Dealing with PPC “not provided”

Dealing with PPC “not provided”

8th May 2014

April was a fun month for those of us in PPC. We had a good April Fool’s (Adbirds, anyone?), the build-up and livestream for the “Step Inside Adwords” Product Announcement, which revealed some interesting new enhancements, but in my opinion was perhaps a little underwhelming given the hype. The big thing to hit us though, was the announcement that “not provided” has come to PPC. Before we go any further, I feel it necessary to share the below public service announcement:

keep calm

The good news is, that compared to the havoc that “not provided” wrought on SEO, the changes to PPC are minimal. We aren’t losing all our data! Keep on analysing!

The bad news is that there are still things we don’t know. After the initial “leak” which told us Google was going to encrypt paid search queries to bring them in line with organic (something that had been hinted at by Google in March and I don’t think really came as a surprise to many), we’ve only had one official update, which is light on information. For a great high-level summary of what we do know, check out this post by Melissa which pulls together all of the commentary and posts around the subject from that first week.

In the main, things aren’t going to change much. Your keyword data is completely unaffected – this SSL encryption only affects the data we obtain from search queries. In addition, as long as you use Adwords reports, ValueTrack parameters or a third party tool which utilises the Adwords API such as Marin or Kenshoo, you also won’t lose much, if any data. Let’s take a quick look at the key reports people have been discussing.


In Adwords, your search query report (now called the Search Terms report) will be unaffected – you’ll still continue seeing query data and conversion data here exactly as you have done historically.

adwords data

Where this report falls down for me though is in two main areas (although it has other failings too!):

  1. Large chunks of keywords show up in the report as “Other Search Terms” – which drives me nuts as this will sometimes contain queries that have driven sales! I have seen up to 75% of my impressions or spend end up in this category.
  2. The delay – it takes 2 days for data to show up in this report – which can be a long time when you’re trying to keep costs to a minimum and drive efficiency.

Google Analytics

This is where the data we will be losing comes in handy. Google Analytics has a dedicated report to show you the “Matched Search Queries” within GA. It lives here:

matched search queries

You could also get similar data from the Keywords -> Paid report above – choosing “Matched Search Query” as your primary dimension. This data is refreshed much more in real time compared to Adwords and was a bonus to those looking to either run search query reports without waiting 2 days for the Adwords report or those who wanted to analyse some of the on-site metrics for search queries before deciding whether to add them as keywords or negatives. Knowing the bounce rate and time on site of specific queries can be very useful.

Things we don’t know

So while we know the impact on the reports we use, what don’t we know?

  • Exactly what the percentage of lost queries will be – for organic the current figure is around 85% according to
  • Will Google keep some additional data available in GA vs other analytics packages? (Personally I think this is unlikely.)
  • If you pull your conversion data into Adwords from your GA Goals, rather than using the Adwords pixel, will you still have conversion data in your Search Terms report, or will this be lost as part of anonymising data?
  • If/when Google will give us more information

What you can do

Given that this change has been live from the 9th April, what can you do to mitigate the loss of analytics data?

Try and use more Exact Match – as all of our keyword data remains intact. If you’re using Broad Match (Modified or otherwise) to help generate new keywords, constantly use your Adwords Search Terms report to add new Exact keywords to bid on, which will ensure you have access to all of that lovely detailed on-site analytics data through GA Keyword reports. This step adds time to the optimisation process, but will be the best way to get reliable data.

Use Bing. I asked Bing for their response to the Adwords “not provided” news and they came back with the following:

At Bing Ads, we always work hard to listen to our advertisers to understand what they want, while giving them the flexibility they need to meet today’s marketing needs. While we do not have any near term policy changes to announce, we are committed to being as transparent as possible around any such update.

Bing have been much better to deal with than Google in terms of flexibility and transparency. We still have the ability to target mobiles, tablets and computers all separately and their system is less of a “black box” compared to Adwords. Bing also allow you to pass both keyword and search query data in the referrer string, using the {keyword} and {QueryString} dynamic text parameters. As long as your users across both search engines are fairly similar in demographics and how they search, you should be able to use the search query data from Bing to help optimise your Adwords campaigns. While the search volumes will be lower, you’ll still be able to pull useful insights.

How? When looking to import the Bing search query data into GA, if you want to use the utm_term parameter to track this, be aware you’ll only be able to pull in either the {keyword} or the {QueryString} and you’ll need to choose which one to use.

bing parameters

If you want to track both the keyword used and the search query, one solution is to use utm_term for the {keyword} to keep it consistent with Adwords and then pull the {QueryString} through as the utm_content parameter. For example:

bing parameters 2

This method means your URLs will vary from what Google would generate through auto-tagging for Adwords, if you have this feature switched on. It’s not a problem, just be aware that you’ll need to break Bing Ads out separately for search query analysis. If you use an analytics package other than GA, hopefully you’ll have a tracking parameter available to use to pull through the {QueryString}.

A final suggestion would be to install the Adwords tracking pixel, if you haven’t already. This will make sure that you don’t lose any information from your Adwords Search Term reports as you’ll still be able to track converted clicks and revenue.

Over to you! Are you seeing much of an impact on your search queries yet? And do you have any other suggestions on how to mitigate any data loss?


Written By
Arianne Donoghue is the Paid Media Development Manager at Epiphany. Having started off her digital career client side over a decade ago, Arianne has worked for both agencies and brands in-house, specialising in all things paid search. She is now back agency side supporting on biddable media digital strategy. You...
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