Merkle: Google Q4 search growth aided by changes other than ETAs


Paid search spend growth held steady in Q4 with 14 percent growth year over year, according to Merkle’s latest Digital Marketing Report. That’s up from 13 percent growth seen in Q3. Google’s many changes, including device separation, helped drive growth.

In Q4, CPCs were off just 0.5 percent, and click volume growth slowed to 15 percent year over year. Mobile phone clicks accounted for 47 percent of clicks, up from 33 percent the year before. Tablet share fell to 9 percent with the device bidding separation. Desktop spend rose after the device separation to 63 percent.


A number of changes kept Google growing

Google paid search spend grew 19 percent year over year in Q4, down slightly from 20 percent growth in Q3. Spending on non-brand, however, rose slightly to 21 percent in Q4.


The biggest Google growth drivers among Merkle’s client set in Q4 were:

  • Returning device bidding and separating tablet and desktop bids. Merkle says this change made the biggest difference.”As advertisers shifted spend from tablets to the better converting desktop segment over Q3 and Q4, they were ultimately able to spend more overall, while achieving the same return on investment.”
  • Product listing ads on search partner sites, including Google Image results. In fact, product listing ads (PLAs) drove more search partner traffic than text ads in Q4 for the first time, according to the report. Search partner traffic for PLAs increased from 6 percent  to 10 percent year over year, and PLA spend grew 30 percent or more in each quarter of 2016. Mobile PLAs were particularity strong as impressions shot up. In Q4, PLA spend increased by 62 percent on phones and by 30 percent on desktop.
  • More spots for ads at the top of mobile search results. Clicks on ads in the newer 3rd and 4th ad spots on mobile accounted for 5 percent of mobile text ad clicks in Q4.
  • New ad slots in the local pack and Local Finder in Maps drove 4 percent of mobile brand clicks.

What has not had a dramatic impact, so far, are Expanded Text Ads (ETAs). Merkle continued to see mixed results from ETAs. Overall, across the client set included in the report, click-through rates for ETAs when appearing at the top of the page were 1 to 3 percent lower, across all devices, than those of Standard Text Ads. There were CTR increases compared to Standard Text Ads on desktop and tablet when ETAs appeared at the bottom of the page, but that volume represents a small fraction of total ad clicks.


Bing & Yahoo

Bing Product Ads showed positive growth in Q2, even as overall spend on Bing and Yahoo was down from the previous year. Combined spend across Bing Ads and Yahoo Gemini was off 13 percent year over year, compared to a 14 percent year-over-year decline seen in Q3.


Bing Product Ads helped buoy the overall trend, with spend growth on Product Ads increasing significantly to 16 percent in Q4. Product Ads accounted for 17 percent of Bing search ad clicks among retailers included in the report, up from 15 percent share in Q3.

Text ad spend growth, however, was off by 17 percent in the fourth quarter compared to the previous year.

Non-brand spend on Bing and Yahoo Gemini fell by 15 percent year over year in Q4; clicks were off by 18 percent and CPCs grew 4 percent on non-brand clicks.

The Digital Marketing Report is available for download (with registration) here with a lot more data and analysis.

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