Wouldn’t you love to shove SP into a corner at times? (Image credit: atozfrenchbulldogs.com)

Can you really isolate Google Search Partners?  Settings-wise, no. In the majority of account, search partners are the single greatest source of un-optimizable spend. Unlike MSN, Google does not provide referral or the ability to eliminate poor-performing placements. For people used to taking a scalpel to their accounts, this broad-sword, take-it-or-leave-it approach is incredibly frustrating.

No matter how frustrated you might be, don’t turn off search partners – especially if they perform significantly (and consistently) worse than Google.com. Accounts with substantially worse SP performance can use a basic hack to optimize SP bids only. The hack is pretty simple: duplicate the campaigns where .com does better, turn off partners in one set of campaigns, and drop bids by whatever the .com/SP delta is. Assuming that most (if not all) of your keywords run worse on SP than Google.com, their bids should always be lower and Google should favor your Google-only campaign to serve your ads even though both campaign sets are opted in.

The system is far from perfect – not every KW will have the same .com/SP pattern, and it’s possible a few do just as well (if not better) on SP. There’s also the possibility that, using automated optimizers, bids start tightening up between the two sources and Google starts serving a dormant ad. Splitting traffic between two keywords that should only be one makes for inefficient optimization and poor reporting. This is why this trick only works well if the gap between the two is wide enough.

At the end of the day, there’s a trade-off. While doing this is a hack (and I’ve had plenty of pushback on this from people in the past), it still yields better results than using a single bid to manage both or to shut off SP altogether. I’ll be happy to take 10% inefficiency against what used to be a 30% delta in performance. The greater percentage of your account SP spend makes up, the better off you’ll be.

We’re still a ways away from perfect management. Google hasn’t said much on treating SP more like GDN, but my gut tells me this will change eventually. For now, SEMs are stuck dealing with quirky scenarios they can do nothing about (Ever run into a KW that only runs on SPs and can only compete for one position?). While you can start collecting referral data through 3rd-party tracking tools, you still can’t act on it. For now, give this a shot and keep your fingers crossed that Google gets its act together (finally).

Sean Marshall, Director of Search Engine Marketing


  1. Terry Whalen April 4th, 2012

    We’ve been doing this for a couple years now, and it seems like a good hack. A cool (albeit not super high priority) feature of 3rd-party automated bidding platforms would be the ability to set Search Partners campaign max bids as a percentage of Google-only campaign bids, to increase confidence that the SP campaign will only include SP activity. As an example, say keyword A in your SP campaign does great; the automated platform keeps (correctly) increasing the bid – but, it cross-checks the bid with the duplicate keyword in the Google-only campaign, and it never lets the SP keyword A bid be more than 80% of the Google.com corresponding bid. Should work at ad group and keyword bid levels. Thoughts?

  2. Sean April 5th, 2012

    Love the automation idea. Ideally, algos could process the data for each network and pause/activate KWs that do well on both as performance changes.

    I would imagine this data is now supported via API – just not sure if search co’s are willing to commit the engineering resources if Google will just handle this by changing their settings. Hope this happens before years end.

    Thanks for the comment Terry!

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Sean Marshall
Sean Marshall is the CEO of Intended, an SEM agency founded in 2013 to provide industry-best service for SMB clients. Before Intended, Sean was the VP of Business Development of PPC Associates (now 3Q Digital). He is a huge Cal fan and has been known to win a buck or two playing online poker.