Why Can't I See My Search Terms Anymore?
As if 2020 has not been challenging enough, Google Ads just rolled out its latest complication for advertisers. Starting in early September, Google Ads advertisers were notified that only “search terms that were searched by a significant number of users” would be reported in the Google Ads search term report.
You may have seen this notification in your Google Ads account:
Why Search Terms Matter
There is often confusion around this topic, so let’s quickly clarify the difference between a keyword and a search term.
Keywords are the primary targeting mechanism for Google search ads. When you target a keyword like body shop near me you have the ability to declare a keyword “match type” by using quotes, brackets, or plus signs. Using none of these (quotes, etc.) will declare the keyword a “broad” match type. These match types (exact, phrase, broad, and broad match modified) allow for different degrees of flexibility between your keyword and the actual user search – the search term.
Search terms (aka search queries) are the actual Google searches that your keywords target (typos and all). These queries are arguably the most specific piece of insight available into your user’s intent and whether your keywords are bringing in quality traffic. Notice in the table below, how the same keyword +facebook +ads +management (using a broad match modified match type) brings in a myriad of different variations, as it was designed to do.
Keywords vs. Search Terms
The issue is that with this latest change, Google is only making a handful of those search queries available to you… the advertiser that paid for those clicks.
How Severe Is This Change?
While Google’s search term report has never been 100% complete, generally we would see roughly 75-85% of the search queries that drove clicks in our Google Ads accounts.
After this latest change, we are seeing an average of 40-60% of our clients’ search queries on standard search campaigns. At face value, this places about half of the searches that drove traffic in our Google Ads accounts in Google’s black box.
What The Missing Data Looks Like:
Notice that we received (and paid for) 31 clicks. Google is only displaying 17 of those search queries in the search term report. You’re right to wonder what the other 14 searches were. All things being equal, those were likely where half of your budget went.
How To Get Your Search Terms Back
Attempt 1 - The Google Ads API (failed)
Our first attempt at working around this issue was to see if the Google Ads API still houses this data. A Google Ads query using Supermetrics confirmed that the API unfortunately doesn’t get around the issue.
Attempt 2 - Google Analytics (success)
The next stop was a Google Analytics custom report. By adding “search queries” as a secondary dimension to your “Google/CPC” traffic source, you can get back all of those intent-defining search terms that you’ve been missing. We can’t speak to how long this will work, but at the time of this writing it works like a charm.
How To Run The Report:
1) Sign into Google Analytics and navigate to your property and view
2) In the left-side navigation, head to Acquisition > All Traffic > Google Ads > Campaigns
3) If your Google Ads and Google Analytics are properly linked, you should see your Google Ads campaigns listed here with data for clicks, cost, CPC, etc.
4) Now you could either drill down to a specific campaign and follow the next step (likely the best option) or right from this screen do the following…
5) Add a secondary dimension for “Search Query”
6) That’s it! Now you can go to town analyzing all of the search terms that made up your pay-per-click traffic.
So What Were The Results?
Going back to our example, our campaign received 31 clicks in the week we measured (post Google policy change). The Google Ads search term report only gave us 17/31 search terms or about 55% coverage.
With our new reporting method how many search terms could we see?
27 out of 31 search terms are reported in Google Analytics for that campaign in the same period. That’s roughly 87% coverage using this method.
Since the clicks and cost columns are populated from Google Ads, they will still be unpopulated for the search terms Google Ads chose not to report. However your sessions should approximately match the number of total clicks being reported in Google Ads, giving you visibility into the searches that drove those additional sessions.
Go Try It Out
We hope this method lasts or better yet, that Google comes to their senses and reverts this change (it’s happened before). In the meantime, this is a solid alternative approach to get back most of the visibility that was removed in the Google Ads platform.