And with more competition for clicks than ever, digital marketing managers need to think carefully about how consumers are behaving online in the increasingly complex path to purchase. 

That means understanding the relationship between search and social activity, as well as the different roles mobile and desktop play. Across the 20-30 days it takes to decide to buy, consumers will use as many as 10 different platforms, channels and devices.

Analysing consumer behaviour across December 2013 provides some useful insights that savvy digital managers can use to inform their strategies this year and into next.

We’ve analysed interactions with search and social retail ads that were managed through our platform last December to provide these three tips on optimising spend for 2015.

1. Facebook ads

Engagement with Facebook ads, as measured by Click Through Rate (CTR) was at its highest across the last two weekends of December in 2013. But it then dropped off almost completely after Christmas day.

This probably reflects consumers in a ‘consideration’ phase, not necessarily actively buying, but catching up with friends and perhaps discussing gift recommendations in their spare time.

This year, the corresponding weekends fall on the 13th and 20th so it makes sense to optimise social spend at these times for maximum engagement. 

You might also want to think about integrating what you’ve learned about a consumer’s intent through search with their consideration phase on social, so you’re presenting the right products on Facebook.

Our own research shows that if you manage your search and social campaigns together, you can increase revenue by 68% per conversion.

Figure 1: CTR on Facebook retail ads, December 2013:

2. Search

And Search really comes into its own towards the end of the month, when consumers are scrambling to make last-minute online purchases and hunting down the best bargains immediately after Christmas day.

The importance of search on Google and other search engines becomes most acute in the period 23rd- 29th December (fig 2).

Ensuring you hold back some budget to optimise your search campaigns at this point seems a prudent strategy. 

Figure 2: Search CTR on retail Search ads, December 2013:

3. Mobile CTR

An interesting observation for 2013 was that whilst search CTRs on both desktop and mobile grew steadily across the last two weeks of December, there was a marked shift in behaviour from Boxing Day (26th December).

At this point, we see CTRs on desktops slide sharply downward, whilst CTRs on mobile increase rapidly in the opposite direction (fig 2). This perhaps reflects a time when consumers are out and about, and therefore away from their desktops, either visiting family or checking out the high street sales and showrooming.  

We expect this trend to be even more pronounced in 2014, as earlier this year we saw CTR on mobile devices outstrip desktops for the first time in the UK.  

That’s not to say that desktops become irrelevant – far from it, as they still retain the largest overall share of clicks (fig 3) – but it does suggest that focusing spend on mobile search makes a lot of sense towards the end of the month. 

Figure 3 – Share of clicks across Search and Desktop, Dec 2013:

We hope these insights are useful to you and will help your remaining ad spend work even harder for you in the final month of the ‘golden quarter’.