They’ve done it again. Despite their ongoing efforts to build trust with customers, Google has pulled the rug from under our feet announcing the ‘hiding’ of certain data.

Earlier this month, Google announced that moving forward, it would “only include terms that were searched by a significant number of users.” This vague and concerning statement is a big deal for advertisers.

Read on to find out why advertisers are up in arms and what you need to know about the change.

The announcement – what Google said.

In order to maintain our standards of privacy and strengthen our protections around user data, we have made changes to our Search Terms Report to only include terms that a significant number of users searched for. We’re continuing to invest in new and efficient ways to share insights that enable advertisers to make critical business decisions. – Google statement.

The concern – why it’s a big deal

Less visibility means less control

How do we know what search terms are pricey or irrelevant? We have access to a search terms report that tells us. Removing pricey or irrelevant search terms from campaigns is essential to controlling ad spend/not wasting it.

Google’s search terms report gives great insight into what keywords or phrases are driving irrelevant traffic, enabling us to optimise campaigns accordingly. Neglecting to share this information means that advertisers, who are paying for these search terms, won’t have the same level of control over their campaigns.

In addition to missing out on a portion of the search term data, advertisers will also miss out on conversion data that helps them gauge what search terms are performing and/or underperforming.

We’re paying for search terms that we don’t need.

Prior to the change, advertisers could identify irrelevant or costly search terms and ‘negative’ them (i.e block their ads from appearing when that search term is used) The change will make it challenging to do this.

Without the ability to negative these search terms, we’re essentially paying for irrelevance. If we can’t see them we can’t reduce waste. This is a huge problem for advertisers and agencies who’ll have to explain the change to their clients

“Google’s latest move is an outrageous decision that falls part of their continued quest to give advertisers less control and pushes us more towards automated campaigns. The removal of a high portion of search term data will have an adverse impact to both large and smaller scale accounts.”, says Magnify Lab‘s Director Ray Nandra.

The solution – what you can do about it

In a perfect world, we could kick and scream (and beg?) for them to bring it back. But when you’re up against a big tech giant like Google, your chances of that being successful are slim.

Our advice?

Do what you’ve always done. Use the data you do have to make decisions on how to improve the campaign. One way of doing this is to create N-Grams to identify, theme and track searches. Former Googler, Daniel Gilbert of Brainlabs, created a script to help identify wasted ad spend in a campaign. The script ‘looks’ at all the words in your reports and identifies the effectiveness of the word by looking at the performance of the search query.

Another recommendation includes spending time to carry out in-depth keyword research using tools such as SEMRush or Google’s keyword planner to identify irrelevant queries that could trigger your broad match and exact match keywords (remember, the latter now includes ‘close variants’).

Surprisingly, this simple measure doesn’t seem to be followed by many agencies and advertisers (trust me, we’ve audited many accounts!) but can help to save heaps of advertising budget.

Where can I go to see if my account is affected?

To check the impact on your account go to the Search Terms report and compare the “Total: Search Terms” and “Total: Account” line items.

In this example, the Search Term track rate dropped by 57%.

The question – will Google move away from keyword bidding altogether?

PPC advertising is built on keyword targeting. But with developments in audience targeting and Artificial Intelligence, Google may very well move toward a more audience-based focus as opposed to keywords.

Google has already launched Smart Campaigns for small businesses. The set up is simple. Enter a description of your business along with a couple of keyword themes, and Google does the rest. Smart Campaigns help small businesses, who may not have a marketing team, get in on the Google Ad action.

What now?

We wait with bated breath for Google to suggest ways to ensure our advertising pounds are not wasted. In the meantime, we recommend taking this opportunity to look at your entire marketing funnel and identify any gaps that you can fill with alternate lead generation activities. Google isn’t the only place we can advertise. Start by scheduling a call with one of our digital specialists here.