RKG Report: Google Search Spend Growth Continues Deceleration, Despite Infusion of Google Shopping Traffic

Advertisers Faced Stronger Year-Ago Comps in Q3, Achieved Higher ROI

RKG|Rimm-Kaufman Group released its latest Digital Marketing Report covering the third quarter of 2012 today.  The report found year-over-year search spend growth continuing to slow for Google, even as the search giant moved to monetize traffic from its previously free Google Shopping listings.

Across its client base, which includes over 40 of the top 500 internet retailers, RKG found same-site spending growth of 18% for Google in Q3, down from 34% in the previous quarter.  Google paid click growth slipped to 21%, while average cost-per-click fell 3%.

RKG Senior Research Analyst Mark Ballard, who oversaw the report, pointed to two key factors to explain the trends, noting that “above all, the year-ago comps have strengthened considerably.  In the third quarter of 2011, Google’s official revenue growth hit a rate not seen for three years before, and not seen since.”  Ballard added, “advertisers are also seeing considerably higher ROI, largely due to the immaturity of the Product Listing Ads marketplace, which drove 20% of Google clicks.”

The RKG report shows click volume from Product Listing Ads (PLAs), the ad format powering Google Shopping results, growing at a rate of 262% in Q3.  But, the report found that to be down from an even stronger growth rate in the prior quarter.  Ballard noted that, “our results may be the exception here.  Our clients were early adopters of this format and have achieved huge growth from it dating back to 2010.  For Google, there may be some upside from those advertisers who have been slow to recognize the importance of this segment.”

In the mobile space, RKG shows tablets nearly tripling their share of paid clicks to 9% and slightly narrowing the CPC gap with desktop to 5%.  Smartphone CPCs remained 54% lower than desktop.  Combined, mobile generated 16% of paid clicks, compared to a 21% share of organic visits, as advertisers sought to limit spending on lower quality smartphone traffic.

The full RKG report offers over 40 charts with additional insights and analysis on paid search, search engine optimization (SEO), social media, comparison shopping engines, multi-channel attribution and more.

Among their published results, RKG found:

  • Total same-site paid search spending grew at a 19% year over year rate in Q3 2012.  That was down from a 32% growth rate among the same client sample for Q2.
  • Google paid search spending growth decelerated to 18% Y/Y in Q3, down from 34% in Q2.  Google paid click growth was 21%, including the traffic infusion from the Google Shopping transition.  CPCs were 3% lower Y/Y in Q3, while ROI rose 12% for competitive queries.
  • Paid search spending on Bing and Yahoo combined grew 26% Y/Y in Q3, up from 19% growth in Q2.  Click growth accelerated to 14% Y/Y, while CPCs increased 10%.
  • Google’s Product Listing Ads traffic grew 262% Y/Y and provided 20% of Google paid search clicks for the quarter.  However, CPCs for PLAs ran 15% lower than those for comparable text ads.
  • Google held a 77% share of organic search visits among RKG SEO clients.  Bing and Yahoo each held a share of 10%.  In paid search, Google AdWords generated 82% of clicks in Q3, down from 84% in Q2.
  • Facebook’s share of referral traffic remained at 6%, while Pinterest continued to provide a larger share of traffic.  Along with Twitter, these social sites accounted for a little less than 1% of all site visits in Q3.
  • Nearly 21% of organic search visits occurred on mobile devices in Q3, up from 18% in Q2.  For paid search, 16% of clicks and 11% of ad spend were mobile.
  • Tablet share of paid clicks nearly tripled to 9% and the gap between tablet and desktop CPCs fell to 5%.  Smartphone CPCs remained 54% lower than desktop.
  • Among CSEs, Amazon Product Ads has made the largest gains in 2012, seeing its share of clicks increase from around 5% in Q4 2011 to nearly 20% in Q3 2012

RKG attribution data shows there was an average 3.2 non-brand marketing touches per order in Q3, but for 76% of orders, marketing touches were only generated by a single channel.

About RKG
RKG is a full-service digital marketing agency that combines superior marketing talent with leading edge technology to create the industry’s most effective data-driven online marketing solutions. Founded in 2003, RKG specializes in working with clients in retail, travel, financial and B2B organizations ranging in size from small startups to Fortune 500 companies. RKG is a privately held company headquartered in Charlottesville, VA with offices in Bend, OR and Boston, MA.  For more information visit www.rimmkaufman.com or follow the company on Twitter @rimmkaufman.