We are aiming to raise £10k to help 4 small local charities in Brixton. Visit our Just Giving page.

How Does Google’s Restriction of Data Visibility Affect PPC?


In his recent blog post on the top PPC trends to expect in 2021, Dave mentioned that Google tightened its data privacy policy in 2020. That’s a good thing, right? Well… not necessarily for businesses that make significant investments in Google Ads. Chris, our PPC Manager, is here to explain why. 

Google’s Visibility Restrictions

Google has stepped up its game in reducing our control and visibility of PPC ads. The biggest change to date, announced back in September 2020, was the reduction in the number of user searches we can see and analyse within the Google Ads platform.

Google’s statement was as follows:

“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.” 

Source: Search Engine Land

For our client Knight Frank, for example, between January and August 2020 we had visibility on 99.13% of our search terms; from September 2020 onwards we have been recording 62.53% of our search terms, a significant reduction.

How Does This Affect PPC Management?

This means that, on average at any one time for this particular client, 37.47% of our customer searches are no longer visible, making it increasingly difficult to influence the search queries that our ads are showing for.

Identifying performing and non-performing search queries is an important part of any PPC account strategy: we want to show for those queries that prove performance; on the other hand, we do not want to continuously waste spend on those that do not. So how do we minimise the impact of getting less visibility on performance?

Use a combination of tools

Search queries are not only available within the Google Ads platform – they are also accessible via Google Analytics. Utilising a combination of these two platforms might not get you 100% visibility but could boost that percentage.

Focus on campaign structure

The structure of your campaign is more important than ever. If you can limit the queries you’d expect to come through any particular campaign, you may be able to take a more granular approach.

Get your negative keywords tight in advance of running activity

This is important in any account setup, but more so now. Having strong negative keywords lists in advance of launching activity can help to reduce those unwanted search terms… which could now be missing from your query reports.

Still perform SQRs (search query analysis)

Although there has been a significant reduction in the total number of visible search queries for PPC managers, you’ll still be receiving 60-70%. This is certainly enough to continue running SQRs and identify both performing and non-performing queries.


Why Has Google Made These Changes?

One reason behind this change – or at least how Google frames it – is that it has a responsibility to bolster its privacy requirements. However it’s also no secret that Google is pushing automation. Removing visibility gives Google the opportunity to push the various automation features across the platform that will, from its perspective, “deal with this for you” – by which it means enhancing performance based on learnings. This could include limiting or managing those search queries that we’re not seeing, or increasing them to drive more spend… either way, we – and our clients, who are footing the bill – would not know.

To summarise, in my own opinion it seems that although this limitation is about privacy it’s also another move for Google to drive additional spend through ad accounts and further limit our manual control and human decision making. I strongly believe this is still vital for effective PPC campaign management.


What is the Future of Visibility within Google Ads?

We have seen several changes to match types over the years, which combined with this search term update has led to reduced control and visibility of our accounts. We don’t think that Google will stop here. With the drive towards moving advertisers to utilise automation – more exclusive data for Google and more control over our money – this isn’t the end of the story.

Off the back of recent communication with Google, we are anticipating that the limits on control will be extended to our ads. Google is already pushing advertisers to move to RSA (Responsive Search Ads) over our traditional ETAs (Expanded Text Ads). In 2021 we’re expecting to see ETAs scrapped and a forced move to RSAs for all advertisers.

Pick the Right PPC Partner

If you’re looking for a partner who can lead your PPC campaign management with expertise, agility and foresight, get in touch with our PPC team. We’d love to hear from you!