Back To School Starts in July for Paid Search

Millions of kids will be heading to college this week, and many more to kindergarten through high school in the coming weeks. But in the world of Paid Search advertising, the Back To School season actually began in July.

AdGooroo examined U.S. Google Desktop Text Ad activity on 278 retail keywords related to school and college and found that there is a steady stream of Paid Search activity throughout the year that jumps significantly in July and peaks in August. Last year, for instance, advertisers spent $1.08 million in July and $1.74 million in August sponsoring the keyword group compared to an average of just $245,000 per month for the remaining months of 2014. (Mobile and Product Listing Ads were not included in the study.)

BacktoSchool Advertising Start in July 

Desktop Text Ad Spend Down in 2015

We found the same trend in 2015, with Paid Search spend ramping up significantly in July. However, overall U.S. Google Desktop Text Ad spend on the Back To School keyword group is down in 2015 compared to last year. In July 2015, advertisers spent $909,000 sponsoring the keywords examined, compared to $1.08 million in July 2014—a 19% decrease. More significantly, Paid Search spend on the keywords decreased by nearly 31% in the first two full calendar weeks of August this year compared to the same timeframe in 2014. From August 2-15, 2015, advertisers spent $611,000 sponsoring the keyword group, compared to August 3-16, 2014, when advertisers spent $797,682 sponsoring the same keywords.

It should be noted that the 278 keywords AdGooroo analyzed in this study include terms such as ‘back to school’, ‘college’, ‘dorm’ and ‘school supplies’, which enable us to confidently attribute them to Back To School advertising activity. However, these keywords represent only part of total Paid Search spend on Back To School, since there are a multitude of more general terms that consumers search during the Back To School season such as ‘laptop’, ‘blue jeans’, ‘bed sheets’ and so on, which could apply to either Back To School needs or general, non-seasonal shopping needs. The inclusion of additional terms such as these would alter the figures and potentially the findings of this study.

That being said, however, we examined Paid Search activity in several industry categories traditionally associated with Back To School and did not see a spike in Paid Search activity from July through September 2014, including Mass Retailers (the biggest traditional Back To School advertisers for TV), Apparel, Children’s Goods and Consumer Electronics. Only the Education and Books & Magazines categories saw spikes in Paid Search spend during these months, both of which came in August.

Top 20 BacktoSchool Advertisers by Paid Search
A ranking of the Top 20 advertisers by Desktop Text Ad spend on the 287 keywords from August 1-18, 2015 shows the diversity of advertisers competing in the Back To School space, including Mass Retail (Kmart, Target, Amazon, Walmart, JC Penney, Sears), Apparel (Zulily, H&M, Burlington Coat Factory), Office Supplies (Office Depot,, Poppin, Wayfair Supply), Product Manufacturers (Five Star, Scotch, Mead), Book Sellers (First Book Marketplace), Non-Profit Organizations (The Education Partnership) and Software (Microsoft).

Kmart is the top spender during the period ($38,000) followed by Zulily($32,000) and Office Depot ($28,000). However, Office Depot leads in clicks, with more than 23,000, followed by Target (22,000) and Kmart (20,000).

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