How To Get More Out Of Search Terms Reporting In The Age Of Privacy And Automation

Search advertisers are used to change — but even as innovation, sophistication, and new features draw many of us into the industry, it’s a challenge to keep up and keep up with the adaptation.

Advancements in automation, along with evolving privacy expectations and systems, make this the biggest time of change since I started working in search marketing in 2005.

While we can all agree that user trust is imperative to a healthy digital advertising ecosystem, this refocus often upends the way campaign data is analyzed and activated.

In many ways, changes in search terms reporting are symbolic of these shifts and ways to help solve some of the challenges they present. Let’s dig in.

For background, two years ago, Google policy teams raised the privacy limit for reporting a search term in Google Ads.

This means that advertisers have less information about the terms customers use to find and interact with their business, and advertisers in sectors with the lowest global search interest saw the greatest impact.

This change happened about six months before I joined Google in a new Ads Producer Liaison role in 2021. It was one of the first things I wanted to understand better.

This is what I learned:

Why did the change happen? We’ve updated the thresholds to further ensure user privacy and help prevent an individual’s search from being linked to a specific conversion. From the point of view of the advertiser, this possibility may seem rather benign, but if we look at it from the perspective of the user and the policy, it is not.

why now? Rising consumer privacy expectations and an evolving regulatory landscape require that data use be viewed through a sharper user trust and security lens — and these shifts mean broader changes in data use and reporting across the industry. The search term report is just one example.

What now? This move was positive for user safety but undoubtedly annoying for advertisers. The product team knows that search terms reporting is an integral part of monitoring the performance of search campaigns.

Advertisers use it to understand how people search for their products or services, how their ads and landing pages respond to those users, and to determine which queries triggered their ads but may not be relevant or effective based on budget and goals.

By the time I joined Google, this team was already looking for more privacy-safe ways to display query insights.

Search terms insights

The first new approach the team took was to rebuild the existing search terms reporting system to be able to show terms that didn’t lead to an ad click, but had enough global search volume to include in the report.

This data allows you to see relevant demand that you may be missing and use it to inform your own creative improvements.

This was a good move, but it didn’t give advertisers more information about the search terms that were actually driving clicks and conversions.

This is the place Search terms insights Enter.

This new report, located on the account and campaign level Insights page, is a useful complement to the search terms report.

It’s also an example of how reporting can evolve with privacy changes and advances in automation.

How it works

Insights for search terms covers search, shopping, and Performance Max campaigns and uses automation to increase transparency in the search terms that drive traffic to your site in privacy-safe ways.

It does this by grouping and automatically grouping search terms into categories and subcategories by topic. Collections takes all search terms into account, including those that don’t appear in the search terms report due to privacy limitations.

You’ll need to give new campaigns some time to run to collect search term data. You can also set the date range from 7 days to 28 days and look at the account level for more data.

How to use it

Screenshot from Google Ads, November 2022

Get a high-level view of the topics driving traffic to your site and see performance metrics such as conversions, conversion value, clicks, and search volume across all targeted countries.

There are also filters to see topics for search terms by search category, conversion growth, or search volume growth.

For example, you can look at all the categories that have more than (or less than) 15% growth in search volume. From there, you can click on Attributes to see a breakdown of subcategories and search terms, and review your performance.

These insights are designed to help advertisers focus on broader topics based on intent rather than having to get sucked into individual inquiries.

If you’re used to downloading search term reports into a spreadsheet to group and filter individual search terms yourself to understand attributes, these insights can save you a lot of time. Quickly identify the top search categories and use them to inform your strategy to drive more of that demand.

Additionally, search term insights reflect the ways in which reports evolve to focus on factors that can help you direct automation to achieve your campaign goals, and to help avoid limiting the system in ways that can negatively impact performance.

Advertisers, myself included, have long been mining keyword search reports to add to negative keyword lists.

Adding hundreds or thousands of single negative keywords is an inefficient use of time, and even if you use a script to help with this work, huge lists can add complexity and affect performance.

This doesn’t mean that you should still not use negative keywords, of course, but if you use Smart Bidding, your process can change to take a more flexible approach since the model will be optimized according to our intent.

Insights for search terms can help you free yourself to focus on higher-impact changes, like testing new creatives around popular search categories.

It may take a little bit to familiarize yourself with these newer reports and adjust to the miniaturization mindset and analysis at the topic level to get started before digging into the details.

Insights for search terms recently came out of beta, the team is currently working on integrating advertiser feedback and will continue to make the feature more useful, so stay tuned for updates.

Reimagined to ensure future success

As the industry responds to privacy shifts, automation will play a key role in helping close measurement gaps to provide more transparency to advertisers in ways that respect and protect user privacy.

Conversion modeling is another example. Machine learning is used to give advertisers a more complete understanding of campaign performance when ad attribution cannot be observed due to privacy or technical limitations.

Ranked conversions can then inform your automated bid strategies and make them more efficient by reducing bias where performance data is incomplete.

The evolving landscape required re-imagining.

New solutions will be different from the status quo and will take time to get used to. They will also continue to improve.

Think back to when Google introduced its first Smart Bidding model, driving the most conversions, five years ago and the market reaction in those early days (there was plenty of room for improvement).

Machine learning has advanced greatly since then, and today the vast majority of advertisers use automatic bidding.

Changes to search terms reporting highlight key industry shifts in this new time and confirm that new approaches will continue to evolve with ongoing development – and advertiser feedback.

More resources:

  • Google Ads delivers diagnostic insights
  • Google makes ads more distinct from organic results
  • Top 10 Pay Per Click Trends To Know In 2022

Featured image: thinkhubstudio / Shutterstock

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