The End Of The Search Terms Report?

Google will no longer show low-click search terms to marketers.

Google Ads made a big change this month regarding its search terms report.

In an updated post on the company's support page, Google said "we are updating the search terms report to only include terms that were searched by a significant number of users. As a result, you may see fewer terms in your report going forward."

Many PPC marketers are now concerned that the Search Terms Report may be rendered useless.

Queries with just one click on them can account for over 30% of campaign costs. Without these low-click queries available in the search terms report, advertisers will no longer be able to add in these queries as negative keywords to their ad groups if they are not converting.

Google's explanation

Google has framed the change as a way to strengthen the privacy standards of its search product and protect user data.

But many marketers took to Twitter to point out why it was unclear the change can protect user data.

What is more likely is the change is part of Google's overall trend to automate its advertising product while wresting control away from the marketer and access to the data the automation is built on.

What is the search terms report?

The search report shows marketers what queries were used by searchers when they clicked on your ads.

In particular, marketers use the search terms report to:

  • Identify new search terms to add to keyword lists
  • Build negative keyword lists
  • Identify the best match types for particular keywords

Depending on the match types a marketer uses (broad, BMM, Phrase or Exact), the keywords a marketer bids on and the search terms an ad is shown for can differ substantially.

For example, if you have a modified broad match keyword like "retro vintage bikes", the search terms report may show related user queries like:

  • "retro bikes that are vintage"
  • "cheap retro bikes"
  • "retro and vintage bikes"

Traditionally, the search terms report is what marketers have used to find out which terms to eventually put into a SKAG (a keyword with its own ad group), and which search terms to add as negative keywords.

But with the change, Google will no longer show search terms that got one click, complicating the way marketers can use the search terms report to add negative keywords.

Google is now hiding search terms

Following this update, Google will only be showing search terms that received a significant number of clicks in the search terms report.

While Google has always hidden some search queries, such as queries that could be used to reveal private information or anything illegal, following the change there will be many more search terms that will be hidden from the marketer.

SearchEngineLand gave a good example of just how detrimental this could be for marketers:

"This morning, I negated a word that cost a campaign more than $3 for the one click it received in a brand campaign last week. I didn’t add the whole query, just one irrelevant word that triggered a brand keyword. Going forward, I might not ever see that type word or know if it showed up across multiple low-volume queries."

When you multiply this amount by hundreds of thousands of one-click search terms per campaign, you leave a lot of adspend on the table that will no longer be accounted for.

Marketers have already taken to twitter to complain. Take the following for example:

The digital agency Seer reported that Google Ads now hides search terms for 28% of their paid search budget and 20.4% of search term visibility for PPC clicks.

Put another way, for every $100,000 you spend on Google search, Google will only show you search term data for $71,000. And for every 100,000 clicks you get, Google will show you search data for just 77,900 clicks.

Why is Google limiting search term data?

There are a number of reasons why Google could be limiting search term data.

The first reason could be a response to COVID-19 and advertising scaling back spending because of the pandemic. In Q2 2020 Google reported $21.3 billion in revenue from Search, down 10% year-over-year. Total revenues were down 8%, the first time Google ever saw revenue decline in one year.

The second reason is to further push its automated advertising solution onto marketers.

Advertisers are concerned about the decrease in visibility since search terms are so crucial to performance. Moreover, what does Google consider as a “significant amount of users”? Many pay-per-click practitioners are worried that search terms with a single ad click won’t be accessible. Losing occasional data for one-click queries isn’t a big deal.

The problem, however, is that one-click queries add up in cost. I’ve seen one-click queries account for 30 percent of an advertiser’s spend. Additionally, the same word may show up in many queries. For example, the word “free” could be in twenty queries. Instead of excluding all of these individual queries, just the word “free” could be negated. Finding these common themes will become more difficult with fewer visible search terms.

How marketers should react?

Some Google updates roll out in increments and get reversed. But this change seems here to stay, especially given Google's trend of automating features without providing marketers with accompanying data.

When Google launched responsive search ads in 2018, a similar phenonom occured, where advertisers were given a convenient automation, but no data to show which metrics worked.

Responsive search ads allow advertisers to submit multiple headlines and descriptions, and Google tests the combinations to find which work best together and drive the highest click through rates.

Advertisers have not been given access to the metrics to see which combinations performed the best or worst.

Automated bidding options that Google offers follow a similar logic. Advertisers are given access to the performance metrics, but Google itself does the bidding.

To get around this new Google update, there isn't much that marketers can do. Marketers can choose to play things safe and stop bidding on lower intent keywords in broader match types. Lower intent keywords have been used by advertisers to find new keywords and add in negative keywords traditionally, despite driving up costs.

Without the search terms report available on search terms that got a few clicks, it makes sense to forego lower-intent keywords and focus only on keywords with high purchasing intent.

Another option advertisers can do is run their campaigns through Microsoft Ads and view the search terms report there. While Microsoft Advertising has made it a habit of copying Google Ads, so far there are no signs that they are going to follow in the footsteps of Google for this update.

More than ever, it is important to have tightly themed ad groups where the keywords are related to each other. By keeping keywords in ad groups as closely themed as possible, and including the keywords in the ad copy with a clear call to action, advertisers can ensure that the ads are being shown to the right traffic.

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