Are You Being Fooled By Search Partners?

By Jacob Fairclough | @RealSecretJake | Senior Account Analyst at Hanapin Marketing

This week our blog series is taking a look at the most expensive “set it and forget it” mistakes. While search partners is not necessarily expensive, its distortion of common metrics may mislead you. By recognizing search partner performance and how it affects your metrics you can then adjust accordingly.

Search partners are one of the largest causes of data discrepancies in AdWords. It’s enough of a problem that we are working on a public service announcement video. Until it’s finished this blog post will have to hold its ground.

The distinction is easy to overlook, especially if you don’t have much experience with search partners. This is especially true for newer account managers or those who’ve never had issues with performance.

Google does a good job of hiding the search partners by seamlessly aggregating search partners into the standard view. The numbers for search partners aren’t segmented in the interfaces likely they are for display or shopping. Search partners are part of search and can only be reached through the segmentation menu.


CTR Disparity

One of the biggest is throwing off the CTR metrics. On the surface, one of my campaigns has a 2.40%, which according to the account average is pretty strong for similar themed groups. When I take a look at the segmented metrics, this campaign actually has a 6.56% CTR on the search network but only a 0.28% on search partners. By not segmenting the platforms the metrics may not reflect true performance.

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After this revelation the next question is, “won’t this low CTR drop quality score and reduce the account to ruins?” This is a serious concern for many and it shouldn’t be discredited. It’s the same variety of anxiety that filled the city of Carthage when they heard the Romans were coming.

Well, don’t fear! Only Google Search is factored into quality score or measurements of that sort. I promise, your CTR on search partners will not salt the earth of your account. You can now funnel that anxiety back into the latest TMZ news break.


Ad Testing Differences

Why does this matter? After the last section, you’ve probably started connecting the dots. But let’s dive in for completions sake.

If you are evaluating ad copy metrics it’s nice to know anything that may drastically skew the numbers. Often times search partners isn’t a big deal. As long as you are running “rotate indefinitely” your ads will rack up those search partner impressions at the same rate, balancing out the aggregate numbers. With the low CTRs, the clicks that do occur won’t have much of an impact.

On the other hand if you are receiving a good number of clicks from the search partners network, it’s worth segmenting performance metrics. Since the ads are the same across networks but the formatting is different, performance may greatly vary.


Differing Conversion Performance

Similar to CTR, conversions are going to differ between the networks as a result. CPA and ROAS performance will skew away from the Google search performance . You may expect search partners to be the lagging little brother but this is not always true.While the click volume is often lower, some aspects of the account may perform better on search partners. You should evaluate this on a campaign basis or ad group basis.

Depending on your products and keywords each will preform differently. Even for products within the same vertical, different brands have very different splits between the networks. I have some that are split 50/50 while others skew to 80/20.

In some campaigns I’ve even seen search partners out perform Google Search from a revenue and ROAS standpoint. If I were to make an assumption on a semi-struggling campaign with a low ROAS, I’d imagine I would check search partners, naively assuming it either did nothing or was simply wasted spend.

I’d be wrong though, very wrong. I’m sure there is a lesson in making assumptions here (so don’t say PPC Hero only helps you with PPC). Despite the terrible CTRs, CPCs are often lower. With lower click volume and cheaper clicks, your total cost is reduced. With a few conversions, you will see a great ROAS or CPA as a result.


Mysterious Impression Bumps

Often times I’ve added a new keyword only to be surprised by the number of impressions received day over day. “Do people really search for this keyword that often?” Well, no, they don’t. Now that you know to segment out search partners you can now join me in collective disappointment.

But what happens when you see a huge spike and begin contemplating the end of the world… of paid search. I’ve seen this happen a few times so we’ll dive in and retell the most recent tale.

It was a spring day in a newly launched account. The total impressions rolled in at a steady 54,000 a day. One day there was a spike to 230,000. What happened? Did I accidently increase bids, not by 10% but by 1000%? Did I accidently bid on broad match cats?

I dug into the account and narrowed it down to a keyword. Lo and behold almost all the extra impressions came from a single keyword on the search partners network. For reference I’ve placed it next to an average day. From there on out it went back to its normal daily performance.

normal day

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not a normal day

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Wrapping It All Up

We’ve talked about the differences between the two networks. Search partners can be a valuable part of your account but you can’t directly target them. Is there anything you can do to optimize your account?

One option is simply to be conscious of the aggregate metrics. Amanda West-Bookwalter of Hanapin Marketing has a post on segmenting metrics when making bid changes. By factoring in the difference she was able to grow leads by 17% in one of her accounts!

What if you want to take it to the next level though. There are a few workarounds to target the search partners and create campaigns and ad groups specifically for advertising on search partners. Katie Walton from Boom Online Marketing recently wrote an article collected a few posts on the topic.

Have you had a good experience with search partners or do you ignore them completely? Of course, I’ve neglected Bing search partners for today. I have had terrible experiences with them. This seems to be consistent with other account managers but feel free to chime in with your experiences as well. I’d be interested to hear about anyone who successfully ran search partners only campaigns on Bing.