?
In an ideal world, being aware of these wild fluctuations in site visitor behaviour would enable you to automatically adjust your bid amounts to reflect these rises and drops in value. Sadly, however, Google Ads’ smart bidding system doesn’t provide automation tools for this, and any changes will have to be made manually, and then be monitored over time.
The research study suggests the following recommendations:
- Adjust the primary call-to-action after-hours, to encourage form completions rather than phone calls.
The data from this study indicate that people are much less likely to pick up the phone after-hours, even when your ads clearly state that you are open and able to take their call.
With this in mind, focus your landing page’s CTA on getting the visitor to provide their information via a form or quote request, so that they are first in the queue the following morning to receive a call from you.
- Adjust your Google Ads scheduling and bidding strategy based on your own time-of-day research.
There are a couple of different actions you can take to spend smarter here:
Option 1: Stop Bidding After-Hours Completely
For some, it may make sense to pause ads completely during certain hours. This will at least prevent money being spent at times when fewer customers will be converted. You can then save that money for when the market dynamics are more in your favour.
Option 2: Apply Bid Modifiers By Hour
Schedule ads for certain times of the day to more effectively target your audience (based on your own research). Google allows you to implement time-of-day bid adjustments at the campaign and Ad Group level. You could also reduce any other bids for the hours that aren’t producing great results, and create ads that specifically target after-hours searchers if you would rather not pause them completely.
Many businesses appear to pay little or no attention to Google Ads scheduling, and this may be impacting their ROI. Bidding on after-hours visitors without a complete picture of the value for the business can result in a wasted ad spend for advertisers.
As the data from this study reveals, there seems to be a huge gap between the actual value of after-hours site visitors and the cost to acquire them in Google Ads. While the cost to acquire clicks after-hours is slightly less, the drastic drop in conversion rate makes the value of these clicks much lower, resulting in wasted spend during these hours.
As any marketer knows, competing in Google Ads is becoming more and more challenging. This research study clearly shows that one way you can gain a competitive advantage is by understanding the inherent value of your site visitors by the time of day and customising your bid strategies based on what you’re seeing. You will then be able to optimise your ad spend at scale, which can have a significant impact on your bottom line.
Need some help?
If all of this seems a little too involved, or you are too busy paying attention to other aspects of your small business to give this sufficient headspace, then I would recommend hiring the services of a small digital marketing agency or a marketing consultant who specialises in managing Google Ads for clients.
Having completed the Google Ads Partner training whilst working with a small digital marketing agency, I fully understand and regularly interpret Google Ads and Analytics metrics for clients. This means I am very well-placed to figure out how best to position my clients for success within a highly competitive online marketplace.
So, why not get in touch to explore how I can help you to make the most of your paid advertising online?
I look forward to working with you.
You can read the report which outlines the full results of the study here.