With word out on the street that search giant Google is struggling since their main revenue stream, namely paid search/display ads (a.k.a. Adwords) has been strongly downtrodden as of late.

A Citigroup analyst, Mark Mahaney goes as far to state that we’re in the “worst economic environment in our collective lifetimes”, and that “search marketers almost universally expect this Q4 to be the weakest they have ever experienced.”

With Google being an industry leader it would be sensible to expect that their struggles will trickle down toward other parts of the web, which we’ve seen to be the case with numerous dot com giants laying off employees left and right.

However as the rest of the industry seems to be struggling, comparison shopping at the moment appears to remain nearly recession proof relative to other industries, both anecdotedly and analytically.

Over the next few posts we’ll analyze the differences between the two and why this is the case.

Using numbers from Spyfu as an indicator of what industry spend is on SEM (search engine marketing), the biggest ad buyers in the previous month are as follows (comparison shopping engines are bolded):

amazon.com 220,975
yahoo.com 181,514
bizrate.com 180,777
nextag.com 170,404
ebay.com 162,320
pronto.com 147,042
shopzilla.com 145,491
target.com 95,201
shopping.com 86,903
smarter.com 72,314
pricegrabber.com 66,925
aol.com 62,815
become.com 54,031
winbuyer.com 45,874
local.com 41,661
shop.com 36,602
google.com 35,166
proflowers.com 32,650
bhphotovideo.com 31,886
pricerunner.com 31,729

We can see that 6 of the top 10 ad buyers, 10 of the top 20, and in total 17 of the top 100 are all comparison shopping engines. Historically this has generally been the case, and to see this trend continuing is a promising sign that the CSE’s are remaining strong. In total, the shopping engines account for 36% of the ads bought among the top 100 ad buyers.

The more telling factor though comes in Spyfu’s list of top budget changes on advertising. The old adage “the bigger they are the harder they fall” certainly applies here–as one would expect that in the “worst economic environment in our collective lifetimes” that in a time when advertising spend is going to reduced across the board, that it’d be the largest spenders that will have to reduce costs the most.

And a quick glance at both lists we can see that this is true–for the most part.

Of the top 20 ad buyers, we can see that seven of them are also among the top 100 with the biggest cuts in their budget, including Amazon, eBay, Target, AOL, and Google–however, only one shopping engine, namely NexTag is among one of the biggest budget reducers.

Extrapolating even further then, if we look at all 100 of the top ad buyers that Spyfu has listed, 24 sites appear on both lists, but again Nextag remains the lone shopping engine, of the 17 total shopping engines listed as a top 100 ad buyer, that have felt the need to significantly reduce their budgets.

This is telling in a few ways–that first of all, the engines are still generating enough revenue in order to continue being some of the top ad buyers, and that secondly the shopping engines are still performing and converting well enough for them to continue to justify their high spend levels in a time when conversion is down in the other industries.

Certainly we’re not suggesting that comparison shopping is completely recession proof (is anything?), but that the nature of its business makes it moreso as compared to the rest of the industry, leaving us confident that no matter the situation, the shopping engines will continue to have a significant presence on the web.

In the next few parts of our series, we will examine why this is the case.

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