Report: US Mobile Search Spend Expected To Overtake Desktop Next Year

mobile-tablet-ss-1920Starting next year marketers in the US will spend more on mobile search — both PPC ads and SEO –  than on desktop, according to a new report from digital research firm, eMarketer.

Just last year, the firm estimates, less than a quarter of search spend went to mobile. The report suggests that the tables will turn entirely by 2018, with mobile accounting for 76.7 percent of search spending.

mobile search spend to overtake desktop by 2015 emarketer

EMarketer includes both tablets and smartphones in its mobile numbers, but says the dramatic shift is being driven primarily by smartphones. Still, it’s worth noting that the market doesn’t have much control over what gets allocated to search advertising on tablets. Google’s enhanced campaigns eliminated the ability to bid separately on tablet and desktop traffic last year. Bing Ads followed Google’s lead this year and also combined desktop and tablet traffic this fall.

Additionally, because SEO is included in these estimates, it’s not clear what the shift in ad spending actually looks like.

Lagging ROI

Lower return on investment from mobile search has been a sticking point for advertisers. EMarketer predicts that ROI on mobile will continue to lag behind desktop until “mobile performance measurement, particularly in relation to the the impact on sales in physical stores, gets more precise.”

Google has been trying to convince advertisers of value of mobile since it rolled out enhanced campaigns. It has introduced estimated cross-device conversions and several mobile-specific ad features over the past year. The company is working on several initiatives to tie mobile ads back to offline store sales, and is facing increasing pressure to do so since the launch of Facebook Atlas, which has an offline tracking component.

Skepticism about the value of mobile search does appear to be waning, however. In it’s third quarter report, search firm RKG noted that after holding down smartphone bids in 2013 in order to improve ROI for its predominantly US-focused e-commerce advertisers, mobile CPCs rose sharply (27 percent year-over-year) and ad spend on smartphones jumped 117 percent.

While still accounting for just a fraction of overall conversions, smartphone-attributable conversions rose 17 percent after RKG factored in cross-device conversions. The firm also saw a surge in mobile search traffic from the Bing Yahoo network.

Still, RKG’s year-over-year share of ad spend on tablets and smartphones in Q3 rose just 18 percent — from 23.9 percent to just 28.4 percent — well below eMarketer’s estimate of 38.1 percent increase in mobile spend share from 2013 and 2014.

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