The Death of Keyword Data and Competition

Update (10 Apr 2014, 9:09am): I will leave this post live in its original form for posterity and because the thought exercise was still interesting. However, with more details from the official announcement from Google I have written a follow-up about the “non-story” that it looks like this is shaping up to be.

Personally, I felt the writing was on the wall when this post went up. Many were hopeful that this meant keyword data would be returned for organic search, but if you look at the semantics of the wording and the “importance of users” and the fact that “[they] really like the way things have gone on the organic side of search” it seemed pretty clear that this day would eventually come.

There are (so far unconfirmed*) reports that Google will no longer be passing referring keyword data for paid search advertisers, following the earlier decision not to do so for organic search.

Advertisers Lose Some “Personal” Data, So What?

If the early reports coming out in the last 24 hours about Google no longer passing referring keyword data for paid search traffic are true it means a couple of things for certain:

1. This does answer critics’ questions about the hypocrisy of passing keyword data for paid search data but not for organic search.

2. It also makes for a much more difficult time for analysts to find insight about the performance of their website and the traffic that is being referred to their website – it places full reliance on performance of “keyword groups” and matching up data from multiple sources when previously this extra step was not required.

3. The data will still be available (unchanged based upon the earlier reports) within Google’s platforms – AdWords and Webmaster Tools. (Update: It will also still be available in bid management platforms like Marin – and one can assume that means Kenshoo, DART, and Adobe SearchCenter+).

Why Would Google do This?

For me the most fascinating part of the story is one that I’ve not seen a lot of people talking about and that’s the possible rationale for Google doing this. This is purely speculation on my part but if you think about this critically, privacy alone doesn’t seem a significant justification from taking away valuable insight from the people that pay the bills (i.e. advertisers).

I’ve outlined a few thoughts on what this could mean for the broader competitive landscape which I believe may provide a clue as to the motivations and potential gains:

1. Going down this route creates a massive competitive advantage for Google. They own the keyword data and can choose to provide it to users through their own products if they choose. They could also keep it to themselves if they see the benefits outweighing providing some level of data to advertisers (hint: they won’t keep it to themselves).

2. They are setting up the opportunity to control the data integration conversation as well as the data provision conversation. This is extremely important as it could give their analytics platform (Google Analytics) a massive advantage over other platforms. At the moment the integration of AdWords and Google Webmaster Tools into Analytics provides additional information within Google Analytics. Going forward, Google can decide to whom, at what price, and which data they wish to provide to any competitors.

Suddenly the huge price tag for other premium analytics platforms may look a lot less appealing.

3. Finally, this is a huge shot across the bow to any other providers wishing to offer the coveted “stack” solution including analytics/data management, advertising buying and selling, and optimisation.

Make no bones about it, both Adobe (with their Marketing Cloud) and Google (with their stack that has been loosely dubbed DDM) are ramping up for the battle for the full-service offering spanning advertising creation, execution, tracking, measurement and insight, as well as the optimisation of that entire cycle.

The above “data integration” conversation is thus more important than ever. If the only way to integrate Google AdWords keyword data (even at a group or campaign level) and Google Webmaster Tools keyword data with your site performance data is through this integration, Google has the potential to create a huge competitive advantage in stack space too.

It feels like there’s a real convergence afoot with a number of Google’s products at the moment (just look at the number of questions about GTM in the newest Google Analytics exam) and make no bones about it, there is the potential for this to be a massive hand in the overall “big data” and integrated advertising arms race.

There’s a lot more thinking to be done on what the future looks like and interesting ways in which Google could allow this proprietary data to be passed within the walled garden of a Google stack solution, but we can be certain of this much: shots have been fired.

As always, the above thoughts are my own and do not reflect the opinion of my employer or anyone else. This is my personal blog.

*Update: As of 22:31 (GMT) on Apr 9, 2014 the move to Secure Search (aka “not provided” for paid search) has been officially confirmed by Google (


  1. Does this also mean that bid management tools like Marin and Kenshoo will no longer have keyword level data? Or will these integrations remain intact?

  2. Hi Peggy,

    Thanks for your question! Integration for those products should still remain intact. This is, of course, all speculation at this stage but Marin have confirmed that if this *were* to happen, Marin data would be unaffected – much like the data in AdWords. I would suggest that it’s therefore probably safe to assume that the same would apply to Kenshoo.

    Confirmation here:


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