Merkle (www.merkle.com), a leading technology-enabled, data-driven customer experience management (CXM) company, has released its Q3 Digital Marketing Report (DMR), a quarterly research report that analyzes and highlights trends within paid and organic search, Amazon ads, paid social, and display ads. Q3 2021 revealed a number of telling trends in areas such as competition, shopping behaviors, and privacy updates, which will impact advertising as we enter into an “endemic” period, settling into a constant state of pandemic.
The emerging trends from the Q3 DMR demonstrate that marketers will need to continue to be agile when planning as the pandemic continues to influence consumer shopping behaviors. For example, in Q3 2021, COVID-19 continued to influence consumers, with online shopping and retail growth shifting in correlation with an increase in positive cases.
New Market Entrants and Ecommerce Boom Bring Rampant Competition
The growth of ecommerce brought more businesses into the digital space and increased consumers’ use of online shopping, buy online pick up in store (BOPIS), and more. Eighteen months in, the impact is still being felt with intense competition across channels. Paid search CPC was up 41% Y/Y, with neither Google nor Microsoft immune to increases. Amazon Sponsored Products CPC was up 43%, Y/Y while Sponsored Brands CPC jumped 76%. In paid social, Facebook and Instagram CPM increased 46% and 11%, respectively.
The Unusual Performance of 2020 Creates Tough Comps for YoY Traffic
Most platforms experienced double-digit traffic growth in Q3 2020. That, in combination with more expensive clicks and impressions this year, set up channels to see Y/Y declines in traffic in 2021. Paid search clicks decreased by 10% Y/Y and organic search visits dropped 3% Y/Y. Amazon Sponsored Products clicks and Sponsored Brands declined 61% Y/Y and 11% Y/Y respectively. Within paid social, Facebook impressions fell 15% Y/Y, while Instagram saw its lowest Y/Y impression growth since early 2019. Despite these decreases, overall spend was up Y/Y for most channels due to the higher CPC and CPM previously referenced.
COVID-19 is Still a Significant Driver Behind Consumer Shopping Behaviors
Shopping behavior continued to align with COVID-19 case numbers. In 2020, online shopping behavior tended to correlate with changes in COVID-19 cases and related mandates / public safety concerns. As cases went up and more customers shopped online, retail performance grew. The third quarter of 2021 saw similar trends. On organic search, paid search, and Amazon Sponsored Products, retail Y/Y traffic comps were worse in July and improved in August and September, following a similar trajectory as COVID-19 cases in the US. At the same time, organic search visits for travel moved in an opposite direction, performing best in July and worst in September.
Mobile Search Reaches New Heights as Consumers Increase Activities Out of the Home
Consumers were eager to venture out of their homes this summer – and with more time spent out and about, people turned to mobile to meet their search needs this quarter more than any quarter in the past. Mobile, defined as phone and tablet, drove 64% of organic search visits in Q3, tying its previous high. Paid search mobile click share set a new record of 72%. Google and Microsoft both showed Q/Q growth, though Microsoft still lags far behind in its mobile share of total clicks.
Advertisers Are Feeling the Impact of Privacy Updates
Across the Facebook ecosystem, advertisers continued to work through the impact of iOS14 updates. Brands needed to bid more aggressively to compete for increasingly limited targeting pools. There was also more spend required to meet revenue goals with less tracking (and, therefore, reporting) available. The result was higher CPM Y/Y, with Facebook and Instagram seeing 46% and 11% increases, respectively.