Paid search spending slowed for the fifth straight quarter ending Q1 2019, while organic and social traffic held steady, according to Merkle. Google and Amazon’s investments in Shopping Ads paid off, Facebook saw an unusual decline and DuckDuckGo shows organic promise on mobile.

Marketing agency Merkle released its digital marketing report for the first quarter of 2019, using samples of its own clients operating in the North American region.

Shopping Ads Rise To The Occasion

Google spend growth slowed to 16 percent year over year (YoY), showing a decline in cost per click (CPC) but growing in terms of clicks themselves. Clicks have grown since the second quarter of 2018, driven by Google Shopping. Merkle’s clients spent 40 percent more YoY on Google Shopping ads in the first quarter.

Client spending on Showcase Shopping Ads grew from three percent of Shopping clicks in Q1 2018 to eight percent in Q1 2019 for participating advertisers. Google Shopping Ads appear to be cannibalizing its own text ad revenue, the agency observed, as the tech giant prioritizes shopping placement. Text ad spending declined 12 percent YoY.

Paid search spend declined three percent YoY across Bing and Yahoo. In March, Yahoo began drawing exclusively from Bing’s ad inventory. The report notes that the Search Network, with which Google served ads on Yahoo, accounted for only six percent of Google Shopping traffic, indicating a “relatively minor” impact going forward. Bing, however, may see a boost in second-quarter traffic as a result of the transition.

Marketers are pouring more money into becoming a Sponsored Brand or to highlight Sponsored Products on Amazon, Merkle noted. Sponsored Products accounted for 85 percent of all Amazon spend, while spending on Sponsored Brands (formerly Headline Search Ads) was “roughly steady” in Q1.

Google Is King Of Organic Reach . . . For Now

In terms of organic reach, Google continues to dominate visit share, but DuckDuckGo is showing a lot of promise. The search engine saw visits increase 54 percent overall and 78 percent on mobile—not an easy feat considering that Google is the default search browser on most mobile devices.

Paid social spend growth continues to outpace that of traditional display advertising, growing 24 percent YoY compared to 12 percent for display advertising.

Instagram saw the largest visit growth at 114 percent and saw a 44 percent increase in ad spend during the first quarter. Excluding Instagram revenue, Facebook spend growth dipped into negative territory for the first time since Merkle began generating its quarterly reports.

Website visits attributed to social media accounted for over four percent of all site traffic in Q1 and five percent of all mobile visits, both new highs for this report.

Instagram and Facebook topped paid social investments for the quarter among a larger group of advertisers, but Pinterest budgets proved “meaningful” relative to what brands spend on Facebook.

“The pool of brands that are active on Pinterest is significantly smaller than that of Facebook or Instagram, as the use cases of the platform are typically isolated to retailers and because Pinterest campaign management tools are still coming together,” noted Merkle in the report. “However, for those brands that are active on Pinterest, the median advertiser spent more on Pinterest than on Facebook proper in Q1 2019, and garnered significantly more impressions at a lower CPM.”