Secure Paid Search (Not Provided): How Will Google’s Changes Affect PPC Advertising?
Last week saw some big waves in the ocean of search engine marketing (SEM) as Google announced changes in the access to paid search queries. There seems to be a lot of miscommunication surrounding Google’s announcement, which included a lot of rumors — and panic — about how it would affect future pay-per-click (PPC) advertising with Google.
To help beat back the rumor mill and provide some clarity to the situation, we sat down with Forthea PPC professionals Jon Bowers and Davis Baker to discuss what Google’s changes mean for PPC, SEM, and interactive marketing.
You both have tons of experience with PPC and know the field inside and out. Jon, could you start with a quick overview of the announced changes?
Jon: On April 9, Google rolled out some improved efforts to create a higher level of security for Chrome users, which lead to some panic by search marketing professionals, many of whom are still reeling from losing a large percentage of keyword data from organic search last year. To be blunt, this isn’t comparable to the keyword “not provided” debacle of 2013.
Early information about the changes wasn’t clear and over the last few days, it seems much of it was inaccurate. For a few days, though, SEM professionals and their clients got nervous about what kind of search query or search term data they would lose. Understand, this data is a big part of how we expand and optimize campaigns and it would be a significant loss if Google made dramatic restrictions on this data.
Of course, the internet went nutty, as it always does, but soon self-corrected and, as I think you’re going to find, the answer lies somewhere in between “everything is okay” and “the sky is falling.” I lean heavily toward everything is okay.
Davis, how do you think the changes affect your day-to-day work? Will it change how you report or get your information?
Davis: The change isn’t that severe, but the loss of this information on our end really takes away a lot of control.
We still have the search query data, but we’re losing this data in Google Analytics, which really holds us back when we’re optimizing for user engagement. It’ll definitely be harder to know whether or not a user converts after clicking on an ad.
Ultimately we’re still going to find the data. We’re still going to optimize campaigns as best we can, but the difference between search query and search term data is not that great. You can get by with just the search term data and be fine.
As far as client reporting goes, nothing will necessarily change. Search query data was more of an internal piece of the pie when it comes to optimization strategies.
But moving forward, when clients do want search query data, we will only be able to give them pre-click and conversion level metrics. How they interact and engage with the site will only be able to be viewed at the keyword level.
As a SEM professional, what are you telling clients about the changes? Is this cause for concern?
Jon: Changes within AdWords data or campaign functionality happen all the time. Maybe not with this much publicity, but we’ve always dealt with it. That’s what we do. That’s why you hire an agency. Many people think they can set up and run a SEM campaign — and a large percentage of them probably can — but it’s the experience that an SEM professional brings to the table, and the constant learning that we do, that breeds success for clients.
This is not a set-and-forget process and it’s not a process that remains static. I can’t think of another form of marketing that requires constant modification, optimization, and a re-learning and re-thinking of your methodology.
Make no mistake, this is a full-time job and not something you can do effectively as an afterthought. You pay an agency to optimize and stay ahead of the game no matter what the latest changes within the industry are. That’s the value we provide and we’ll continue to provide it going forward, through this change and through the others that will surely come our way in the future.
How does the loss of information from Google Analytics affect PPC campaigns?
Davis: It will change strategy. However, at this point, it’s too early to tell how and I don’t feel like we know for sure. We still have historic data, but we’re going to have to shift strategies away back to keyword level user engagement optimization.
Jon: Does it make our job harder? Yes, it does. If we have a campaign that’s particularly difficult or challenging, we’ll have to find another way to go about it.
For 99% of the campaigns out there, it’s a non-issue. For a select few, we’re going to have to be a lot more detailed about how we build and structure an account. I’m not saying we’re going to resort to a singular keyword to one ad group level of granularity because then we create an account that is unmanageable within a reasonable amount of hours for both the agency and the client.
That being said, ad groups will be distilled down to a more tightly knit set of keywords and when certain data is essential we will employ ValueTrack or other options to append keyword data to referral URLs.
Davis: Yeah, I think that when we initially build out a campaign, we’ll have to really change from building out on themes and start building out on keywords.
Do either of you see any future moves by Google that might push things further into the direction of security? Are these current changes a foreshadowing of something that will make SEO/SEM harder to effectively execute?
Davis: I don’t think this is a push for security as much as a chance for more control on Google’s end.
I think Google is moving toward a future where they’d essentially crawl your website and determine what your products and services are and then create non-keyword PPC campaigns automatically.
Jon: I’ve read a lot of speculation over the past few days trying to gauge Google’s motives and the opinions run the gambit from altruistic to insidious. Again, I think it’s a non-issue. Whether Google is a digital Mother Theresa or a stylized SkyNet, it’s not going anywhere and it will remain the best channel, in my opinion, to connect with people who have an immediate need for your product or service. The playing field may change but it’s still the same game.
If you needed to deliver a bottom line to a client who might have caught wind of scary rumors surrounding Google’s changes, what would you tell them?
Davis: The sky hasn’t fallen. We’ll still carry on with our work as we did before. By nature, this is a flexible business and we’ll adjust our long-term strategic planning as the implications of the change become apparent.
Jon: Don’t panic, this is what you pay us to do. We can still get paid search query data in AdWords and continue to do our jobs. Management platforms we use to gain efficiencies will function as normal through API access. In fact, this might not be a bad time to ramp up your search campaign while your competitors are trying to find their way through this news.
It’s difficult to keep up with changes and trends in PPC and SEO, even if you read the blogs every day. Search engine marketing is a full-time job, and highly skilled SEM agencies like Forthea can help you stay in front of industry trends, maximize your search engine marketing campaigns, and create measurable lead generation and lead conversion improvement for your business.