Global marketing intelligence service Warc has found that investment in search advertising will rise 9.6% this year, to $135.9bn - equal to 22.0% of all advertising spend worldwide. But this growth rate is the softest since 2015 and is a marked slowdown from the 16.9% rise in 2018. Search's share of internet advertising has now flatlined at 45.8% - the lowest in more than a decade.
The squeeze on Google's main source of revenue has forced it to confront Amazon head on in the smart speaker market, as it looks to facilitate voice search in future paths to purchase. But Amazon has a first-mover advantage in many markets, notably the US, UK and Japan. Control of voice search could be critical to either's success in future; most marketers understand its potential in the coming years but few have plans to use voice search today.
Mobile is driving growth in the search market
Mobile search adspend is expected to rise 19.2% to $88.1bn this year - almost two-thirds (64.8%) of total search spend worldwide. The US alone accounts for 43.0% of this total (US$38.1bn in 2019), while a fifth (21.8%, or $19.3bn) is transacted in China. Japan ($6.1bn, a 6.9% share) and the UK ($5.3bn, 6.0%) follow.
Google accounts for 95.4% of all mobile searches worldwide, higher than its share of desktop search traffic (88.6%). Google's share of mobile search traffic in the US (94.4%) and UK (97.9%) is close to its global rate but in China its share is near zero, with Baidu the incumbent on 79.9%.
Mobile's share of search advertising investment is rising ahead of mobile's share of search traffic, which has plateaued globally since 2017 as consumers spend more time in app (over 80% of mobile usage is in-app, according to comScore).
Instagram is used to discover, Google to research, and Amazon to buy: one in three purchases begins on Amazon
Research by Mindshare shows that Instagram is used by 69% of consumers to discover products, ahead of Snap at 64% and Facebook at 61%. Google is used most to research, with 70% of consumers utilising the platform in this way (versus 51% for second-highest Pinterest). Crucially, however, Amazon is used most to buy; 78% of Amazon users report this, compared to 40% using Google for the same purpose.
One in three (32%) online purchases in the UK begins on Amazon, rising to 52% for entertainment products, 50% for children's products, 47% for household items and 40% for electronics. Comparatively, one in five (19%) online purchases begins with a search engine, such as Google.
Amazon made $35bn from e-commerce in Q3 2019, up by a fifth from the previous year and putting it on course to reach close to $150bn in sales for 2019 as a whole. Over one in ten (11%) product page views come from sponsored ads, according to data from Jumpshot.
Voice is becoming a new search battleground for Amazon and Google, but it is a niche marketing pursuit today
Voice is an area of growth for search advertising, aided by the rising popularity of smart speakers - an area where competition between Google and Amazon is fierce. More than one in ten internet users in the US and UK now own a smart speaker. Amazon enjoys a healthy lead over Google in a number of key markets, including the US, where three-quarters of smart speaker owners use Alexa. In the UK, that share is 77%.
The 'first-mover' advantage is crucial here, however. Google was first to launch in Australia and enjoys a comfortable lead over Amazon (86% penetration versus Amazon's 15%), and the same is true in Singapore (76% versus 24%). This may not bode well for Facebook, which is developing an AI assistant for its Portal devices and is playing catch up to win market share in this area.
For all the potential, voice search remains a niche pursuit for advertisers today: only one in ten US practitioners plans to include it within their marketing strategy for 2020. A quarter (25.2%) believe it will be an 'extremely' important marketing channel within the next three to five years, but half (48.9%) have no plans to utilise the tech in the short-term.
James McDonald, Managing Editor, Warc Data, and author of the research, commented, "Search has boomed over the last decade as practitioners have put a greater emphasis on performance-related advertising to lift ROI - few marketing strategies exclude a search element today. Warc research shows that practitioners regard it as the easiest channel to measure accurately, and it is more cost-effective in driving conversions when compared to online display formats such as video.
"But the industry is beginning to question whether this focus has been beneficial in the long run, with a number of large, consumer-facing businesses considering a pivot back to more conventional brand building formats. This could explain, in part, the slowdown in search investment this year, a cooling which will reignite Google's drive to control the next frontier: voice-assisted search."
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