Commentary

Search Engine Partner Networks: A Questionable Search Asset?

Since the early days, Google, Bing and Yahoo have supplemented various domains with search results -- or as we know them, the partner search networks.

Over the years, Google has prevented marketers from having the ability to exclude specific domains, or even from operating them in a stand-alone campaign, while Bing is the polar opposite. But a deeper investigation into domains that get supplied search results from the partners reveals an issue that leaves us questioning if we should even opt into the network.

In Bing, referring domain reports have shown a financial service client's ad on a religious bingo Web site, and an adult domain that we can only assume someone lost their job for allowing to happen. At the same time, if you go to conservative Web site Breitbart.com and use their search function and type in ACLU, you will see Google search ads for the ACLU to make donations (oh the irony). The basic assumption: odds are, in Google, that if the advertiser has the option, they probably don’t wish to show on certain Web sites.

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As the networks expand, there are three questions that need to be addressed:

  1. What is the editorial review process to get into one of these networks?
  2. Is it worth even being in them?
  3. Why can’t we opt sites out of Google’s network?

While I am not against expanding my search campaign's reach, beyond the owned domains (Google, Bing, Yahoo), the lack of control (specifically in Google), about where ads appear must be taken into consideration. The requirements and approval process of allowing a Web site into the network has always been a bit of a mystery. Or is there even a process at all?

In my experience, we typically see 15% to 25% of total search traffic from the partner network. Front-end metrics are inconsistent and vary from advertiser to advertiser. Opting out of the networks would cause one to lose a noticeable amount of traffic, but would it really hurt your bottom line? Providing you can pull data into the engines from your site analytics partner, assess front-end metrics, site engagement, and post click actions.

The findings may tell you not to change anything, or may tell you that you are wasting ad dollars on inferior traffic sources. This can be a major issue for any advertiser who runs search but was hit with recent bad press, that would be searched on specific domains (politics being the most glaringly obvious).

The partner networks prove beneficial both the Web site and the search engine, so the capability will not go away. But the lack of control on the majority side of Google, and transparency, leads advertisers to make decisions more blindly than they would in Bing, for example.

Partner networks are not a bad thing -- but an advertiser can’t just default into this function for the sake of “traffic,” without doing their due diligence first.

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