Huge gains in mobile cost and engagement, including a surge of Google Shopping (PLA) traffic, highlight our look at Google’s Q4 performance, which underscores the much-discussed shift in shopping behavior.

google

We ran Q4 2014 numbers against Q4 2013 numbers on search, display, and Google Shopping (PLAs), and we analyzed the performance on all three platforms across desktop, tablet, and mobile. Here’s what we found:

Search: 119,098,724 impressions

  • Desktop
    • 3% CTR increase, 9.3% CPC increase
  • Tablet
    • 25% CTR increase, 22% CPC increase
  • Mobile
    • 19% CTR Increase, 30% CPC increase

 

The big search story is mobile growth. As companies continue to optimize the mobile experience and place greater value on mobile-specific conversion events, bidding – and competition – have become more aggressive. And mobile-specific messaging has made ads more engaging to mobile users.

From the sample the above data was taken from, Mobile average position year over year improved by only 6% (from 1.74 to 1.63). To see such drastic CTR growth ahead of position improvement gives further evidence to improvement in mobile engagement. As a point of comparison, Desktop saw a 7% position improvement but only experienced a 3.3% CTR increase. Tablet position improved by a massive 20%, which is what we can attribute their CTR improvements to.

Display: 2,522,305,198 impressions

  • Desktop
    • 16% CTR increase, 7% CPC increase
  • Tablet
    • 0% CTR increase, 9% CPC decrease
  • Mobile
    • 4% CTR increase, 10% CPC increase

 

Increased adoption of Google’s much-improved Conversion Optimizer had a definite impact on our data. The decrease in tablet CPCs was an effect of the Conversion Optimizer, which bid down the traditionally lower-converting tablet clicks in favor of desktop. The slight mobile gains were symptomatic of the rising mobile tide; with optimized mobile experience came greater opportunity for more aggressive bidding.

Google Shopping (PLAs): 13,611,343 impressions

PLAs CTR  CPC  Clicks
Desktop -23% 107% 32%
Mobile -35% 68% 354%
Tablet -29% 1015% 134%

In 2013, Google Shopping (particularly on Mobile) was still relatively untapped; marketers were focusing on their core product sets and enjoying the suppressed costs of an unsaturated market. In our study of sample year-over-year data, the last quarter showed a completely different marketplace.

As shopping results in search became more ubiquitous over the past year, product feeds by necessity became more sophisticated, with emerging feed technology solutions allowing for the inclusion and maintenance of full product inventory.  More products, SERP layouts that favored Shopping ads over traditional search ads, and more aggressive bids resulted in a surge of CPCs and click volume, with lower CTRs reflecting user exposure to products outside of brands’ core catalogs.

Takeaways

The “year of mobile” that marketers have long promoted appears to have arrived in full, as marketers have shifted their strategies to reflect users’ cross-device behavior. This, in tandem with the development of Google Shopping as the unquestioned hottest property in AdWords, has radically changed the allocation of search and display spend.

Where early mobile and Shopping adopters could once enjoy competitive advantages of low cost and plenty of inventory, the quickly saturating markets will place more of a premium on mobile and Shopping optimization than ever before as costs grow more prohibitive.

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Bob Sturges
Account Director Bob Sturges joined the online marketing industry in 2009 and 3Q Digital in March of 2011. He has directly managed paid search accounts across many industries, including travel, automotive, and professional services. Prior to his entry into paid search, he worked as a project manager for a construction management company in Los Angeles. A graduate of UC Berkeley, he is a devoted follower of Cal Football.