Google managed to stoke the rumor mill twice in the one day this past week with somewhat cryptic announcements, putting search marketers — many of whom are still weary from last year’s roll out of enhanced campaigns — on edge.
First, the company released a statement on Wednesday saying many new updates to AdWords will be announced on April 22 without providing any specifics. Then later that evening, marketers were hit with news of yet another potential change on the horizon.
In a keynote discussion at Search Marketing Expo West with Marketing Land’s founding editor, Danny Sullivan, Google’s head of search, Amit Singhal surprised the audience by acknowledging the “inconsistency” of Google’s practice of not passing search query data from organic clicks while continuing to provide this information to its advertisers.
The decision to not show the keywords that users type in to Google before arriving at a website began in October 2011 when Google switched to secure search for users signed into Google accounts. The roll out extended to nearly all organic searches last fall. Advertisers are able to see which search terms are used to get to their sites through the referrer system, while most organic search queries now return a result of “not provided.”
Singhal said that he and his counterpart on the advertising side, Sridhar Ramaswamy, have been meeting to discuss the issue, stating:
…and today there is an inconsistency in the system — that advertisers get referrers. Over a period of time, we [Google's search and ad sides] have been looking at this issue…. we’re also hearing from our users that they would want their searches to be secure … it’s really important to the users. We really like the way things have gone on the organic side of search.
I have nothing to announce right now, but in the coming weeks and months as [we] find the right solution, expect something to come out.
The full video segment is below.
Google’s public argument for holding onto the keyword data has been to protect user privacy. However, the decision to continue to give advertisers access to user search queries has been met with frequent cries of hypocrisy.
So the question on marketers’ minds now is, What “solution” is Google cooking up? Will advertisers also lose keyword referrer data? Will search queries be restored for organic clicks? Is there another alternative? Marketing Land’s founding editor, Danny Sullivan, came up with a list of possibilities:
- Google decides to make no change
- Clicks may pass only to sites that run secure servers
- Google makes all organic click data available through Google Webmaster Tools
- Organic clicks have terms restored
- Paid clicks have terms withheld
Singhal did state the issue is “not cut and dry”, but made it quite clear a number of times in the discussion that they’re hearing users want secure search and that Google teams are also content with secure search and “the way things have gone on organic search”. Google’s head of web spam, Matt Cutts, who was also in the audience, reiterated on Twitter Singhal’s statement about being “happy with securing web searches”.
@larrykim Note that Amit said we’re happy securing web searches, but we hear the feedback on ads. 2K queries/day in WMT give ~98% of data.
— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) March 12, 2014
Cutts’ tweet also referred to the fact that publishers have access to up to 2,000 search queries in their Google Webmaster Tools consoles. However, the search terms currently are limited to a 90-day window, limiting the ability for web marketers to track historical trends.
Advertisers using the Google AdWords system also have access to search query data in AdWords itself. However, as with Google Webmaster Tools, the reporting detail and functionality is more limited than what’s available in the referrer system of analytics programs. If Google moved to secure search for search ad clicks too, presumably the search query data would remain available in AdWords, but be stripped out and aggregated as “not provided” in analytics as it is for organic searches.
It’s worth noting there is already an integration with Google Webmaster Tools and AdWords that allows advertisers to compare search query performance by organic versus paid clicks.
While some SEOs are crossing their fingers for a restoration of organic search terms, advertisers reactions are mixed. I heard many attendees and panelists at SMX West balk at the idea that Google might take this information away from paying advertisers, dismissing the possibility outright because of the potential financial fallout that could come from such a move. Still, others sounded almost resigned to a potential new reality in which search advertising would no longer be driven primarily by keyword targeting but by audience profiling and the concept of user intent-driven targeting that Google ushered in with enhanced campaigns.
It’s unclear if an announcement about a “not provided” solution will be timed with the April 22 news about AdWords or made separately.