Search Budgets Decline In Q1 -- First Time In More Than Six Years

Marketers made many changes in the way they bought media during the first quarter of 2016. It seems they experimented more than in the past with different types of media on a variety of platforms.

In first-quarter 2016, U.S. marketers spent 5% less on Google paid-search advertising, compared with the year-ago quarter, for the first time since 2009, according to one report. The data from IgnitionOne, which reflects its client's activity during the quarter, blames the drop in the cost per click for mobile advertising campaigns to a poor start for financial markets and additional advertising real estate. 

Although marketers spent less on paid-search advertising during the first quarter, U.S. paid-search impressions and clicks built rose, driven by mobile campaigns. Mobile impressions rose 73% and clicks rose 86% compared with the year-ago quarter. Overall, the first quarter of 2016 experienced the largest jump in impressions in three years -- up 19% YoY -- and clicks rose 15%.

Programmatic display advertising spend rose 10% in the first quarter of 2016 compared with the year-ago quarter, but compared with the fourth quarter of 2015, metrics fell.

Compared with fourth-quarter 2015, programmatic display metrics are down across the board coming down from the holiday shopping season, according to the IgnitionOne report. Spend fell 17%, while impressions dropped 4% and clicks, 19%. IgnitionOne said the numbers fell in line with the seasonal trends.

IgnitionOne sees a shift away from remarketing ads, defined as targeting ads to users who have visited a site before, as prospecting opportunities diversify. marketers spent 41% of their budget on remarketing ads in first-quarter 2016, slightly down from the prior quarter. 

Prospecting -- the process of reaching out to potential customers in hopes of finding new business -- continue to grow in the U.S., taking 57% of the budget in first-quarter 2016, compared with remarketing taking the remainder, among IgnitionOne clients.

Budget, impressions, and eCPMs fluctuated depending on the industry. The retail industry felt the deepest decline from programmatic display in first-quarter 2016. For retail, impressions fell 39%, spend fell 43%, and eCPMs fell 7%. The travel industry saw a 4% rise in impressions, but a 11% decline in spend and 14% decline in eCPMs.

The quarter also saw Facebook return to outpace Google in terms of growth in programmatic display ads, up 51% YoY. Marketers spent 10% YoY less with Google, among IgnitionOne clients. The cost of Facebook ads again experienced a slight drop, with eCPMs down falling 1% YoY. Google saw an eCPM growth in Q1 2016, up 36% compared with 2015, according to the report.

5 comments about "Search Budgets Decline In Q1 -- First Time In More Than Six Years".
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  1. Rod Ellis from Adams Outdoor Advertising , April 12, 2016 at 3:32 p.m.

    Very confusing article.

  2. kevin lee from Didit / eMarketing Association / Giving Forward, April 12, 2016 at 3:40 p.m.

    Not all SEMs and bid management platforms saw this decline, at least no other ones I've talked to who don't have a retail dependence are for those every year Q1 is down from Q4.  Curioous to see if Google's number match this report. 

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 12, 2016 at 4:32 p.m.

    So advertisers spent less but the number of clicks and audience "impressions" rose dramatically?How does that happen???

  4. Vincent Tobiaz from Shark Bite SEO, April 12, 2016 at 10:09 p.m.

    I believe it is the removal of the right sidebar search ads. That only counted for a fraction of March and almost certainly has some sort of impact.

  5. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC replied, April 13, 2016 at 4:52 p.m.

    I like your question, Ed. Just be theoretical about whether it COULD happen (not likely) we have seen situations where removing money from the search budget and putting it into TV raised all boats better and ended up losing very little in search. To some degree, some/many search clicks are from spending that didn't need to be. None of our clients have been able to sort out good ways to look at search and decide the RIGHT level of spend. You may have good access to how much paid search adds over what would have been organically found. Regardless, low costs per search click usually come when other spending (TV, radio, print, PR) is the cause.

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