Is Google’s Paid Search Query Removal Worth Panicking About?

By: Chris Crum - April 9, 2014

Google announced that it is extending its secure search efforts to paid search, and that it will remove queries from referers on ad clicks originating from SSL searches on Google.com. In other words, the reason you’ve been seeing keywords “not provided” in Google Analytics now applies to Google ads.

What do you think of Google’s decision to extend this to paid search? Let us know in the comments.

A previous report had indicated that Google would eliminate data for third-parties, but as Larry Kim of Wordstream points out, paid seach query data “is not dead.”

“Stop panicking,” he writes. “Google has been cracking down on who can access search query data for several years now in a few ways – enforcing terms of service on how the data may be used, and limiting access to a smaller number of third-party vendors who implement a required minimum functionality (RMF). Basically, in order to have access to the query data, you need to be a legit software company that has built a functioning AdWords management platform. If you were an SEO agency that used to have an AdWords API token, it’s probably been shut down over the last few years, and if it hasn’t already been shut down, it won’t last long. If Google was going to stop providing this data to all 3rd parties, then that would be new/surprising.”

“Legit third-party AdWords management platforms (like WordStream, Marin, etc.) will continue to function as normal,” he adds. “Also, if you just use AdWords and no third-party platform, nothing has changed there either. Let’s not overstate the impact of this announcement.”

So what did Google actually announce?

“Advertisers will continue to have access to useful data to optimize and improve their campaigns and landing pages,” writes AdWords product management director Paul Feng. “For example, you can access detailed information in the AdWords search terms report and the Google Webmaster Tools Search Queries report.”

“The AdWords search terms report (previously known as the search query performance report) lets you see search queries that generated ad clicks along with key performance data,” he adds. “And the Search Queries report available in Google Webmaster Tools provides aggregate information about the top 2000 queries, each day, that generated organic clicks.”

For those using the query in the referer for generating reports or automated keyword management, Google now suggests using the AdWords API Search Query Performance Report or the AdWords Scripts Report Service.

For those using the query in the referer for customizing landing pages, Google is suggesting using the keyword that generated the ad click rather than the query. The Keyword and match type, it notes, can be passed to your web server by using a ValueTrack parameter in your destination URLs.

“We understand that some partners may need to make changes to their systems and operations, but we think that this is the right path forward for the security of our users searching on Google.com,” says Feng.

It’s interesting that it has taken this long for Google to determine that this was the right path considering that Google started doing this with organic search like three years ago. Back in 2011, when Google rolled out secure search as the default for signed-in users, product manager Evelyn Kao wrote:

What does this mean for sites that receive clicks from Google search results? When you search from https://www.google.com, websites you visit from our organic search listings will still know that you came from Google, but won’t receive information about each individual query. They can also receive an aggregated list of the top 1,000 search queries that drove traffic to their site for each of the past 30 days through Google Webmaster Tools. This information helps webmasters keep more accurate statistics about their user traffic. If you choose to click on an ad appearing on our search results page, your browser will continue to send the relevant query over the network to enable advertisers to measure the effectiveness of their campaigns and to improve the ads and offers they present to you.

The company has often been criticized for an apparent double standard when it comes to secure search. It has always maintained that the changes were made to protect the privacy of users, but when people were paying for that information, well, that was different.

Google actually hinted that such a change was on the horizon last month when Amit Singhal spoke at the Search Marketing Expo:

He didn’t really help us to understand why Google has changed its mind, but he did acknowledge that the search ands ads teams had been talking to one another about the subject.

Back in the fall, we looked at data from NotProvidedCount.com, which saw the rise of “not provided” queries for sixty sites at about 74%, on a steady increase:

It’s risen even further since then. As of the time of this writing, it’s at over 80%.

As far as paid search goes, it sounds like marketers, for the most part, aren’t panicking too much.

“This impacts mostly those who don’t use those tools [those suggested by Google above] or who relied on basic Google Analytics and/or old fashion technology,” writes Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Roundtable.

“It just means that people will have to start doing what they should have been doing all along,” writes Ryan Jones in a comment on a Search Engine Land post.

Do you agree? Is Google making the right move by removing queries from referers on ad clicks? Let us know in the comments.

Note: This article has been updated in light of further discussion.

Image via NotProvidedCount.com

About the Author

Chris CrumChris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.

View all posts by Chris Crum
  • Billy Bob

    OK everyone we can cry the blues all day long and no one really cares. What needs to happen is an organized petition addressed to congress with a class action suit against Google for their monopolizing and manipulating practices that are having a negative effect on all small business and our economy. Does anyone know anyone or how to kick off or execute such a task?

    • http://www.couchespouradultes.fr/ Patricia

      I’m with you on that one !

  • http://www.hadeninteractive.com Rebecca Haden

    Google Analytics is a free tool (just one of the many free tools Google provides) and they don’t owe us anything. Now, those of who use Google’s tools provide them with lots of data in exchange for using their tools, so it’s probably natural for us to feel frustrated when the terms change. However, we always have the option of switching to other services — and usually paying for them — if we don’t like the changes.

    • http://www.bloketoys.co.uk/ BlokeToys.co.uk

      Claiming this is all fair in a free market is like defending the actions of the banks who dragged us all into a global economic crisis.

      The fact that anyone still defends this kind of dangerous corporate monopoly shows that many have learned nothing at all from the economic collapse, which was directly caused by the control, manipulation, greed and irresponsible actions of the some of most powerful banking organizations in the US.

      No company on Earth should be able to control as much of a market as Google does, and the naive belief that they’re going to be responsible with that dominance and power – when all evidence shows otherwise – is just asking for trouble.

      • Neel Gupta

        I would say, no company on Earth should have the kind of power that Microsoft has – controlling 80-90% of the OS market.

    • xxx

      but they use all g-analytics data for their anti-privacy and spyware activity.

  • http://www.bloketoys.co.uk/ BlokeToys.co.uk

    There definitely needs to be anti-competitive and anti-monopoly legislation forced on Google. It is already far beyond ridiculous that Google can manipulate and control the businesses of millions of people, affecting the incomes of billions with the flick of a switch.

    No company on Earth should have the power that Google has. Regardless of whether you like Google or not, this is simply not acceptable.

    • Neel Gupta

      LOL!
      you seem to hate Google!

      I would say, no company on Earth should have the kind of power that Microsoft has.

  • zzz

    everything google doing – only to increase their revenue. I think world without google can be better.

  • SJ331

    If one thinks that Google is a monopoly, they might be spending too much time on Google. They are not the exclusive provider of search engine indexing on the internet. If people really want to make a statement about their frustration, they just need to start using Yahoo or Bing.

    The only way a business as profitable as Google will change a business model is if they lose significant market share to a competitor that is using a different business model.

    As far as Washington? They are already moving to nationalize search engine and internet behaviors, and that will make Google’s manipulations look like a walk in the park.

  • http://www.admain.co.uk AdMain

    I reckon within a year everyone will be able to re-access this data, on one of Google’s “New Products” at a monthly subscription of just 49.99. GoogleKeywordDeconstructionTool anybody?

    • Mike

      Google will be monetizing this in my opinion as currently not an income stream! Probably paid & free versions will apply, must be getting close to announcing in next few months.

  • http://www.zelst.co.uk/ Zelst OM

    The loss of the paid search keyword data in itself is not too much of a problem because the data will still be in adwords, the issue is whether Google will still import analytics data into adwords, e.g. bounce rate, time on site, pages per view, as this is really important. Do we know if this will still be the case?

  • Manny

    Yeah back in the old days that webmasters should be like a fortune tellers. That we should guess what search queries people are typing in the search engines.

  • Sleepless SF

    Google doesn’t want people to have a 3rd party view of how their traffic is performing, that’s why they are doing it. It is not privacy, it is business.We paid Google for the traffic, and only google can tell us how the traffic is performing. This seem like an unfair practice to me.