Google Search Network: A Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma

By Tad Miller | Nov 24, 2009
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When you advertise on Google PPC your ads are eligible to appear on three different advertising platforms:

  • Google Searches on Google.com
  • On the Google Content network of websites participating in Google Adsense – ads are contextually targeted.
  • The Google Search Network

I think most advertisers understand ads with search results from Google.com and contextually targeted ads on Google Content Network,  but few understand or even know about the Google Search Network.

Google says of its Search Network:

Your ads may appear alongside or above search results, as part of a results page as a user navigates through a site’s directory, or on other relevant search pages. Our global Search Network includes Google Maps, Google Product Search and Google Groups along with entities such as Virgin Media and Amazon.com.

The most well known Search Network Partners are AOL and Ask.com, but an official list of Google Search Partners is not publicly available and Google is completely closed lipped about any details about its participants.  Other Reported Search Network Partners are:

Netscape.com; Earthlink.com; Lycos.com; ATT.com; TechTarget.com; ComCast.net; CNET Search.com; MyWebSearch.com; information.com; myway.com; bellsouth.net; dogpile.com; adelphia.net; comcast.net; earthlink.net; optonline.net; About.com; Shopping.com; CompuServe.com; nytimes.com; howstuffworks.com; business.com; oingo.com; Tripadvisor.com; dealtime.com; infospace.com; zapmeta.com; gppgle.com; faster-results.com; gawwk.com; inspirationalbibleverses.com; isohunt.com; cs.com; curiousquotes.com; findtarget.com.

Additionally, other Google properties are part of the Search Network:

The ads on Google News and Google Product Search, plus some of the ads on Google Maps fall under the category of search network ads.  If ads start to appear on Google Blog Search, they’d also be part of Google’s partner search network.  Google is a partner to Google, though that may sound strange.  One notable exception to this is Gmail.  That Google property is part of the Content Network, as ads there appear based on context, not on user search input.

If you are opted into Google Search Network, you can run reports on Google or run filters to see the breakdown of clicks, costs, impressions, etc. for each type of Google Search Advertising.  If you are advertising on all three major search engines PPC platforms, you might actually discover as I recently did that my Google Search Network Clicks were greater than Bing and my costs were greater than Yahoo. It’s a lot of money and a lot of clicks, and most people don’t even realize they are even opted into it.

The problems with Search Network are numerous:

  • The only control advertisers have with search network is to shut it off or turn it on.
  • You can’t do separate bids for Google Search vs. Google Search Network.
  • There is no insight as to what specific sites are actually delivering clicks, costs, conversions, etc. – However, Google has full transparency for Content Network clicks for advertisers
  • You can’t do separate Search Network only Campaigns, if you do search network ads you also have to do Google.com search ads with it.  They are intertwined.  So if you bid $5 per click on Google.com on a keyword, you also are bidding $5 per click on inspirationalbibleverses.com which is a Made For Adsense site having very little to do with Bible verses.  Ironically, Google recommends that you utilize separate Content Network only Campaigns, but won’t let you do it for Search Network.

Google could completely resolve all of these issues if it wanted to.  As mentioned above they have full reporting and site exclusion for its Content Network partners using Google Adsense.

The quality of clicks that these sites deliver is not the same as clicks delivered by Google.com, but they expect you as an advertiser to pay the same amount for each.   Rimm-Kaufman Group did the following analysis on quality of the clicks of Google Search Network for its clients back in 2007:

We wholeheartedly agree with Rimm-Kaufman Group’s latest plea to give Google advertisers the ability to control their Google Search Network traffic.  Sadly, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, Google needs to follow Yahoo’s lead in bringing transparency to their search network traffic and even the ability to exclude some search network partners.

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