Google Search Partners have always been a small, and often efficient, aspect of Google Search Ads performance. Google Search Partners are websites which partner with Google to utilize their Search Engine for their own website. Google itself does not disclose a full list of the Search Partners website which it works with, however; we do know that the list is expansive.
Why Were Search Partners Necessary?
In the past for Search Engine Marketers, Search Partners were an almost automatically included network. The reason falls in line with some of the main thinking behind Results Guaranteed’s strategies; if our ads are not where users are searching, they can not click on our ad! Serving Google Search Ads inside of Search Partner websites allowed us to reach even more customers who we otherwise would not have reached if we only served our ads within Google’s traditional search interface.
Why RG Refuses to Use Google Ads Search Partners & You Should Too!
Recently, we have noticed a large influx of Search Partner traffic both internally on our managed clients, as well as accounts which we have had a chance to audit. An increase from Search Partner traffic is not necessarily a negative on its own. However, this type of traffic currently being generated is very obviously an attempt by nefarious actors to game Google’s automated bidding strategies and generate additional revenue for their partner site.
Let’s Take a Step Back: Google’s Automated Bidding Strategies
We know that in order for companies to be their most successful when utilizing Google Ads, they need to utilize Google’s automated bidding strategies. Automated bidding strategies from Google allow for real time bidding based on all of the audience, demographic and behavioral data which Google has. At the end of the day, these automated bidding strategies provide better performance than manual bidding, so long as the correct inputs are being fed to Google.
Two of the most popular automated bidding strategies in Google are Maximize Clicks and Maximize Conversions. When Maximize Clicks is enabled, Google will bid to drive as many clicks as possible for your selected targets, within your set budget. As Google learns which aspects of the account provide the most efficient performance (for example a difference in performance between Search Partners & Google Search) spend in the account is shifted to those areas which perform best. This is exactly how these automated strategies are supposed to work. Similarly Maximize Conversions focuses on driving the highest volume of conversions within your budget and selected targets. When properly configured, this bidding strategy provides great performance as it focuses to bid on users who are similar to those who have converted with your website in the past.
What’s Happening With Google Search Partners
Nefarious actors are utilizing both of these automated bidding strategies to shift spends from Google Search to their Search Partner website. How are they doing this? The answer is simple, they are creating false positive indicators within the automated bidding strategy which makes the automated bidding strategy believe it should be spending more money on those websites.
Maximize Conversions Strategy & Spam Leads
In digital marketing, it is always important to question the accuracy of the metrics which you are receiving. This is especially true if they seem too good to be true!
A prospective client came to Results Guaranteed with an issue. They were receiving leads which were clearly spam, and very little from within their current area. The response from the current agency was there was no way to stop this. If you are a digital marketer, you know that is an onion to peel when addressing that answer. Fortunately when speaking with this prospect, Results Guaranteed had already addressed this Search Partners issue multiple times.
Within 10 minutes of gaining access to their Google Ads account, we were easily able to identify that Search Partners were the source of the spam and irrelevant leads. Let’s take a look at how nefarious actors were able to increase the amount of spend coming from this particular Google Ads account within the Search Partners Network.
The above image shows a roughly 2 month period compared with the prior 2 month period. The metrics shown on the right side of the image are conversions. As we can see over the most recent 2 months there has been a 5,000% increase in conversions which were coming from the Search Partners campaign. The conversion dates and times line up with the dates and times of the spam lead notifications which the business was receiving.
Due to all of the false positives being generated by the spam contact forms, the automated bidding strategy, in this case Maximize Conversions, began shifting spend heavily towards the Google Search Partners network. This resulted in over 75% of account spend during that 2 month period occurring on Search Partner network. Unfortunately for this business, they will not be able to get that $10,000 back and it is an expensive lesson. The biggest pain for business owners is not just the wasted money, but the opportunity cost and wasted time period which hurt the most. Unfortunately this issue was compounded over the long-run by negligent account management. If you are worried this may be your agency, contact Results Guaranteed we are more than willing to advise, but do not wish to disparage other businesses online!
Maximize Clicks Strategy & False Clicks
Now let’s examine the interaction rate for a Search Campaign during the 1st two weeks of July 2023 and compare those with June 2023. This search campaign is set to Maximize Clicks, so Google wants to drive the highest amount of clicks in the most efficient manner possible.
When we segment interaction rate by Search Network we see a large difference in performance between Google search and Search Partners. An 8.55% interaction rate for this type of campaign is outstanding! One would think a 34%+ interaction rate would also be outstanding. However, this number is simply too good to be true.
In this case, during the month of June, nefarious clicks and traffic were sent through Google Search Partners which resulted in a very high interaction rate of 21%+. As Google saw this outstanding interaction rate, the automated bidding strategy began shifting more spend towards the over performing Search partners campaign.
The above image shows the difference in spend period over period following the nefarious traffic being generated through Google Search Partners. During the most recent period spend in the Search Partners portion of the account increased 38%, while Google Search decreased 33%. Objective achieved for the Search Partner trying to generate more revenue.
What Should You Do Now?
If you are a digital marketing agency, we advise to do as we have done and remove yourself from the Google Search Partners network. We have continued to escalate the issue with Google Support and encourage any other Google Partner agencies such as ours, to also contact Google to help force action. If you are a business and are not comfortable that your Google Ads account is actively being managed and not providing great performance, request an audit of your Google Ads account. Like many other digital marketing agencies out there, Results Guaranteed will complete a free audit of your account and let you know if your account is being affected by these nefarious actors.