What are Search Partners?
The Search Partners network is almost as old as the Google Ads (Adword) platform itself. It is a group of websites, partnered with Google, that use the same on-site search engine. The goal is to increase your reach by displaying your text ad on other websites than Google.com. Other Google’s websites are also part of this group such as YouTube or Google Maps.
By default, the Search Partners network is enabled when creating a new search campaign unless you unselect the option.
The example we always use to explain it is 2ememain.be. If you are looking for a second-hand Michelin product, the website will show you actual text ads that are linked to your query (in 2ememain).
To see (and compare) the performance of these websites, you can break down your search campaigns by the network.
Is it a good thing? Absolutely, expanding your reach is actually good news! You have the chance to get more traffic, meaning more conversions. Where it starts to become a bit tricky is when you want to optimize your campaigns because Google is not sharing the placements of the ads as they do for the display (GDN). It may be a problem for two reasons:
1. You cannot see the performance for each placement. It means you are not able to remove a specific placement due to poor performance. Even if that would be an option.
2. You do not know where your text ad will appear. If you like to control the image of your brand or want to avoid showing next to sensitive content.
Finally, a solution to see Search Partners placements?
As mentioned before, Google does not show you the detailed performance but there is a workaround method.
You have to use the Google API to extract the data. We did it with Supermetrics because it is easy to do with their connector. You can definitely find some “Google API how-to guides” online.
Are you ready for action?
We did it for one of our clients and this is what we ended up with:
It is pretty bad, isn’t it?
As you can see, we ended up with a list of hundreds of crappy placements called “Park Domains”. Coming from Wikipedia, the definition is “domain parking is the registration of an Internet domain name without that domain being associated with any services such as…a website.”
And then, see what these websites look like :
If you click on one of those links, you’ll see a set of Google search ads:
So basically, it means that your ads are showing up on this kind of website and if people click on the ad, you are paying for it!
Okay, it’s ugly but what about the performance?
And this is where all of this becomes even trickier as the performance you will see in the export is usually pretty good. Almost too good to be true.
When comparing the Search Partners placements with all the usual metrics, we saw that many of them have a very good CTR (37% on average for generic keywords), a cheap CPC and most of them have conversions with a lower CPA compared to Google Search!!
But if you are familiar with search campaigns, you will probably know that these numbers are a bit suspicious regarding the URL. At CLICKTRUST, none of us has ever surfed on this kind of website. Have you?
How on earth can we have so much traffic coming from such weird URLs?
This is why we suspected that all of these clicks and conversions are done by online bots.
Can we fix it?
Luckily, yes. Most people working in digital know that we can exclude them in GDN (specific placement as well) but it’s only recent knowledge that park domains are also used in search, it was completely new for us even after +10 years in the industry.
You can actually exclude park domains at the account level by selecting this option:
We highly recommend doing it immediately if you are not excluding search partners already.
What does Google say about it?
When asking our account manager at Google, they seemed a bit surprised by this data and took our case very seriously. In short, here is what they have explained to us:
1. The placements are hidden because the biggest non-Google search partners have non-disclosure agreements. Even the Google API used by the 3rd party tool (where the data comes from) has no access to this. Therefore, we only see a fraction of the data with poor quality placements (which can be excluded very easily) and not all the other high-quality websites which get most of the traffic.
2. Park domains are live because people want to resell them. It is a business like many others. Some websites are specialized in monetizing your domain. Some people are doing it by themself.
3. Actual (real) humans visit these websites by simply browsing them (and not only bots like we think). Apparently, the domains can be found either because of misspelling in the URL or when reading a blog article on some websites.
After many discussions, search partners have been disabled for all of our clients. In the future, we will test the park domain exclusion and re-activate the Search Partners to see if the quality of the placements improves.
Finally, we ended up with new questions:
- Why do search partners include park domains?
- Why does Google keep hiding park domains placements?
- Why if you search on Google, do you only find one other article on the subject apart from this one?
We are very curious about what you think! Do you believe Google should be more transparent? Do you also use their API to export data?
We would love to open the discussion with you. Get in touch with us!
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