How to Make Google Search Partners Work for You

When creating a Google search campaign, you have the option to:

  • Either run your ads only on Google’s own SERP.
  • Or extend your ads into their search partner network.

If you create a search campaign, you are automatically opted into the display network and search partners by default.

It’s a widely-accepted best practice to disable the display network within search campaigns.

But, unlike the display network, there’s no other way to target the search partner network, aside from layering into a search campaign.

There are pros and cons to the search partner network.

The biggest pro? Wider exposure for your ads.

The biggest con? The lack of control and visibility. (Psst… Google, if you’re reading this, this is low-hanging fruit for increasing advertiser satisfaction.)

With that said, let’s talk about some ways that you can gain visibility and control to make sure that the search partner network is performing as well as possible.

5 Common Misconceptions About Search Partners

Before we jump into management tips – we should first cover exactly what the search partner network is and some of the common misconceptions.

Misconception 1: All of the Sites Included Are Smaller Search Engines

Despite being called “search partners”, the sites included within Google’s search partners are not all search engines.

In fact, Google defines its Search Partners as:

“Sites in the Search Network that partner with Google to show ads. Search partners extend the reach of Google Search ads to hundreds of non-Google websites, as well as YouTube and other Google sites.

On search partners sites, your ads can appear on search results pages, on site directory pages, or on other pages related to a person’s search.”

Misconception 2: The Search Partners Are Only for Traditional Search Campaigns

Actually, the search partner network is also a good way to expand reach for shopping campaigns, as well.

Misconception 3: Just Because the Search Partners Didn’t Work Before Means They Will Never Work & Should Always Be Excluded

In reality, so much can change with Google Ads in such a short amount of time, that it makes it worth testing – and retesting – different features.

In fact, it was only about six months ago that Google announced smart bidding would roll out to the search partners.

This alone could make it worth another test if your campaigns had excluded search partners prior to that adjustment.

Misconception 4: The Most Granular Insight That You Can Get into Search Partners Is by Segmenting by Search Partner Network at the Campaign Level

While it’s true that we can’t see the search partner sites, there are other details that we can dig into, to help us understand performance a little better.

Keep reading, we’ll revisit this.

Misconception 5: If the CPA Is Higher in Search Partners, There’s Nothing That Can Be Done

While it’s true that advertisers have much less control on search partners than Google’s own search network because it can’t be split out on its own, we do have some levers to pull when it comes to search partners.

We just have to get a little bit more creative about how we go about it.

Low-Hanging Fruit on the Search Partner Network

If you haven’t tested the search partners before, or you’re wary of it for any reason, you might want to first aim for the low-hanging fruit.

Find your targets with the highest intent and test the search partners there first.

Your Brand Campaign

Many advertisers max out their brand campaigns if they have the budget.

The search partner network can be a great way to drive some additional volume for those searches.

Your RLSA Campaigns

Because these people have already been to your site, they’re more qualified than any ol’ searcher.

I like to think of audiences as training wheels in this situation. It’s a good way to test without much risk.

Getting to the Bottom of the Performance Delta

If you’re finding conversion volume in search partners but not at a return that is cost-effective, the first step is to try to identify the root cause for the poor performance so that we can determine the best course of action.

Running a few quick reports can easily shine some light on problem areas.

Review Keyword Performance

Often if the search network isn’t performing, it could be because some of the terms are too broad and aren’t performing as well as some of the long-tail terms.

You can segment your keyword list by search network the same way that you would segment campaign performance.

Now you can easily see which keywords are doing well on search partners and which are spending money without return – or converting but at a higher than acceptable cost.

Review Match Types

Another common reason that search partners might not perform as well, is because performance might be skewed across match types.

By downloading the segmented keyword report, you can easily pivot the data to see how each of the match types perform across the networks.

Often, but not always, search partners tend not to perform as well on broad match keywords.

Review Device Usage

You might find that search partners don’t perform as well on mobile devices.

Segmenting your device data by search partners lets you zero in. You might find that one device performs much better than the other.

Steps You Can Take to Improve Performance on Google Search Partners

Unfortunately, with Google’s search partners, you can’t see specific placements.

Therefore you also can’t exclude specific placements, target specific placements, or add bid modifiers to placements – or even the network in general.

That limits your options a bit but here’s what you can do:

Segment out Your Campaigns by Match Type

If you find that the search partners are performing well on one or two match types, segment your campaigns out and then opt only the match types that proved to perform well historically into search partners.

I would caveat that there would have to be enough volume from the search partners to warrant saving.

Only you can decide what that threshold is for your account but I wouldn’t suggest a large scale restructure for a small amount of volume.

Segment out Your Campaigns by Device

If you find that the search partners are performing well on one device and not the other, you might consider splitting up the campaign and keeping only certain devices opted into search partners.

Again, this is really only warranted if there is proven volume worth saving.

Segment out Your Campaigns by Match Type

If certain keywords perform really poorly on search partners, consider segmenting them out – but only if it’s not at a risk to a high volume of Google search conversions.

Segmenting out an RLSA Campaign

If you find that certain audiences (first party or third party) added as observation-only perform better than the searchers outside of said audiences, you might consider breaking out an RLSA campaign and opting search partners in while keeping them out of the non-RLSA campaign.

Duplicating a Campaign Just for Search Partners

I know what you’re thinking “wait, what? We can’t bid on just search partners.”

You’re right!

However, you can duplicate your campaign and set the bids much lower than your current campaign so that Google’s search network won’t pick them up.

The good thing about this is that it doesn’t disrupt the performance of the keywords on the Google search network. You have to be careful, though.

If you pause things in the Google search campaign, that traffic may start re-routing to your second campaign.

Other Things to Consider

I can’t stress this enough: Restructuring can pose certain risks since any keywords within the new campaigns will be starting fresh without any account history, performance can dip following a restructure before it rebounds.

For that reason, before restructuring, make sure that:

  • There’s enough conversion volume to be worth taking a few risks to salvage.
  • The restructure doesn’t pose risks to the volume on Google search – or at least that you’re comfortable with the potential risk, for the sake of the test.
  • That anything you do can be easily undone in case performance trends don’t carry through to the new campaigns. In other words, if you choose to restructure – pause, don’t delete, keywords in the original campaigns in case you decide to revert.

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