Lauren Kaye

A recent Google Ads Developer Blog post announced brands using AdWords campaigns won’t be able to rely on keyword data to advise their paid strategies the way they always have. The post, penned by AdWords Product Management Director Paul Feng, stated that Google is making this change to better protect internet users’ privacy as they navigate the web.

This update is part of an ongoing security push that started back in 2011 with SSL encryption for signed-in searches, but it recently gained attention as more and more keyword data was encrypted. With SEO strategies left without keyword data marketers considered crucial, the search marketing industry tried to come up with explanations as to why Google would do this. Security was one obvious reason, but other conspiracy theories arose. Some suspected it was a ploy to get companies to invest more in AdWords campaigns because paid strategies were still getting the same rich keyword data … until now, that is.

You can’t buy keyword data through AdWords campaigns

“Today, we are extending our efforts to keep search secure by removing the query from the referer on ad clicks originating from SSL searches on,” Feng wrote.

This news debunks the theory marketers can hold onto their keyword data if they invested in sponsored web content. However, two other ideas remain:

  1. Google is honestly making these changes to protect internet users’ privacy
  2. Google wants SEOs to rely less on keyword matching and more on contextual answers

The writing WAS on the wall

Brafton previously reported keyword data might soon be disappearing from paid campaign reports as well. At SMX West, Amit Singhal, Senior Vice President and Software Engineer at Google, hinted AdWords might not get more keyword data than the average content marketer who is trying to find their money words in content analytics.

Where can marketers get data now?Marketers must look to other outlets for keyword data.

Google hasn’t left search marketers lost without a paddle. In the official post, Feng directs webmasters to a number of places where they can get rich data for both paid and organic search campaigns:

1. AdWords search terms reports

These reports show which ads generated clicks, impressions, click-through rates and average ad position by looking at query data from the Search Network. Marketers can use this information to refine their keywords lists so they’re only targeting the phrases people actually use to find their content.

2. Google Webmaster Search Queries reports

Google also gave back some organic keyword insights through Webmaster Tools, and recommended marketers use them to:

Make sure expected (or unexpected*) keywords are showing up. Marketers can review their search query reports to see whether the keywords they’re targeting are bringing visitors to their content. If those targeted terms are not in the reports, it’s a sign there isn’t enough relevant content about those topics.

*Google also points out that non-targeted keywords appearing on the list is a sign the website has been hacked.

Evaluate impressions and click-through rates. Impressions show how many times articles show up in search results and click-through rates. If your CTRs are not on par with impressions, marketers should consider how they can make headlines and meta descriptions more appealing to readers.

It may be inconvenient to lose keyword data that’s always been there, but it doesn’t have to be a major roadblock to SEO success. Creative marketers will find alternative sources to collect data about how well their strategies are performing. However, they must not overlook the fact that this is an even clearer sign that Google is moving toward semantic search, and brands need to focus on context if they want to drive results.