How Eid Impacted Digital in the GCC
With Eid being such an important part of the Muslim calendar, I wanted to see how this affected marketing efforts in the GCC region and what lessons could be learned – specifically how Search and Display marketing campaigns performed during the holiday. I’ve collated data from a series of AdWords accounts on industry ‘conversions’ rather than sales, revenue or leads in order to keep a consistent approach and assessed implications by country, device, network, sector and language. For ease, I am using “Eid weekend” to mean 3-5 October inclusive.
At a country level, we see large differences between any drops in performance. Given that the number of days public holiday varies by country, we all need to factor this in to any future decision making.
Overall, every country saw a decline in all key metrics suggesting less internet usage over the Eid weekend. Whilst there are slight differences by country, the impact can be viewed as universal. There was one exception with Jordan witnessing a nominal 0.04% increase in the volume of clicks vs the previous 30-day average.
Overall UAE performed best, seeing the lowest decline in conversions. Whilst impressions were reduced significantly, UAE only witnessed an average decrease of 6% of click volume showing a slightly more engaged audience. A small decline in conversion rate lead to an overall decrease of 13% of conversion volume.
The strangest changes in performance were witnessed in Jordan, where impressions and conversions declined by around 18% each, but a small increase in conversion rate was seen (2.9%) along with the previously mentioned tiny increase in click volume. A decrease in clicks could easily lead to an increased conversion rate as less incremental volume is attracted, however in comparison to other countries this increase can only be seen in Jordan.
Saudi Arabia was most heavily effected, seeing double digit decreases to all primary metrics. Whilst impressions and clicks were reduced, the conversion rate dropped by over 18% leading to a significant reduction in conversion volume. Looking at the days after the Eid weekend, this trend has continued although the trend has reversed each day. Below we can see the daily increase in click volume after the initial Eid decline.
Finally, an average decline in performance was seen in Kuwait where impressions & clicks saw similar decreases of around 14% each which reduce conversion volume by with a 34% decrease versus previous average.
Segmenting data by device has shown a stark difference in performance across most metrics. Whilst desktops drive the majority of volume, it has also been the least consistent performing device when generating impressions. Due to ad scheduling and bid multipliers, weekends typically see a drop in impressions of around 31%, however Eid weekend saw a much more significant drop in impressions served with a 59.8% decrease observed. By comparison, mobile impressions were down only 7.3%, however most surprising was 22.4% increase in tablet impressions over Eid weekend, although tablet impressions typically increase by around 12% on a typical weekend.
Adding conversion data to the analysis showed a similar story for desktop devices. A typical weekend would see a 27% decrease in conversions but a much larger drop was seen over the weekend period with a 63.7% drop. Whilst users continued to search the internet they did not convert at the same rate, suggesting a less engaged audience. Tablet conversions saw an atypical decrease in conversions for Eid, but only a drop of 11% was registered. Mobile conversions suffered over a much more prolonged period with a 7 day period (Sunday to Eid Saturday) showing a negative trend with a small bounce for Eid weekend.
My original theory was that web usage would be much lower across all areas however analysing network usage disproved this theory immediately. At impression level there were significant drops for both Search and Display (-19.56% & -17.39% respectively) for the weekend so there were indeed fewer users, or at least less frequent users. Clicks show a very different story, with Search showing a 24.73% decline vs the previous 30 day average. Meanwhile, display click volumes dropped only an average of 1.88% for the same timeframe.
CTR over this period exhibited the typical behaviour we see over a weekend with an increase in CTR as volumes reduce. However given that the weekend was longer we can see this impact being much longer, over 3 days rather than 1 or 2.
Continuing down the funnel this prolonged CTR increase does not lead to additional conversions with both search and display showing a decline versus average conversions; 27% for Search & 14% for Display. Search conversion rates remained stable over the weekend showing the full impact of the drop CTR. In contrast, Display suffered a 20% decline in conversion rates which effected overall volumes.
For a performance agency, it is pleasing to see that the impact on Search was limited to impression & click volumes. Although volumes were down, they converted at a similar rate so overall costs were not affected. Display however provides a tactical opportunity for us as marketers as the drop in conversion rate combined with an increase in CTR provides a potential branding opportunity. Whilst any direct return focussed campaign will likely see a dip in volume, advertisers can make use of this period to tactically raise awareness at the top level of the sales funnel. Advertisers can further protect this investment by ensuring a robust retargeting structure is in place to make the most of this traffic over time.
The finance sector was significantly impacted by the holiday season with almost all metrics suffering significant drops. Impression & click volume declined by 63% and 40% respectively as users showed significantly less interest in financial products during the weekend. This impact was seen at all stages of the funnel from awareness (impressions) through to enquiries (conversions). Number of conversions dropped by over 55% versus the previous 30 day average. The finance sector typically sees a large drop in performance on Friday’s throughout the year so with Eid falling across a weekend this may have been more pronounced. Comparing Friday 3rd October versus pervious Fridays, we can see that impression volume dropped by an average of 34% whilst clicks remained fairly stable with a small 5% increase – however conversion rate saw significant drops in conversion rates (83%) which increased volume and CPA significantly over the weekend. I believe there is significant opportunity for financial advertisers to reduce their costs by cutting back on marketing spend over the Eid period, and re-investing afterwards once search volumes have returned to typical levels
Retail, by comparison, was much less effected. Whilst there were drops in impressions, clicks and conversion volumes the types of products sold were affected much more. For search volume and impressions generated all sectors saw a similar drop, the average drop was 11%. However click volumes saw much wider ranges; Electronics saw a 19% decrease in clicks over Eid weekend where Fashion & Home both saw more modest declines of 5% click volume. Conversion rate decreases remained similar across all retail sectors showing an average drop 11% leading to drops in volumes. Drops in electronics clicks combined with drop sin conversion rates provide a similar opportunity to finance to reduce spend and re-invest post-Eid.
For a Muslim holiday, we can show a significant impact across languages. Whilst Arabic remains the main language in most of the Middle Eastern countries there remains a huge expat population in UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait which typically search using English. Even in KSA we continually see significant English based search volume.
Across both Arabic and English we saw declines in impressions, clicks & conversions showing a large percentage of users stayed away from their devices during this time. However, we saw little impact on conversion rates during this time by language. Arabic language searches converted slightly less well (-0.24% decrease) whilst English search queries converted slightly better (0.69% increase), but given both amounts are very small I remain doubtful that either are significant.
Impressions shows a much wider gap with Arabic impressions down 28.85% meanwhile the impact on English search queries was much higher with a decrease in 59%. With most of clients choosing to target more expats they naturally receive more English impressions and clicks making this slightly less significant – however such a huge drop in English impressions is certainly something for advertisers to be aware of when planning their marketing spend.
Eid affected search volume in a similar manner to many other public holidays around the world. Whilst there was significant declines in performance and volumes, a number of tactical opportunities become available by looking at various segments.
Notably within device segmentation we can see an obvious opportunity to reduce computer/desktop exposure in favour of mobile or tablet usage. Even if spend is not, or cannot, be redirected to other devices there still remains an opportunity to re-invest this money post-holiday.
Network segmentation provides us with two opportunities as advertisers. Firstly, to reduce search exposure and to re-invest as search volume increases in the days afterwards. Secondly, there is a branding opportunity as impression volumes remain static with CTR remaining stable and along typical behavioural paths. Whilst this is not likely to convert immediately, we can use this as an opportunity to improve our audience size for retargeting campaigns.