Not Just an SEO Problem – (Not Provided) Will Impact PPC

So, I guess I picked a bad time to be largely off of Twitter and buried in work last week! I’ve been catching up on the news and reaction from last week’s Google announcement that all search is now encrypted. Alas, the day SEOs have been dreading is finally here – (not provided) will now be the only organic keyword shown in Analytics. That we have reached this point it not all that surprising – I have written about it before myself.

There are lots of great articles and posts out there for SEOs about what this means, how to cope and what to tell your clients.  Those from the always insightful Rand Fishkin and iAcquire are worth a read. I’ve been reading and digesting all of them, but it occurs to me, as a practitioner of both SEO and PPC that there is something missing from the current discussions going on – the impact of 100% (not provided) on PPC.

I don’t know about other PPC practitioners or agencies, but we use keyword research A LOT when we are creating PPC strategy. That research has historically included reviewing the client’s own traffic data, as well as using third party tools to learn about the search behavior of the target audience and industry. Again, I don’t know about the rest of you – but we are certainly not experts in our clients’ industries. We are experts in ours and the power of our services really comes from the melding of the two – our strategy and implementation skills and the client’s intimate knowledge of their business. We have always viewed it as our job to find the best and most profitable terms for the client to focus on, both organically and in PPC. It just got a lot harder to deliver that with this development.

Keyword research tools are not what they once were either, as most don’t even show or have access to Google data any more (at least as of the last time we were doing research over the summer). Don’t even get me started on how off their data is or how vastly different the data is between tools! I know the recommendation we hear is to use the Bing data and just extrapolate it to Google-like numbers. I’m really not comfortable with that approach, as we have found over the years that user behavior in Bing is often not the same as user behavior in Google. Making macro decisions with micro data scares the hell out of me.

Couple this with the destruction of the Google Keyword Tool earlier this year and we don’t have much left in the way of empirical tools.

Think about it, how will you do keyword research now for PPC campaigns? Awfully convenient that the only way to really get Google data is to use their watered down Keyword Planner tool that does not so much provide useful data for thoughtful campaign creation, as it tries to do this work for you (to Google’s benefit no doubt). I’m not really a big “the sky is falling” kind of person. In fact, I am annoyingly practical and optimistic by nature. But this is going to take some serious work to get around.

Anyone who has been doing SEO or PPC for more than a few months should know that there can be huge differences in traffic, and therefore efficacy, in seemingly similar search terms. I can’t tell you how many times we have begun working with a new client and found, after our discovery process, that the terms they think are “their best” actually have very little or poor quality traffic. There is almost always at least some discrepancy between the client’s perception of “the right search terms” and the data regarding the actual right search terms.

I’ve also seen the suggestions that we will now need to start analyzing which pages bring traffic and use those metrics instead for SEO and by extension PPC. That is all well and good, but those figures only show part of the picture – things that are currently working for you. It in no way uncovers any potential search terms or areas for growth. Same goes for using the AdWords Search Query Report – great for showing similar terms and/or permutations or iterations of terms you’re already using, but all that not useful in finding new opportunities unless you start doing a  whole lot of broad match. And even then, I find the SQR most useful in finding negative terms to add to our campaigns. Will we be forced to rely on Google’s suggestions of new keywords to add? Our confidence in what terms are actually good for the client’s campaigns come from OUR research, not Google’s ideas!

Same goes for looking at the Webmaster Tools search term data…

In the end, things just got a lot more opaque for all of us who work to help clients get eyeballs on their sites which result in dollars in their pockets. Will we find a way through this, of course – what other option is there? Am I looking forward to having to figure out a whole new way of doing things – absolutely not.

What will you be doing differently? How do you think this latest gift from Google will impact PPC? What tools will you be using now? Am I totally missing something here? Love to hear your thoughts on the topic!


  1. Great article,

    It will make our even job more interesting since we will need to be consultants that interview our clients about their clients, define persona’s etc. to be able to draft good keywords. We will have to investigate the competition, go to blogs , read about their business, sign up to newsletters covering the subject that the client of the agency is touching. After that it will be an empirical path of trial and (hopefully) success.


  1. […] our previous posts. She discusses the problems associated with Google’s announcement that all organic search is now encrypted, and how it applies to PPC. She makes great points about the new Keyword Planner and how we’re going to have to adjust […]

  2. […] our previous posts. She discusses the problems associated with Google’s announcement that all organic search is now encrypted, and how it applies to PPC. She makes great points about the new Keyword Planner and how we’re going to have to adjust […]

  3. […] had already taken a hit with the new Keyword Planner – “not provided” was yet another blow to good search […]

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