Segmenting AdWords Search Query Data

When it comes to search query data, Google has always been a little protective. But in fall 2011, around the time when Google shocked search marketers around the world with their switch to SSL, I discovered something new on the AdWords interface:


Now I don’t know how long this little button has been sitting there. No one seems to have noticed, at least I couldn’t find any articles or conversations about this. Or maybe I’m just the only one who cares…

Okay, you can add segments to your search query reports now. You can’t display any segments in the interface directly, but you can add segments when you download a report:


So we have conversions (both name and tracking purpose), time (everything but hour of the day – too bad), networks, devices, the ad id and the (whole) ad. The data isn’t completely new: It has been available through the AdWords API for some time. Only now it’s available for ad hoc reports that everyone can download. (The API still has the advantage that you can include keywords in search query reports.)

Analyzing Devices

Segmentation by device allows you to evaluate how people have searched for your keywords from different devices. In case you haven’t bothered splitting up a campaigns yet, this might be interesting. And even if you have, you can also take a look at your old data from when campaigns weren’t split up yet. That might be interesting.

Analyzing Search Partners

What I’m really excited about is taking a look at search partner queries. This affects the daily work of a PPC manager and opens up some advanced opportunities. For now, let’s look at the daily practice.

In your day to day work, looking separately at search partner queries and Google queries gives you a chance to better understand your traffic and your numbers. To illustrate this point, I have pulled some numbers from a search query report. Look at these queries:


All of those queries were relevant, had high impression counts, and came with matching ads. But there seems to be something very wrong with the second query – just 2.28% on an average position of 1.71? Is the ad for this query really so bad for that query? This would suggest that something needs to be done.

However, separated by network these numbers look a little different:


It becomes clear that the first three queries all have great click-through rates on Google, but low CTR’s on search partner sites – even though the average positions are virtually the same. In case of query #1 the impression counts for Google and search partners were similar, resulting in the average CTR somewhere in the middle.

Query #2 had much more search partner impressions, resulting in an average CTR much closer to the search partner CTR. Even though the query did great on Google, it’s average CTR indicated otherwise.

Query #3 had more impressions on Google, therefore the average is closer to the Google CTR.

In case of queries #4 and #5 the differences are moderate. I’ve included those to illustrate that there is no general pattern here: search partners don’t always come with lower CTR’s. They are lower on average, but not in each individual case.

Google CTR vs. Search Partners CTR

Comparing CTR’s for individual queries I found that on Google a double-digit CTR occurs significantly more often. On search partner sites CTR’s are rarely that high, but very low CTR’s aren’t uncommon. One reason for this is that ads on search partner sites usually aren’t as prominently displayed as the top ads on Google. This means that even a great ad often can’t get a high CTR. On some sites 2% might be as good as 20% on Google.

Many of us have a vague feeling of what CTR’s should be on Google. But when it comes to search partners, our intuition is useless. There are just too many different sites and you normally have no idea on which subset of those sites your query appeared. This makes the combined performance of search partner sites unpredictable.

The bottom line for your day to day optimization is to focus on the numbers from Google and base your decisions on them. I don’t say that you should always download a segmented report. But when in doubt, you should have this in your toolbox.