Published March 11, 2021
The unexpected onset of COVID-19 brought unparalleled growth for paid search revenue and spend in 2020, obliterating all previous projections and turning the world upside down for digital advertisers.
In this article, we’re diving into an in-depth data analysis of more than $400M in annual ad spend from ROI clients from the past four years and how the pandemic shifted the world of advertising forever.
Be on the lookout for our 2021 Paid Media Report, which takes an even deeper dive into this data with 20+ pages of analysis and charts to give you the insights you need to win against your competition this year.
With the rapid shifts that took place last year, 2021 will be about finding ways to reach wary consumers and filling your marketing toolbox with innovative strategies to stand out. How can your brand capitalize on new opportunities despite the uncertainty to exceed your goals this year?
Download our 2021 Ecommerce Tech + Trends Report to uncover strategies & insights that will propel your brand forward in 2021. Claim your copy!
COVID-19 and the Surging Demand for Digital
Overall revenue for ROI paid search clients hit an all-time high in April followed by another record in May as stay-at-home orders kept consumers inside, where they increased their digital consumption. With consumers spending an additional hour per day online in 2020 compared to 2019, paid advertising has never been more crucial for growing brands.
Q2 2020 brought a 101.3% revenue hike for ROI clients, with growth continuing through to the end of Q4. That number was even more drastic for mobile revenue in particular, which surged 93% since Q2 2020.
Year-over-year digital growth continued for ROI clients throughout the rest of 2020, with each month of 2020 since the pandemic bringing in more revenue than any month in 2019 or prior.
The digital growth that brands and retailers experienced in 2020 will continue across the board in 2021, and paid advertising will be no exception.
Automation Station: The Departure From Manual
2020 was the first year that automated clicks and click share exceeded manual on Google.
The switch happened in April 2020, and since then, the trend toward automation has shown no signs of stopping.
Automation also had a consistently larger click share on video for the first time in 2020. The shift happened in May 2020, by which time consumers had increased their video consumption due to the pandemic. Whereas video now favors automation, Display is still largely dominated by manual in terms of click share.
Get Smart With Google Smart Shopping
Google Smart Shopping has quickly become the dominant force on Shopping. 87% of the brands and retailers we work with now run Smart Shopping – up from 6% in 2018.
Google Smart Shopping’s ability to adapt to changes in consumer behavior and achieve your core objectives in an optimal, data-driven way can provide great benefits for brands, especially during a tumultuous period.
As the pandemic took shape in March and April of 2020, Google Smart Shopping emerged as a frontrunner for driving conversions. With its sophisticated algorithm and machine learning capabilities, Smart Shopping now accounts for 80% of Google Shopping conversions.
Google Discovery Ads: Exploring Enhanced Personalization
Google Discovery ads are visually appealing and use compelling creative to inspire customers to click. This is a mobile-friendly native ad type, so it’s perfect for reaching an audience who is looking to be inspired – an audience of 3 billion consumers, to be exact.
Revenue from Google Discovery ads began to surge in April 2020 as consumers started spending more time browsing the internet. Because Discovery campaigns use machine learning insights to provide consumers with highly personalized ads, they can be massive revenue generators even in times of great uncertainty.
As a visually interesting and highly targeted ad type, Discovery ads are perfect for mobile – so much so, in fact, that mobile dominates 94% of Google Discovery click share.
Mobile vs. Desktop: The Battle Continues
Mobile saw significant revenue increases in 2020, with 93% YoY mobile revenue growth on Google and 70% on Microsoft (compared to 56% and 31% respectively for desktop). Tablet was down YoY in revenue on both Google and Microsoft (aka Bing).
In addition to revenue, mobile saw significant growth in impressions, clicks, conversions, and conversion value in 2020. Still, mobile and desktop were at parity in terms of revenue share during several points in 2020.
Click share still favors desktop for Microsoft ads, although in Q3 2020, the mobile vs. desktop gap reached its closest point since 2018.
Adventuring Into Video
Mobile has dominated video in terms of views and clicks since 2019. 2020 was the first year mobile video conversion share exceeded desktop share during select months. Revenue isn’t quite there yet.
A key area of growth for ROI clients in 2020 was video ads on TV screens due to consumers spending more time at home. Devices streaming video to TV saw 275% revenue growth in 2020, with views up 255.8% and conversions up 35.9%.
Consumers spending more time on their computers at home has led to a resurgence of desktop for many brands. Mobile is still king, but 2020 was a wake-up call to many brands to not ignore video on desktop.
Scalable Search + Dominant Display
The Google Display Network reaches 90% of global Internet users, making it a key channel to reach a growing online audience. Display click share continues to be dominated by manual CPC bidding.
Google’s Responsive Search Ads captured a greater click share than expanded text ads for the first time ever in the latter half of 2020. This ad type’s to automatically show the best-performing messages gives it a significant advantage in the age of the pandemic when consumer behavior is constantly on the brink of changing.
Dynamic Search Ads on Google have consistently grown at a higher rate than traditional search, but traditional search continues to maintain the majority click share. DSA clicks grew 49% from January 2020 to December 2020.