So if you work in PPC you probably know exactly what’s coming. If you don’t - you might want to take a seat, this blog is going to be intense. So at the beginning of September 2020 Google announced to advertisers that we are no longer going to be able to see search term activity that doesn't hold a significant amount of traffic - for ‘privacy reasons’.

Now, I have always held a very pro search term stance, which is made very evident through my past blogs, like here, and here, or even here. I have always made it a habit to keep on top of search term reports for all of my clients, after all it’s a great way to give your account some TLC, save some money & reduce waste on those terms that have received very little clicks but they’re so random. Solution? Make them a negative, and laugh off the weird things people search for.

Why is this a problem?

Google releasing the news that we won’t see the insignificant search terms is indeed very vague, I mean what is insignificant? Who is it insignificant to? If Google’s threshold of insignificant sits at 100 impressions, 10 clicks - fine, but over what time frame? A day? That would cull a massive chunk of search term data that could be used for optimisation.

Then there’s the second very obvious problem with this. We are paying. I’ve always been conscious of my search terms because it’s my clients money that is being spent & often ads will turn up on some random (funny) search terms, that is quite frankly a waste of money, if I’m not able to see them then I can’t reduce the waste - even if its low volume.

These are some search terms from accounts I have worked on:

With the amount of low volume search terms added together in some of the accounts I work on - they certainly aren’t low volume anymore. That’s how I know that it definitely isn’t ‘insignificant’ to myself as an advertiser, or my client as the one paying, so again who is this insignificant to?

I will now move on to raise the point that if they’re insignificant search terms & we have no way to negative them out because we no longer know what they are - why are we paying for them? Or if they’re so insignificant, shouldn’t the opposite be happening? They should be brought to our attention so we can make the decision as the account managers of, yes this is insignificant, I’ll negative this now. Only one party wouldn’t benefit from the insignificant search terms being highlighted rather than discarded and it would be Google losing out on money.

The foundation of the relationship between advertisers and Google is built on trust, and trust is made a lot stronger with a more transparent approach. As I said, we don’t know what the threshold here is. We’ve also been told that this change is taking place for privacy reasons. Admittedly, this probably isn’t a lie, however surely if this was the full reason then we shouldn’t have access to any search terms, especially the more popular search terms over the ‘insignificant’ ones.

Furthermore as advertisers we have already gifted Google a lot of our trust and I’m going to say it; for nothing in return. Yes I know people are going to read this and say well it’s not nothing in return, you get to advertise. That isn’t a privilege - we’re already paying for that, it’s a transaction. On top of which - it’s a transaction that makes over 70% of Google’s revenue each year, so I think our role in this deserves a lot more gravity.

I have seen some other advertisers labelling this as a power play on Google's part (including Kirk Williams write up here), and yeah that probably isn’t too far off - could this be them asserting dominance, taking control, changing the rules in the middle of the game? Afterall they don’t have any legal obligation to show us any search term data at all, it’s their business, they can run it how they want. There could definitely be more information behind the scenes that I’m none the wiser to and as someone that works in Google everyday I’m very much hoping that they aren’t trying to power play us here.

Let’s take a very quick dive into ways that Google has sneakily encouraged more and more trust from us (and I can’t say I necessarily even noticed until now):

  • Automated bid strategies, effectively giving a toddler a crayon and trusting that they won’t draw on the walls, like seriously these things can go up to double over their daily budget sometimes because Google deemed it was a good idea
  • Dynamic search ads, okay I actually like my DSAs a lot, I think they’re a cool idea - but it does require a lot of trust & I have seen them go wrong for myself & other advertisers a lot
  • Responsive Search Ads, I’m not even going to go into the fact that these are well en route to replacing the normal expanded text ads right now
  • Exact match close variants, not exactly exact match but Google thinks its relevant so you don’t get a choice in it

Is four examples enough for now or should I go back further than just the last 12 months?

Now that I’ve summed up the negative side I need to be a bit more realistic. I legitimately can not stress enough that nothing about this update surprises me at all. First of all, smart shopping campaigns have never had search term data, I would love for them to, but they never have and I’ve dealt with it this far.

On top of this Apple Ads do the exact same thing. The majority of the search terms (and when I say majority it’s definitely over 80%) from my Apple ads campaigns are nested under a neat little label called ‘low volume’. Not exactly helpful - but I’ve still managed to run Apple ads successfully, for a long time now.

So no, it’s not surprising. Realistically, Google will do whatever they can get away with and we aren’t exactly going to boycott them for it so why wouldn’t they follow suit with the likes of Apple. Especially when Smart Shopping was so widely accepted despite having 0 search term data - let alone just reduced search term data.

While I don’t agree, there are also a lot of advertisers that don’t actually even look at their low volume search terms (yet they’re still mad too?). This has been labelled as a fool's chore in the past - I’ve always valued it but perhaps it is counter productive to spend a lot of time on in some circumstances.

In conclusion this is a job that has always come with its trials & challenges. Marketing has been labelled as one of the most adaptive jobs ever because of how quickly everything changes, so really isn’t our job to actually change with it? Afterall - we aren’t exactly going to change Google’s mind, so ultimately we need to make the best of the situation and as long as we’re seeing returns we will have to optimise our accounts in other ways. If nothing else I hope this makes people realise the value of the search term data that is available to us at the moment before this is taken away too.

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Meet the author ...

Maddie Crawford

Senior PPC Executive

Maddie works in the PPC team. This means that she spends her time looking after our clients' paid ads accounts, covering platforms like Google, Microsoft, Apple & Amazon. ...