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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Think You Know the Google Search Network?

Wasting your AdWords Budget Has Never Been Easier Than With Google Cracks As an AdWords advertiser, you may think you know what the Google Search Network is, but are you sure? I thought I was at one time, but my recent research has shown me otherwise. After a friend of mine, let's call him Mr. B, told me his ads were showing up on other sites when his client wasn't enrolled in the content network, I started getting a little curious. I asked him some more question basically to find out if they were other search engines that utilize Google Ads such as AOL, Ask, MyWay, Dogpile, among others, which he admittedly told me it was not Google's partner search engines.

For those who don't know, when you sign up to use Google AdWords you have multiple options for where you want to show your ads on the "Google Network". These options are broken up into 2 major categories, Search Network and Content network. The content network is any advertiser that has AdSense on his or her site as a potential spot for your ad. So whether it's Uncle Willie's vacation blog or that MySpace layout site that is covered with Google AdSense, your ad can show up. These are lumped into one pile and the relevancy between the content and your keywords is supposed to determine if your ads are shown on that person's site. While the search network is supposedly made up of Google's partner search engines, such as AOL, MyWay, DogPile etc. They do not disclose this info so you are either all in the search network or your ads only appear on's SERPs.

This is where the dilemma lies. Google for some reason is secretive about who its search partners are and where your ads will be shown. The reason why brings me back to my friend.

Mr. B sent me some examples, some data which really surprised me. Referral information to his clients site from and I was surprised that these sites would be considered "search partners" because these sites aren't search engines, they are normal retail and information portals with a search function. How can Google label these "search partners"?

I had Mr. B go back and double check, I thought for sure it was a mistake or that at some point the content network was on but the ads were tagged with Mr. B's tracking tag for the search network. Also, the referral URL for Google's content network has the root domain of

If Google truly loved its advertisers then it would disclose which sites their ads would show up on rather then lumping them into one big pile. But since Google doesn't do this, I have started a running list of Google's Search Network Partners: (via About)

And here are some of the questionable "search" sites:

(Note, Google claims the sites listed above are part of the Content Network but the truth is they are really Search Partners) (I think this is a "domain parking" partner, so not sure if it falls under search or content but we'll have more on that later.)

The bottom half of these sites are portal sites with a search function. I wonder if mShift can we become a search partner when we add a search engine, (ok maybe not :)

I think the whole thing is a little sneaky, but since Google doesn't plan on disclosing it's search network, I will continually update this list as I find more.

Tsk Tsk Google!

Notes: It maybe worthwhile for advertisers to test out displaying ads only on rather then its "Search Network" and see if you can capture a better ROI.

A very little talked about WebMasterWorld thread on the topic.

Google Group topic modded by Andrew Goodman - (Membership Required)

By Matt O'Hern at 02:36 PM | Comments (13)

(13) Thoughts on Think You Know the Google Search Network?


I can add few more site to the list. Last week, I had a test run to opt in to Google Search Network for a day, I was surprised by the the referring source for my google tracking for that client for specifically that day.

Wr had visitors from following sites with Google PPC tracking.

What's more surprising is that some of these sites compile PPC lisitings of both Google and Yahoo. I opted out of the search network the next day, but I still see my clients ads on some of these site.

The most interesting site I found was


Comments by YR : Thursday, September 21, 2006 at 06:07 PM

Just like Google has a site exclusion feature for the content network, it needs to add site exclusion for the search network. Many of the sites are high quality but there are some questionable ones. Note that ZapMeta was named in a recent BusinessWeek article on click fraud.

Until Google improves the transparency and/or control over the search network, there are steps an advertiser can take to minimize fraudulent or low quality traffic from search partners sites or domain parking sites. For example, instead of running 1 campaign, run 3: 1 for Google ads, 1 for search network, 1 for content network. Set lower budgets for the search network and content network campaigns and set lower CPCs for the ad groups and/or keywords contained in those campaigns. Put different tracking on the landing pages so it's easy to tell if partner hits are coming from search or content network.

Comments by Richard Ball : Tuesday, September 26, 2006 at 10:31 PM

There is a site exclusion feature for the search network. I hit the 500 maximum allowed sites within three months after the site exclusion feature was added for search. I now try to manage the exclusion list based on site relevancy, conversions and frequency of hits from a site.

What gets me upset is that Google's domain parking web site (AdSense for Domains)is included in search, and it can not be excluded. We get zero conversions from clicks from parked domains. The only way to exclude these is to exclude each individual domain.

Comments by SteveH : Wednesday, September 27, 2006 at 03:12 PM

I'm not sure why you'd call CompuServe a "questionable" site. It was once a major competitor to AOL and is now owned by them but still provides basically the same services as AOL. It's always been a very reputable service.

Also, isn't such an oddity, it's just a typo domain name that is owned by Google, Inc. p is right next to o on the keyboard and there are plenty of big name companies that own typo versions of their domains, such as

Comments by Ian Feavearyear : Thursday, September 28, 2006 at 03:41 AM

SteveH, the site exclusion feature only applies to the content network and _not_ to the search network. See Google's help page on the subject:

Comments by Richard Ball : Saturday, October 07, 2006 at 08:47 PM

How do you identify a search vs. content partner? Is there something different about their code?

Comments by Tom : Monday, October 09, 2006 at 11:52 AM

Just removed the Search Partners option from my campaign due to reading this article thx (had removed content partners ages ago). Why? I was annoyed to see MyWebSearch coming up as a search partner in my trackings, I know that this is spyware based and if they are earning a single cent out of the Google search partnership, then the clicks cannot be trusted.

Comments by Nigel : Wednesday, November 22, 2006 at 04:16 AM

Yes indeed Nigel, I've had clicks from MyWebsearch and the spyware/toolbar stories concern me about the quality.

I've just had a click from, apparently another Google search partner. I'm currently asking Google Adwords if I'll be paying for a dodgy click from a website with one page indexed and no backlinks in Google's own index.

Comments by Giles : Friday, December 08, 2006 at 07:57 AM

Speaking of , we can add that to the list too. Check out a book title or something and there you have google adverts.

Comments by Marcus : Friday, February 22, 2008 at 07:51 PM

We came across another example here in the UK which is not good - the 'search' site is the site and the ads are shown if the user clicks on the navigational links on the pages (plus, no indication that they are google ads).

Have a look at for a full explanation of this, as it is disappointing.


Comments by Joe : Monday, October 20, 2008 at 06:49 AM

Another one to add is

Comments by A_Goodwin : Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 11:34 AM

We had the same problem with ads showing in

Comments by Faja Vedette : Friday, June 05, 2009 at 02:54 AM

I am seeing ads on Zillow for some of our clients who are not in the content network at all. How Zillow and sites like it can be part of the "search network" is beyond me.

Comments by Robert OShaughnessy : Friday, February 11, 2011 at 01:09 PM

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