Back in 2012, when Google switched to secure search for logged-in users on Google.com, the SEO landscape was changed forever. Instead of receiving a laundry list of exact keyword searches that resulted in visits to a website, SEOs began seeing an ever-increasing number of (not provided) search referral visits in their analytics platforms.
Paid search managers, on the other hand, could only sit back and smirk. While their SEO counterparts were struggling to put together some semblance of a monthly keyword report, PPC analysts continued to thrive with as much exact search query data as they could possibly handle.
This one-sided approach to secure search; however, has come with significant backlash. Many in the industry derided Google’s claim that they were holding back keyword data as a privacy matter, given that people using AdWords to run PPC still had total access to all of the keyword data. Instead, people felt this was a way for Google to force more ad dollars into paid search, in order to truly understand which keywords were driving site visits.
At SMX West last month, Google’s Amit Singhal addressed this seemingly self-serving stance that the company has taken over secure search in his keynote address. He noted that Google was aware of the concern, and would take steps, potentially soon, to find the “right solution” for secure search.
While many of us hoped that would mean loosening up on (not provided), instead, it looks like Google will likely be tightening the reins on the amount of paid keyword data that is passed to third-party tools.
What [Not Provided] Means to Paid Search Marketers
Honestly, no one is quite sure—yet. There is a good amount of speculation, though, which I am happy to put my own spin on. Here goes –
Will Google Analytics still receive paid keyword data? Probably not. It would be very easy for Google to remove the keyword string from the URL that users click on in search query results. Given the simplicity of this, it’s likely it will be the first step Google takes, possibly within the next few weeks.
Will AdWords get rid of the Search Query Report? For those unfamiliar, this is the tool within AdWords that allows you to view the exact search terms your ads are showing for. I don’t believe this will happen, at least in the near-term, but I would not rule it out completely. If Google did get rid of it, it would force broader keyword choices by advertisers, thereby potentially raising competition for less-specific terms (which would result in more ad dollars spent). However, this move would really upset advertisers, and I don’t think it’s something that would be taken lightly.
Will third-party tools be affected? If you’re using a third-party analytics tool, then yes, I believe you will lose the ability to see paid search keywords. However, with most third-party paid search management tools, such as Kenshoo or Marin, there won’t likely to be any major impact to management as these tools work off of keyword data, not search query data. However, just like the rest of us, if Google does block search query data entirely, this could have a dramatic impact on way search marketers bid on certain terms.