On April 9th Google announced that they would be “removing the query from the referrer on ad clicks originating from SSL searches on Google.com”, creating panic throughout the paid search industry. Well maybe not panic, but I did get a few emails asking what this means.
So what does AdWords "not provided" mean?
A “referrer URL” is the URL of the search results page that preceded the click on an AdWords ad. And the “query” is the actual term that a user searched on Google which resulted in that ad being displayed. A “query” is not the same thing as a “keyword”. A “keyword” is the term that an advertiser has bid on in their AdWords campaign. Phrase match and broad match keywords could potentially match to any number of relevant or very irrelevant user search queries. Having this data allows the advertiser to understand how a user searches for their product, what types of phrases most often lead to conversion, what phrases never lead to conversion, etc. Search query data is arguably the most crucial information to optimizing your AdWords campaigns and can help to inform strategy within other channels as well.
“Removing the query from the referrer on ad clicks” means that the same URL above will now be displayed as follows.
How will AdWords "not provided" affect you?
This change will affect you if you use the "query in the referrer for reporting, automated keyword generation or landing page customization”.
Workaround provided by Google:
- “For generating reports or automating keyword management with query data, we suggest using the AdWords API Search Query Performance report or the AdWords Scripts Report service.”
- “For customizing landing pages, we suggest using the keyword that generated the ad click, rather than the query. The keyword and match type can be passed to your web server by using a ValueTrack parameter in your destination URLs.”
For some, this change will be annoying but not a game changer. For most, this change will not affect you. Initially, my biggest concern was that the AdWords Search Terms report would be changed, limited, or removed. But the Search Terms report will live on as-is, for now, and I have to believe that it will continue to be available in the future. If it were to be removed, advertisers and search marketers would be severely impacted in their ability to optimize their campaigns. AdWords is responsible for 70% of Google’s revenue. If Google was smart, and I think they are, they wouldn’t mess that up.