Secure Searches, ‘Not Provided’ and Why Not to Freak Out

Chicken Little has dusted off his bullhorn, strapped on his helmet and sandwich board, and is roaming the streets.

As I’m sure most people have heard, Google has decided to usher in the paid advertising ‘Not Provided’ apocalypse. On Wednesday, April 9th Google announced a secure search update that will result in queries being removed from the referrer URLs of ad clicks coming from people who are signed into a Google account. What does this mean for your accounts? If early reports are to be believed, it means that we are all going to be forced to wander the wilderness of the search advertising world wearing a blindfold. Don’t believe those reports.

Yes, it is true that search queries will no longer appear in referrer URLs that you normally saw in your analytics platforms, but there is more to the story than that. Let's look at an example to understand this sentence (taken directly from Google’s announcement): "Today, we are extending our efforts to keep search secure by removing the query from the referrer on ad clicks originating from SSL searches on"

Here's how things worked previously:

1. An advertiser (ABC Shoes) places an ad for the keyword ‘shoes’ on
2. I go to
3. I search for “best running shoes”
4. I see their ad for ABC Shoes and click on it
5. Their ad takes me to'best running shoes', ad_keyword='shoes'

**Note that the URL contained both the actual search query (best running shoes) and the keyword that was bid on (shoes).

After Google’s announcement, the referrer URL in step 5 is different. It now looks like this:'shoes'.

This example clearly shows that ABC Shoes can no longer see the actual search query that was entered by the consumer interested in the best running shoes. They just see the keyword from the query that matched their ad. Is this inconvenient? Yes. Is this a problem? For some. Is this the search advertising worlds’ version of an extinction event? No. ABC Shoes can still get data about the actual search queries from the AdWords API, and from the Webmaster tools.

Remember a long time ago, (a few sentences back) when I said that this is a problem for some accounts? It wouldn’t be a problem if they were following best practice rules. If the account structure is not sound and does not separate match types, it will be a problem. If the account is reliant mostly on non-modified broad match keywords, it will be a problem. If search term reports aren’t regularly reviewed so that good keywords can be added to the account and bad keywords can be excluded, it will be a problem.

For most of you reading this, the recent change Google has made to the content of the referrer URL is mostly just an inconvenience. For those of you who have serious fears that this change will hurt you because your account isn’t buttoned up, we highly recommend taking a long, hard look to identify what changes you can make to insulate yourself. If you are not sure where to look, we are.

We can’t protect you from a falling sky, but we can certainly help you navigate this latest development. Rise Interactive’s analysts are here to assist. Please reach out to learn more.

We would also like to recognize Wordstream’s Larry Kim for being the voice of reason amongst the Chicken Littles running around earlier this week. Bravo sir.

04/11/2014 at 02:51

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