Google Ads To Limit Search Terms Report: A New Blindspot Emerges

September 10, 2020
Posted in Paid Search
September 10, 2020 Jen Lopez

Google Ads To Limit Search Terms Report: A New Blindspot Emerges

Earlier this month, Google informed advertisers that there will be a big change to the Search Terms Report (previously called the Search Query Report) in Google Ads. While there are lots of angered advertisers and PPC marketers, there is little information from Google on exactly what the impact will be, but the change is as follows, taken directly from the new alert in Google Ads:

“We are updating the search terms report to only include terms that were searched by a significant number of users. As a result, you may see fewer terms in your report going forward.”

A Google spokesperson followed up the alert with this: “In order to maintain our standards of privacy and strengthen our protections around user data, we have made changes to our Search Terms Report to only include terms that a significant number of users searched for. We’re continuing to invest in new and efficient ways to share insights that enable advertisers to make critical business decisions.”

So, the big question here, and what the PPC community is up in arms about (seriously, go check Twitter) is that Google has failed to explain what “significant” means. Does significance vary by advertiser or the size/spend of the Google Ads account? With this change, we are losing a very important piece of visibility from our paid clicks, and we don’t know how many times a search term must be triggered for advertisers to see it in their Search Terms report and take the appropriate actions.

To better understand how we use Search Term Reports – right now, it’s a common management practice to review these reports often to add and negate actual search queries to your keyword portfolio in Google Ads. Negating search terms that have spent money without converting, or that aren’t the best fit, keeps our accounts running efficiently and at a great cost-per. Additionally, adding in new keywords that convert or show promise, helps us scale our accounts, continuing to effectively expand our digital footprint for our clients.

Since we pay for every single click in Google Ads, we believe we have a right to know exactly how that money is being spent, and to see the true search queries a user is typing in that triggers our keywords and serving ads for. Since there are multiple match types, and they all perform differently, seeing this data helps us make better decisions, and helps us save our clients’ money by spotting any anomalies quickly to negate before there is wasted spend.

An additional layer that makes this “unfair” to advertisers, is that Exact match keywords – which previously have just triggered on a search query that matched EXACTLY, now includes “close variants”. Personally, we have managed client accounts where the close variant served was not the intended meaning of our exact match keyword, and we determined this by reviewing the Search Terms Report. Now though, that data may not be there for us to see.

If you’ve been in the digital space for a while, you’ll note that Google limits query data in Search Console in order to “protect user privacy” and not show on some sensitive queries. The difference here though is that our Google Ads clicks are paid for –  and there are tons of “low volume” queries that pose no privacy risk or could be deemed “sensitive queries” – they simply might just not be a fit for our clients. And, as many have said on Twitter, “Advertisers don’t know what they can’t see” and the loss of this data could have pretty big financial implications for businesses advertising on Google Ads.

What to do Next?

If you are a Paid Search marketer and wondering what the best next steps are, here is what we recommend:

  • Download a search term report from a significant time frame – as long as you can go back while still keeping the report manageable.
  • Go ahead and add any relevant negatives and keyword additions to your account.
  • Instead of adding exact match negatives for specific queries, think in terms of “themes” and consider how you can add phrase or broad match negatives related to the “theme” of the search term to capture and block out any potential volume.
  • Alert your clients to the change and explain what it means if they often take interest in better understanding paid search and how Google Ads works.
  • Continue checking in on your Search Terms Reports to see if you notice a decrease in search terms shown. If you start to see a threshold emerge, like “1 click, 200 impressions, for $5 CPC” or something similar, feel free to comment with it below. We are extremely interested to learn what “significance” means here – if it is volume or money related.

Do you have any thoughts on the Search Terms Report update? Fair or unfair? Will it hurt businesses or end up not truly effecting them long term? We’d love to get your take.