Paid Media
9 min

Will the Change to Google Ads Search Terms Report Hurt Your Business?

Jayme Hoy Director | Paid Search

Google slipped an announcement last week into a Google Ads notification that may have an impact on your ad visibility. Officially, we learned that Google is changing “the search terms report [in Google Ads] to only include terms that were searched by a significant number of users.”

Google Ads Search Terms Report announcement

So what does that actually mean? Search queries with a low number of impressions will no longer show up in the search term report. The search community was immediately up in arms trying to chart the potential impact of the change.

We thought we’d cut through the noise with one very important piece of advice: Stay calm.

This change is unlikely to have a drastic impact on your ads. Essentially, we are losing varying amounts of data for low volume, long-tail searches, but the actual effect will likely be minor—if there is any effect at all.

While we completely understand the frustration when an advertising platform changes the rules, this is not the kind of wide-ranging modification that will require a lot of work or take up a lot of time.

Remember:

  • Smart Shopping has never had search query data (among other data points) and it turned out okay.
  • It’s already happened (and we can’t do anything about it), so it’s not worth wasting time getting angry.

Our recommendation is to lean into Google automation.

Make sure you’re taking advantage of Google’s automation tools: you need to leverage automated bidding with Broad/BMM keywords and/or DSA campaigns. We have been testing both since early 2019 and we know they work.

To make sure you feel comfortable and understand what will be different, we’ve put together this handy guide. We’ll go through a couple of basic questions pertaining to the announcement, then take a look at the potential issues people are concerned about. Finally, we’ll actually dig into a sample of our top-spending accounts to try and better understand the shifts caused by the change.

The Basics: What you need to know about Google Search Term Reports

What is the Search Terms Report? Also called a Search Query Report (SQR), this report shows what someone actually searched to trigger an ad and which keyword that particular query mapped to.

What Is A Search Term Report used for? Paid search account managers use search term reports for two primary purposes:

  • To find new keywords to add to the account; by adding the keyword to the account as an exact match, we can better control the ad copy/extensions and landing page.
    • This was a “bigger deal” in the past when we focused on Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGS) and used manual bidding. We would break out new keywords into their own ad groups and customize the ad copy & landing page, as well as create bid adjustments by device, audience, demographics, etc.
    • While we do often still break new keywords into separate ad groups, this is less frequent—we only recommend this when the new keyword requires different ad copy and landing page.
  • To find irrelevant or inappropriate queries triggering our ads (where you don’t want to show), and add those queries as negative keywords.

The Potential Issues: What people are worried about as a result of the change

Let’s take a look at the possible negative effects people are discussing and what the actual potential impact might be on your advertising or business.

Potential Issue #1: We will no longer be able to see query data for low-impression searches to add as new keywords.

Is this really so bad? No, it’s really not, as long as you’re leaning into automation.

Account managers typically should not be spending their time digging through low-volume queries to add fairly inconsequential keywords and negatives. There are far more impactful optimizations to make using that time.

Better yet, use that time to drive strategy and growth. 

Let’s talk for a moment about automation, which is tried and true. Automated bidding accounts for long-tail keywords, alongside the user’s behavior and other intent signals, to decide when to bid on a query and show the ad.

How you can get the most out of automation:

  • With less data to mine for new keyword ideas, you’ll need to rely on Pure Broad and BMM keywords, used with tCPA or tROAS bidding.
  • Utilize Dynamic Search Ads (DSA) which will match queries to site content (similar to how Shopping campaigns match queries to feed content).

Most of the keywords you could find using the Search Terms Report method that you won’t be able to find anymore are long-tail and, as we already know, are not searched commonly. Broad match should continue to pick up these queries, and the chance of ad copy/landing page being generic is not impactful to the account at scale.

It’s also worth noting that you can still use tools like the Google Keyword Planner or SpyFu to look for keyword expansion ideas.

Potential Issue #2: We will no longer be able to see query data for searches we don’t want to show our ads for.

Is this really so bad? It’s certainly not ideal but it likely won’t be impactful to the account at scale. We know how important it is to minimize wasteful spend, and it’s even more important to stay on top of potential brand safety issues.

That’s still something Google account managers need to do daily, and should continue to do. If a query isn’t included in the search terms report, it’s more difficult to add the negative keyword. But ultimately, it is not a major problem.

At worst, a query with an irrelevant or inappropriate word that doesn’t show up in the Search Terms Report will be extremely small scale. 

You can still run a script called an “N-Gram” analysis, which parses each word of search query strings to find “themes” across all of your queries. The abilities of the N-Gram script are limited to the query data you receive, but if there is a negative you should be adding, it will eventually show up in the N-Gram analysis if it’s getting enough volume to be impactful.

The Data: What we’re seeing one week out from the change

We dug into the Search Terms Reports for some of our top-spending client accounts to better understand the impact of the change. All data below is pulled from that specific subset, which includes clients across many industries for a representative sample.

A week into the change, here’s what the data tells us:

  • In the past 99% of spend was reflected in the Search Terms Report. So far this month we are only seeing 73% of spend, on average, reflected in the search terms report.
  • This varies wildly by account. The highest percentage of spend retained is 92%, while one particular account has lost almost half of its spend in the Search Terms Report (just 53% of spend is reflected in the Search Terms Report).
  • We also dug in to see if the data fluctuation by account is due to the brand vs. non-brand balance; surprisingly, there did not seem to be a correlation.
  • We suspected there would be a difference between Exact/Phrase and Broad and we were correct. Exact has far higher percentages of data flowing from the Keyword Report to the Search Terms Report, and Broad/BMM has far lower percentages. Note: These levels were extremely varied by account so we will not be sharing an aggregate average here, as it’s not a useful benchmark. 

Campaign Metric Reflected In Search Terms Report (Average)

Impressions Clicks Spend
August 43% 99% 99%
September MTD 41% 80% 73%
Change -2% -19% -26%

One thing worth mentioning: Google has always had a volume threshold for search terms (e.g., queries with x searches or fewer will not appear in the report).

  • This threshold has always been unknown and continues to be unknown.
  • Past guidance was that all queries with at least one click were included in the Search Terms Reports, even if there was only one impression. This appears to have been true, as most accounts saw 99% of clicks reflected in the Search Terms Reports.
  • This appears to be changing, but it’s inconsistent. Month-to-date, we still see many queries with just 1 impression and 1 click, but all accounts are seeing far fewer clicks in the Search Terms Reports than at the search campaign level.
  • On average, query reports used to show 99% of clicks in the Search Terms Reports and now we see an average of just 80%.

The Bottom Line: Overall, we see this change as “inconvenient” but do not believe it will necessarily inhibit account performance. Different accounts will see varying levels of impact.

Keep in mind that when Smart Shopping was released, everyone was angry that it was a “black box” with no search query data (among other data points)—but we’ve proven over and over that it does work. Although PPC’ers love data and digging into granular data points, the Google algorithm has proven it’s smarter than us (when proper strategies are applied)

It’s also worth pointing out that data is often “lost” or removed the more you drill in. It may be available at the campaign level but not the keyword level. This isn’t new, it’s just going to become more pronounced.

TL;DR:

  • What are we losing? Data, a small amount of control.
  • What are we gaining? Time back
  • What won’t change? Total impression volume. These “lost” queries will continue to map to our existing keyword set; just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. 

Want to learn more about the future of marketing automation? Check out Google’s Chief Evangelist, Nicolas Darveau-Garneau, as he predicts a 100% automated future in the August episode of the Challenger Series.

Google Paid Search

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