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Advertising spend may not explode this holiday season, but some marketers will have reason to celebrate — namely those working in search. 

Display has been getting a lot of attention lately, with brands like Google stepping up their presence in the area, but search is still looking like the reliable choice for the holiday season. And if someone in particular has reason to be excited this season, it's the people working at Bing. 

Paid search is the best indicator of upcoming marketing strength, because it is bought in near real time. And two digital agencies have released aggregate client search-spending data from the third quarter in anticipation of Google's earnings announcement this week, that show search is likely to be strong this holiday season. 

Among SearchIgnite clients, which include Office Depot, Avis and E-Trade, search spending was up 10% from the second quarter. At Efficient Frontier, with clients that include Bankrate, BabyCenter.com and CapitalOne, search spending was up 5%. In addition, Citibank analyst Mark Mahaney estimated a 10% growth in search spending since the second quarter for Performics and Covario.

The biggest winner so far on this front is Bing, which is growing marketshare, despite still being a small player in the search market with only about 6% of search spending in the third quarter. (In comparison, Google and Yahoo have 70% and 17% of the market respectively.)

But Bing has managed to position itself as a place where advertising performs. With an ad spend of $100 million, Microsoft has been heavily marketing its new "decision engine," and  the users that do use Bing have proven to be very receptive to advertising. 

SearchIgnite has spending on Bing up 15% from the same period last year and Efficient Frontier puts spending on the search engine up 20%.

Bing also taps into the theory reiterated recently by comScore that only a small percentage of web users account for most of the ad clicks online (ComScore estimates that 8% of Internet users are making 85% of all clicks). With that in mind, marketing a "decision engine" toward people who click on ads could make ads placed in front of that demographic more valuable.

And so far, Microsoft is seeing returns. During the second quarter, Microsoft's click share increased to 4.8%, from 4.1%. Efficient Frontier noted that Bing had its most significant growth in finance and travel. Travel in particular is a category that has been weak this year, but Microsoft’s share of spending there jumped to 6.3% from 4.4% during the second quarter.

However, Bing is not the only one with a light on the horizon this holiday season. AdAge reports that many retailers have reserved a chunk of marketing money for the fourth quarter, and growth in search bodes well for other marketing sectors. 

Because search is effectively real time marketing, it shows growth sooner than other areas, especially in times when brands are holding onto their budget dollars until the last minute.

From AdAge:

"My observation is that most retailers have pulled money out to save for fourth quarter, knowing that would be when consumer spending would increase," said Catherine Fox-Simpson, a partner in the retail and consumer-product practice at BDO Seidman. She added that during the back-to-school season, for example, "a lot of retailers sat on the sidelines."

Meghan Keane

Published 14 October, 2009 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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