2016 has unquestionably been an eventful year for business, and the digital advertising sector was no different. We have seen the right-hand side ads being taken away on Google, ad character limit being extended, three new ad extensions introduced and, ad customizers taking ad personalisation to the whole new level. The biggest changes, however, seem to have happened behind the scenes in organic search result pages. Usually, changes to paid advertising space on Google reflect on the performance of organic results. Last year, however, with a strong focus on mobile performance, the roles seem to have changed.
(Above) The mobile-friendly algorithm is confirmed by Google employee, John Mueller, over Twitter.
Mid-May Google finalised rolling out their mobile-friendly algorithm update globally, making mobile-friendliness a significant ranking factor for searches performed on mobile. The main indicators of mobile friendliness considered by the algorithm were site speed, responsiveness and usability. Later, in September, Google also globally rolled out Accelerated Mobile Pages in organic search results. Although this change was not declared to have direct influence over rankings, Google would still prioritise the AMP version of a page and show it more frequently. These alterations have significantly changed the landscape for websites that stayed behind with mobile optimisation over the last few years. But what did that actually mean for the performance of paid traffic on mobile devices throughout 2016?
We decided to take a look at the paid search performance of mobile, desktop and tablet in 2016 utilising 1,043 AdWords campaigns from five different industries, with a focus on retail and legal clients’ campaigns. All of whom were live at any point between 1st January and 31st December 2016. All data was taken directly from Google AdWords and anonymised for the purpose of this review.
We investigated three variables in detail across all selected campaigns and industries. For each, we split the traffic by device (tablet, mobile and desktop) and reviewed any changes regarding the average CPCs, total conversion, and impression figures totalled by account including the review of moving averages throughout 2016.
Our findings showed that thanks to the Mobile-Friendly Boost which Google rolled out around 12th May 2016, conversion as well as impression volumes saw a significant increase in Q2 and subsequent quarters of 2016 with many campaigns’ mobile performance peaking in Q4.
After the algorithm update in May 2016, mobile conversions doubled for 66% of our clients’ campaigns and even tripled in 2016 despite no bid adjustments being made to the campaign during this time.
In fact, in most cases, mobile conversions were consistently outperforming tablet. A contributing factor to this trend, apart from the mobile algorithm update, will be the increase in larger screen sizes on mobile and retirements of tablet devices as well as Google’s announcement in mid-May 2016 about its endeavour to benefit mobile bidding more moving forward. (Graph below).
Example #1 – High Street Retailer | Conversions
We did not only see this trend reflected within the conversion volume by device but also within the impression share and subsequent traffic volumes also showed striking increases. In 66% of all our clients’ campaigns, mobile triggered a minimum of 30% more impressions than desktop and not to mention tablet, which in many cases showed little to no impression growth. (Graph below).
Example #2 – High Street Retailer| Impressions
Lastly, we also noticed mobile having an effect on average CPCs with tablet being up to 40% more costly. (Graph below).
Example #3 – Fashion Retailer | Impressions
Equally important to look at for us as a team is the legal industry with its highly competitive search marketing landscape. The significant developments on mobile search certainly make the legal industry a poster child for this review. We saw mobile conversions doubling after the algorithm update across not just one, but all of our legal clients’ campaigns. Once again, no specific bid adjustments by device made on a regular basis which could have influenced these results. (Both graphs below).
Example #4 – Solicitor A | Conversions
Example #5 – Solicitor B | Conversions
A similar picture unravelled when we reviewed the impression volumes for mobile versus desktop and tablet. Mobile produced up to 50% more impressions than desktop for 66% of all our campaigns. This particularly took place in Q3 and Q4 2016. (Graph below).
Example #6 – Solicitor A | Impressions
Whilst fashion and legal campaigns were key focus areas for our review, we also wanted to investigate if other industries experienced similar benefits from the mobile-friendly boost and therefore reviewed clients from the catering and insurance industries. Our findings confirmed the above-illustrated trends for conversions volumes whilst impression volumes appeared to be less affected.
Mobile overtook tablet specifically in Q4 for 80% of our other industry clients. (Graph below).
Example #7 – Other Industry/Insurance Client / Conversions
We predict that mobile traffic will continue to grow with Google opening up new advertising avenues in 2017. Whilst perhaps not as strong as in the last couple of years, we’ll see mobile advertisers make more use of Google features such as Google Maps’ Promoted Places and the Knowledge Graph.
Alongside this, we should all look to find more refined ways to target our audiences and optimise conversions especially on mobile, e.g. via bidding strategies aimed at targeting the different screen sizes, mobile operating systems or networks - providing AdWords releases these options.
As a paid media team, we’ll look to maintain a test and learn culture in 2017. We strive to create ROI, generating innovative campaigns for all our clients. This review certainly backed up our strategy in that it is vital that when we optimise for paid search and specifically for mobile, we should always keep an eye on the organic algorithm, too.