Microsoft agrees with Google: for keyword ads, tablets are the same as laptops

June 5, 2014
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Microsoft’s search advertising division presents the move as a way to simplify ad campaigns buying and management for advertisers. Starting in September, any advertiser buying a keyword campaign on laptops and desktops will also get traffic from tablets rolled in.

Advertisers will still be able to make slightly less expensive bids on tablet clicks, so as to reduce somewhat the share of tablet traffic that they get in the mix. But they won’t be able to rule them out.

This follows up a similar change implemented earlier by Google Adwords, the Goliath of search advertising.

Previously, tablets were considered as mobile devices and, as such, were addressed by completely separate campaigns than the ones targeting computers.

It’s easy to see why Google and Microsoft are taking this new direction. Traffic from laptops and desktops is going down, while traffic from both smartphones and tablets is way up. But the average revenue per click they get from campaigns targeted to mobile is usually much lower.

Why? Partly because less clicks, on mobile, result in an online sales (except for mobile apps – but these are promoted more via Facebook ads than search ads). Also, a significant number of advertisers, specially among SMBs, don’t offer yet compelling. mobile-friendly sites, so they prefer to only go after computer users.

But looking at their stats, Google and Microsoft discovered that –what a surprise– consumer behavior, from a search advertising perspective, is much more similar between tablets and computers than between tablets and smartphones.

“Studies show that consumers search on PCs and tablets in very similar ways, resulting in only a 15-20 percent variance in performance between them”, said Bing in blog post. “At this time, advertisers who have not taken advantage of tablet targeting will start realizing the benefits of receiving additional traffic. By combining tablets with desktops/laptops and providing bid modifiers, advertisers will see better efficiency and reach more customers, with little or no change to their ad spend for each conversion.”

This move from the search advertising industry is somewhat consistent with what’s been happening on the display advertising side –at least, on the web.

Smartphones do require specific web formats and campaign concepts. Still very few users have super large phablets; most of the web navigation on phones is done in portrait mode; and smartphone users do many, short, on-the-go web sessions with a specific purpose in mind (when they want to kill time, they rather play games or go to Facebook than surf the web).

Tablets? Not so much. Sure, the average screen size is significantly smaller on tablets than on computers. But as most web sites are designed with a width of less than 1,000 pixels anyway, in landscape orientation, many computer-standard ad campaign also run on tablets. As more people have tablets, the demos of laptop and tablet users converge. And while many use cases are different between the two device categories, the overlap is growing.

Moreover, with the plethora of 2-in-1 hybrids coming to the market, it will be harder and harder to guess if a consumer is using her device in tablet or laptop mode.

So, for web advertisers, it actually makes more sense to group tablet web usage with laptop/desktop usage.

“Web” is a key word here. The big, big difference between computers and tablets is that apps dominate tablet usage. From this perspective, tablets and smartphones are on the same page.

For the search advertising industry, it makes things easier in the short term (because it doesn’t have to factor in the difference, it just focuses on web usage) and very, very scary in the long term (because search advertising will face a tremendous challenge from the decline of the web vs. mobile apps).

In the meantime, let’s hope that Google Adwords and Bing Ads new policy will force more advertisers and agencies to consider tablets as part of their main digital advertising campaigns rather than as part of the small, hardly profitable for anyone, mobile campaigns. Doing so, they should grow more familiar with the specific challenges and opportunities of tablets, and then better tailor their efforts to do better marketing on them.

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