Know Your PPC Traffic! The Real Deal Behind 'Search Partners'


This is a guest post by Shawn Livengood. Shawn Livengood is a search marketing professional based in Austin, Texas. He is also pursuing his master’s degree in information architecture at the University of Texas at Austin. You can read more at his PPC marketing blog, PPC Without Pity.

When you sign up for a pay-per-click advertising account, you might assume that you are buying your traffic directly from the search engine. If you bid on keywords in Google AdWords, you're just getting traffic from people who search on, right? Wrong! What many people don't realize is that a significant portion of PPC traffic comes not from the search engine sites themselves, but from a network of "search partners" associated with each search engine.

So what exactly isa "search partner"? Basically, it's any other site that uses Google or Yahoo search bars on its pages and displays PPC ads from these networks in the search results. Bing (formerly MSN) doesn't currently have a similar program, but I wouldn't be surprised if they started one in the near future, considering Microsoft's big push over the past year to increase use of the Bing search engine.

Google's major search partners include Google properties (Google Maps, Google Groups, etc.) and major websites and networks such as Virgin Media,, and MySpace. The search partner network also includes every little mom-and-pop blog that uses Google's free site search feature in exchange for showing Google ads on their site search pages. Yahoo has a less extensive partner network, but still includes such major presences as,,, and Since Yahoo also offers site search solutions, you do stand a chance of having your ads show up on much smaller partner sites.

If you do opt in to these search partner networks, expect to get traffic of a much lower quality than what you get directly from the search engines. When someone searches on Google or Yahoo, they are in an active searching mode, and are likely to read, click, and purchase from PPC ads. If the user is on Bubba's Widget Blog (now with Google Site Search!) ... well, not so much. But don't worry! There is a way to escape from search partner purgatory.

Google has made it pretty easy to get reports on search partner traffic, and opt out if you want to. To get information on search partner performance, just run an Account, Campaign, or Ad Group report, open up "Add or Remove Columns" in the Advanced Settings, and check off the box labeled "Ad Distribution: with search partners" in the "Attributes" section:

How to get Google search partner reports in AdWords

If you don't like what you see in the report, you can always opt out of ad distribution on Google's search partner network. To do this, go to the campaign you want to opt out, and open up the "Settings" tab. Click "Edit" next to the "Networks" option:

How to opt out of Google's search partner network

In the subsequent menu, uncheck the box labeled "Search Partners," and your ads will no longer show anywhere except for direct Google searches.

Yahoo doesn't quite have this level of transparency yet, but they will be rolling out a similar feature sometime in January 2010. Once this feature goes live, you should be able to target your campaigns and ad groups to Yahoo Search, Yahoo Search Partners, or both. Let's hope that they offer good reporting on search partner performance as well.

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Matthew Umbro
Jan 07, 2010

Hi Shawn,

You bring up an interesting point. A couple of months ago I emailed my Google rep and asked if it was possible to pause ineffective sites within the search partner networks (similar to what you can do in the content network). She said it was not possible. Basically, you either choose to be fully into the search partners networks or not at all.

Jan 07, 2010

Thanks Shawn.

Your guest blog reminded me that my Google PPC skills had become a little rusty. Thanks to you I re-visited my skills for a while and visited Google's Ad Center for a while.

Google targeting has become so detailed that you can become a bit silly with long tail search words and targeting. For example, I fish at a Polish-American resort in Illinois (5 pound largemouth bass, wonderful food) where many of the customers are Polish-American. So now, with Google PPC, I could target only older men within one mile from a point on a map in Illinois who are using their mobile phones after dinner on Saturdays to search (Polish Google) for airplane flights from Chicago to Warsaw.

It sounds silly but I think it's possible.

It made me think what if...

How far away are we from a time when Google can help PPC advertisers target natural events. I wonder if Google searchers are more apt to book warm vacation getaways when the temperature drops below 0 degrees and a 10" snowfall has occurred in the past 24 hours. Sound silly? I wonder what travel agencies would say about correlations between extreme weather and vacation getaway reservations?

If Google ever allows PPC advertisers to target quantifiable natural phenomena (temperature drops and precipitation by zip code) you can say you read about it first on WordStream's blog (from Richard of Chicago, IL).

Flights of fancy and speculation Shawn. Thanks for your guest blog. It helped me learn a bit more today about Google PPC, and the future...

Michelle Moore
Jan 08, 2010

A great additional argument for more thoughtful granularity in setting up PPC accounts. It's a shame that so many people think the best way to approach PPC is to just turn on everything you can and blast your ads all over the known universe.

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