Google inadvertently released its Q3 revenues early today. The company reported that consolidated revenues (including Motorola) were $14.1 billion, a 45% increase vs. last year. Google said that Motorola brought in $2.58 billion. However there was an operating loss of $527 million. Indeed it was argulaby the weak link in the Q3 earnings report.
Minus Motorola, Google's revenues were $11.5 billion with 67% of that coming from Google sites vs. its third party network and other revenue sources. Paid search clicks grew roughly 33% vs 2011. However cost per clicks (CPCs) were down about 15% vs. last year.
While Google has yet to directly address this, the reason for the lower CPCs is likely the growth of mobile search and the shift of some categories of queries to mobile devices from the PC.
Mobile search volumes have grown significantly; however marketers value mobile clicks less than PC search clicks. The main reason is the challenge of proving ROI. Consistently we see that mobile click-through rates (CTR) are higher than on the PC. But "conversions" are much lower.
Part of the reason may be the infamous "fat finger" problem. But the larger issue is how marketers are defining and tracking conversions. The e-commerce-centric way of thinking about conversions just doesn't work for mobile. Most users don't transact on their smartphones. They go into stores -- where 95% of retail spending happens -- or they follow up on PCs and tablets later to buy.
Because marketers can't generally track in-store transactions or later PC/tablet conversions they assign a low ROI to smartphone based queries. This in turn causes them to bid less on those keywords.
In the local segment, there's a shift going on from PC map-based queries to smartphones. A Google representative recently said that up to 50% of mobile search queries carry a local intent. And comScore recently documented that trend and argued that map-based search on the PC had peaked and was now in decline:
In the past six months alone, according to comScore Mobile Metrix, the number of smartphone visitors to Maps websites and apps has jumped 24% to 92 million unique visitors – a monthly penetration of 83% among smartphone users . . .Searches with a Mapping/Navigation intent on the Big 5 Engines are down 34% over the past 15 months, going from 74.8 million to 49.5 million in August. comScore Search Planner shows that search clicks to Map/Navigation sites show an even steeper decline, down 41% to just 55.2 million in August.
We're likely to continue to see a flattening of local search volumes on the PC and a continuing shift to mobile devices (mobile web and apps). Nobody really knows how much local search query volume is flowing through mobile apps. However a January 2012 survey found that half of smartphone owners conducted local search in apps, with Google Maps being the leading app.
Once marketers more fully embrace mobile and get more sophisticated about ROI we should see the price of mobile advertising and mobile CPCs increase. Google of course will be one of the chief beneficiaries of such a development.