If you ask any marketing leader what fuels good decision making, they will probably say something to the tune of, “good data.”

Well today Google is taking all search advertising two steps backwards.

Google has announced that they are giving less Search Terms reporting data to advertisers. Or in other words, the advertisers who pay billions of dollars to serve on their platform will get less data so they can make less informed decisions when optimizing their campaigns.

From Google, “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.”

Why is this significant?

Significant is the key word (forgive the pun) in the above statement from Google. Depending on the nebulous criteria of “significant”, this announcement could be moderate or severe in the level of importance.

More from Google on the subject, "Starting September 2020, the search terms report only includes terms that a significant number of users searched for, even if a term received a click. You may now see fewer terms in your report.”

I’ve been in hundreds of Google Ads accounts over the years, and I’ve seen search terms with really low numbers serve in the Search Terms report. I’m talking a single click and a couple of impressions kind of low.

Of course a single click search term won’t make or break an entire campaign, but the cumulative sum of knowing these low-clicked keywords fuel good decision making. All good marketers know the value of the long-tail data, right?

Search advertisers use this data to inform negative keyword lists.

Expanding the negative keyword list within Google Ads is one the first things we do when we are onboarding a new client who has existing ads running. When done correctly, expanding a negative keywords list always improves the cost per conversion of a given campaign. So when Google limits this data, we can expect less effective campaigns. Or in other words we will see universal wasted ad spend and likely more money in Google’s pockets.

Why would Google do this?

Aside from the obvious money gouge at play here, Google may have other reasons behind this update. My guess is that we will see Google refine it’s messaging to emphasize how this future protocol is meant to protect individual user data. Google is likely using this as an opportunity to protect personally identifiable information that could be gleaned or assumed in a small data pool.

What advertisers should be doing now

Monitoring search terms reports for irrelevant keywords is a major role in an advertiser’s job. Most advertisers are checking these reports on a weekly basis if not more frequently. As a result of this change advertisers could potentially be paying for search queries that are irrelevant without knowing.

While some of you may think that you can get around this issue by exporting the raw data, this will not work.

On the face of it, this update seems like there’s really nothing that can be done to counter this data grab. But there’s certainly actions we can all take to mitigate the loss of data.

  • Advertisers should lean into their SEO counterparts for insights on keyword performance, while sharing comparable data with SEOs (which should already be happening).
  • Advertisers should compare the previous Search Trends reports to today’s numbers. This way advertisers can see how much data (and potentially wasted spend) they’re losing out on.
  • In-house advertisers need to make sure this update is reported and explained well to management. Same goes for agency folks to their clients.

This update will have a huge positive impact on Google’s bottom line, not the advertisers. This update will ultimately give Google more control, and because advertisers are limited by the search queries they can see, Google will ultimately get more money in their pockets because we will no longer have the ability to negate these search terms if we don’t want to pay for these clicks.

This decision was not made in the best interest of advertisers. Time will tell what the response at large will be. For now, it’s best to continue to optimize accounts in ways we’re still able and do what search marketers do best, out innovate the current system.