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

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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

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