How To Fix Not Provided In AdWords

It’s true. The rumors, the mayhem, the mass hysteria, and the meteoric rise of hyperventilating corporate marketers.

It’s arrived. The bad news prophecies, the apocalyptic rumblings, and the doomsday predictions.

It’s bad.

Everybody hide ur kids hide ur wife, hide ur husband!

It’s the Google “Not Provided” result in Google Analytics!!!

As we’ve all feared, Google has finally and officially decided to hide all encrypted search data from your reporting metrics.

The Hard Core Truth about Google’s “Not Provided” Data

We’ve heard about it for a while, but the news is finally official. Google is hiding the search data for clicks on paid search ads.

Paul Feng, the product management director for Google AdWords, came out with the official announcement yesterday in the Ads Developer Blog.

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The bottom line is this:  Google AdWords reporting is no longer providing the query data from the referrer for ad clicks that come from SSL Google searches.

Did you catch that?

Let me explain in language so simple that even I can understand it:

You can no longer see what organic queries are driving traffic to your site when you look at Google Analytics.

Here’s how it goes down.

  • Step 1:  Someone Googles something. They are Googling from an SSL-encrypted network. They type in “awesome sunglasses to wear to the beach.”
  • Step 2:  They get a page of Google results, and see your ad. “Ooh, me clicky!” they think, as they position the mouse over that AdWords bid for “awesome sunglasses.”
  • Step 3:  They click your ad. Woot.
  • Step 4.  The next day, you’re doing your data thing on Google Analytics. You drill down to check out what people were searching for when they clicked on your ad. You see, with a sinking sense of horror, that you can’t tell what some people were searching for.

 

You see this:  google2

Image from Kissmetrics.com.

  • Step 5:  “Why the #%&*?!” Your rage rises, your blood curdles, your vision goes blurry, and before you know what you’re doing, you’ve taken your new MacBook Air in both hands, roared like Thor as he throws his hammer, and pitched your laptop directly through the three-inch thick glass window of your 9th floor office.
  • Step 6:  In slow motion, microscopic shards of glass shoot through the air as your stentorian eruption of expletives echo off the glass-and-steel walls of your metropolitan habitat. Coworkers whirl, still in slow motion, to see the MacBook Air projectile making its way through the double pane, and orbiting into the arid airs of an otherwise peaceful April morning.

 

That’s what’s happening. That’s bad.

What’s the news in the Official Report?

You can read the official report here. Here’s the DL on what the report says:

We’ve long worked to keep your searches on Google secure. We provided SSL encryption for signed-in searches in 2011 and have rolled that out to searches from the omnibox in the Chrome browser. 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 Google.com.

Feng posits it as a security move, and explains how the change is being permanently implemented in reporting. The process of removal, as he noted, was started in 2011. Since we’ve had a few years to get used to it, the moment has finally come to make it official.

Advertisers will continue to have access to useful data to optimize and improve their campaigns and landing pages. For example, you can access detailed information in the AdWords search terms report and the Google Webmaster Tools Search Queries report.

To eliminate undue panic, Feng points out that you’re not losing all your data. Actually, you’re not losing much at all. The Webmaster Tools, AdWords search terms report, and Google Analytics still provide tons of data for your curiosity, interest, and action.

The AdWords search terms report (previously known as the search query performance report) lets you see search queries that generated ad clicks along with key performance data. And the Search Queries report available in Google Webmaster Tools provides aggregate information about the top 2000 queries, each day, that generated organic clicks.

This is Google’s way of saying, “Hey, look, we still have plenty of nice information to show you.” And it’s true. They do. GWT and Google Analytics delivers a lot of excellent data, and it doesn’t cost you a dime. The aggregate information, I would suggest, is one of the most important aspects of research and data that you need to make the best decisions for your marketing efforts.

For generating reports or automating keyword management with query data, we suggest using the AdWords API Search Query Performance report or the AdWords Scripts Report service.

He gives good advice. Some people have become so dependent or overly focused on some of the metrics that will now be shrouded, that they’ve neglected some of the other helpful tools, such as the Search Query Performance Tool.

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For customizing landing pages, we suggest using the keyword that generated the ad click, rather than the query. The keyword and match type can be passed to your web server by using a ValueTrack parameter in your destination URLs.

Again, great advice. If you’re working on optimizing a landing page or performing research on traffic sources for that landing page, pay more attention to the keyword itself rather than the query. Since Hummingbird, queries have become semantically looser and more diluted. The query string is not as important as the longtail keyword term.

This is nothing new.

Chances are, you’ve already see “not provided” in your data drilldowns, and maybe even chucked a MacBook Air or two.

(If you’ve never chucked a MacBook Air, I highly recommend it for its cathartic and cardiac benefits.)

As early as 2011, Google had starting hiding some data. Some people thought it was a “glitch,” and ignored it. Other people constructed Google conspiracy theories.

The “not provided” has been a fixture of Analytics frustration for a long time. We all have our complaints with Analytics, and this is just one of them. We became accustomed to it.

The only real news this time around is that the news is official and final.

What is the impact of this change?

Even last year, marketers were discussing the major impact that this was having on their data research. Some of these “not resulted” queries make up a shocking 50% of the results.

In a study from Optify last year, they discovered the following:

  • Organic search traffic from referring traffic data is now at nearly 40% “not provided.”
  • Most companies report “not provided” traffic data for a range of 30-50% of their total traffic.
  • The number of recognized referring keywords from organic search has dropped by 49%.

 

The sad truth is this:  Referrer data from organic and paid search is pretty much gone.

The impact is that you simply don’t receive this data. You can’t use it now to take actionable steps on your AdWords creation, keyword development, or content focus.

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Feng mentioned, “We understand that some partners may need to make changes to their systems and operations.” But how big these “systems” and “operations” are, is really just dependent on how heavily the marketers were relying on this sliver of data.

So, how do you really feel about this?

To their credit, Google is trying to keep things secure. You can understand that, I’m sure. I mean, how warm and fuzzy did you feel when SSL went down in flames?

Google says, “we’ve long worked to keep your searches on Google secure.” And, since everyone from Edward Snowden to Target execs are passionate about security, then maybe you should be, too.

This is a security move. It’s not a conspiracy. It’s not an attack. It’s not a personal insult. It’s not a racial slur. It’s not a disregard for human suffering. It’s not corporate callousness for felt needs.

It’s just dang security.

What should you do?

I want to tell you exactly what you should do about this. What I’m about to advise is something so important that you should do it right now. Do it before further damage is done, before arterial walls are stretched further, and before more MacBook Airs are destroyed.

Here’s what you should do:

DON’T FREAKING WORRY ABOUT IT!!!

Yes, that’s all caps. Yes, that’s a 72-point typeface.  Okay, maybe not that much, but you get the picture (and a few extra exclamation points to get your blood boiling even more so than it already is).

Just chill. Relax. Everything’s going to be okay. Here, have a glass of wine. Take a pill.

There, there. You don’t have to stress over this. At all. It’s not that big of a deal, okay?

I have a few more points to make, but that’s my most important message for you — just don’t freaking worry about it.

Now, on to some non-all-caps points …

Focus on the data you have.

Just because you’re missing some of your data — heck, even 60% of it — don’t sweat it. You still have data, right? Then use it! Chances are pretty good that the aggregate data you see is correlated closely enough with the minuscule data you don’t see, so you’ll still make smart marketing decisions.

And you have a lot of data at your disposal.

What Google is now returning as “not provided” is only a small percentage of a percentage of a percentage of the data at your disposal. And it’s not even the most important data. It’s merely one data tool in your research arsenal. And it’s gone.

Maybe you can start using different data.

Ignore data altogether.

I say this with caution. And I say this as a dataphile myself. Just ignore the numbers, the metrics, the statistics, the percentages, the pie graphs, the bar charts, and all the noise for just a minute.

Ah, the quiet! It’s kinda nice.

Focus on your product or service.

At the core of your company is not the data you can mine  on various searches, queries, or demographics. The core of your company is a really, really good product or service.

Make it as good as you can. Build it, enhance it, and talk about it.

Become more passionate about what you do, then about what you can discover about what people are searching for.

Focus on content.

I’m a huge believer in the power of stellar content. If you’re writing good content — really top-notch stuff — the traffic will come. The links will build. The recognition will grow. If you take care of your content, your content will take care of you.

Content gives you what you need — keywords, link worthy articles, organic search, fresh factor ranking quality, and everything else you’re going to want for successful marketing.

So, take a break. Clear your head. Focus on a couple of other different things, then go back and see what impact data has. It does have impact. I can’t deny that. But it’s not all-important.

Try other tools.

Let’s get back to data. After you’ve cleared your head (see the point above).

There are a number of other tools that you can use to find out valuable data. Here’s one:

Google Trends

Google trends provides composite snapshots of the popularity, chronology, and history of searches. Any subject, any topic, anything … it’s there.

This is a goldmine of information, and it could be that you haven’t tapped into it yet. While you’re reeling from your “not provided” impact, go ahead and sneak a peek at Trends.

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The Bottom Line

In a sense, I’m glad this happened. It was only a matter of time. We knew that. We expected it.

Now, we can rely less on laser-focused minutiae, and gaze at a broader landscape. I think that we will be able to improve our game as digital marketers.

We rely on data. It’s part of our occupational currency. It’s tough to go through a day without looking at some sort of graph or analyzing some sort of trend. We do our jobs because of data.

And, let’s be honest, we have a lot of data. Google has dished up impressive amounts of metrics. Think back to a decade or so ago. How much data did you have then, compared with how much you have now?

Personally, I find it refreshing to say, “Okay, Google, for a while, I just don’t care. All right? Just. Don’t. Care. So, go away. Let me make awesome widgets and services, and the world will come knocking at my door.”

Goodbye, Google Dependency Syndrome. Hello, world.

Save the MacBook Airs. Take care of your heart.

Don’t freaking worry about it.