Mobile Search Surges into 2012

Posted by James Beveridge, Senior Analyst

Due to relentless month-over-month increases in mobile paid search impression and click share, Performics is predicting that 2012 will be a huge year—even bigger than 2011—for mobile search.  Mobile search has already started with a bang in January.  By the summer, we project that Google mobile paid search impressions will be 20% of all mobile paid search impressions, and Google mobile paid search clicks will approach 28% of all mobile paid search clicks.  Below, we report on mobile impressions, clicks, click-through rates (CTRs) and cost per clicks (CPCs) through January 2012 for our aggregate client base.  While December 2011 was the biggest month ever for mobile paid search, January 2012 followed closely behind:


Total mobile paid search impressions on Google (as a percentage of all impressions (computers + mobile)) peaked at 16.4% in December, the highest of all-time.  And mobile paid search impressions remained high in January, at 15.9% of all paid search impressions (computers + mobile).  Tablets have been a significant factor in the mobile search surge; they represented 38% of all mobile impressions in Nov/Dec 2011, and continued to rise in share to 40% of mobile impressions in January.


Based on recent trends, we believe mobile impression share could rise to 20% over the next 6 months.  The below graph forecasts mobile impression share through June 2012:

Impression share


Mobile paid search clicks also continue to gain share.  In 2011, mobile click share (as a percentage of all Google paid search clicks (computers + mobile)) rose every month.  Click share peaked in December at 21.7% of all clicks, and has remained near this level in January 2012: 21.5% of all clicks.  Again, tablets have been a major contributor; tablet share of mobile clicks was 39.6% in January 2012, a 14.8% jump from December 2011.  The increase in tablet click share could be due to the popularity of tablets as gifts in holiday 2011; for instance, tablet ownership nearly doubled over holiday according to Pew.  However, tablet share started to rise in November, before holiday, so the jump may be due to other factors, like browser activation.


Based on strong month-over-month increases, we project that mobile click share may rise to as much as 28% of all search clicks over the next 6 months.  While an aggressive forecast, several factors may contribute to making this a reality, including the release of the iPad 3 and several new Android tablets:


Click-Through Rates (CTRs)

In August 2011, mobile click-through rates (CTRs) shot above computer CTRs.  Since then, mobile CTRs have solidly held their lead over computers.  As of January 2012, mobile CTRs were 45% higher than computers.  Two factors have contributed to these high mobile CTRs: (1) the growing mobile share of tablets, which have consistently demonstrated stronger CTRs than computers and (2) a decrease in computer CTRs.  The decrease in computer CTRs is unprecedented, and requires further analysis.  It could be partially a factor of computer impression growth, with clicks not following.


Cost Per Clicks (CPCs)

Costs per click (CPCs) continue to tell the same story they have for the past year.  Overall mobile CPCs (smartphone + tablet) remain much lower than computer CPCs, hovering around 40% below computers.  Overall mobile tablet CPCs increased over the holidays, partly because of the increase in tablet share of overall mobile search.  Tablets have higher CPCs than smartphones.   When we segment out tablets from smartphones, tablet CPCs are hovering at about 20% less than desktop, while smartphone CPCs are about 50% less.  The below graphs show overall mobile CPCs as well as smartphone and tablets broken out:




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