Mine Microsoft Syndicated Search Partners to Find Diamonds in the Rough

If you are looking to increase your volume on Microsoft Advertising, Syndicated Search Partners (SSPs) can be an important way. Whether those partners are profitable for you is something worth testing (especially if you were someone who has been managing Microsoft Advertising for a long time and remembers how poorly SSPs used to perform).

Let’s talk about how you advertise on them, where to see how they perform, and ways to optimize them. Plus, we’ll discuss a few tips and how they are a surprising gem of a partner.

First, what are Syndicated Search Partners? 

Syndicated Search Partners are sites that partner with Microsoft to use Bing, AOL, and Yahoo search results. You can also show on directory or category search sites, domain and error page sites, arbitrage pages, suggested search results, mobile apps, email, and other sites. Examples include eshopdaily.com, definition.org, ecosia.org, moneywise.com, listings.local.com, duckduckgo.com (more on them later), and thousands and thousands of other news, information, and shopping sites.

How Do You Show on the SSP?

SSPs are part of Microsoft’s Search campaigns and do not require any setup, as SSPs are automatically opted in when you create Search campaigns. You can opt-out of SSPs on the ad group level by going to Ad Group settings, scrolling down to Ad distribution, and selecting Bing, AOL, and Yahoo search (owned and operated) only.

But wait – before you opt-out of SSPs altogether, I highly recommend you check performance.

How Do You Check Performance of SSPs?

There are two ways:

  1. Segments on the Campaign tab: Segments are a quick way that aggregates all performance by the campaign. Tap the Segment button, and then pick Network from the drop-down list. 
  1. Run a Dimensions report (and note to Microsoft – I really miss the Dimensions tab that was on the prior UI version – it was so much more actionable than running a report!). To run the report, make sure you’re in the specific campaign you want to run a Dimensions report on, and then go to the Reports tab in the top navigation. Then, go to Dimensions > Basic > Publisher Websites. (If you aren’t in the specific campaign, the report will show all campaigns).

You’ll get a report like this that allows you to see those placements that are performing well and which aren’t and can be excluded. This is an aggregate list that combines data across all ad groups for the campaign. If I see certain placements aren’t performing well (or that are), I might add the column Ad Group so that I can see the segmented performance. 

How Do I Exclude Placements That Aren’t Performing?

To start with, our agency has cultivated a list of about 250 placements that we’ve found don’t perform well, and we exclude them from the very beginning.

You can exclude placements on the ad group level, campaign level, or account level (via the manager account). Important to note: Ad group-level exclusions will override campaign-level website exclusions, while account-level exclusions are in addition to the campaign or ad group level.

Account-level exclusions can be shared to multiple accounts without limit, but you can have a maximum of three exclusion lists per manager account. Within each list, you can have a maximum of 10,000 URLs, but you can’t add more than 5,000 at a time. To create account-level lists:

  1. Go to Tools > Website exclusion lists.
  2. Click the Create website exclusions list button.
  3. Name your list.
  4. Enter the URLs of the websites you want to exclude.
  5. Associate the list to an account or accounts by:
    1. Select the list’s name, pick Accounts sharing this list, and then Add accounts.
    2. Click the checkbox next to the list or lists and select Add to accounts.
  6. Then select the account or accounts,
  7. And hit Save.

If you want to exclude placements on the campaign level, select the campaign you want to exclude, and then go to Settings. Scroll down to Websites, and add the exclusions there. Then, scroll down to the bottom, and hit Save.

Maybe certain placements aren’t performing for a specific ad group but are good for others. You can exclude the placements on the ad group level following the Campaign-level instructions. But remember, you need to also add the Campaign-level exclusions. Otherwise, they won’t apply.

One more note about adding exclusions – if you see multiple placements for the same domain but with different subdomains, like:

  • info.example.com
  • tips.example.com
  • weather.example.com

Adding example.com (without the www.) will stop all traffic from that placement, regardless of the subdomain. 

A Diamond in the Rough

Not all placements are created equal, and they don’t always perform the same across accounts. WebMD.com and other health-related sites perform great for our client that sells women’s orthopedic shoes. But they don’t perform well for our client who sells work gloves. Which all makes sense – the point is testing to see what works well for each account.

With that said, one placement that performs well for almost all clients is DuckDuckGo. But without the ability to bid separately for placements versus results on Bing, Yahoo, and AOL, sometimes DuckDuckGo isn’t profitable.

To deal with this, we’ve duplicated campaigns where we want to make sure to show on DuckDuckGo and reduce the ad groups down to the best performers. Then, we grab all the placements showing for the existing campaign and add all but DuckDuckGo as an exclusion, and change the targeting to Bing, AOL, and Yahoo syndicated partners only, under Ad Distribution for each remaining ad group.

You could also use this same setup, but instead of excluding all those other sites from the new campaign, let them show there and turn off the SSP placements in the original campaign. This option would let you bid lower, as well as control the budget spent on the Syndicated Search Partners.

Whichever way you run SSPs – in the existing Search campaigns or in their own campaigns – it’s very important to monitor your campaigns. We’ve seen instances where one placement will just take off for some unknown reason for one specific keyword. Looking at the placements is one of the first things we do if we see a campaign isn’t performing as well. But the results of SSPs make it worthwhile to try them. 

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