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News Flash: Paid Search Query Data Isn't Going Away (Duh)

Larry Kim
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Paid Search Terms Are Still Here

This week there have been all sorts of rumors and even official news reports in various search marketing publications claiming that search query data for paid search is dead, along the same lines as how organic search query data was eliminated last year.

Unfortunately, the reporting on this story to date has been rather heavy on speculation and ambiguity and light on hard facts. It's one of the most butchered stories on paid search that I've witnessed in recent memory. In my article today, I'll clarify everything I know about this issue – but before going into all the details, there are just two very simple, yet critical points that you need to know:

  • You Can Still See Your Paid Search Queries: One of the most common uses for search query data in AdWords is keyword expansion and negative keyword expansion via the search terms report in AdWords. Google ad execs told me clearly today: "No changes to search terms report."
  • Major Third-Party SEM Platform Providers Not Impacted: If you use an SEM platform like, Acquisio, WordStream, Marin Software, Kenshoo, Adobe (etc.), then you can still access your AdWords search term report as you've been doing in the past.

At this point you might be wondering, so what the heck is all the fuss about? It's a good question.

I emailed AdWords director of product management Paul Feng yesterday morning to see if he could shed some light on the reported "leaked Google document" that's been circulating the past few days. He then published a post on the Google Developer's blog to clear up the confusion. Let's analyze it in detail together.

Official Google Announcement

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 referer on ad clicks originating from SSL searches on Google.com.

Translation

Previously, when you clicked on a paid search ad, for example, a search for an "emergency locksmith service," the referring URL looked something like this:

Example Referring URL

Notice how the user's search query (the user's search that triggered the ad, highlighted in yellow) shows up in the referring URL – going forward, citing security reasons, this is pretty much all going away. But as I said earlier, the vast majority of you don't need to worry about this – it's not at all the same situation as how your organic search query data went away.

You can still get this data, just like you used to do. How?

Official Google Announcement

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.

Translation

This is pretty self-explanatory. You can just keep on using the detailed, useful information in search terms report as you were previously using. I seriously don't know how this could be any clearer.

Official Google Announcement

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. And the Search Queries report available in Google Webmaster Tools provides aggregate information about the top 2000 queries, each day that generated organic clicks.

Translation

Again, pretty self-explanatory. They're basically just explaining what a search term report is for people who haven't ever used it before.

Basically, the search term report is a super valuable tool to figure out what search queries triggered the ads that your users clicked on, so that you can analyze and optimize your paid search campaigns. This isn't a new report (despite reports to the contrary), nor is it changing!

Official Google Announcement

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

Translation

If for some reason you were using that referral URL, which used to contain the user's search query, there are still plenty of easy workarounds here. As mentioned earlier, you can just run a report in AdWords, or using a dynamic parameter called ValueTrack (which isn't a new feature) you can append your keyword data back into your destination URL in a non-encrypted way.

Official Google Announcement

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.

Translation

What Google has done here is that that they've made it so that only AdWords customers can access their own paid search data. They're citing security as the reason for doing this, which is definitely true but there are other benefits to Google for having made this change.

For example, third-party retargeting ad networks that leveraged paid search query data as a signal to determine what ads to show to what people will no longer have that information. Same with competing search engines, etc.

Key Takeaways

  • Pretty much all the early coverage of this issue to date has been inaccurate. Don't believe everything you read on the Internet. Instead, try asking for proof from a credible source.
  • Comparing what is happening here with paid search data to last year's keyword "(not provided)" debacle is totally inaccurate.
  • Specifically, while the actual referral URL will be changing, Google is still making that data accessible via the search terms report, which isn't even a new thing despite reports to the contrary. And if you still for whatever reason need search query data appended to your destination URLs, using ValueTrack parameters gets you very close.

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