Google’s Search Term Report Update: A Guide

In September of 2020, Google began alerting advertisers of upcoming changes to their search terms report.

“We are updating the search terms report to only include terms that were searched by a significant number of users,”. The alert stated. “As a result you may see fewer terms in your report going forward.”

For those familiar with the Google Ads platform and the search terms report, this message was a cause for concern. But if you’re not as familiar with the platform, you may be wondering – what does this mean? What are the changes and how will they affect me?

First: What Is The Search Terms Report?

Google defines the search terms report as:

“a list of search terms that a significant number of people have used, and that resulted in your ad being shown. Depending on your keyword matching options, the search terms listed might be different from your keyword list.”

Essentially, the search terms report allows advertisers to take a deeper dive into what exactly users are searching for when their ads appear. For example, some users may search for “new bike” while others may search for “new bike on gumtree”. Depending on which keywords you are targeting, and their match type, your ads may show for both of these search terms, just one, or neither. The search terms report allows advertisers to see these search terms in full. As well as their cost and their rate of success, depending on your goals.

Relevant, highly performing search terms can be added as new keywords. While irrelevant or poorly performing search terms can be added as negative keywords, and excluded from the activity altogether.

The Changes

Unfortunately, Google can be less than forthcoming when it comes to details about the changes they make to their platform. They have never been specific about the changes they made to the search terms report. Despite many advertisers (and many digital marketing publications) contacting Google directly for clarification on what a “significant number of users” may be, they have yet to clarify.

The only thing we know for sure is that Google began removing search terms that generated few impressions and/or clicks. The threshold for what counts as “significant” remains unclear. We can assume that the biggest impact will be on those campaigns and ad groups which make use of phrase match or broad match modified keywords. As these keywords are the most likely to generate longer tail and more obscure search terms. All Search activity will be hit. Thankfully, we have not yet seen a drastic impact on performance from these changes across our campaigns.

Why Were Changes Made?

When contacted by digital marketing blog Search Engine Land, Google gave the following statement:

“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.”

The privacy explanation seems reasonable in light of other privacy changes in the online advertising marketplace, for example the EU’s GDPR regulations, and Apple’s upcoming privacy changes in its spring 2021 update. 

Some people have questioned this explanation however, suggesting that Google is making these changes for financial reasons. The COVID-19 pandemic significantly hit Google search advertising. With advertisers being more conservative with their budgets and as a result, Google Search revenue declined for the first time in its history.

(Source: )

By reducing the visibility of search terms, Google removes some of the fine control that advertisers have taken for granted in their Search campaigns. These changes will almost certainly have a positive effect on Google’s Search advertising bottom line.

The Impact

So what does this mean for you and your campaigns? Firstly, Google has always hidden a small number of queries from its search terms report. However, our data analysis suggests that the changes made in September had a significant impact on search term visibility.

Before the change, we saw up to just 5% of search terms missing from the report. Between September 2020 and the end of January 2021, however, this increased up to 30%, which is a significant jump.

With more terms being excluded, finding new negative keywords is more difficult. Any PPC expert will include search term report analysis in their campaign optimisation routines, which includes finding those poor quality search terms and weeding them out. Unfortunately, Google’s changes limit an advertiser’s ability to do this.

In addition, the more long tail keywords (which are especially useful for campaigns that have limited budget, due to frequently having lower competition) are more likely to be excluded from search terms reports as they are less likely to be searched for by a “significant number of users”. This makes finding new keyword opportunities more difficult.

Where To Go From Here

Can anything be done to work around these changes? Unfortunately, it looks like the new, truncated search terms report is here to stay and there are no workarounds.

What this means is that advertisers will have to be more proactive and spend more time on research. Understanding users, what they’re searching for, and what you want to avoid your ads showing with will be even more key. Anticipating unprofitable search terms and keeping a strong, well-managed list of negative keywords will be the most important way of keeping on top of unnecessary spend.

In addition to this, making use of Google’s automated bidding options will help to target the more niche search terms that will now be hidden. While advertisers can no longer see data for hidden terms, Google still uses this data to inform its algorithms. So making good use of target CPA or enhanced CPC bidding, for example, will help advertisers target those important terms.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Google Search is still an invaluable part of any digital marketing activity. We’re not alone in seeing continued success with our Google Search ad campaigns, despite the issues outlined here. By adapting, staying up to date and managing your campaigns efficiently, Google Search can still drive great results for advertisers.

Key Points

  • Staying on top of campaign optimisation is more important than ever!
  • If you haven’t already, try testing out some of Google’s automated bidding strategies and see if they work for you.
  • Don’t discount the importance of Google Search ads – despite the changes, the platform is still one of the best ways to reach many audiences.

If you’d like to know more about how Forward & Thinking can help you to achieve your goals by leveraging Google Search, don’t hesitate to drop us a line at