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Justifying Smartphone PPC Spend as Tablet Results Soar

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budget-money-jarThere's no doubt that tablet ownership is growing month-on-month in the U.S., UK and other markets, with a predictable surge having taken place this Christmas.

The range of desirable tablets at varying price points has grown – the iPad doesn't stand alone as the only attractive option. Traffic figures back up this growth – and crucially for marketers, conversion rates do, too. Tablets accounted for 18.02 percent of UK PPC clicks and 18.31 percent of conversions, according to data released by Kenshoo.

Mobile, by comparison, accounted for 13 percent of the searches but only 3.62 percent of the conversions – and that variance is the challenge some marketers are having to deal with.

While tablet budgets increase, there is a growing trend of marketers being challenged internally by colleagues to justify mobile spend given the (comparative) low ROI it can bring. Should mobile be sidelined, the argument goes, and funds pumped into tablet and "normal" search?

Mobile Isn't a Silo

We all know this. Consumers don't research a product or service on their mobile and only decide whether to purchase it on that small screen.

Consumers don't operate in silos. They move between devices – so judging mobile in a standalone way doesn't reflect reality. Worse, it could be damaging to the brand's success – by significantly reducing or removing a brand's exposure on mobile, the marketer may be reducing the volume of "researchers" reaching the website and therefore throttling the volume of future visits and sales from tablets and PCs.

Research by Google bears this out with some significant figures:

  • 65 percent of (surveyed) consumers started their online shopping research on a smartphone (compared to 47 percent when planning a trip)
  • 61 percent of them went onto a PC whilst 4 percent went onto a tablet
  • 51 percent searched on both the first and second device they used when shopping
  • 57 percent of the time, respondents used a smartphone when using another device – 28 percent with a PC/laptop, 29 percent with television

The Right Hand Device

This bears out what many of us know already by observing our own behavior, and that of friends and colleagues. The smartphone is the modern day "right hand man", our butler, concierge and personal researcher.

Smartphones might not be used to complete transactions, and might only employed when we start research, but it's a vital part of many consumers online behaviors – and that can only grow as smartphone penetration rises and "dumb" phones are marginalized further, even in the hands of those who don't quickly adopt the latest devices.

Capture Spontaneity

Mobile PPC, and mobile campaigns overall, also have an advantage over the PC/laptop. People tend to "sit down" with their computer or laptop to complete a task.

On phones (and tablets, to an extent) they use their smartphones spontaneously. Eighty percent of smartphone searches were reported as spontaneous by Google and 44 percent of those were to accomplish a goal – including online shopping. By comparison 52 percent of PC/laptop searches were spontaneous.

Being present on mobile search is vital for marketers looking to put their brand and wares if front of the spontaneous shopper who, prompted by a moment of boredom, magazine article, TV advert or other factor, decides to find about more about a product category or brand.

Invisible Sales

Mobile search drives footfall. Whether it's consumers searching on the move to find a local store, or planning a trip before leaving the house, it drives physical sales.

Mobile search also drives calls and sales. These sales might be "invisible" to conversion tags and the final steps take place in another channel, but mobile facilitated the consumer's research and led to the interaction with the brand that started that journey.

Retailers are factoring this into their multi-channel sales – whether it's keyword-level call tracking and resulting optimization in search, or online coupons that can be redeemed in-store, or modeling funding "local search" keywords from store promotional budgets and analyzing the percentage of site visitors that use store finders. Research Online, Buy/Purchase Offline (ROBO/ROPO) – or indeed the opposite – are trends that aren't going away, and further complicate understanding the activity that this spend drives.

Attribution

An attribution model that factors in consumers moving across devices at home, work and on the move and into stores is, of course, the silver bullet to cracking this and many other tough nuts around justifying spend - and shifting it to find efficiencies and growth.

There are obstacles to tracking consumers across devices – technical and not least in terms of privacy – but some brands are meeting these challenges head on.

Some brands are making it easier for consumers to pass research information (even if it's just deep links) from their mobiles to their PCs, laptops or tablets by email.

Other brands are encouraging sign-in across devices, allowing consumers to put down one device and pick up where they left off on others. Amazon has been encouraging sign-in across devices for years via their apps and sites and have an envious wealth of internal learning no doubt.

While a "perfect" reporting infrastructure and attribution model might be out of reach for all but the most well-funded marketing department, these initiatives, coupled with research from companies like Google and analysis of brands’ own data, can start to help marketers quantify the role of mobile in the path to conversion.

Justifying mobile PPC spend might not be as simple as comparing mobile's ROI figures to tablets and PCs/laptops on a three line Excel report, but it's an important part of the search and sales eco-system across devices, and smartphones aren't going away.


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