Brad Geddes / PPC Geek
Official Google Ads Seminar Leader.
Author of Advanced Google AdWords.
Co-Founder, Adalysis.
(703) 828-5811‬
Brad Geddes's Theories on Marketing When a Search Click Isn’t a Search Click

When a Search Click Isn’t a Search Click

A Search by Any Other Name

Have you ever looked through your AdWords search query reports and seen terms that are utterly baffling in their structure with lots of impressions? For instance, things like (by the way, these are all real queries I’ve seen):

  • for the home bar stools for the home
  • social work more:label_social_20work more:gradschool
  • property deeds more:label_property_20deeds more:homebuying
  • women’s fashion clothing shoes dresses shirts


So who are the half-million like-minded oddballs who searched forwomen’s fashion clothing shoes dresses shirts”? The answer is that they don’t exist; they didn’t search for that term. These search partner ads were served on what is technically a content site. For certain ecommerce sites and other sites with a taxonomy-based site structure, Google uses the category string of the page as a keyword and serves “search partner” results for views that were not literally triggered by a search.

Don’t Freak Out

When I first became aware of this a couple of years ago, my initial reaction was outrage (“How dare they frame these content results as search results!?”). However, after giving it some thought I realized that there are only two ways that people can end up at these deep category pages:

  1. Through clicking an organic result after making a highly relevant search
  2. By a very pointed category drill-down on a site

Either one of these cases is very intent-driven and much more analogous to a search than simply “happening” upon some content while aimlessly browsing. Additionally, though the results from these types of clicks are not always stellar, the conversion numbers these typically bring are in line with what you would see from any other “search partner” site. So, I came around to feeling it was pretty fair to call these “searches.”

What to Do When You See These Terms

The atypical queries in your search term reporting mentioned earlier are one way to find these scenarios within your account. However, they are just the “tells.” In these easily identified cases, optimizing is straightforward:

1. If the query is producing undesirable results, simply use a negative keyword to block it. Because these are “searches,” not content, negative matches are clean and will prevent ads from showing.

2. If the results are good, isolate the query as an exact match and bid to your target metrics. Something to be aware of when using this strategy is that often there are a limited amount of ad slots for these, sometimes only one slot. Because of this, I usually add a tag to these keywords and call them “all or nothings.” You’ll want to keep a close eye on them if you are relying on this traffic, as slight variations in your bid or the competition can call these to fall off the limited ad space and you can lose huge amounts of impressions over a couple-cent bid change if you fall out of the results.

More problematic is that often the category name that Google uses as the trigger keyword is a regular keyword; in fact, it is often a head term where the impact can get easily lost in all of the impressions.


The above is an example of this type of ads on for the “women’s shoes” category. Take note that these ads have some features that true content ads would not, including sitelink extensions and bolding of the keyword in the ads. In this case, the keyword is “women’s shoes.” You will not be able to fully map your results on these head terms to this particular phenomenon; instead, you have to rely on search partner reporting as a blended metric inclusive of “regular” search partner results. That said, you can still find cases where this is likely happening.

1. First, you need to make sure that you have tight mapping of your keywords and ad groups (at PPC Associates, we generally use single-keyword ad groups to do this).

2. Then you can segment your ad group level report by network inclusive of search partner data. When you download, add an additional segment for reporting by week.

3. By looking at the search partner data week over week, paying attention to your overall impressions and your positions, you can pick up where this is probably happening.

In this example data, note that when my average position slipped from 2.17 to 5.38 I lost 65,000 impressions a week. This is a pattern not typical of “regular” searches and indicates that this head term “women’s dresses” is highly influenced by these category-type search partner impressions.

These head-term cases are much harder to optimize for. It is one more reason to wish Google would allow search-partner-only campaign targeting – or, even better, reporting and inclusive and exclusive targeting by specific search partner site. In lieu of those tools, you have only a couple of choices:

1. First, isolate the head terms that are influenced by this in their own campaigns.

2. If the results are undesirable, eliminate search partner traffic entirely on this campaign. The down side here is that there may be some good search partner traffic that you are getting rid of.

3. If your conversion metrics are good on this search partner traffic, you need to pay attention to maintaining your positions so you don’t lose your impression share on these keywords. Consider a bidding strategy that not only looks at your ROAS or CPA goals, but also factors in staying above a position threshold where you don’t fall off of the available ad slots on the search partner network.

Stay Vigilant in Q4

Though this phenomenon is not isolated to ecommerce sites, both on the advertiser and site partner side, it is definitely most prevalent for ecommerce sites, so I highly suggest taking a deep dive to look for how this is influencing your campaigns if you are running PPC for an ecommerce site. Additionally, I would expect this to become even more prevalent as we enter Q3 and Q4. I have seen sites such as,,, and all serving these category-as-search-string ads, though as I write this, none of them seems to be currently using this practice. My speculation is that as we get closer to Q4 and the available revenue heats up, we’ll see these ads pop back up on many sites that are not currently using them.

This is a guest post by Susan Waldes who is the Account Director at PPC Associates, a digital marketing firm based in the Bay Area and downtown Chicago. She has been in the search marketing business since 1999.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily bgTheory. If you would like to write for Certified Knowledge, please let us know.

No Comments

  1. Adrian Bold
    August 8, 2012 at 1:53 am · Reply

    Excellent write up Susan, thank you. Hopefully better visibility of the search network and the ability to apply different bid rates will also appear one day.

  2. rnasty
    August 18, 2012 at 7:33 am · Reply

    The only thing I want for Christmas from Google this year; enable us to bid separately on search partners vs Goggle search.

  3. Jordan McClements
    June 5, 2014 at 2:03 am · Reply

    I agree about it being nice to have different bids for search partners, but for now, if you have decent traffic/conversions, CPA bidding has worked pretty well for me in automatically adjusting bids for search partners.

Leave a Reply