Last week Google Announced that, as they have previously done with natural search, AdWords search query data would become ‘not provided’. The move was positioned as addressing user privacy, however it has left some advertisers cold, with many translating it to “search query reports will be no longer available”.
What is Search Query Data?
Search query data is available in AdWords and allows you to identify the exact search query typed by search engine users, and what keyword they have matched to in your campaign. The three main uses for this information are; expanding your keyword inventory, mining new negatives and monitoring inappropriate “cross-matching” of keywords.
An advertiser is bidding on the keyword ‘holidays’ on broad match in a Generic Holiday Terms campaign. A potential customer types the search query ‘holidays spain’ into Google and, broad matching to the advertisers keyword, Google displays the advertisers ad. Search query data would allow the advertiser to see not only what keyword generated the click, but also what the users original search query was.
Using this information the advertiser could :
Add the term ‘holidays spain’ to his account to capture the traffic more directly (and likely more cheaply too);
If they do not sell holidays in Spain, then add the term as a negative keyword to help improve Click Through Rate (CTR) and Quality Score (QS);
If they already have a Spanish Holidays campaign, then they can add the term as a negative to the Generic Holiday Terms campaign to make sure traffic is driven to the more relevant campaign, again increasing relevancy, improving CTR and QS.
As this very simple example demonstrates, search query data is one of the PPC Managers most powerful tools for account development and optimisation, so despite the specific details of the change having not yet been disclosed by Google, the announcement created a considerable amount of online buzz, with worldwide experts speculating on the future of search query data and the potential impact of “not provided” on paid search.
What is actually changing and who will feel impacted by this?
This change only impacts the referring URLs of paid search ads (i.e. the web address from which people click through to your site), which will no longer contain the search query (see example below). All indications are that the data will still be available to advertisers in the usual manner within the AdWords interface.
Example of referring URL of paid search ad:
The impact will be felt by any tool or system which relies upon picking out search query data from the referring URL string. For example, a log file analyser or analytics tool that analyses referring URL strings to extract search query data.
Furthermore, third-party retargeting ad networks that leveraged paid search query data (taken from the referral URL) as a signal to determine what ads to show to what people will no longer have that information along with competitive search engines.
It is also important to note that ValueTrack parameters will still be available. These parameters allow you to tag your AdWords URLs with useful bits of data such as keyword and match type, even advanced info such as mobile device type and ad position. The key difference here however, is that they do not track the user entered query, just the keyword your ad matched to.
Will PPC Management Software be affected?
Many of the PPC management software available, such as Acquisio, Kenshoo, WordStream and Marin Software, also utilise the the search query data provided by Google, often via the AdWords API. The data is used to provide a range of features, all based upon the three key optimisations outlined above.
However, it seems there is nothing to worry about here either. In his article on the WordStream blog (9th April 2014), founder & CTO Larry Kim states that contrary to rumor, third-party PPC management platforms will not be impacted. The AdWrods API (as well as the AdWords interface) through which these tools access search query data, “isn’t changing”, so there should be no impact.
Is it worth panicking about?
Not really. From what we can understand from the information available, advertisers will be largely unaffected and will continue to be able to access the search query data as they always have.
As Google mentioned in their announcement:
“Advertisers will continue to have access to useful data to optimise and improve their campaigns and landing pages. For example, you can access detailed information in the AdWords search terms report and the Google Webmaster Tools Search Queries report.” – Paul Feng, Product Management Director, AdWords
However, if you run a tool or system that utilises search query extraction from AdWords referral URLs, then you will need to take a closer look at the potential impact – it certainly might be worth a call to any tech providers who work with AdWords data to discuss the change.
There are some grey areas – Google Analytics
One still unanswered question is: what is going to happen to Google Analytics?
Google Analytics does use referral URLs to extract search queries from AdWords traffic, so this in theory should be affected. However it is unlikely that Google will impact upon its own tools, so expect a push to get you to link your AdWords accounts to Analytics (to be honest, this should be a default set up anyway), or to push an alternative solution or update.
There is a possibility that the advanced analysis features of Google Analytics, using advanced segments and cohort analysis, will be no longer available. This might then represent a limitation for those sophisticated advertisers who use GA to slice and dice data to make better business decisions, but until we get more specific details from Google on the change, this is just speculation.
Key take aways
Advertisers will continue to have access to search term data within the AdWords interface and can optimise their PPC accounts as usual.
Search Query data is only disappearing from the referral URL, where it will soon be encrypted.
Any tool which leveraged search query data extracted from the referral URL, be it for targeting purposes or analytics, will no longer function.
The Value Track parameter will allow advertisers to append the matched keyword (+ lots of other data) within the URL should they need to
There is uncertainty around whether Google Analytics will be impacted and to what extent… await further information from Google.
By Sergio Borzillo, Head of PPC at NetBooster UK
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Google AdWords Goes Not Provided: Referrer Data Gone For Paid Search Ads