(not provided) for Advertisers™ Beta

Michael Wiegand

If you’re a paid search professional and you’ve been within a stone’s throw of a computer in the last 48 hours, you’ve probably heard: they’re coming for your search query data.

Search Engine Land broke the story, Google themselves confirmed it:

“Today, we are extending our efforts to keep search secure by removing the query from the referrer on ad clicks originating from SSL searches on Google.com.”

Queries, Not Keywords

Marin Software’s CMO Matt Ackley — on the heels of the report — quickly made the distinction between search query data and keyword data noting:

“Keyword data and search query data are not the same thing. If Google stops passing the full set of referrer data on paid search clicks, this will impact search queries, not keywords. Platforms that rely on Keyword IDs, as Marin does, would not have their bidding capabilities disrupted.”

Google’s statement corroborated that, mentioning:

“For generating reports or automating keyword management with query data, we suggest using the AdWords API Search Query Performance report or the AdWords Scripts Report service.”

So if it’ll still be available via API — and we “will continue to have access to … the AdWords search terms report and the Google Webmaster Tools Search Queries report” — what’s the problem?

Google Analytics Implications

Well, for one, we’ve probably seen the last of the Matched Search Query dimension in Google Analytics. If they’re indeed removing the query from the referrer, that’ll mean it won’t come across to GA as a part of AdWords auto-tagging.

Matched Search Query can be applied to numerous insightful GA reports, including GA’s powerful Multi-Channel Funnels suite — the only place where you can discover how a given paid query impacts performance of non-paid channels:

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Tumbling CPCs

Google’s party line on this has been to bill it as “security enhancements for search users.”

But if they really cared about user security, this would’ve happened a lot sooner.

What’s actually going on then?

I’m convinced it is part of a broader effort by Google to shore up falling CPCs. They’ve been chipping away at this over the past few years.

In their most recent earnings report, they spelled it out for their shareholders:

“Average cost-per-click, which includes clicks related to ads served on Google sites and the sites of our Network members, decreased approximately 11% over the fourth quarter of 2012 and decreased approximately 2% over the third quarter of 2013.”

So they’re stopping the bleeding. How?

Look closely at what they’ve done of late:

  • Introducing Enhanced Campaigns — Taking away Tablet bid granularity. They’re getting those clicks at Desktop rates now.
  • Putting Emphasis on PLAs — Feed-driven performance without a clear 1:1 relationship between products and non-branded queries. Susceptible to repeated comparison-shopping clicks.

In both cases, Google has taken control and insight away from the advertiser, while bolstering click cost and volume through attractive (and unavoidable) ad products for consumers.

A (not provided) Tomorrow

How is the query data related to Enhanced Campaigns and PLAs? Well, it’s not — on the surface.

But query data in Google Analytics makes for much more intelligent advertisers. A query that does well in terms of CTR in AdWords might not do well in terms of engagement and sales on your site. Informed advertisers build negative keyword lists through this, which kills volume for Google, raises Quality Scores, and in turn, lowers CPCs for advertisers.

I think they’re testing the waters with how much information they can take away from advertisers without it negatively affecting our willingness to spend. Don’t be surprised if the query information is just phase one in Google obfuscating keyword information in the referrer.

The advertiser in me hopes I’m wrong, the conspiracy theorist in me fears I’m right.

Ultimately, Google answers to two people above all: searchers and shareholders. Advertisers will always come in a distant third.

Michael Wiegand
Director of Analytics

In nearly two decades as a marketer, Michael's experience has run the gamut from design, development, direct mail, multivariate testing, print and search. He now heads Portent's analytics practice, overseeing everything from Google Tag Management, to CRM integration for closed-loop analytics, to solving ponderous digital marketing questions. Outside of work, he enjoys recording music, playing D&D, and supporting Seattle Sounders FC.

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  1. I don’t think you’re too far off base. I totally see this as a possible scenario. Google has started pushing us to stop thinking about the query and more about the general theme of the search. This is definitely the first step in forcing us to think that way.
    And if you look back at when this hit organic data Google assured us (not provided) wasn’t going to take over the results. We all know what happened there…

    1. Great point, Mike.
      In the coming (not provided) world, you’ll just need to have better ads and products to win. And for any marketer worth their salt, that’s for the best!

  2. “security enhancements for search users”… didn’t Google lay this quote down on all of us back when (not provided) hit the organic search too? I do agree with some people when they respond with “Why do 3rd party (paid) tools still have access to the data then” or yourself when you mention “But if they really cared about user security, this would’ve happened a lot sooner”.
    Anyways..great article! 🙂

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