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Wait for it…Amazon’s Holiday Paid Search Presence Picks Up on Cyber Monday, but Peaks Later

Amazon is a big player in the paid search space, both with its long existent-text ads as well as with its steadily expanding Google Shopping presence. Like any paid search advertiser, it likely has a strategy heading into the big holiday shopping season in order to maximize its efforts during this key time.

Assessing Amazon’s presence in Google Auction Insights reports over the last three years, we’ve uncovered some interesting insights into the e-commerce giant’s strategy throughout the holiday season, and how it’s changed over time.

Amazon’s Holiday Paid Search Presence through the Years

Below are charts depicting Amazon’s text ad paid search presence according to Google Auction Insights Reports for 20 large retailers that see Amazon as a competitor in paid search to some extent.

Situations in which advertisers see Amazon impression share of ‘<10%’, which Google uses for any impression share that's less than 10% but greater than 0%, or 0% for a given day have been removed for simplicity. The number of these instances goes up whenever Amazon’s median impression share goes down and down whenever median impression share goes up.

The red line indicates Thanksgiving Day for each year, and the orange line indicates Cyber Monday.

Amazon Holiday Impression Share

There’s a lot to digest in those charts, but several trends jump out:

  1. In 2014, Amazon had its highest median impression share on Cyber Monday, but overall it stayed pretty steady throughout the core holiday season until ramping down just ahead of Christmas. Every single advertiser studied saw Amazon with impression share above 10% for nearly two straight weeks in early December.
  2. In 2015, Amazon’s impression share went up on Cyber Monday and continued climbing until the middle of December, topping out at about the impression share levels observed throughout most of 2014. This trend was also observed in 2016, and for both years impression share was at its highest between one and two weeks ahead of December 25.
  3. Amazon seems to have essentially turned off text ads last year just ahead of Christmas Eve, and on December 23 none of the advertisers studied saw it appear in Auction Insights with an impression share greater than 10%. Further, 14 out of the 20 didn’t see Amazon in Auction Insights on December 23 at all.

For comparison, this is what text ad impression share for the median Merkle retailer studied looks like from 11/15 through 12/31 each of the last three years.

Merkle Retailer Holiday Impression Share

As you can see, there’s been very little change over the last three years in median impression share during this time period. Median impression share also typically holds pretty steady throughout the holiday season, as most brands tend to maintain a similar market share during the holidays as the rest of the year.

This indicates that shifts in Amazon’s impression share during the holiday season as well as Y/Y were caused by Amazon shifting its strategy as opposed to other explanations, such as changes to the layout of Google search results over time.

Segmenting Auction Insights reports by device, we can dig even further into Amazon’s strategy.

Amazon Increasingly Visible in Mobile Search Results

The charts below depict Amazon text ad impression share by device for 2015 and 2016.

Amazon Holiday Device Impression Share

As you can see, back in 2015 Amazon was the most visible on desktop computers, but in 2016 its impression share went down on desktop computers and up on both tablets and phones. Between 11/15 and 12/31, Amazon’s average daily text ad impression share declined nine percentage points from 2015 to 2016 for desktop, while increasing seven and nine percentage points for phones and tablets, respectively.

By comparison, daily holiday impression share for the Merkle advertisers studied remained roughly the same on both desktop and phones from 2015 to 2016.

This indicates that Amazon changed its focus in 2016 to more heavily target mobile devices with text ads, more so than the average retailer that it competes against in Google ad auctions. Taking a look at the state of Amazon’s relatively recent move to get involved in Google Shopping, it seems the focus on mobile has carried over.

Amazon’s Google Shopping Presence Strongest on Phones and Tablets

After years of refusing to pay to compete in Google Shopping, Amazon began bidding on these ads during the last week of 2016. Its presence to this point has been mostly limited to the home goods product category, but Amazon has been spotted in Shopping Auction Insights for some other categories as well, such as athletic apparel.

Taking a look at its impression share for advertisers that consistently see Amazon appearing in Shopping Auction Insights for the past six months, it’s clear that Amazon’s primary Shopping focus thus far has been phones and tablets.

Amazon Shopping Device Impression Share

By comparison, the median advertiser competing against Amazon typically sees fairly similar Shopping impression share across device types.

Taken together with the shift in text ad impression share by device, it appears that Amazon is much more competitive in mobile search now than it was two years ago as a result of a more aggressive strategy on these devices.

Expectations for Amazon during the 2017 Holiday Season

The biggest e-commerce site in the U.S. can cause real waves across the paid search landscape when it shifts strategy during the busy holiday shopping season.

Over the past couple of years, it seems Amazon does start getting aggressive early on in the holiday season, with a modest increase in text ad impression share on Cyber Monday. However, it only got more competitive from there, and didn’t reach peak impression share until mid-December in both 2015 and 2016.

Last year marked a significant leap for Amazon in how aggressively it targeted text ads on mobile devices. Further, Amazon’s growth in Google Shopping has come primarily on mobile devices.

Will Amazon continue to get even more aggressive on mobile? Will it expand its Google Shopping targeting to even more product categories? Will it TAKE OVER THE WORLD!?

Only time will tell, but Google Auction Insights reports give advertisers a glimpse into the e-commerce giant’s past holiday strategy. Naturally Amazon’s strategy varies somewhat between different product categories, and brands should take a look at their own Auction Insights reports to see how Amazon and other competitors’ strategies change during the holidays.