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Despite Continued Belt Tightening Across U.S. Businesses, ROI Remains Strong for Search Engine Marketing, According to Efficient Frontier Report

As the recession continues, advertisers and search engines alike have begun to successfully adjust their strategies by mapping to recent changes in consumer behavior to increase profitability. Additionally, return on investment (ROI) in search engine marketing (SEM) has shown a significant increase, a testament to the continued strength of the channel, according to the Efficient Frontier U.S. Search Engine Performance Report: Q1 2009. The report, developed by Efficient Frontier, the worldwide leader in Search Engine Marketing technology and services, is the largest independent research in the search marketing industry. It is based on an analysis of 84 billion impressions and 785 million clicks across a portion of Efficient Frontier clients, which includes some of the world's largest brands.

The results of the Q1 research show that while search advertising spend is down slightly quarter-over-quarter (3.3 percent) from Q4 2008 to Q1 2009, ROI has improved by 10 percent in the same time period, revealing that advertisers are reducing spend in order to maintain a higher return. ROI improved significantly from January 2009 to February 2009 experiencing a 30 percent increase, while advertising spend improved 6 percent from February to March 2009.

Consumer search trends analyzed for the report show that comparison shopping has become a priority, while brand consciousness has lessened in importance. This change in behavior has led advertisers and search engines to adapt quickly to the new economic environment, seeking out new ways to target users. As a result, the ROI and cost-per-acquisition (CPA) goals of search advertisers have increased since October 2008, as marketers are more willing to compromise volume for increased profitability.

A recent report from industry research firm eMarketer states that, “the Internet’s share of total media ad spending is rising by at least 1 percentage point every year. Simply put: Marketers are spending more on Internet ads, while spending less on advertising in other media, such as newspapers, radio and magazines. Furthermore, eMarketer projects that the online share of ad dollars will continue to grow, rising from nearly 10% this year to slightly more than 15% in 2013.*”

"As the leading SEM firm, our Quarterly Performance Report serves as a barometer for what is happening in the overall economy,” said David Karnstedt, President and CEO, Efficient Frontier. “We believe that ROI will continue to be a priority for advertisers as they seek greater efficiencies in keyword marketplaces. This trend, coupled with increased search volume, represents a significant opportunity for advertisers to gain market share in key categories and obtain additional, valuable traffic at a discounted price point.”

Search Engine Market Share

The Efficient Frontier report shows year-over-year market share for Google, Yahoo and Microsoft experienced very little change. Google Search continued to dominate the market with 72.3 percent overall market share in Q1 2009, a minimal 0.9 percent decrease year-over-year. During the same time period, Yahoo Search gained 1 percent market share, for a total of 19.3 percent in Q1, while Microsoft Live Search came in at 3.5 percent market share, a 1 percent decrease year-over-year. While Google Search declined slightly on an annual basis, the company’s Content Network showed continued improvement, with click-through-rates (CTRs) increasing 250 percent year-over-year and 4.8 percent market share, a 1.1 percent increase year-over-year.

Consumer Search Trends

The economic downturn has affected consumer spending and therefore consumer search trends. An analysis of keywords for the Travel Sector in Q1 show that words like “cheap” and “discount” are being used more frequently, showing that consumers are looking for bargains, and are comparison shopping. This is a benefit for online retail, as SEM naturally lends itself to this mode of shopping. In the Finance sector, certain keywords like “mortgage” are soaring, with increased impression volumes and revenue per-click, while other keywords are experiencing increased impressions but are not converting at the same rate. This demonstrates that people are searching for financial information, but not necessarily buying. While more people are looking for information online and applying for loans or mortgages, the approval criterion has become more stringent, reducing the monetization value of the traffic.

Trends by Vertical Market

Finance - advertisers in this sector saw an 18 percent uptick in impressions year-over-year. However, spend and cost-per-clicks (CPCs) declined in the same period as advertisers found it difficult to monetize traffic. This shift occurred as people were looking for information, but not making as many purchases, so traffic in the buying cycle was less qualified than before.

Retail - trends in the retail sector indicate that while more users are searching online advertisers are working with decreased budgets. Additionally, the drop in click-through-rates (CTRs) and the increase in impression volume indicates that more searches in the retail space are from comparison shoppers, not serious buyers.

Automotive - as SEM spend in the automotive sector declined 7 percent year-over-year, the industry experienced a 32 percent decline in traffic. However, this traffic was very qualified, as indicated by the 36 percent year-over-year improvement in CTRs.

Travel - the travel sector saw a 42 percent increase in spend quarter-over-quarter, as well as a 52 percent increase in impressions for the same time period. However, year-over-year, impressions were the only metric to show an upward trend, increasing 32 percent. Spend was down 8 percent and CTRs declined 17 percent for the same time period, indicating that more users are searching online and advertisers are leveraging new avenues for travel advertising such as Google’s Local and Business ads.

U.S. Key Metric Performance Trends

Impressions - Impression trends are representative of user search patterns. In the context of SEM, the impression volume indicates the number of users interested in a product or a service.

In Q1 2009, overall impressions were up 11 percent, despite the decline in spending. This indicates that more people are searching online and that search engines are optimizing unused inventory by taking such actions as removing minimum bids. On a year-over-year basis, Google Search experienced 20 percent growth in impressions, while Microsoft Live Search saw 10 percent growth in impressions. Google Content trended down in impressions, declining 57 percent, due to continual improvements that enabled advertisers to better target users.

Return on Investment - when controlled for spend, a higher ROI indicates that more revenue will be earned for the same advertising dollar. SEM uniquely allows advertisers to measure ROI and dynamically change elements of their campaign based on those returns.

Quarter-over-quarter, ROI has improved for all search engines. Google Search, Microsoft Live Search and Yahoo Search saw a 10 percent, 43 percent and 12 percent improvement in ROI respectively, due to advertisers shifting towards efficiency in their marketing campaigns.

“Advertisers will continue to demand greater ROI from their search campaigns, as a buffer against economic uncertainty,” said Dr. Siddarth Shah, senior business analyst at Efficient Frontier. “We are at an interesting crossroads. On one hand, advertisers are slicing budgets. On the other, more users are searching online, and clicks are cheap. This provides the perfect opportunity for advertisers with deep pockets to embrace the downturn, to consolidate market share and continue growing their businesses.”

The complete U.S. Search Engine Performance Report: Q1, 2009 is available for download from the Efficient Frontier website.

Research Methodology

Analysis for the Efficient Frontier report was based on data from a fixed sample of the overall Efficient Frontier U.S. customer base from Q1 2008 through Q1 2009, and covers nearly 84 billion impressions and 785 million clicks on search and content ads on Google, Yahoo and Microsoft Live Search. The report includes data from advertisers in the financial services, travel and entertainment, retail, automotive and business-to-business verticals.

About Efficient Frontier

Efficient Frontier is the worldwide leader in providing search engine marketing solutions for large advertisers and agencies. Founded in 2002, Efficient Frontier pioneered the application of modern portfolio theory to SEM and today combines its core predictive modeling algorithms and bidding technology with comprehensive strategic and tactical value-added services to manage more than $750 million in annual search spend globally. The largest and most sophisticated advertisers and agencies partner with Efficient Frontier to achieve and sustain optimal campaign performance and growth in highly complex and competitive search marketplaces. The company is headquartered in Sunnyvale, CA with offices in New York, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and India, and technology licensing partnerships in Japan, Hong Kong and Australia. Efficient Frontier is a privately held company with funding from Redpoint Ventures and Cambrian Ventures. For more information, please visit www.efrontier.com and subscribe to the Efficient Frontier blog at blog.efrontier.com.

*eMarketer, “Online Advertising Pushes Through,” April 8, 2009

About Business Wire
Copyright © 2009 Business Wire. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Business Wire content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Business Wire. Business Wire shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.

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