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Google Starts Blocking Access to Paid Search Keyword Data

jennifer-slegg
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Google Keyword Not ProvidedMany of us have been concerned about the possibility of Google expanding "(not provided)" to also encompass paid search. Until now, AdWords advertisers have gotten full access to keyword data, whether it's through Google itself or through one of the third-party tools using the API for this data.

When Google made the move to secure search, and effectively turned off the ability for webmasters to know exactly which keywords were driving organic traffic to their websites from Google, the next obvious question was when would this hit AdWords advertisers, and how Google would handle it.

That answer came today. In a blog post, Google 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.

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

Some felt it was double standard, where AdWords got to keep their keywords while organic did not. However, while the loss of this data would be felt – and has largely been expected – the change isn't as doomsday as some are making it out to be. The impact with the loss of organic keyword data was significantly greater.

Advertisers will continue to have access to keyword data within the Google AdWords dashboard – it isn't a case where advertisers would be flying blind without any data at all. Advertisers who don't use a third party management tool likely won't notice a difference, aside from potentially needing to utilize AdWords tags if they aren't already.

At SMX West last month, Amit Singhal from Google hinted in his keynote that we would be seeing some changes to paid versus organic when it came to "(not provided)", although he was light on details.

Over a period of time, Sridhar [Ramaswamy], the Head of Ads, my friend, and I we have been looking at this issue. And we're also hearing from our users that they would want their searches to be secure. A lot has happened in the world, as you all know. And keeping user's searches secure is really important to the users. We really like the way things have gone on the organic side of search, because we are hearing and responding to what our users want. We really like where we are at.

Sridhar and I are looking at our world, and finding the right solution for our users who want their searches secure and are advertisers, so I have nothing to announce right now, but in the coming weeks and months as Sridhar and I find the right solution, expect something to come out of us.

Discussion about this change began earlier this week when A.J. Ghergich published a blog post detailing that AdWords will no longer be supplying third parties with paid search query data.

Because of the way Google AdWords does their tracking, they can still easily remove the referral keyword string from the referring AdWords URL, to provide secure search in regards to preventing those keywords from showing up in the website logs. But Google still has all that data within the AdWords dashboard, and can provide that information to advertisers.

Regardless of how they provide the keyword data within the Google AdWords dashboard, we won't see a day where advertisers get no keywords whatsoever, because the price would drop down as advertisers lose confidence in the transparency of what they're bidding on and what they're getting traffic from.

Ghergich reported that an anonymous source provided him with the information regarding the change to paid search query data. The details from the memo include:

  • Google will cease supplying 3rd parties with paid search query data
  • Reports within AdWords will remain unaffected
  • This will also have an affect on website analytics packages but we've not yet heard about anything with Google Analytics
  • Services that use this query data may have no way to access it anymore

Could they turn off access within Google Analytics? It's hard to say because some third parties use Google Analytics data, if they are truly trying to tighten down on any of that data for privacy concerns.

There is the possibility that they could be changing the API where Google would charge for paid API access, under the guise of "keeping it secure", or simply tightening down the number of companies that have access to the data currently.

What other reasons could Google have besides privacy concerns, which was the reason for the organic "(not provided)" change? According to Ghergich, his source feels that "another possible motive for the change by Google is that less data leads to less accurate AdWords decisions which increases ad spend."

Prior to Google making the change official, Search Engine Watch reached out to several companies who are currently using this paid search query data from Google AdWords, to get their take, and their thoughts if Google was to make a change to their current third party access to paid search query data.

Marc Poirier, Acquisio co-founder & EVP, business development told us:

This information is critical for search marketers, it helps them see how search queries map to keywords and to make the necessary adjustments such as adding negatives or exact match keywords to help continuously improve performance. Taking this away will seriously impede the discovery process and will promote the massive proliferation of exact match keywords and the accelerated death of broad match and even phrase match keywords. In other words, if this is true, it will likely have a dramatic impact on the number of keywords needed to find success in paid search.

Jon Henshaw, Raven Tools co-founder, told us:

We keep a close watch on the AdWords API to make sure that Raven complies with its terms of service, which Google takes very seriously.

We have not heard from Google about changes to their AdWords API related to search query data. But I really can't speculate or speak for any other third party provider about this.

In our case, online marketing agencies use Raven to manage AdWords campaigns and report campaign performance to their clients. The AdWords data that our customers value most in Raven is related to that, not whatever paid search query data that they may use for research. If this specific rumor turns out to be true, any impact on Raven's customers would be minimal.

All that said, our software evolves as the industry does.

Matt Ackley, Marin Software CMO, also told Search Engine Watch that they won't be greatly affected by the change.

We are aware of the reports circulating that Google may cease to provide search query data to third parties. The bulk of Marin Software's services involve keyword data. While search query data is related to keyword data the two are distinct. As such, bidding, reporting, tracking, and campaign management - the features and capabilities that set Marin Software apart as a powerful digital marketing platform - would be unaffected should Google no longer provide search query data to its paid search API partners.

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