It’s already been a few years now since Google encrypted search queries, first for searches carried out by users who were logged in, and then increasingly for any organic search, to the point where the majority of searches did not pass search query data.
The rise of the infamous “not provided” keyword drove marketers and SEO professionals crazy, until we learned to live with it. and we always had paid search (Google Ads) data to fall back on.
Google Ads Not Provided
Earlier this month, Google made an announcement that shocked agencies and advertisers alike though. The news was that they would be extending search encryption to include the removal of search queries from Google Ads referrer data.
Panic (predictably) ensued, but it was official. (Click here for the official Google Ads announcement.) There was a mad scramble of speculation while the details were still sketchy, but it turned out it wasn’t as bad as all that.
Not Provided? Not So Much
Actually, by far the majority of people won;t really be affected much at all. Search query data will still be available inside the Google Ads interface, and via Google Webmaster Tools. It’ll still be available to legitimate 3rd-party Google Ads management tools (like Marin) too.
It won’t be available from teh referring URL though, so if you’re using that referrer for something like generating reports, you’re going to be out of luck, but there are alternative solutions that Google suggests, like the API Search Query Performance or the Script Report service.
If you’re customising your landing page based on the incoming search query, you can use the keyword instead. (Although personally, I’m not in favour of “automatically customised pages” myself, and I wouldn’t suggest doing it.)
You can apparently even still get it in Analytics, if you’ve linked your Analytics and Google Ads accounts properly. (Actually, a feature of the new linking is the ability to link multiple Google Ads accounts to a single Analytics account.)
So why is the data being limited / encrypted / whatever? Well, Google continues to suggest that it’s to keep their users search data private, and the fact that there was this disparity between organic and paid data wasn’t doing them any PR favours, with terms like hypocrisy making the rounds with regularity.
Something closer to the real reason might have been mentioned mentioned in a nice Search Engine People article. The search query in the referrer can be scraped by other advertising networks, looking for insights into paid and search traffic behaviour.
It’s possible that this has much more to do with protecting their user behaviour data than it does with protecting their users “privacy.”