AdWords & (Not Provided) – The Day We’ve Dreaded is Here

Buckle up PPC pros – it is about to get seriously bumpy. Want to know how this latest gift from Google will affect your practice? Just ask an SEO pro.

Why do I say to ask an SEO pro? Because they’ve been dealing with being in Google’s crosshairs for years. Many SEO practitioners will tell you that Google has been on a deliberate path for quite a few years now to make SEO consultants obsolete and irrelevant. Others would argue that this was not Google’s intent, but rather an unfortunate side effect of their actions. Now, I’m not saying that SEO pros do not still have valuable work to do – they absolutely do. But it is certainly clear that Google has taken huge steps in the past few years to severely limit available tactics for legitimate, or white hat, search engine optimization.

Which brings me to the latest major change for AdWords advertisers and the PPC professionals who serve them – the announcement yesterday that Google will no longer be passing search query data for paid search into Analytics. Sure, they make it sound like it is no big deal – you’ll still have the Search Query Reports in AdWords and you can see search queries in Webmaster Tools too. Well, as someone who works in both SEO & PPC, let me tell you that these other tools do not hold a candle to Analytics. You can still see *some* information about *some* search queries, but that’s about it. What you definitely cannot do is slice and dice data at the search query level within Analytics.

For those who don’t dig that deeply into query data, this probably won’t really impact what you do or how you do it very much at all. You will still see search query information in AdWords and that might be enough for you. But if you are accustomed to diving deeply into the nuances of search queries, this news is very upsetting. I wrote in a post in September of 2013 when the (not provided) for organic search was announced that it was also a PPC problem. At that time, it was more of an indirect problem. Now it is absolutely a direct PPC problem.

Consider this example:

For a local plumbing company – is the term “water heater” or “hot water heater” more effective?

Technically, to call it a “hot water  heater” is redundant, but it is what a lot of people call that particular piece of equipment. These terms are essentially synonymous, so you would not likely have a separate landing page for each one. Plumbing terms are expensive in AdWords – it is a very competitive industry. In this case, we would look in Analytics and filter by search query to see how user behavior differed for “hot water heater” vs. “water heater” visitors and not  just look at AdWords click or conversion data.

To be clear, this isn’t about setting up your AdWords campaigns to capture searchers who search for both terms – it is about figuring out which terms are worth paying for, how much you’re willing to pay and adjusting your AdWords campaigns accordingly to capture that traffic.

If our understanding of what is happening is correct – that AdWords will no longer pass specific query data to Analytics in the same way they started handling organic search queries last fall – we will no longer be able to do this type of very granular analysis of user behavior by search query. We think this is a very big deal. Again, if you don’t delve very deeply into Analytics (and I’m not making any kind of judgement on whether or not you do) this will probably not have a huge impact on you. But, if like us, you regularly dive deeply into this kind of data, losing access to it is a very big deal.

What about you – do you think it is a big deal? How do you see it impacting your practices, if at all? We’d love to know your thoughts as this story evolves!

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