What The Holidays Tell Search Marketers

I realize most of us are already well-focused on 2012, so a look back at the 2011 holiday season may seem a bit dated. However, the holiday season provides search marketers a snapshot of behavior that should prove relevant for the upcoming year, though perhaps on a smaller scale.

To gain a more accurate view of how online shoppers’ habits may be changing, we took a look at paid search, display and social advertising metrics across our retail clients. Here’s what we found:

Savvy Buyers Sought Deals

In 2011, online advertisers drove more revenue in November than in December. The opposite was true in 2010. Although the week of Black Friday and Cyber Monday still remained the biggest week for online purchases, in 2011 we noticed click volumes fell much more sharply after Cyber Monday than they did previously.

Shoppers not only shopped around more as indicated by a 49 percent increase in ad clicks, but they also bought more items per transaction with revenue per click also up 49 percent in 2011.

Change in Paid Search Metrics - Q4 2010 vs. Q4 2011

What’s this all mean? Essentially, shoppers did more shopping online, they did it earlier, and they timed their shopping to specific days.

The massive spikes between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday as well as more revenue earned in November, signify shoppers likely presumed Black Friday and Cyber Monday would yield the best online deals and therefore shopped accordingly. Revenue per click on Cyber Monday alone was up 62 percent in 2011.

Thanksgiving Weekend Revenue Per Click - 2010 vs. 2011

So, as you’re building out your 2012 online advertising campaigns you’ll want to keep in mind shoppers’ increased tendency to sniff out the best online deals and take advantage of promotions. Similarly, promotions around a certain event or timeframe will likely drive better results.

Shoppers Used Smartphones & Tablets

Instead of hunkering down in front of a computer and searching for holiday deals, more shoppers this year leveraged their smartphones and tablets. Indeed, during Thanksgiving weekend the click share of mobile phones and tablets spiked to 12 percent of all paid search clicks on Thanksgiving and Black Friday.

While consumer clicks on mobile exploded, advertiser spend on mobile search campaigns as a percent of total grew less quickly, indicating lower cost-per-click than desktop campaigns.

Click Share of SmartPhones and Tablets - Thanksgiving 2011

Specific campaigns targeted at smartphones and tablets should be a part of every search marketers’ strategy this year and the mismatch between click share versus ad spend certainly shows a window of opportunity for advertisers on mobile devices. You should determine what percent of your current number of ad clicks come from tablets or smartphones and adjust your resources accordingly.

Similarly, you’ll want to ensure your landing pages are optimized for mobile devices, separate keyword sets, and even create separate ad copy for mobile campaigns to better entice mobile searchers.

Facebook In The Mix

When looking at Facebook the first thing we noticed was for the first time Facebook traffic exhibited search-like holiday seasonality. Like Google and Bing, revenue earned through Facebook spiked during Thanksgiving week, with Cyber Monday yielding the most return.

Similarly, after Thanksgiving week Facebook advertisers experienced a drop in response.

Typically, Facebook is thought of more of a relationship marketing venue, with advertisers devoting performance marketing dollars to search engines.

The search engine-like spikes in Facebook ad revenue and spend during the holidays suggests that as you evaluate your Facebook strategy for 2012 you should consider devoting budget and resources to performance marketing endeavors on Facebook. Facebook will indeed return results, perhaps if also timed around a certain season or event.

Unfortunately, there are no crystals balls when it comes to online marketing. Looking back at the holidays ought to at least give us some semblance of what to expect from online shoppers moving forward. What other lessons do you think the 2011 holiday season taught you for 2012?

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Enterprise SEM

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About The Author: was the Vice-President of Marketing at Marin Software, a leading platform for digital advertising management, and held a variety of executive roles at Coremetrics, one of the early innovators in web analytics.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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