Search Terms Report Changes: What We Know

Written by Nicola Bell

Nicola is the Digital Account Manager at GlowMetrics, preparing and executing PPC & SEO strategies for new and existing clients. Nicola specialises in integrated marketing campaigns, combining the best of paid social and paid search to get the finest of results for her clients
October 12, 2020

From 1 September 2020, Google started restricting the data that advertisers can access through the Google Ads Search Terms Report. When running Google Ads Search campaigns the Search Terms Report is vital for finding out which user queries are generating ads. Essentially, this report shows you EXACTLY what using are typing in when they see your ads – and that data is VITAL. Read on to find out about the Google Ads Search Terms Report changes and what we know so far about them.

At the beginning of September 2020, Google Ads Account managers were alarmed to read the following message from Google describing the changes they were making to one of the most important reports in Google Ads. 


Google Ads Search Terms Report


This means that if you look at your Search Terms Reports from September, you’re very likely to see less data about the user queries that generate your ads. Depending on Google’s definition of “significant” this may have implications for PPC campaigns as our ability to spot and exclude irrelevant search terms has been made much more difficult. As a PPC Team, we’re more than a little concerned about the impact this change will have on our clients’ accounts and our ability to have complete visibility over the terms that show their ads. It’s fair to say we’re not the only ones, as the world of Google Ads Account Managers is livid. A scroll through the Twitter #PPCchat hashtag reveals the strength of feeling on the matter – some have even set up a petition to counter this latest action from Google.  

What Changes Has Google Made to the Search Terms Report?

According to a statement given by Google to Search Engine Land: “In order to maintain our standards of privacy and strengthen our protections around user data, we have made changes to our Search Terms Report to only include terms that a significant number of users searched for. We’re continuing to invest in new and efficient ways to share insights that enable advertisers to make critical business decisions,”

That’s it. There was no further information provided by Google about what exactly “significant” means and the fear is that advertisers could be left in the dark about which search terms are and aren’t working. This is especially important for long-tailed keywords or for clients in niche markets who target keywords that have naturally less search volume that may not be classed as “significant” to Google.  

How Much Data Have We Lost?

Until the new changes come into effect, we won’t know exactly what impact these changes will have and what the new report will look like. However, advertisers have legitimate worries about our ability to update negative keywords lists or rely on data around low-volume keywords. Without this data, account managers may lose some of the decision-making tools they need to optimise campaigns and ensure that budget is being spent in the right places to produce desired results. I’ve had a quick look at some of the largest accounts in the GlowMetrics MCC and compared August 2020 to September 2020, and already the results are apparent:

  • On average the accounts show 33% fewer search terms in September, compared to August.
  • they show 32% fewer search terms that received fewer than 10 clicks.
  • and show 38% fewer search terms that received fewer than 10 impressions.

  Some are reporting even more alarming results:

Greg Asquith Tweet   Search Terms Report Ad Spend  

What Impact Will This Have?

On the heels of dealing with close variants and the loosening of match types – it’s more necessary than ever to be in the query reports and to be monitoring which terms are showing your ads. Over the last few years, Google has made several changes to the match types in Google Ads with the effect being that exact match is not as exact as it used to be. This is another step towards advertisers loosening control over what search terms generate our ads and this change to the Search Terms Report has now reduced our visibility over such irrelevant terms. Every irrelevant click is ad spend wasted, and several low-volume terms can really add up. The reduced visibility into search queries will make it that much more difficult to effectively optimise Google Search campaigns.

Google hasn’t released what they class a “significant” data and each advertiser and industry will have a different definition of what is “significant” to them. Is it 2 impressions or 20? Is it 100 clicks or 1? These are questions we just don’t have the answer to, yet. All in all,  this is really bad news especially for smaller budget advertisers, where every click counts, or niche advertisers with a low search volume where search volume is naturally low. 


What Do I Do Now?


1. Use the Search Terms Data You Do Have

As frustrating as this announcement has been for agencies and advertisers alike, this is not the time to turn your back on the Search Terms Report completely. It still holds valuable data around what user queries are generating your ads, but if you are a small-scale advertiser or in a low search volume/niche industry you may have to look at your search terms report over a much longer period than you would have done previously, but you should continue optimising. Don’t let this interfere with best practice – make the most of the data you do have – it’s still valuable!


2. Use the Microsoft Advertising Search Terms Report

While there’s no denying that Google all but runs the world of search, Microsoft still shares a good proportion of the market. This means that the information this search engine can provide will still be very helpful. If you are also running ads on Microsoft Advertising (formally known as Bing) we recommend reviewing you search queries there to see if you can use that data to optimise not only your Microsoft ads but also Google Ads. From this report, you should be able to find new keywords and negative keywords for Google as well.


3. Let Google Optimise For You – Try Smart Bidding

Even though we can no longer see the data now, Google still can and we have no doubt they will still be using it to inform its own automated bidding strategies. We can’t compel Google to return this data to us, but by setting up Smart Bidding we can allow Google to optimise the campaigns for us based on this hidden data. We have seen some positive results for clients who have made the move to smart bidding so it is definitely worth a try. 


4. Pre-Empt Negative Keyword Keywords

Rather than running ads and then relying on the Search Terms Report to provide information about which search terms you should exclude via Negative Keywords we encourage you to consider this when setting up new campaigns. Is there anything obvious that may cause confusion with queries?  Try to think of potential close variant search terms that might show you ads but could be highly irrelevant.  An example of this would be the use of ‘IT services’ instead of ‘IT support’. 


What the New Search Terms Report Means for Our Clients

At GlowMetrics, our expert PPC team are well-versed in adapting as necessary to the of ever-changing obstacles thrown up by Google. We know how to develop PPC campaigns in line with wider changes and have a long history of continuously delivering results for our PPC clients. Ultimately, our clients know that their PPC advertising is in safe hands with us.

In regard to this latest development, the fact is, for established clients we will continue to have access to plenty of historical data. If the recent Google Search Terms Report changes are a concern for you, or you have any questions regarding how to effectively run PPC now, get in touch to find out how we can help.



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