Google Removes Query Data for Paid Ads

Google SSL


Over the past couple of years, Google has taken steps to remove search query data from being passed along to advertisers and site owners, starting in 2011 with the news that organic search query data would be encrypted for Google signed-in users. This is when advertisers began to see “term not provided” in their analytics platforms instead of queries. Late last year, they also announced that all searches would be SSL, or encrypted, searches. Finally, on April 9, Google announced that it will also remove the query for clicks on paid ads.

From the Google Ads Developer blog:

“We’ve long worked to keep your searches on Google secure. We provided SSL encryption for signed-in searches in 2011 and have rolled that out to searches from the omnibox in the Chrome browser. 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.”

How This Announcement Impacts Advertisers

Removing the referrer query data from ad clicks means simply that analytics and campaign management platforms will no longer have access to raw query data, and will be unable to tie conversions back to these queries. To be clear, this does not impact keyword-level reporting, which will be retained in both AdWords as well as third-party platforms — it is the query that generated the ad click that is now not being shared by Google. Advertisers that had previously taken advantage of keyword expansion tools based on query conversion data in third party platforms, for example, will lose that functionality.

However, advertisers will still be able to see those queries in two ways: through the AdWords Search Terms report and the Search Queries report in Google’s Webmaster Tools. For those that were using AdWords conversion tracking previously, this move will have little effect, as queries are still viewable in the Search Terms report along with conversions. Knowing that, Google has undoubtedly further incentivized advertisers to add Google conversion tracking to their sites.

Google also acknowledged that query data powers various API and customizable landing page solutions, and offered the following tips:

“If you use the query in the referrer for reporting, automated keyword generation or landing page customization, then we suggest using the following alternatives:

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. For customizing landing pages, we suggest using the keyword that generated the ad click, rather than the query. The keyword and match type can be passed to your web server by using a ValueTrack parameter in your destination URLs.”

Resolution Media POV:

As marketers who rely on (anonymous) query intelligence to create impactful marketing campaigns, this change does give us less insight on query-level performance. While the impact of this particular change should not be overstated — and it certainly will not have the same impact as it did on organic search data — it is worth noting that the trend of limiting exposure to query intelligence does make it more difficult to create highly-optimized search campaigns.

We see query data — whether in an advertiser’s program or as found in tools such as Trends — as being extremely powerful and it provides great insight into interest and demand trends that extend beyond just search.

Keyword-level reporting and insights will still be fully available, which in conjunction with query data in AdWords, does leave us with a still-powerful set of tools to manage search campaigns.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Google will now be removing search query data from referrer URLs, meaning that third-party platforms will no longer have access to this information. Keyword-level reporting, however, will be retained.
  2. Search query data will still be available only within Google properties – AdWords and Webmaster Tools.
  3. Only advertisers using Google conversion tracking will retain access to query-to-conversion data.

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