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From September 2020 Google is making changes to search terms. What are these changes and what are the implications?

This week Google has surreptitiously slipped an update into their Search Term report data explanations. It reads as follows:

Starting September 2020, the search terms report only includes terms that a significant number of users searched for, even if a term received a click. You may now see fewer terms in your report.”

What does this mean in real terms? Essentially, anybody who utilises paid search through Google Ads will now have reduced visibility into which search queries actually trigger their ads, even if they incur a click or conversion.

Google put out this official statement to help explain things a little further:

In order to maintain our standards of privacy and strengthen our protections around user data, we have made changes to our Search Terms Report to only include terms that a significant number of users searched for. We’re continuing to invest in new and efficient ways to share insights that enable advertisers to make critical business decisions.”

The impact this change will have on paid campaigns and marketing budgets will largely depend on how Google defines the term “significant.”

The purpose seems to be to keep advertisers from being able to use minimal query data to identify users or have access to any personally identifiable information (PII) users may include in their search queries.

Previously it was quite common to see search terms with one impression or one click in Google’s search term reporting however it appears that is no longer the case.

Protecting user privacy is incredibly important in 2020 and this reasoning does make sense however we would hope there would be some sort of nuance to the data that is being withheld. There are thousands upon thousands of low-volume queries with absolutely no privacy risk so it would be a shame to lose this data too.

This has the potential to leave campaign managers feeling they have much less control over their accounts, and have far less helpful information from Google to make informed decisions in future. It could also involve a lot of wasted budget on irrelevant keywords and search terms.

While search term data is mostly mined for negative keywords, it’s also used to better understand customer intent and identify content opportunities on the SEO side. We can’t be sure of the full extent of how much search term data will be hidden as yet but we will continue to keep our eye on it and will update this post with any further developments.