The holidays are here! This means that search engine marketers everywhere round off the strategies to get the best out of the next few weeks, which are the most important sales margin for many companies.
But do not go into the Christmas shopping season without reading those important trends that could help narrow your strategy a little.
Google Shopping Will Probably Be the Star of the Retailer
It should not surprise retailers that Google Shopping is incredibly important to the success of paid search, and I've written about its rise over the years many times. This is still the case today as Google Shopping accounted for 48% of all retail Google search spend by Tinuiti (my employer) in the third quarter of 2019. Advertisers should re-expect shopping in the winter holidays this year to play a key role.
The fourth quarter and subsequent months, however, will be an important time for Google and advertisers to determine how long Google Shopping can continue its rapid pace of growth, as we are already beginning to see some change at the end of last year significantly increased Google Shopping traffic.
As you can see from the graph below, Google Shopping's click growth in the fourth quarter increased from 41% in the last quarter to 49%, and although growth has remained strong since then, there has been a steady slowdown.
As has been the case for a long time, phones in particular account for a large proportion of Google's shopping growth. In the third quarter of 2019, clicks on phones increased 36%, compared to 27% overall.
The fourth-quarter jump coincided with a burst of Google Shopping impressions as Google seemed to prioritize Google Shopping over text ads. The strongest growth in impressions was in phones, with fourth-quarter impressions up 127% yoy, compared to 81% in the third quarter.
Part of this increase is certainly due to newer, growing shopping experiences, such as Showcase Shopping Ads, that create ad-supported entries for more general searches.
The queries that trigger these ads are typically about 20% shorter in the number of characters than the queries that trigger traditional Google Shopping ads. Although the number of characters is not a critical measure of general or targeted search, it indicates that Google finds shorter searches that are likely to contain fewer product-specific qualifiers for which Showcase ads are now showing.
However, the impressive growth in shopping at the end of 2018 was not only a matter of Google's search for additional spots for Showcase ad serving, as traditional shopping offerings also experienced explosive growth. Taken together, the evidence points to a significant increase in the proportion of searches that provide Google Shopping results.
All this means that it's unclear whether Google Shopping has seen another big push like last quarter, or whether Google has more or less used up its powder in terms of expanding these ad units by the end of 2018. Advertisers should therefore not be shocked if holiday shopping growth this year is slower than last year.
We should not be surprised if Google finds another way to boost growth again, as it has on so many other occasions. After all, last year's rise was unexpected, and Google's recent additions to image search and YouTube inventory, as well as other product categories eligible for Showcase, could lead to a possible upswing.
Regardless, a pretty big player you may have heard of stalls ready to steal shopping clicks under the tree.
Amazon is more willing to play Grinch than in previous years
Similar to Google Shopping, it is difficult for US retailers to not know the trillion dollar Amazon site in the room. Nevertheless, many retailers might be surprised at how dominant the e-commerce giant has become in shopping over the past year.
This is most evident when looking at the percentage of Amazon's shopping impressions on apparel from Auction Insights reports. In October of last year, Amazon was barely visible in the shopping results for clothing retailers in the US, but that has changed rapidly.
Amazon's share of impressions is now more than double that of last December and has not changed in the last three months. In addition to the increase in last year's impressions in other categories, such as household goods, furniture, and electronics, there are signs that Amazon will be leveraging Google Shopping this Christmas season.
Given Amazon's decision to take a few days off of purchasing during Prime Day, it's probably not advisable for anyone outside its paid search team to be confident about its likely Q4 strategy. But the foundation for a larger vacation presence seems to be laid than ever before.
What can a competitor do? There is not much Amazon-specific shopping competition advice as competition with Amazon looks very much like competing with a shopping advertiser.
Keep track of queries that trigger ad traffic and funnel traffic using negative keywords. Keep feeds up-to-date and avoid issues by quickly responding to warnings from the Google Merchant Center. Use shopping variations such as Showcase Ads and Local Inventory Ads (for in-house advertisers) to ensure that ads appear in as many different relevant scenarios as possible.
Finally, Local Inventory Ads (LIAs) are a useful differentiator for physical store retailers because Amazon can not offer the same in-store options. However, Amazon's share of impressions is just as high for LIA campaigns as it is for traditional shopping. So you should not think that this is not also about local search queries.
Speaking of local intent – it's time for my favorite paid search trend of the year.
Viewfinders turn to Maps for the Turbo Man Dash
When Christmas arrives and there's a prospect of a delivery on time due to a delivery stop, many buyers are forced to go to the store to make sure Jamie gets the right action figure.
This is easily measured by the proportion of Google text ad clicks attributed to the "Get Location Details" (GLD) click type, which according to Google is mostly Google Maps. The graph below shows the daily share of a national retailer of clothing from last Christmas, for which 14% of total text ad traffic on 23.12. GLD clicks accounted for the largest daily share recorded between November and December. A close second was Christmas Eve with 13%.
These numbers may vary significantly depending on the advertiser, but the general trend for GLD clicks to increase before Christmas compared to other days of the year is very common among stationary presence brands.
Regarding this, advertisers often look for last year results to see if they spend too much or too little on certain days. If a brick-and-mortar brand only looks at the online conversions attributed to the ads in evaluating the market value on the last days before Christmas, the image may not reflect the actual value of that traffic, much offline intent on those days. This applies to branded stores throughout the year, but becomes more apparent in situations such as last-minute purchases on vacation.
Given the way the calendar falls this year, last-minute shopping is likely to be enormously important.
Shortest holiday season since 2013 will cause a time crisis
The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas will be six days shorter this year than 2018, and we have not had Thanksgiving since 2013 in late November. Therefore, the race will take place for both consumers and consumers alike.
History provides us with a helpful test of the impact of a shorter shopping break in a 1939 decision by the FDR to postpone the Thanksgiving holiday one week earlier, at the request of retailers seeking more revenue from the Christmas season , Twenty-three states immediately adopted the new date (the third Thursday in November), while twenty-three others recorded on the original fourth Thursday in November. Two states decided to celebrate both.
After the holiday season, companies indicated that consumer spending in the countries that had taken over the earlier date and in the states that met the later date were similar, indicating a longer period between the two holidays no higher expenses. However, the distribution of revenues over the entire holiday season varied, with the bulk of holiday purchases made in the last week before Christmas for states later in the year, compared to an even distribution over the entire holiday season for those celebrating the earlier date.
Using this as an indicator of how shopping might falter this year (though there may have been one or two major retail developments since 1939 …), the shorter holiday season should not be the holiday in and of itself Sales diminish for retailers. However, the last week before Christmas could be particularly important this year.
Above all, on the fourth Thursday in November, the US settled once and for all as Thanksgiving, meaning that marketers only have to grapple with Black Friday and Cyber Monday. And I'm grateful for that. I wish everyone a happy thank you.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Employee authors are listed here.
About the Author
Andy Taylor is research director at Tinuiti and responsible for analyzing trends across the digital marketing spectrum for best practices and industry commentary. As an experienced marketer with more than 9 years of experience, he often speaks at industry conferences and events.