MGWM

How And Why Google's Search Term Report Update Impacted Visibility

Table of Contents

As those of us on the paid side know, September brought a new update to Google Ads’ search term report. Google updated the report, which used to show a large portion of user search terms, to include only “terms that were searched by a significant number of users.”

We’ve been monitoring the impacts across some of our clients, and we’ve put together this month-over-month overview of our findings.

Change In Impressions

Across clients, we saw fewer impressions in our search term reports. Impressions were not consistently included in search term reports prior to the update, so this is less drastic. The more impactful changes came to clicks, cost, and conversions. 

Change In Clicks

Clicks saw a more substantial decrease, with our accounts losing an additional 21% of clicks, leaving some accounts with reports that account for only 70% of clicks.

This means that our clients -- and likely yours too -- saw a month over month decrease in visible clicks. In other words, we could see fewer low-volume, one-off search terms. If those made up a large portion of historical spend, that means you can no longer see what a large number of users are searching and where a large part of your budget is going.

Change In Cost

This is the most concerning. Prior to the update, we could see where more than 90% of our budgets were going. In September, some accounts lost visibility into more than 40% of their monthly budgets. 

This means we can only account for 60-70% of our budgets. Month over month, the rest of our spend went into a black box of searches that only Google can see. If you rely on active negative keyword management, then this also means you lose insight into the low-volume, expensive or irrelevant searches that you would otherwise exclude.

Change In Conversions

Conversions were less impacted, but still saw a sizable drop. On average, we could see 15% fewer converting terms in our September search term reports.

Converting terms help us add-to or improve our keyword lists. By removing this data, we’re left more and more reliant on Google’s suggestions. While higher-volume terms will likely be better target keywords anyway, seeing fewer converting terms means we have to wait until “a significant” number of people search to identify opportunities. That can slow the pace of keyword improvements, when before you could identify relevant terms manually as soon as they converted. 

What Does This Mean For You?

Anything that shakes up search always causes short-term chaos, but we should wait and see what happens. I’d push all of us to revisit these figures in the coming months and to cross-reference them with trends in overall performance. 

This is the closest thing PPCs have had to a Google core algorithm update in a while. And overall, this update isn’t surprising. Google has been chipping away at granular account controls since it launched automated bidding. In the past few years alone, we’ve loosened the definition of “exact match,” and we’ve watched as Google removed the 30% bid adjustment cap for those automated strategies. The reality is, daily budgets and bids have become more like suggestions. It only makes sense that Google would phase-in the same approach with keywords.

As to why we’ve seen this, there are a few reasons. Cynically, these updates make Google money. They give more account control to Google’s algorithms, which lets them spend more. On the bright side, Google’s algorithms are smart, or at least they’re learning. With any luck, they should do better over time. 

Another reason is accessibility. As frustrating as these updates are, they open the door to more SMBs, who might not have the time or know-how to dig down into an account. As it stands, this also makes Google money, but it can also break down a big barrier to entry in search marketing.

All that said, I’m not a fan of losing significant visibility into ad spend and converting terms. I don’t think I’m alone there.

Not only does this make it less appetizing for advertisers, who can no longer accurately see where they’re spending money, but this seems like a largely self-interested change. 

Why Is Google Doing This?

I’ve yet to see a holistic reason for taking this information away that goes beyond privacy and automation. That’s been a consistent justification whenever Google moves to obscure or limit access to data. In this case, this data is some of the most useful for identifying new keyword opportunities and pruning wasted spend. In my opinion, it’s our best tool for keeping our accounts in-check. 

I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw exact match terms get more expensive as a result. I also expect click through rates to fall as our ads show for new, possibly irrelevant terms, and conversions will likely follow suit.

I could be wrong, but if I were Google, that’s what I’d do. They’ve got a business to run. Automated strategies and broad match terms make them more money by shot-gunning for similar keywords. They also feed the algorithms with more data. The incentive to nudge people into automation is clear.

But with Google under fire for monopolistic behavior, I really hope it sees the conflicts here and back-pedals some of these updates in the near future. 

If you’re seeing something similar (or completely different), drop us a line. We’d love to compare notes.

John Smith

John Smith

John is a Paid Media Manager at Uproer, where he works to build paid search strategies for clients in the e-commerce and SaaS spaces. He's drawn to the ideas, channels, tactics, and emerging trends that tackle big issues in marketing. And he approaches SEM with a focus on data privacy, incrementality, and social impact. When he's not knee-deep in a spreadsheet, John volunteers with local climate organizations and helps spread their message through search.

See More Insights

Don't Sleep on Category Page Content: 6 Tips to Drive Results

Category pages are some of the most important pages on an E-commerce website. They organize products into comprehensive grids, act as shopping hubs for site visitors, and can play a key role in your E-commerce SEO strategy. Don't sleep on category pages, folks. If you've covered your technical bases and

Read More

How a PPC Strategy Refresh Increased Closed Won Revenue By Over 1,000%

Parallax provides industry-leading resource management software to professional service companies. By late 2022, Parallax had been advertising on Google for over a year with little tangible results. Leads were inconsistent, and measurement was uncertain. That’s why they approached Uproer. We conducted a strategy development project to help Parallax turn their

Read More
MGWM

Sr. Manager, SEO & Operations

Dave Sewich

Dave made an accidental foray into digital marketing after graduating from the University of Minnesota Duluth and hasn’t looked back. Having spent the first part of his marketing journey brand-side, he now works with the Uproer team to help clients realize their goals through the lens of search.

When not at work, you’ll find Dave staying active and living a healthy lifestyle, listening to podcasts, and enjoying live music. A Minnesotan born and raised, his favorite sport is hockey and he still finds time to skate once in a while.

Dave’s DiSC style is C. He enjoys getting things done deliberately and systematically without sacrificing speed and efficiency. When it comes to evaluating new ideas and plans, he prefers to take a logical approach, always sprinkling on a bit of healthy skepticism for good measure. At work, Dave’s happiest when he has a chance to dive deep into a single project for hours at a time. He loves contributing to Uproer and being a part of a supportive team but is most productive when working solo.

Founder & CEO

Griffin Roer

Griffin discovered SEO in 2012 during a self-taught web development course and hasn’t looked back. After years of working as an SEO consultant to some of the country’s largest retail and tech brands, Griffin pursued his entrepreneurial calling of starting an agency in May of 2017.

Outside of work, Griffin enjoys going to concerts and spending time with his wife, two kids, and four pets.

Griffin’s DiSC style is D. He’s driven to set and achieve goals quickly, which helps explain why he’s built his career in the fast-paced agency business. Griffin’s most valuable contributions to the workplace include his motivation to make progress, his tendency towards bold action, and his willingness to challenge assumptions.