Commentary

SearchIgnite: 2009 Paid Search Slump, Good Chance For 2010 Growth

If you have been increasing investments in U.S. paid search, you're not alone. The rise fuels speculation among industry insiders that 2010 will end on a high note.

While no one has a crystal ball to call the outcome this year (especially in January) for the U.S. paid search industry, key findings from SearchIgnite's Q4 2009 U.S. Search Market Report released Tuesday suggest better days ahead.

December 2009 numbers point to signs of PPC growth in all markets. Marketers across the board spent 11.8% more in December 2009, compared with the previous year. This signifies the first increase in marketing spend across all verticals since August 2009 (when the increase was 0.6%), according to the report.

SearchIgnite also calls out a slight uptick in the money flowing into Microsoft's search engine Bing. The engine gained ground, about 1%, sequentially, to 7% in the fourth quarter at the expense of Yahoo, whose share fell through the year from a high of slightly above 20% in Q2 to 16% in Q4. Google remained at 77% in the fourth quarter, and throughout most of 2009. These findings are in line with those released from Efficient Frontier today.

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Bing and Yahoo don't have any near-term potential to take serious market share from Google, but if the two continue on the same track it could set the stage for more competition in the long run, Roger Barnette, president and founder of SearchIgnite, tells me.

Barnette points to the Yahoo tool, Network Distribution, which MediaPost reported on last week. It should make a difference for sophisticated advertisers. "The traffic they get from Yahoo.com is more valuable than traffic distributed on network partners," he says. "The ability to easily track and bid on Yahoo.com is valuable because [more sophisticated advertisers] can afford to spend more money on valuable clicks."

Understanding the click path helps marketers maximize investments in paid and organic search. Barnette notes there are CPA-based visual ads within Google's normal paid search listings beginning to attract attention. Google is finding a way to monetize the clicks, as well as what's in organic search results.

Barnette says advertisers are more upbeat and providing longer outlooks for campaigns. He expects the first quarter to come in down-to-slightly flat, sequentially, which remains typical.

Based on recent trends, Barnette expects travel marketers to make more investments in paid search during the first quarter 2010. Investments in local paid search are increasing, too, but the investment isn't appropriate for all, he says.

And where does mobile come in? "Marketers in the U.S. will test mobile in 2010, but [they're] about a year away from any substantial media spend," he says. "Mobile is big in Japan, but that has to do with the advanced capabilities on smartphone. User behavior in Japan is more advanced, but over time in the next few years, mobile in China and the United States will grow."

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