A little while ago I had a rant about Google AdWords matching seeming to be delivering crazy numbers of impressions when actually few people were actually searching for that term. Well, Google finally (after the second attempt and several weeks) got back to us and we got to the bottom of the problem.
It appears that there has been a recent change in Google AdWords where they decided in their infinite wisdom that their Search Partners’ traffic didn’t have to be… well… search traffic. So, if a search partner (other sites that Google supplies search for and affiliates – eBay it appears, for example) has a category on one of its pages titled “office equipment, welding accessories, weld supplies, cylinder welding”, then every time that page shows then your Ad has the ‘opportunity’ to appear on that page. This is a dumb category – clearly machine generated – and very unlikely to be of any relevance to your Ad (i.e. it will get shown a lot more than you expect but nobody will click on the Ads, or if they do they will be low quality). This means impressions go up, click through rates go down and you potentially get penalised by a low click through rate (CTR), thereby ramping your costs up – for no gain.
This appeared to be a one off, but it has cropped up again and again recently on multiple AdWords accounts. We think eBay are the culprit because that categorisation and the volume of impression kind of fit (although Google mentioned Amazon).
How can you tell if you have been affected? Difficult – it’s possible you’re just getting lower CTRs and don’t really notice it. Click on your keywords and then select the Segment drop down menu, then select Network (with search partners). This will show the split between search partners and Google Search. If you’re seeing lots of impressions on Search partners and low CTR compared with Google Search then you’ve probably been affected. It MIGHT be that in some sectors that this works well for you. The problem is that Google is allowing its search partners to play fast and loose with the categories which it is matching against, and makes looking at any keyword stats impossible because these don’t reflect what people are actually searching for any more.
The solution if you’ve been affected negatively:
- According to Google
Find the search terms that are delivering impressions you don’t want and add them as negatives (NOTE: you CAN’T do this unless somebody actually clicks on an Ad because if not they don’t appear in the Search Terms data).
- Our solution
TURN OFF SEARCH PARTNERS
Go to Campaign Settings | Networks and untick Include search partners
Google AdWords is an effective highly targeted advertising system, but by making such changes to it they are starting to undermine its validity. Perhaps I should be happy – it means people, more than ever, need professional help with setting up and optimising AdWords campaigns – but I just don’t like it when a monopoly player starts throwing its weight around and making changes so obviously biased in favour of delivering it yet more revenue. (NOTE: Google would no doubt counter argue that it is opening up the scope of your Ads to generate you more traffic… just be aware of this and be prepared to turn off Search Partners if you don’t like the change)