Rumors of 'Not Provided' In AdWords Unfounded: Paid Search Query Data Is Not Dead

April 11, 2018

All sorts of silly rumors were circulating earlier week suggesting that Google is going kill off all search query data from paid search and that third party tools providers like WordStream are going to be slammed. Unfortunately the reporting on this issue has been light on facts and heavy on speculation. In this article I'll explain exactly what is is changing here -- the short answer is: not a heck of a lot.

Are The Rumors True? Is Paid Search Query Dead?

No. not even close. If you used paid search query data to do campaign optimizations, you can still access all of that data from within the Search Terms Report in AdWords just as you have done in the past. Not convinced? The easiest way to disprove this rumor is to log into your AdWords account and view your search query data for yourself. You'll find that it's still there!

Is the Search Terms Report in AdWords a New Thing?

No. Again, not even close. I've been using this report since 2002 (+12 years now) and you can imagine my shock to read reports in major news publications claiming that this was something new. The search term report has not changed, and isn't changing.

Are You Sure It's Not Changing?

A bunch of folks pointed out that initially, Google claimed that organic search query data would only be impacted a little, but over time, they ended up killing off all organic search query data, and that this might also be the case here for paid search query data. I emailed my contacts at Google (including the guy who runs product management at Google AdWords, and the team that runs PR for AdWords) and specifically asked them if there would be some kind of slow shift in time in terms of the quantity or quality of search query reporting over time. They specifically told me that this is not the case at all and assured me that there will be no changes to the Search Terms Report in AdWords.

What About Third-Party Platform Providers like WordStream and Others?

People were going bananas saying that third-party PPC platform providers would be killed. This is totally false. If you use a PPC management platform such as Kenshoo, Acquisio, Marin Software, Adobe or WordStream (etc.), you can still get access to your search query data since these platforms all access the data via the AdWords API, which like the AdWords Interface, isn't changing.

So, What's Changed?

Paid search query data is simply no longer being appended to referral URLs from ad clicks. So for example:

See the "q" parameter that is highlighted in yellow? Going forward that will be encrypted, as it is for organic search.But you can still get it in AdWords directly or via the AdWords API through partners like WordStream. This is how most people were already getting that data. However, if you were an analytics company that was accessing paid search query data without going through the AdWords API, for example, in Google Analytics or by scraping web server log file data, you are out of luck, and will need to use AdWords going forward.

Why is Google Doing This?

The stated reason is to protect user privacy. I agree with this, but think that there could also be additional reasons at play here. For example, SEOs have been beating up Google on the issue of "why is Google encrypting organic search queries but not paid search queries" for months. In this new way of doing things, both paid and organic search query data is being encryped -- it's just that on the paid search side, you can still access your valuable search query data in AdWords, which is how most SEMs were accessing the data in the first place. Essentially, Google is making it so that only advertisers, AdWords Partners, and Google themselves have access to search query data -- third parties can no longer scrape ad destination URL's without going through the API.

Is it Fair to Compare what Happened to Organic Keyword (Not Provided) To What is Happening Here?

No. It's not even close. Organic Keyword (Not Provided) had a huge impact on SEO reporting because Google removed all keyword/query data from Google Analytics and gave webmasters a super crappy tool in Google Webmaster Tools to do search query analysis, which by my estimates, provides less than 10% of your total data and has questionable accuracy. On the paid search side, Google is removing search query data from the referring URLs in ads, but is making no changes to the search terms report in AdWords, which has been an incredibly powerful and accurate tool that most SEMs have relied on for years.

If I needed Referral URL data, Are There Any Work Arounds?

Yes! If for some reason you needed keyword data in the referring URL string, you can still use Value Track Parameters to insert the keyword that got triggered in your AdWords account, right back into the destination URL, like this:


What's changed here is that the user's search query used to be in a "q" parameter, and now instead you can get the keyword in an "adurl" parameter. This gets you pretty close to where you were previously, espcially if you use phrase or exact match types, since the search query and keyword are generally the same or very similar.

So, to sum up:

  • Stop panicking. You can still get paid search query data in AdWords as you have done in the past. This hasn't changed.
  • Legit third-party AdWords management platforms (like WordStream, Marin, etc.) will continue to function as normal. Also, if you just use AdWords and no third-party platform, nothing has changed there either. Let’s not overstate the impact of this announcement.


Larry Kim

Larry Kim

Larry Kim is the founder of WordStream and CEO of MobileMonkey, a chatbot building platform.