Without much fanfare, Google Ads announced in early September that they would soon stop showing search queries that triggered their ads when there is no “significant” data. Find out what Google Ad’s changes to search terms reporting mean and how they’ll impact your small business marketing efforts.

What was the announcement about Google Ads?

Google searchGoogle’s statement on September 2nd 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”. This information will not even be available in the downloadable Search Terms report. Search Engine Land reached out to Google and received this additional statement, “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”.

Why marketers are concerned about this change

bad ideaOne critical constant to any kind of marketing, including paid ads, is the ability to monitor and measure results. Many feel that this change will greatly hamper marketers’ ability to get full visibility on how their ads are performing and where ad spend is happening. In other words, marketers will have reduced visibility into which search queries trigger their ads, even if they incur a click or conversion. More specifically, those who are diligent about monitoring search terms and filtering those that don’t send qualified leads, known as negative search terms, will no longer have the ability to do that if those negative search terms are not considered “significant.” This can result in a lot of wasted ad spend that a marketing person may not be able to control or filter out. Skilled paid search professionals know this is an important item to monitor. This change may have an even more adverse effect on those marketers not as experienced in managing Google Ads. How significant is this change? According to Seer Interactive, the change removes visibility into more than 20% of search terms. They went on to point out that this change hides search terms for @28% of paid search budgets. That opens up the opportunity for significant ad spend waste and mismanagement due to lack of visibility.

Why Google made this change

privacyThe purpose of the change is a part of Google’s ongoing efforts to protect user privacy online. More specifically, they’re trying to protect searchers who may use what’s called “personally identifiable information” in their search terms that trigger ads. By eliminating terms that aren’t used by a significant number of users, Google states they can better provide this protection. In other words, this change will maintain their standards of privacy and strengthen protections around user data. Marketers feel this is an example of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” as this broad definition of what’s not “significant” will also eliminate searches with no personally identifiable information at all.

What can small business marketers do with this new development?

Since this is a fairly new development for Google Ads and is creating a significant backlash from marketers, including an online petition to reverse the decision, marketers should do the best they can to monitor their paid search efforts and watch their ad spend to prevent significant waste of budget. While there will be less visibility, marketers still have control over their campaigns. Those who feel they can’t operate at only 75% visibility may find that it makes sense to shift ad spend to social ads or other platforms like LinkedIn. If you are heavily reliant on Google Ads for your marketing, now is the time to rethink your small business marketing strategy and diversify your efforts. Regardless of your skill level, if you can’t measure a marketing tactic, you need to reconsider if you should be depending on it or using it at all. Not sure what you should do for your marketing? Reach out to a small business marketing professional for advice and guidance. Google Ad’s changes to search term reporting is a significant development for marketers large and small, and likely one that will continue to shift and develop in the coming weeks. Understanding the changes and what to do can help you continue to leverage paid ads and get the results you’re looking for.

Patty Hughes
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