How Agencies Benefit From Google’s COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports

Like a lot of people, we’re trying to grapple with a lot of data right now. Scary numbers, archaic dashboards, the Dow Jones looking like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. We’re keeping an eye on where the coronavirus is spreading and how badly, we’re tracking the server volume for the websites we host, and now there’s one new interesting piece of data that really shows how affected our communities, and our clients, are right now.

Google Mobility reporting is how Google can tell you which roads are busy on your commute when you’re using Google Maps. It’s how you know your favorite taco spot is busier than usual. Mobility reporting is the product of a kind of mass surveillance that we all opt into when we agree to the terms and conditions of our phones and apps. That is, Google aggregates and anonymizes data from its products and services to show real-time reports on how physically busy a space is. Sure, that is kind of creepy, but it’s useful and reliable information – unless you’re an artist trying to make a point about the way Google’s surveillance isn’t regulated.

This kind of data about mobility in different physical locations, especially when segmented by region, is proving to be a useful tool for public health officials, epidemiologists, and policymakers. And now Google has released the COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports so you too can “see how your community is moving around differently due to COVID-19.

What kind of data are we interested in?

One of the ways in which we, as a digital marketing agency, are finding this information useful is by breaking down the data sets to see how mobility has been altered in different counties. At the end of March, retail and recreation mobility in Orange County, Florida (home of Mickey Mouse, Volcano Bay, and the Orlando Magic) is down 70% from its baseline. That accounts for the theme parks, restaurants, libraries, and movie theaters. And at the same time that workplace mobility is down 53% from its baseline, residential mobility is up 17%.

Orange County Mobility Report

What does this mean for marketers?

As marketers, this information is vital in making informed decisions for our clients. As people have, en masse, changed their mobility habits and routines, ironically, machine learning bidding strategies in Google Ads accounts can no longer be trusted to automatically optimize your audience targeting. Signals that may have proven valuable to the machines in the past are no longer relevant. Your target audience might have gone from converting on their desktop computer, during typical work hours at their place of work in one zip code, to converting on their tablet, at home, after they’ve finished getting the kids to complete their distance learning. Situations change and you need a marketing team that can keep up, and intuitively understands data in this new context. There might even be more advantages to running PPC campaigns during the Covid-19 crisis.

How should marketers act during a crisis?

Although physical mobility has been disrupted, that only places greater importance on the role of digital marketing. While the competition in the online ads marketplace has decreased, making the cost per clicks cheaper, some companies are able to prosper. The companies struggling least right now are ones set up with a good digital presence. To quote Warren Buffet: “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.”

Your audience is online. They were before quarantines and self-isolation kept them away from your store, maybe you were too busy and successful to notice. But if you can’t afford to wait months before your customers return physically to your location, then you can’t afford not to invest in your digital presence. Whether you need to overhaul your website to make it an e-commerce behemoth and make up for lost in-person sales, or you’re looking to improve your visibility on search engines while your business is shuttered – now is the time to take action.

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