Thursday, April 10, 2014

Will Google Start Blocking Access to Paid Search Keyword Data?

Google Keyword Not Provided
Everyone has been concerned about the potential of Google moving "(not provided)" to also encompass paid search. Right now, AdWords advertisers get full access to keyword data, whether it is through Google itself or through one of the third party tools using the API for this data.

When Google made the move to secure search, and effectively turned off the ability for webmasters to know exactly which keywords were driving organic traffic to their websites from Google, the next obvious question was when would this hit AdWords advertisers, and how Google would handle it.
Some felt it was double standard where AdWords got to keep their keywords while organic did not. However, while the loss of this data would be felt – and has largely been expected – the change isn't as doomsday as some are making it out to be. The impact with the loss of organic keyword data was significantly greater.
Even if Google isn't providing keyword data to third parties, and even if they change their URL string for advertisers so that keywords are no longer embedded in them, advertisers will still have that information within the Google AdWords dashboard – it isn't a case where advertisers would be flying blind without any data at all. And if an advertiser doesn't use a third party management tool, they likely won't notice a difference, aside from potentially needing to utilize AdWords tags if they aren't already.
At SMX West last month, Amit Singhal from Google hinted in his keynote that we would be seeing some changes to paid versus organic when it came to "(not provided)", although he was light on details.
Over a period of time, Sridhar [Ramaswamy], the Head of Ads, my friend, and I we have been looking at this issue. And we’re also hearing from our users that they would want their searches to be secure. A lot has happened in the world, as you all know. And keeping user’s searches secure is really important to the users. We really like the way things have gone on the organic side of search, because we are hearing and responding to what our users want. We really like where we are at.
Sridhar and I are looking at our world, and finding the right solution for our users who want their searches secure and are advertisers, so I have nothing to announce right now, but in the coming weeks and months as Sridhar and I find the right solution, expect something to come out of us.
The latest round of speculation began this week when A.J. Ghergich published a blog post detailing that AdWords will no longer be supplying third parties with paid search query data. If true, this will have a serious impact on the many companies that provide reporting and tools that use this paid search query data.
Because of the way Google AdWords does their tracking, they can still easily remove the referral keyword string from the referring AdWords URL, to provide secure search in regards to preventing those keywords from showing up in the website logs, but Google still have all that data within the AdWords dashboard, and can provide that information for advertisers. So even if they make a change were the referral string is gone, AdWords still needs to have the URL string that tracks those keywords and provides to advertisers.
Regardless of how they provide the keyword data within the Google AdWords dashboard, we won't see a day where advertisers get no keywords whatsoever, because the price would drop down as advertisers lose confidence in the transparency of what they're bidding on and what they're getting traffic from.
Ghergich reported that an anonymous source provided him with the information regarding the change to paid search query data. The details from the memo include:
  • Google will cease supplying 3rd parties with paid search query data
  • Reports within AdWords will remain unaffected
  • This will also have an affect on website analytics packages but we've not yet heard about anything with Google Analytics
  • Services that use this query data may have no way to access it anymore
Could they turn off access within Google Analytics? It's hard to say because some third parties use Google Analytics data, if they are truly trying to tighten down on any of that data for privacy concerns.
There is the possibility that they could be changing the API where Google would charge for paid API access, under the guise of "keeping it secure", or simply tightening down the number of companies that have access to the data currently.
What other reasons could Google have besides privacy concerns, which was the reason for the organic "(not provided)" change? According to Ghergich, his source feels that "another possible motive for the change by Google is that less data leads to less accurate AdWords decisions which increases ad spend."
I reached out to several companies who are currently using this paid search query data from Google AdWords, to see what their take is, and their thoughts if Google was to make a change to their current third party access to paid search query data.

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