Device-specific PPC: Why it still matters today

Device-specific PPC: Why it still matters today

Device-specific PPC: Why it still matters today

Ever since bidding by device uniquely became available (sometime between 2005–2011), I’ve been an avid advocate of separating PPC campaigns by device. (Well, except for tablets, because no one really cares about them anymore.)


For starters, there is (at least) a 50% chance you’re reading this article on a phone. And you’re probably aware that internet and search consumption is dominated by mobile platforms.

Case in point: looking at an ecommerce brand that literally sells bacon online, I compared September 2022 vs. September 2009 website traffic by device and found that: 

  • In 2009, mobile made up less than 1% and desktop made up 99%. 
  • In 2022, mobile makes up 49% and desktop makes up 46% (total visitor growth increased by 504%). 

So yeah, mobile is a thing and should be treated as such.

Why doing PPC by device is important

As mobile internet usage has grown over the past 10+ years, so has it increased from the perspective of search market share.

So much so that most verticals (not brands, but entire verticals) will discover that mobile commands the majority of traffic and spend when it comes to search. (Not you, B2B, you’re still good with the old desktop.)

This is incredibly evident in consumer goods, brick-and-mortar locations, and brands with low price points and/or short purchase cycle windows.

Prior to 2017, you’d even see as much as 50% lower CPC on mobile vs. desktop courtesy of less competition.

In some scenarios, you still see that. But the volume coming from mobile was so high, it would offset the cost savings on the CPC side.

These days (ignoring PMax), the discounted level on mobile is less, while the volume coming from mobile has greatly surpassed and overtaken that of desktop. 

In the case of a Caribbean QSR brand we work with, the mobile CPC is about 32%. But mobile generates 17x the impressions and clicks than desktop, leading mobile to outspend desktop by 11x.

Then, we look at the environment of users looking at mobile devices. Consumer behavior is different than desktop. 

Mobile triggers immediate engagement (i.e., “Hurry up and get what you need.”). 

On the other hand, desktop involves a sit-down experience, where people research and compare while taking their time. (I should note, this mentality had completely flip-flopped in the past 10 years largely due to consumer wallets.)

Because of this, mobile’s contribution to ecommerce and direct response campaigns has risen dramatically.

Gone are the days when you didn’t want to whip out your credit card and punch it into your phone while in public. 

As we edge closer to a possible recession, the demand to grow any performance effort skyrockets. 

It is clearly evident that mobile should be isolated from desktop because of two huge factors: 

(Sorry tablet, but with your market share contraction since 2019, you get rolled in with desktop in my opinion).

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Won’t the search engines allocate my spend and optimize for performance?

Technically, they can optimize and allocate spend to a device. 

But, if you’re relying on the engines to do what is in your best interest, then you’re more doomed than any New York Jets quarterback since 2007.

Think of it this way:

An engine will bid up or down by device, when a bid strategy is in place, to achieve the best possible result to the rule. 

It may also withhold budget from tablet or desktop to spend on mobile. But that may not be in your best interest.

Let’s look at an active scenario I have tested on a lead generation campaign utilizing a max click bid strategy. 

We were overly confident about the site and creative, so we realized optimizing for more traffic would deliver more leads than optimizing specifically to more conversions.

All devices consolidated:

  • $10,000 total spend
    • $3,000 desktop
    • $6,750 mobile
    • $250 tablet
  • 4,150 total clicks ($2.41 CPC)
    • 1,150 desktop ($2.61 CPC)
    • 2,900 mobile ($2.32 CPC)
    • 100 tablet ($2.50 CPC)
  • 850 leads ($11.64 CPL/20.5% Lead Rate)
    • 403 desktop ($7.44 CPL/35% Lead Rate)
    • 414 mobile ($16.30 CPL/14% Lead Rate)
    • 33 tablet ($7.57 CPL/33% Lead Rate)

We then separated the devices into two groups: 

  • Desktop and tablet together.
  • Mobile on its own. 

We split the budget to be 65% mobile and 35% to desktop and tablet:

  •  $10,000 total spend
    • $3,750 desktop+tablet
    • $6,250 mobile
  • 4,400 total clicks ($2.27 CPC)
    • 1,426 desktop+tablet ($2.63 CPC)
    • 2,974 mobile ($2.10 CPC)
  • 945 leads ($10.58 CPL/21.4% Lead Rate)
    • 499 desktop+tablet ($7.51 CPL/35% Lead Rate)
    • 446 mobile ($14.01 CPL/15% Lead Rate)

Both scenarios have the same bid strategy.

The consolidated version was the final four weeks of the campaigns, while the separated version was the final four weeks of a six-week test. (We threw out the first two weeks for the bid strategy to properly learn.) 

Both time periods were not in peak seasons.

The reason the budget for desktop+tablet was put at 37.5% instead of 32.5% (spend level when consolidated) was that it was theorized that there was device cannibalization on budget by mobile. Therefore, we elected to give it an extra $500 to test that belief out.

The outcome proved a number of theories:

  • Mobile was in fact cannibalizing desktop, leading to fewer possible desktop clicks and, therefore, conversions.
  • Mobile CPC was likely skewed upward because of the engines’ allocation to desktop and tablet not giving it its true opportunity.
  • Not allowing the devices to impact one another in the bid strategy or the budgeting allowed for a greater volume of clicks and therefore leads (lead rate was essentially unchanged), but this did drive down the cost per lead.

This also illustrates the importance of human oversight and intervention in bid strategies.

While not utilized in this test, there are studies done that show the benefit of citing the mobile experience in a mobile creative (i.e., “Sign up from your phone”) in improving CTR and lowering CPC.

How will this work with a low budget?

Herein lies the true decision for the advertiser. This approach is feasible if:

  • You have a substantial budget to work with so that no campaign is considered constrained. (This is dependent on the account structure/number of campaigns, and how much daily budget you have.)
  • And you already have an understanding of demand and spend by device.

Who shouldn’t do this?

There are arguments to not do this approach, the most common are:

  • Smaller budgets, the reality is, this may not be possible without causing one campaign to be improperly budgeted.
  • If you're happy with your current performance in device consolidation, then keep doing what you're doing.
  • Lack of resources to manage more campaigns.

This isn't for everyone, but never rule out the concept of device segmentation until you've reviewed the data.

Why is device segmentation more important than SKAG?

Single keyword ad groups (or SKAGs) have been a common model for many years within the search industry, largely used for exact and some phrase ad groups. You needed a strong negative game to do it.

But the fact of the matter is, SKAGs are now grossly skewed by the "loosening of match types" for the past few years. 

The amount of time and effort to put together a solid SKAG ad group is likely to produce less return than a solid device segmentation build. 

Blame the engines for that.

The post Device-specific PPC: Why it still matters today appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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