What You Might Not Know about Google’s Search Network

What You Might Not Know about Google’s Search Network

Quality Score Operates Differently On The Search Network

Think of Google as a control freak scientist.  They have created a simple looking, utilitarian search interface where usefulness reigns supreme.  Google.com is their great lab, and it’s a pristine, nonsense, uncontaminated one—where they strictly limit the distractions from the results they strive to make as relevant as possible.  In this science experiment they control the limited page variables with the utmost of care.

Move searches from Google.com to Aol.com or Ask.com or any of Google’s search partner’s and variables surface out of Google’s control.  Aware of this, Google does not factor the click through rate (CTR) on the search partner network into the overall Quality Score reported in your AdWords account at the keyword level.

Does This Mean That CTR Doesn’t Matter On The Search Partner Network?  Well, No And Yes…

Your keyword’s CTR on AOL.com for example won’t factor into your Quality Score on Google.com or on any other partner network, but your CTR performance on a specific partner site like AOL will affect your position and cost on that one specific search partner, AOL.

Of course your Google.com CTR will still matter, too, for that AOL.com ad.  That’s the performance for the keyword that they trust the most.  But Google won’t take into consideration your AOL.com performance where many variables are present they don’t control, and when they factor your placement and cost on Google.com or non-AOL.com partner search sites.

You Can Separate Search Partner Traffic From Google Itself, But Not Completely

Google offers the option to advertise on Google.com only, or on Google.com and their search partners, but not on their search partners only.  Yes, you can get around this. Duplicate your search campaigns and set your bids on Google.com a bit higher than on the partner search network, and there’s a chance you’ll save money on your partner search traffic.

Is this a perfect fix?  No, you’ll always see some traffic on Google.com, probably because Google wants to see how those keywords do in their controlled environment, Google.com.  Lately I’ve noticed that if you have different ads on the search partner network than on Google.com, it’s harder to keep traffic separate, probably because part of Quality Score is kept at the level of an ad / keyword pairing, so unique ads in partner search campaigns will get tested by Google on Google.com with more frequency.

Is It Worth It To Jump Through These Hoops To Keep Search Traffic Separate?  — Sometimes…

Apply the 80/20 principle to see if it’s worth the effort.  According to your reports, do you have a lot of conversions on the search network?  Do different ads work better on the search network than Google?  When separated, how far apart can you spread the bids between Google.com and search to get your target CPA?  Do you want to use Google’s Conversion Optimizer on the campaigns? Do you have enough traffic to do so if the search traffic is split into separate campaigns?  Questions along those lines govern for me if it’s worth it to keep the search traffic split between Google and the partner search network.

The Search Network Has A Strong Retail / Product Search Component

If you’re a retailer with a tangible consumer product, the search network is more likely to operate in a different manner than Google.com in my experience.  For retail advertisers it appears to be a stronger variable than for service-oriented advertisers, B2B advertisers, or info product advertisers.

Why would that be?

Likely, the reason is that the search network includes prominent retail sites, such as Google’s Product Search (formerly Froogle), Shopping.com, and Amazon.com.  That’s right – the sponsored links at the bottom of Amazon searches are part of Google’s search network, not its Content network.

All of these retail sites see a fair amount of traffic.  Because Google offers examples of partner network sites, but never gives a comprehensive list (and their partners are in flux)—there may even be additional retail-oriented sites lurking in the network.  So, retailers who compete on price or who have a product they uniquely offer tend to do particularly well on the search network.

Google’s Partners Are Often Parts Of Google

This is true, even if it’s counter-intuitive.  Although they don’t make a big fuss about it, Google’s own sites are a big part of their search network. While the demographics of their sub-sites don’t exactly match that of general Google.com, I feel it’s fair to assume they’re a subset of Google.com users, and thus closer in their buying patterns to Google.com than say, Ask.com.

Specifically what sites am I referring to?  The ads on Google News and Google Product Search, plus some of the ads on Google Maps fall under the category of search network ads.  If ads start to appear on Google Blog Search, they’d also be part of Google’s partner search network.  Google is a partner to Google, though that may sound strange.  One notable exception to this is Gmail.  That Google property is part of the Content Network, as ads there appear based on context, not on user search input.

For more inside info…stay tuned.

By Rob Sieracki

Director of Paid Search