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With COVID Surging, Digital Spend and Engagement Are Up

Sr. Social Strategist Jessica Guedes contributed to this report.

One of the predictions of 3Q’s Growth Sciences team’s 2020 Holiday Retail Guide was that advertisers would ramp up holiday spend much earlier this year, and October spend and engagement bore that out. So how did the November picture compare with spend and engagement from a year ago?

We ran an analysis (both paid search and Facebook/Instagram) from major eCommerce clients who are representative of 3Q’s full eCommerce portfolio and compared the numbers to November 2019. It may come as no surprise that spend, engagement, and performance were all on the rise as foot traffic continued to lag in the COVID-19 pandemic. But just how much did they increase?

Let’s jump in.

1) Paid social spend was up; paid search spend exploded

In a hotly contested election year, political news crowded social feeds, yet paid social spend in November 2020 increased by 36% year over year. While impressive, this growth seems modest in comparison with the growth of eCommerce-related paid search spend, which was up 66% from November 2019.

Perhaps most intriguing was where paid search expanded; YouTube saw an increase of over 70% YoY, suggesting that advertisers, along with spending earlier, were investing more in the middle of the funnel.

2) Paid search performance justified higher costs

The rush to get in front of more consumers came with a cost; paid search CPCs were up 54% from a year ago as marketers doubled down on less efficient avenues. Conversion rate almost kept pace, with advertisers showing a 39% increase in CVR from November 2019.

3) Low Facebook and Instagram costs persist

Advertisers managed to spend 36% more on Facebook and Instagram despite CPCs (30% lower YoY) and CPMs (21.5% lower YoY) continuing to lag behind 2019 numbers. This trend began as COVID-19 took hold in the spring and has not changed course, which provides lots of opportunities for advertisers willing and able to invest.

4) Facebook/Instagram engagement and referral traffic are booming

Another COVID-related trend that has continued is increased engagement with Facebook/Instagram ads, which are showing 15% higher CTRs than in November 2019 and almost double the referral traffic. This reflects the 2020 trend of higher consumption of online content, and it puts the emphasis on engaging more intent-driven audiences with standout creative and messaging.

5) Facebook/Instagram conversions aren’t keeping pace with engagement, but ROAS is strong

While users are more likely to engage with Facebook/Instagram ads in 2020, conversion rates have decreased by 46% year over year. Yet investments are still paying off; along with generating larger retargeting audiences, advertisers are realizing a 5% increase in direct-response ROAS.

Facebook/Instagram YoY ROAS Bar Graph

We’ll continue to analyze monthly numbers from this year’s topsy-turvy holiday season; stay tuned for December data soon!

Contact 3Q Digital for more information about working with our in-house Creative Services and Paid Social Media Advertising teams.