Query Trends: The Key to Timing Your Ads Perfectly and Increasing ROI


Lars Hirsch

By taking a good look at query trends across devices, marketers have a better chance of delivering a good return on investment.

It’s been said that timing is everything. It is well understood that in the old world of TV advertising you have to be at the right channel at the right time to reach your target audience. This is also true in the world of search advertising, where determining the best time (morning, lunchtime, or evening) and channel (mobile, PC, or tablet) to advertise has usually been a guessing game. Successful search advertising ultimately means reaching your audience when they’re most receptive to your message. But this is much easier said than done, especially with the multitude of devices that demand the attention of customers.

The good news? With the plethora of data available from searches, it’s now possible to see when and where customers are at a given time. So Bing Ads researchers took a look at query trends to get a clearer sense of search behavior, and how it can affect conversions and return on investment (ROI).

Pinpoint Search Behavior, Increase ROI

User intent, and by extension, advertiser ROI, varies by device type, day of week, and time of day. By understanding and taking advantage of these variations, advertisers can maximize ROI and budget utilization.

Query volume fluctuations by time of day, for example, provide important insights. On weekdays, PC traffic peaks in the morning when most folks are starting their day at work in front of a computer, and tablet and mobile traffic peaks in the evening, once they are home from their work commute. Weekends have a later ramp-up, and mobile and tablet combined has higher contribution to total volume in the weekend compared to weekdays.


We took an even closer look, and created activity buckets for any given weekday (of course normalized for user time zone).


For Lower CPA, Later Is Better

When we look across the marketplace, cost per action (CPA) is low in the early morning, peaks during the morning work hours, and – regardless of device – decreases for the rest of the day.


This is yet another reason to never run out of budget early. If you do, you will miss out on the lower CPA clicks later in the day, and get a lower ROI than you would if you spread your budget throughout the day.

This data suggests that users are more research-oriented on mobile devices in the morning, and more prone to convert at night. However, the definition of “conversion” might differ from mobile to PC based on a given user’s specific intent, and last-click attribution doesn’t help much when it comes to understanding device performance. As a result, serving on portable devices may be undervalued. For Bing Ads, the recently launched Universal Event Tracking feature helps measure conversions on all devices through cross-device attribution. Over time, this approach will give us even deeper data to analyze.

We also looked at a metric called “good clicks per conversion” (GCPC). “Good clicks” are clicks our platform has identified as leading to high-quality engagement with the advertiser’s site based upon time spent on advertiser’s site and similar metrics. GCPC tells us how many “good clicks” are needed on average to get one conversion. When GCPC is high, a lot of quality clicks leads to few conversions. This is indicative of research behavior on the part of the user.

Interestingly, when we look even deeper at GCPC and cross-device tracking, a new story unfolds. In fact, a user’s morning tablet clicks can actually lead to purchases later in the day – on any device.


The Secret Sauce: Combine Time of Day, Device Type, and Vertical

Even with all of this information on search and conversion behavior, you’re not getting the whole picture. That’s where verticals come in. Search behavior is industry-specific, so it should come as no surprise that the device with the highest ROI at any time of day depends upon which industry vertical you are in. For most verticals, combined search volume per hour during the week is highest in the afternoon and evening. A few quick examples: In the evening, when search volumes are high, retail ROI is better with PC; and for Auto or Health, you’ll get more bang for your buck with ads on tablet. The bottom line: verticals matter.


Right Place, Right Time Means Better ROI

If you’re looking to maximize ROI – and aren’t all advertisers? – make sure you use cross-device attribution and query trends to help ensure your ad is in the right place, at the right time. For pretty much everyone – regardless of your business – converting traffic is less expensive in the afternoons and evening, so make sure you have budget available later in the day.

And don’t underestimate portable devices. While PCs aren’t going anywhere in the near term, tablets and mobile devices are driving high-engagement clicks early in the morning that lead to conversions – on multiple devices – later in the day.

Finally, all of this data can shift based on vertical market, making it critical to understand the unique behaviors of customers depending on what type of goods or services they’re shopping for. By using query trends, delivering ROI has never been easier.