Adwords ‘Not Provided’: Why and What it means for you

Through a series of terrifying-sounding headlines and people shouting that the [paid search] world is about to end, most of us have heard that Google will be removing keyword data for paid search as of now. But  if we stop for a second and think about the implications before going into blind-panic mode it becomes fairly obvious that whilst this will be somewhat irritating, the sky is not about to fall around our ears and we won’t be losing the data on the effectiveness of paid campaigns.

It makes no sense for Google to completely remove this data – no one would advertise without knowing the results – all they are doing is removing the data from Google Analytics (and other third party analytical software) that lets marketers know the exact search term that was used, addressing the calls of hypocrisy after the data was removed for all but those doing paid advertising last year.

The Back Story

Now we’ve stopped panicking, here’s the back story:

Back in 2011 Google announced to the world that it was moving to a more secure search landscape, and that others – such as browser giant Mozilla – were following suit. What this meant in real terms was that where once there was once data from natural (organic) search to tell marketers which exact search terms had brought people to their website there would no longer be full search terms; instead it was replaced by ‘(not provided)’.

Google’s drive behind this was to make a safer, more secure search experience – removing information which could potentially identify an individual (by searching for names, addresses, etc.). Originally it was only going to cover a small portion of those who were logged in, but in the last 18 months the percentage of organic traffic coming in as ‘(not provided)’ has steadily increased – soon to hit 100%. Whilst this was annoying it was not the end of the world. There is still data in search volumes (through Adwords), themes and popular keywords data in Webmaster Tools, and the keywords from paid advertising coming through. It also lead to many calls of hypocrisy, with people in the industry pointing out that the main data now available was being provided only to those who paid for it.

In March Google’s search chief, Amit Singhal, acknowledged that they could see the contradiction and would address it. A month later (i.e. the end of last week), there were rumours beginning to circulate and being (unofficially) confirmed by Google that a change was about to take place that would see the data for advertisers being removed too. Cue some panic and question about exactly what would happen.

And Now…

This leads us to this week’s announcement on the official Ads Developer Blog from Google’s Paul Fend – product management director, AdWords – which said the following:

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

The rumours and now this statement (which it should be noted was specifically said for Google.com, not any other countries or languages – although it can be assumed they will follow very soon) have sent many into a flurry, but the point is this: it only effects Google Analytics (and third party software) – the data in AdWords and Webmaster Tools is remaining exactly the same.

Since ‘natural’ search keywords went off the radar there have been changes in how most marketers operate, but the core ideas have remained the same. This is what – broadly speaking – will happen here. There will likely be changes to how reporting is carried out, but so long as AdWords accounts have conversion tracking in place the necessary data will still be available – it will just be in AdWords (as it has been for a long time) not both AdWords and Analytics. The biggest change will be in how the value of Adwords advertising is analysed; not in the data used.

So really whilst this sounds like a large-scale upheaval of the status quo, the reality of the situation is that Google is simply addressing the imbalance caused by the removal of natural search keyword data – they’re not blinding advertisers or removing the ability to assess the value of keywords or campaigns.

In short, it’s quite annoying, but realistically the big changes will be on the advertiser’s end (in how analysis and reporting is managed), not that the data is being taken away.

Ambergreen provide a range of paid search and digital advertising for many of our clients – more information about our services can be found here.

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