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


Keyword Not Provided for AdWords

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.


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Apr 09, 2014

I've read over the Adwords release like 5 times and I still don't understand what is happening.   Are third party platforms still going to be able to see what the acutal search queary is that caused the conversion?  Or will they just be able to see the keyword?

Elisa Gabbert
Apr 09, 2014

Hey Seth, I agree it's totally confusing, probably because of this sentence:"The AdWords search terms report (previously known as the search query performance report) lets you see search queries that generated ad clicks along with key performance data."However, the name of the search query report was changed to the search terms report a long time ago, that's not part of this news. Here's how Google defines "term" vs. "keyword":Use the Search terms report to see how your ads performed when triggered by actual searches within the Search Network. Identify new search terms with high potential, and add them to your keyword list. Look for search terms that aren't as relevant to your business, and add them as negative keywords. This can help you avoid spending money showing your ad to people who aren't interested in it.What's the difference between a search term and a keyword? A search term is the exact word or set of words a customer enters when searching on or one of our Search Network sites. A keyword is the word or set of words AdWords advertisers create for a given ad group to target your ads to customers.Users can still get the full search terms (not just the keywords) in AdWords or through the AdWords API, just not in the actual referrer string. Make sense?

Joe Griffin
Apr 09, 2014

Larry, thanks for the write-up. Looks like the world isn't ending after all :)

Larry Kim
Apr 14, 2014

yes, but you wouldn't know it based on the reporting or hysteria around this issue.

Alan Mitchell
Apr 09, 2014

I assume this means that Google AdWords search query data will no longer be passed to Google Analytics?

Larry Kim
Apr 10, 2014

Any tool or platform that relies on Google’s URL insertion to record the search term will be affected this includes Google Analytics. To see the adwords search query data, you need to go into adwords. but you can link your adwords to GA...

Apr 10, 2014

What I don't understand: Will I stil be able to use my imported conversion data from GA (plus bounce rates etc.) in adwords? Or will this only work for the keyword, but not the search query (so, no conversion data passed back for the query)? In that case I'd have to replace the tracking with adwords conversion tracking?

Dan Perach
Nov 19, 2014

Alex, great question. Easiest answer would be to look now at my adwords account and see ;)

Dan Perach
Nov 20, 2014

yes, it seems that the engagment metrics are stripped / the GA metrics for queries are not imported into use in switching to adwords conversion pixel, as you still won't be able to track bounce / time on site but... you would be able to see which queries converted and sale value in adwords, which you would NOT be able to see otherwise. alot to consider.

Apr 10, 2014

Larry don't lie you didn't email Paul Feng. Don't lie. I knew the exact date and time that this post was coming out weeks ago. Because I work at an agency and google told us because we spend billions. Not manage it. And there is a big difference right there.

Larry Kim
Apr 10, 2014

here's a screenshot. the timestamps are EST.

Apr 10, 2014

I guess the rumor is true, I just saw it this morning in my Analytics dashboard, here's a screen capture :

Larry Kim
Apr 14, 2014

yes - going forward, you'll need to access google adwords data in google adwords directly.

Arianne Donoghue
Apr 10, 2014

The best, most accurate and objective write-up I've seen of this so far :) Neatly summarises all of the points and impact on users - which as you've said isn't a whole lot!Thanks for pulling this summary together.

Larry Kim
Apr 14, 2014

thanks for stopping by Arianne!

Joel Chudleigh
Apr 11, 2014

Amen to that - well said. I just read the Search Engine Land headline and almost $hit my pants (ahem). Their article was a terribly confusing contradictory mess so appreciate you putting things in plain words here.

Larry Kim
Apr 14, 2014

that headline was brutal. as someone who spends lots of time doing both paid and organic search, i can say with confidence that there is no comparison for what happened here vs. what happened to organic (keywords not provided).

May 07, 2014

Google doesn't want people to have a 3rd party view of how their traffic is performing, that's why they are doing it.  It is not privacy, it is business.We paid Google for the traffic, and only google can tell us how the traffic is doing.  This seem like an unfair practice to me.

May 26, 2014

HiI see a keyword (I bid on) generated 4000 impressions past few days but when I pull the Keyword Detail report for that 'selected' keyword, the sum of impressions on all search terms is not more than 2000.Where did my impressions go?Can someone help me on this.Nabeel

Dan Perach
Nov 24, 2014

Larry, can you please update this post, it is from April.I've only noticed the loss of query data in GA since Nov 2014.Thanks, 

May 22, 2015

I second Dan's request to update this post. I too believe the search query data is being coded.



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