The March of Coronavirus
With significant exposure to the property market and a detailed understanding of all the available digital performance metrics, Space & Time has always had a unique view of the nuances of the sector. Our New Homes Index creates a pool of first-party data that delivers unfettered insight into consumer engagement with new homes websites. While the sector is experiencing something so seismic and unprecedented, we hope that a regular examination of the available data will provide some element of support and certainty to our clients and the wider industry.
Insights from our New Homes Index
Space & Time collate Google Analytics data daily for a pool of national new homes developers. This amounted to circa 3.3m combined website sessions in March 2020.
We looked at the period 2nd March – 29th March and compared it to the previous equal four-week period of 3rd February – 1st March:
- Total website sessions decreased by 25%
- All goal completions decreased 31%
Our calculations for the same period in 2019 suggest that we saw a 6% decrease in total web sessions and a slight rise of 1% in all goal completions, revealing the considerable impact of the Coronavirus crisis on our developer set.
Isolating (if you’ll forgive the term) just higher-intent conversions focused around booking appointments to view – where our developers have them in common – we found:
- High intent goal completions down 52%
This was particularly dramatic in the final full week of March, which saw the lockdown of the UK (24th March) and the government advising against moving house (27th March). We saw goals plummet by two thirds week on week and 27th March itself recorded the lowest volume of these goal types since tracking began.
Time on site
Average session duration for our developer set fell by around -7.65% on average. 2 minutes 10 seconds, down from 2 minutes 21 seconds.
That doesn’t sound too bad in the circumstances and may be offset by the fact that many developers have been making moves to drive users to more video, virtual tours and more research-based content. In addition, there is clearly more consumption of ‘Coronavirus updates’ and important development information to buoy dwell times.
Impact by channel
In terms of web traffic, certain channels are obviously leveraged for essential communications to databases, potential buyers and general awareness on changing situations rather than punchy sales and marketing strategy. This seems to have balanced out perhaps in the last couple of weeks of the crisis as sales messages are relaxed and replaced by the provision of essential information. Although traffic has decreased considerably as with all other channels, the likes of CRM email activity, SMS and, indeed, direct traffic have more or less retained their existing share of total web sessions.
As the government advocated for working from home where possible and against any unnecessary travel on Monday 16th March, this marks a good line for us as a starting point for an analysis of changing media consumption among our developers’ audiences.
Here we’re looking at the two-week period of 16th – 29th March compared to the previous fortnight:
Video activity ostensibly suffers the least, but the volumes of daily traffic are relatively low – partially due to click throughs not being a key metric, but also many video sessions in Analytics are tagged and wrapped up in figures for PPC, social and display campaigns. With the pushing out of video and virtual tour content anticipated to increase considerably to give locked down consumers something to view remotely, we’d expect to see movement on engagement metrics for these and demand for improvements in how these are monitored and tracked.
Organic search traffic clearly takes the biggest hit – part of this will be a drop in interactions from Google My Business listings – maps and site details are redundant if you can’t visit – and some increased competition from articles on the wider market and content surrounding building sites remaining open.
Paid search (PPC) and social offer a glimmer of reassurance in a darkening world. Whilst also following the trend in a reduction in sessions, these two fared better than other channels. Both grew as a share of total sessions, and the relative stability in these channels, despite both the circumstances and a marked drop off in investment through the month, suggests that while securing any form of micro-commitment from them would be challenging at best under the current circumstances, there is still a core audience of interested consumers available.
CRM is another channel which remains relatively stable through the month. Perhaps predictably: the vast majority of people who were interested and engaged prior to the lockdown may only temporarily be unable to continue their journey to purchase, rather than permanently persuaded not to. This highlights the value of a robust comms strategy to nurture leads through the lockdown.
Stepping away from Google Analytics data to engage with in-channel indicators, we can see the impact of a rapidly changing situation on the metrics within Facebook and Google.
There are two determinant factors here; an increase in available inventory with consumers finding themselves possessed of more time, and a simultaneous decrease in advertiser investment. With supply increasing while demand falls, costs have responded in a predictable fashion.
Cost per click has also seen a steady but turbulent decline over the month. With CPM falling, the available reach for a given budget has increased, driving up the opportunities to click and so pushing down the average cost per click.
Although not typically a primary KPI, cost per video view has dropped significantly over the month. After Downing Street’s announcement of stricter measures being put in place and instruction to work from home, we saw a large drop in cost per video view. This indicates that more people are watching video content for at least three seconds and speaks to increased engagement on the platform as well as increased numbers: the impact on our interactions with Facebook has been both qualitative and quantitative.
The routine use of smart bidding ensures that close study of average costs per click can act as an early indicator of market intent. With most of our property activity optimised towards maximising conversion volumes, a dip in market confidence will immediately impact conversion rates and increase the demand for any searchers whom the algorithm believes likely to convert, driving up average costs per click.
In this chart Monday 16th March is once again the fulcrum around which the month pivots, with the average cost per click climbing substantially in the days that follow. While an in-month swing of this size is unprecedented, it indicates that there are still in-market searchers available, particularly given that by April 1 we are starting to see prices plateau at a new level that is well below the peak seen on March 23rd.
Moving forwards we are addressing the tendency of smart bidding to drive up CPC in a competitive space by testing alternative bidding strategies that might better cope with these unusual circumstances in which hard conversions are no longer a key indicator of in-market intent. This might include maximising click volume or optimising towards a target CPA.
Any strategy for the re-opening of outlets armed with a list of appointments and books full of pre-qualified consumers will be greatly improved by a rigorous interrogation of the available digital data.
To this end we intend to revisit these first-party market indicators regularly in the coming weeks and share with all.
With both Google and Facebook working to a 30-day attribution window, we are still very much in the early days of understanding the full impact of even the initial days of the lockdown.
We also plan to add context by comparing contemporary metrics to previous downturns or seasonal dips, and to use this to formulate an understanding of what a return to “normal” might look like digitally.