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SMB Search Spending Down, Efficiency Up

Yahoo-Bing posted higher a click-through rate and lower cost per click than Google in the fourth quarter, while smaller businesses scaled back search budgets slightly, but increased keyword counts, according to WebVisible.

Small businesses spent less on search advertising during the final three months of 2010, but they spread those dollars across more keywords, according to a new report.

The State of Small Business Advertising report, conducted by online advertising firm WebVisible, found that the average small business spent $2,126 on search in Q4 2010, a 1.1% year-over-year decrease from 2009. The average keyword count was 87 root keywords per advertiser over the last three months of the year -- a 30% increase from the same period in 2009.

WebVisible noted that the numbers suggest smaller advertisers are becoming more efficient with their paid search strategies. The study included more than 10,000 small businesses in the U.S. WebVisible's report does not track ad spending on Facebook or other social sites, focusing instead on search engines.

The October launch of Microsoft's adCenter, which combined Yahoo and Bing listings on a single platform, had a noticeable -- if short-lived -- impact on paid search market share. In November, Google's piece of the pie dropped below 38%, before bouncing back to 52% in December. WebVisible attributed the deviation to a fast-breaking wave of ad buyers hoping to take advantage of a slow transition to the adCenter platform by the broader market.

Google owned a 52.4% share of paid search in WebVisible's Q3 report. Yahoo had a 28.3% slice and Bing took in 14.5% of search spending -- together accounting for 42.8% of the paid search market before the launch of adCenter. The combined Yahoo-Bing settled at a 46% share in December.

While the early returns might indicate a small dent in Google's search dominance, the real loser appears to be -- the site saw its 4.8% share in Q3 shrink to less than 1% in during the fourth quarter.

WebVisible said click-through-rate (CTR) similarity across engines continued in Q4, though it noted a 10% uptick for the combined Yahoo-Bing in November and December when compared with Google CTRs, a trend worth monitoring in the first quarter of 2011. The combined Yahoo-Bing also posted lower cost-per-click (CPC) numbers than Google at the end of the year: 23% less in November and 29% less in December.

The report also showed an increase in online video usage by small businesses: 26% of advertisers used video on their landing pages in the fourth quarter, up from 19% the previous year. Watching video now ranks second in user actions when visiting a landing page; clicking through to the advertiser's main Web site was the most common user action. Video views as a percentage of all user activity on landing pages skyrocketed 85% from 2009 to 2010.

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