Performances of Google Search Partners Network | Publications

We all know that Google is partners with a few search website to enlarge its Search Engine potential. While we do not really have access to a clear list of these partners, we know they exist and we can identify them thanks to the mention “powered by GoogleTM” next to the search box:

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By default, a new AdWords campaign does include Search Partners (SP) in its targeting. But is this network as efficient as Google itself? The answer depends on what you expect from your campaigns, cheap visibility or strict return on investment. We tested opting out the SP on several clients’ account for a few weeks and here is what we observed;

Data’s are less accurate

First of all, SP does not share exact data’s regarding search terms we appear on. We notice that when optimizing keywords of our accounts. In fact, when you look into the Search Terms report, you can see some weird queries appearing. They usually are combination of 2 or 3 ultra-generic terms linked with an “&” such as shown in the snapshot below:

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It is what we believe to be the SP “categories” of keywords. They create categories of keywords that will match your actual keyword list but will be shown as categories in your Search Terms report. This is absolutely not ideal for optimization processes. In fact, with this information, we know our ad appeared on a keyword of a certain category but can’t see which one nor the performances for each keyword of this category. That triggered our curiosity and we started to dig deeper to really evaluate SP performances.

SP give you cheap impressions

On some categories, biddings are lower and therefore put you in higher positions than on Google itself. This could be explained by a large amount of advertisers already opting out the SP and then putting less pressure on SP competition. Paying less for more impression on a higher position? What am I waiting for! You should not jump into conclusion because the quality of this traffic is clearly worse than usual. As a matter of example, CTR of SP reached 0.28% on a retail category of keywords while Google Search obtained a 2.87% CTR on the same range of keywords (+919%). By the way, this is probably due to below-the-fold results on SP networks that boost unseen impressions and therefore not real clicks. As SP impressions represent more than half of total impressions of the account, we end up with a final CTR of 1.39%! Not really good news for our retail client.

We asked Google if we could have the details of SP performances but due to privacy issue, we could not obtain it. They finally told us that SP performances do not influence Quality Score of the account and that we should also consider the additional conversions brought by the network.

SP bring additional conversions

So, we did dig into the conversions data’s and found out that, in fact, the SP does bring conversions to your site. But at what cost? Lets’s look at the table below:

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As we can see, we have more impressions when SP activated but results don’t look so good. Although we have a lower position when SP deactivated, we reach a better CTR. This “additional” traffic does not seem to convert as well as Google Search because we keep the same amount of conversion and sometimes even less. As a result, the CPA is much lower when using only Google Search. We can say roughly that SP bring additional traffic to your website but conversions might not be meeting your expectations.

And what about the Brand?

Let’s clear something up, as we have demonstrated before, generic keywords are put in “categories” on SP network. But on the other hand, Brand keywords should be considered as a category itself because they cannot be categorized as generic ones. And in fact, we can observe that SP network has the same performances as Google Search:

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Conclusions & recommendations

Let’s wrap things up. SP networks work differently than Google network and are really difficult to optimize. We have also seen that generic keywords perform worse on SP if we look at conversions but give extra visibility to a campaign with cheap impressions (beware of the extra below-the-fold impressions). In addition to that, performances of SP networks do not influence Quality of the account. And last, but not least, Brand keywords give similar performances on both networks. So with all that information, what should you do? The answer depends on your strategy:

  • Total Reach: You have unlimited budget and CPA is not really a concern of your own, then activate your SP networks and enjoy a larger reach in terms of impressions.
  • Awareness: If you’re launching a new product or a new marketing action and you want your reach to be maximized, you should include at the beginning SP in your campaign targeting.
  • Performances: With a small budget, you need to get the most of it. My advice is to avoid SP on generic keywords even though you CPC is higher on Google Search. In the end, you will bring more conversions and therefore keep a low CPA.
  • Budget control: If you’re looking only at ROI at the end of the month, you will also choose to switch off SP for generic keywords for the same reason as above.
To conclude, depending on your strategy, you will decide to opt in or out the SP as you are now aware that performances won’t necessarily meet your expectations. If you are still sceptical about SP (which I really doubt), just do the test for a few weeks and you will be amazed of the actual money spent /invested/wasted/spilled on Google Partners. Up to you now!

written by Sylvain Thirionet

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