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What’s the Best Way to Manage Search Partners?

Published: May 19, 2014

Author: Katie Walton

No, that’s not a trick question, and yes, I realise that managing search partners properly isn’t a possibility. But as they’re such a huge source of traffic, that’s not stopped many in the PPC industry from hunting down ways to get one over on AdWords and make the most of search partner traffic.
Negatives may be all the management you need. But if you see search queries like “eternal link & light 10w t4 ultraslim fluorescent light with triphosphor tube new mains socket cabinet light 390x 19x 43mm” you’ve got a problem. Keywords can’t contain more than 10 words.
neg keywords
So what are you meant to do? Let’s take a look at your options:

1. Use Analytics to Discover the Search Partner Sites that You Appeared For, And Ask for Google to Exclude them from Your Account.

This is a technique that I’ve written about here. You set up a filter that can show you exactly which search partners are displaying your ads. When you have enough data to demonstrate that certain search partners are underperforming, you can contact Google, present your findings and ask them to exclude the sites. And then you have to wait and rely on Google to do their work.
This filter is a valuable way to get some more insight into what’s happening with search partners. However, unless you have a really responsive and helpful Google rep or are spending huge amounts on search partners, it can be more hassle than it’s worth to actually get any sites removed. We’ve had experiences where Google confirmed that sites have been excluded from our accounts, but we still see them appearing in reports after the fact.
(Note: While I have no reason to believe it wouldn’t work, I haven’t seen this filter in action in Universal Analytics. How you access the data is more likely to have changed than whether or not you can still receive it though.)

2. Duplicate Campaigns and Run One on Google Search Only and the Other on Search Partners, with Lower Bids.

 Sean Marshall wrote about this particular hack on the 3QDigital blog a few years ago. And James Scaggs points to its use as the cause of a 141.32% increase in CTR. I have to say, I’m sceptical about this technique and without any hard data to show it works, I’d be wary to give it a go. Although if you’ve got the stats to show me I’m wrong, please share!

3. Isolate Search Partner Search Queries and Bid on Them as Keywords.

Martin Rottgerding wrote an excellent blog post explaining how to do this in depth. Of all of these three techniques, this is the one I’d recommend. I’m trialling it in one account and we see a CPA of £3.80 and conversion rate of 5.65% on our search partner campaign compared to a CPA of £22.75 and conversion rate of 1.58% for standard search campaigns. That’s an 83% reduction in CPA!
Before you get too carried away, it’s worth noting that the search partner campaigns delivered just 1.98% of the volume of conversions generated by the standard search campaigns. With the time that can go into set up, you have to seriously consider whether it’s really worth doing anything at all.
It’s not a question I can answer for you – only your data can tell you if something really needs to be done. Segment your data by Network (with Search Partners), export your data and see what it shows you. You might be pleasantly surprised to see that search partners are delivering a great CPA – or you might realise that actually, you’re better off saving your spend for Google Search only.
How do you manage Search partners? Have you got any other tricks that make the system work for you? If so, share your secrets with us in the comments!

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