Mystery Solved: “false” in AdWords Search Queries

For about two months people have been seeing strange queries in their AdWords search terms. These queries look like regular queries except that there’s the word “false” included – at the beginning, at the end or somewhere in between. Segmenting search queries by network quickly revealed search partners as the source.

I did some digging and compared search terms and referrer logs to find out where exactly these terms where coming from – it’s eBay. It’s not the first time they’ve been doing things like that: They’ve been including the word “enabled” in search queries for a long time.

Naturally, I wanted to find out what false meant. The word “true” also appears in search queries, although it’s much rarer. Looking at the referring pages from false and true queries I noticed that many of them included the URL parameter “_nkw”, which carries the term someone searched on eBay. It looked like true or false could refer to whether a search had returned any items on eBay. However, this was a dead end.

I also looked at some of our pure eBay campaigns. Those campaigns only cover eBay category pages relevant to our clients (as described here) and true or false appear in roughly 25 % of reported search queries. In these cases, the terms usually appear more than once, mostly three times. Those search queries look like this:

false false original category query false

From those multiple occurences I concluded that there is no single meaning behind true and false. Apparently there are several things here that can be true or false.

I also looked at the numbers for queries containing true and false. It appears that traffic from those queries actually converts OK and generates an average ROI (better than average in some, worse in other accounts). Compared to the traffic we get from eBay category pages, traffic with true or false produced much better results.

By the Way…

Aside from true and false I also found some other search query artifacts that I hadn’t seen before:

  • lh_sitewidecondition_new
  • lh_sitewidecondition_used
  • lh_sellertype_private (extremely rare)

Those, too, appear in some queries. Although these terms are very rare, the meaning of lh_sitewidecondition_new and lh_sitewidecondition_used on eBay seems obvious to me: Someone has limited a search to new or used products.

Conclusion

The inclusion of parameters like true and false is probably a bug and makes for some strange looking queries. As advertisers we can turn this to our advantage and handle at least some of eBay’s traffic separately.

One way to deal with this is to use these terms as negative keywords and be done with it. If you know for a fact that eBay traffic is worthless for your business, this is a good idea (you might also want to exclude “enabled”).

However, for many advertisers this is still valuable traffic, especially for retailers. So as usual, check your own data and see how queries with true and false have worked out so far. Aside from that, you probably want to exclude the term lh_sitewidecondition_used.

About Martin Roettgerding
Martin Roettgerding is the head of SEM at SEO/SEM agency Bloofusion Germany. On Twitter he goes by the name @bloomarty, and you can find him regularly on #ppcchat.