All posts by LeeElliott

What About Search Partner Networks?

SEM managers should be concerned with partner network traffic when seeking to increase efficiencies for a particular account.

I’m not here to outright denigrate the search partner network.  It’s a great solution to a potential problem for all parties involved.  There are a lot of smaller portals out there through which users can search the web, and these users undoubtedly constitute a considerable amount of valuable traffic.

That being said, even your engine rep will probably pitch it to you as a marginal revenue segment of your search spend rather than an efficient channel that stands on its own merit and can be expected to compete on KPI’s with the principle publishers.

Assessing partner network performance, and turning them off when warranted, is completely essential to your entire SEM effort.  Omitting a partner network can do much more than just save you the portion of the budget it’s absorbing.  Switching off a poor performing partner network can cause an uptick in every metric for a given campaign, and this comprehensive array of benefits can lift a campaign into an entirely different tier of performance.  If you’re reading this, you don’t need me to tell you the heights that harmonic interplay between rising CTR, falling CPC, and steadily climbing conversion rate can propel an SEM initiative to.

Before anyone rushes out and turns off every partner network that is currently missing marketing goals, no matter how narrowly scoped the view or by how small a margin they fall short, it’s important to be aware of the potential negatives of such a sweeping measure and decide on strategy with a caution/aggression balance tailored to your efficiency/volume needs.

At IgnitionOne, we tend to err on the side of caution when switching off partner networks, and choose to do so with “mature” search campaigns.  The reason we make this one of the last major optimizations is simple: the search partner network can respond just as strongly to optimization efforts as principle-engine search, and so to cut the network early in a campaign’s lifecycle is to miss out on possible gains that other optimizations that would possibly drive the partner network into profitable territory.  It’s best to think of most optimization measures as paint, and the partner networks as part of the canvas: see what brush strokes the space affords you and what picture you can paint before cutting out part of the picture.

When we’ve decided it’s time to cull the partner herd, we take approach that examines multiple metrics.  The first thing to look for may be partner networks missing a KPI goal such as ROAS or CPA, but that’s just scratching the surface.  It’s important to make sure that the problem is truly the partner network and not some other factor, and for that reason, we look for networks that perform below both client goals and the campaign’s engine search traffic.  If a partner network’s CTR, conversion rate, and ROAS are lower, and its CPA, is higher, we will cut it.  CPC is tricky, as sometimes a partner will provide too many cheap clicks to give up on, whether the rationale is that conversions will eventually have to follow, or that the impressions are good for branding.

A key metric some managers miss is Average Rank.  We don’t like to cut a partner network unless its average rank is around or above the engine search average rank.  If your ads aren’t showing at the same rank on both networks, how can you expect the same performance?  Lower ad rank on a search partner network is something we tend to see get hammered out over time, and so it’s best not to give up yet if you see your partner networks hampered by this effect.

Once you’ve made these changes, be sure to pay close attention to the affected campaigns and verify that you’re seeing the response in the metrics that you expected.  Tricky elements like click-path assists and other unforeseen indirect consequences could demonstrate that the partner networks you cut were providing value that wasn’t immediately apparent to you.

For a Dynamic Campaign, Deploy Dynamic Titles

Dynamic Keyword Insertion (DKI) is the chainsaw of SEM.  Everyone can agree that it’s a cool and powerful tool that should have a place in every paid search manager’s proverbial tool shed.  At the same time, many marketers are apprehensive about actually picking it up and using it.  If one loses control of it, things will get out of hand and you’ll go from quickly and precisely sculpting your project to irreversibly marring it beyond repair, and you may even lose a finger (read: client) or two in the process.

While it’s true that if used poorly, DKI could render your ads nonsensical, the truth is that the dangers have been greatly exaggerated.  Some marketers have seen the unfortunate results of using DKI in misspelling-oriented keyword groups or retailer campaigns with a massive and diverse array of products. These marketers can wonder about the wisdom of this tactic after seeing unfortunately-phrased long-tail combinations dynamically placed above their carefully manicured description lines. However, many marketers have seen the consistent increase in CTR that DKI provides and wondered how they ever lived without it.

Confining DKI to the areas where it will be both completely safe and highly effective is remarkably simple.  When seeking out the keywords to break into a DKI-safe ad group, know first that all keywords above the title-length limit for the engine in question are inherently safe because they will trigger the backup title rather than the dynamically generated option.  While that seems obvious, it’s critical enough that it merits explicit mention.  Because it’s possible to sort out every single keyword that won’t actually show dynamically due to length, the long-tail keywords that otherwise would represent a large portion of the keywords that look like DKI trouble can be instantly cleared for deployment.

Once a marketer has cut down the potential DKI keyword list to keywords below this limit, they should be looking at a much smaller keyword set that will need to actually be looked over and approved manually.  If one can identify rule-based criteria for exclusion, such as keywords that begin and/or end in certain words that you know to recur through the set (i.e. prepositions), this would further narrow the selections.

Dynamic Keyword Insertion has proven powerful and easy to execute properly in IgnitionOne’s media initiatives. The copywriting process typically consists of developing the ad templates to be employed with static titles, and then creating a dynamic title version of every single iteration to be tested against its static version.  If a marketer is brought onto a project and there is nary a curly-bracket in sight, the first question that should arise is: “Why is dynamic keyword insertion NOT being tested for this initiative?”

These are just a few helpful hints and best practices for employing Dynamic Keyword Insertion.  The art and science of putting this wonderful technology to good use could take up a long chapter in a thorough book on SEM.  Hopefully this brief objective examination will help some marketers adopt the test-first, assess-later, fear-never attitude towards DKI that will improve their campaigns and have them exploring other avenues such as {Idea: Your Own} and {Tactic: Best Practice} in no time!