We’ve noticed something strange when reviewing our Auction Insights for one of our high value/CPC lead gen clients – a few “search engines” popped up as competitors on some core terms in recent months.

On doing some digging across verticals, we’ve found the below search engines prominent in some high volume/CPC search themes:

www.pronto.com (owned by Ask Media Group)

www.smarter.com (owned by Ask Media Group)

www.izito.co.uk (owned by Visymo Universal Search Group)

www.zapmeta.com (owned by Visymo Universal Search Group)

The question we’d have here, how is this viable? Without owning the PPC accounts of these search engines it’s hard to be sure, although we’ve included a “guesstimate” below.

These sites appear to power their search results through (almost exclusively) ads from Google via the Search Partners network. By doing this, they’ll be getting a % of the high value CPC that Google is charging advertisers for these clicks.

To make it viable for these search engines to bid for these keywords on Google Search, they’ll set a CPC limit that will be the maximum of the Search Partner CPC portion they receive on their results page (assuming a % CTR). Further, it looks like they are showing ads on a potentially low-cost generic keyword, and serving ads on a higher cost head term.

So, lets say they are bidding £2 (paying £1.75) to appear in position 5 in an auction and redirect to their Search Results page that has a Top of Page CPC of £10;every click they get on their ad will be profitable if enough users to click on the (up to) £10 ad units on their results page.

With this in mind, we reviewed Search Partner presence for one of our high CPC advertisers and found the below:

  • The % of Search Partner clicks has increased from 1% in January to 5% in August. This makes sense, if the search partners are actively using Google to feed their funnel
  • Search Partner CPC’s have gone from ~25% cheaper than Google Search to ~20% more expensive. Suggesting the Search Partners are “optimising” toward the higher value CPC units
  • Our advertisers Search Partner ROI is down 40% YoY

Given the switch in Search Partner intent and impact on CPC’s (and ROI), we’ll be reviewing our Search Partner presence across all accounts. Google only gives a binary “on or off” option for presence on Search Partners (rather than a bid adjustment like Device, Location etc), so we’ll likely be turning Search Partners off in all instances we have seen performance take a hit.

It'll be interesting to see how Google deals with this type of Search Partner activity; as in our eyes it doesn’t add anything to either the advertiser or user. The advertiser is “punished” by a high CPC from what is essentially a low position click on a less trusted site than Google, whilst the user is served with a low quality/relevance Search Result page with exactly the same ads present.

I’d urge all Google Ads advertisers & agencies to have a look at the Auction Insights and review Search Partners to see if this is occurring.