Report: SEM Spend Down, ROI Up As Marketers Adapt To Recession Trends

Search marketing platform provider Efficient Frontier released a report on Q1 2009 SEM trends. The report is based on data collected from Efficient Frontier’s U.S. clients “and covers 84 billion impressions and 785 million clicks on search and content ads on Google, Yahoo and Microsoft Live Search.” At the highest level Efficient Frontier said overall SEM spend was down vs. a year ago (-13%), as were CPC prices; however, consumer search impressions were up and ROI for advertisers was also up significantly:

The results of the Q1 research show that while search advertising spend is down slightly quarter-over-quarter (3.3 percent) from Q4 2008 to Q1 2009, ROI has improved by 10 percent in the same time period, revealing that advertisers are reducing spend in order to maintain a higher return. ROI improved significantly from January 2009 to February 2009 experiencing a 30 percent increase, while advertising spend improved 6 percent from February to March 2009.

The report’s executive summary identified these trends:

  • SEM Spend and ROI Trends Show Advertisers Shift Towards Efficiency Strategy
  • Impression Volume Surged Across all Search Engines, Especially in the Financial, Retail and Travel Sectors
  • Consumer Search Trends Show Shift Towards Frugality and Comparison Shopping
  • Google Continues to Dominate the Market by Spend, YOY Market Share Shows Minimal Change
  • Google’s Content Network Continues to Refine as Advertisers Allocate Increased Budgets

I’ve pulled a few of the charts from the report. The following chart indicates monthly SEM spend compared with ROI:


Source: Efficient Frontier

The following chart compares CTR trends YoY at the major engines:


Source: Efficient Frontier

As marketers have tightened budgets CPC prices have come down:


Source: Efficient Frontier

The report provides comparable metrics and visibility in four verticals: finance, retail, travel and automotive. There is also a discussion of consumer behavior as it relates to each of those verticals (which is not identical). However, overall, Efficient Frontier said the following about consumer search patterns during the recession:

In the current economic environment, ROI will continue to be a priority as advertisers trend towards the efficiency model in an effort to reach a higher ROI as a buffer against economic uncertainty. The drop in CPCs indicates a deflation in the marketplace. Thus we find ourselves at an interesting cross-road. On the one hand, advertisers are cutting budgets resulting in cheaper clicks, on the other hand more users are searching online. This situation presents the ideal opportunity for large advertisers with deeper pockets to expand in this market, consolidate their market share, and get more valuable traffic at a discounted price point. Our research indicates that an increased number of users are more price conscious and less brand conscious.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Google: AdWords | Search Marketing: General | SEM Industry: Stats | Top News


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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