Have Google Adwords Shot Themselves In The Foot?

Sometimes being able to see things in fine detail is unpleasant- particularly when it comes in the form of a sudden revelation.

Every now and then you get that kind of shock in PPC data, when the serene progress of an account has to be re-evaluated in an instant because of a new discovery. This is exactly what happened to me when I took a look at the affect of Google’s new Adwords transparency on some of our PPC campaigns.

As you’re probably aware, Google places ads in three places- its own results page, the results page of its search partners (Google Product Search, Google Groups, Earthlink, compuserve, shopping.com, AT&T Worldnet, and search sites such as AOL and Ask.com) and on its content network. Previously, Google bundled together its own results page with the other search sites like Ask.com, allowing you to separate out the data from the content network if you wanted to. The new tool allows you to fully break down the data from the three places Google places your ads.

I don’t often run content network campaigns so I hadn’t felt the need to delve too much into this new breakdown. I assumed that the results from Google and its search partners would be very similar– same adverts, same keywords, same delivery system and surely then similar CTR and conversion rate. This would mean that the best approach for me would be to use the summary view of my accounts.

However, when I did try separating them out the result was very surprising. The figures were astonishingly different; clickthrough was often a fraction of Google’s, conversion rates were much lower and although cost per click was less, cost per conversion was way up. Here’s some data that I think highlights the problem pretty well:


This campaign has been running on Google’s conversion optimiser with CPA set at £12 and yet it has chosen to spend a rather large amount on the Search partners’ share of the clicks when the CPA is way above the required level. At this point I am still unsure as to why there should be such a big difference. Do the lower quality search engines fail to distribute correctly by location? This could explain some high traffic volumes but low rates. Whatever the reason, judging by the clickthrough and conversion rates, the search partners produce traffic that is poorly targeted.

We can’t choose to target certain parts of the partners network, nor can we create ‘partners only’ campaigns which we could then refine the traffic from, bid in accordance with the cost per conversion and maybe use to our advantage. Even if we could separate out ‘partner’ campaigns we can’t drill down to see which of the search partners is more effective. If Google gave these options we could quickly duplicate our campaigns, distribute them to each area of the ‘partners network’ and find out if they could be improved to come into line with the other campaigns.

As it is, I am switching many of my campaigns to Google only and, unless greater data and control becomes available for the search partners, I can’t imagine returning to this area anytime soon.

Hopefully, this post will prompt someone else to take a look at their figures and maybe, with this one change in Adwords, improve their CTR and conversion rate in a stroke. To take a look at your own figures in Adwords, go to your Campaign Summary page and choose ‘Split: Google Search/search partners/content network’. I can assure you that it’s well worth your time and may make a significant difference to your campaign.

About the author
Richard Cotton

Richard Cotton

Richard Cotton joins the team at Distilled as the Paid Search Marketer. He graduated with a Philosophy degree from Southampton University and will therefore put his analytical brain to good use as our dedicated PPC marketer. Rich C-h264720-v2 //...   read more