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AdWords Reporting Changes: For Better Or For Worse?

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Synopsis — If you are a long-time user of Google AdWords, you undoubtedly wondered if the recently announced changes to AdWords reporting features would make their use easier or not. Ultimately, the issue depends on your own individual use of the reports — what is important to you, which reports you absolutely rely upon, and how well the configuration fit your needs. However, many advertisers have found navigating through the new setup confusing and difficult, with reports they are used to quickly accessing suddenly nowhere to be found.

Guy Hill, in “AdWords Reporting Changes: For Better Or For Worse?” helps you with that problem. By detailing the major changes, explaining where familiar reports and functions have been moved to, and commenting on the utility of the changes, Guy provides the details you need to navigate this new world of reports. The inclusion of screenshots will help you locate some of the most popular items that have been re-located, and explanations of why some features have been moved, he gives AdWords users insight into the new reporting setup. For those new to AdWords, reading this article will give you insight into some of the more important report features found in AdWords.

The complete article follows …

AdWords Reporting Changes: For Better Or For Worse?

Google’s recent announcement of changes to AdWords reporting features stated that the changes would make finding key data “faster and easier.” For long-time AdWords users, however, initial responses were less than positive. For many, the changes caused confusion, and for some, the reporting process now seems more difficult than ever to understand. Not all will be faced with a hornet’s nest, but for those who find themselves lost, let’s look at ways to use the new interface to access the reporting features, both standard, new, and “improved.”

The changes were introduced earlier, but as of October 2010, Google deactivated all previous reporting, and advertisers were officially immersed in the new reports. The main change was to take all reports and spread them out across the various tabs in the AdWords interface, instead of listing them. In doing so, Google turned reporting into a bit of scavenger hunt, especially for long-term advertisers who were left wondering where features have been hidden on some key reports.

1.  Campaign Reports

Previously, we looked at data in the Campaign tab, and then downloaded it from the Reporting tab. Google’s idea appears to have been to combine these functions. Above each graph is a little “down arrow” type of button. If you mouse-over the button, you’ll see it corresponds to the “download report” feature, which is now the main gateway into campaign data (most of the time).


Figure 1.  Download report button

Once you click the “download report” button, options for customizing the data in that report via “Segments” appear. Segments allow you to customize data by “Network,” “Day of week,” “Conversion type,” etc. The Segment function is Google’s new answer for most of the options that were available on the old report builder.

Figure 2.  Segment function

2.  Columns

Back when the Campaign tab was primarily for looking at data, the Column function used to correspond to how you arranged your data on-screen. With the new reporting, however, how you set Columns influences what you see when you download reports. Since adjusting Columns and pulling reports are now separate processes, this may not be obvious. Be especially careful as to what kind of “conversion” data you have selected in your Columns. This is crucial when you are collecting data on multiple conversion types (more on that below).

Figure 3.  Columns

3.  Nested Data

Another non-obvious and slightly complicated concept in the new reporting is the nesting of data. When something is nested, it sits inside something else. This results in a “nesting” issue existing in reports that wasn’t a problem before these changes went live.

When pulling a report now, you must be very careful as to the “status” of the campaigns you’re looking at. This setting is not strictly part of pulling a report, but is a separate task where you select your campaigns as “All,” “All enabled,” or “All but deleted.” This setting doesn’t change what you actually see in the interface that much, but when you download, you only get data for the campaigns indicated by this setting.

If you’re like many advertisers, you have this set to “All enabled” campaigns. In the old reporting system with “All enabled,” when you downloaded a report for a given month, you saw data for all campaigns, even deleted ones or ones that aren’t enabled the day you pull the report. Now, unless you select “All,” Google will only show you spending for what is currently enabled, ignoring costs/data for campaigns you might have paused recently. For example, I ran a campaign report for a client using “All enabled” (only campaigns that are live today) and saw spending of $414,000 for a given period. Running that same report, with campaigns set for “All but deleted” shows $451,000. That’s more than $30,000 difference, for the same time period, depending on how the setting is configured. Unless you’re certain what you’re downloading, you could be using totally inaccurate data for your analysis or to report results. For those used to the previous reporting system, this issue makes it difficult to see this as an “improvement.”

The “nested” issue carries over into reporting beyond Campaigns. For instance, if you are looking for data on a given keyword, but don’t have that campaign enabled today, Google will report no such keyword data exists. Even if you have “All keywords” selected, Google will only download data for keywords for campaigns that are enabled. You might pull, and re-pull, looking for data you know is there, but unless you leave the Keyword tab, go back to the Campaign tab, change the setting to “All campaigns,” then return to the Keyword tab, and re-pull the same report again, you won’t find what is actually there. Keywords, are “nested” in Campaigns, and your settings on other tabs influence downloads. This is not obvious, especially to those who have been using AdWords reports for some time, and seems highly likely to increase errors in campaign reporting and optimization.

Figure 4.  Campaign settings and the nesting issue

4.  Keyword Reporting

Keyword reporting is straightforward and mostly functions as it always has. One notable exception is that there is no longer an option to pull Keywords and Placements together.

One thing that has changed is the reported call “Search Query Performance” has been renamed and is not as evident in its location. If you go to the Keyword tab, and pull a Keyword report, there is no option for “Search Query” as a segment, etc. However, there is another setting here that will get you back to search queries. The button is labeled “See search terms,” with an option for “All.” This is the equivalent of “Search Query report” in the new Google reports. It’s not obvious how to get this data; it’s not labeled the way it has been for years; it’s not consistent with any other tab; but it’s still there, if you can find it.

Figure 5.  Location of Search Query Report

5.  Account Performance And Dimensions

Another interesting choice Google made in the revamp is to deemphasize “account level data.” In fact, it’s not particularly obvious that this data is even available anymore. For one thing, there is no longer an “Account” tab. Furthermore, in the list of available reports (that Google has removed), there was an option for “Account Performance.” Account holders used to be able to easily run data for the whole account, but now that process is much more mysterious.

Google’s answer to reporting account-level data is an entirely new tab called “Dimensions,” a rather bizarre solution to the need for a place for reports like URL-level data (landing page data) and geography-based reports. This level of data could have been included under “segments,” but instead, some of this data is only available on the Dimensions tab, even though it easily applies to Campaigns, Ads, Keywords, etc.

Figure 6.  Dimensions

One last tricky thing about the Dimensions tab is that by default, it’s hidden. Unless you’ve enabled it, you won’t know it exists. To enable it, you have to go to the down arrow next to the Network tab (to show tabs), click that, then check the box for “Dimensions.” Very clunky work on Google’s part here, and hard to justify how this could possibly be better than the old centralized system. If they hide reports like URL-data on a tab, and then hide the tab, it’s inevitable that some advertisers will never know that report exists.

Figure 7.  Show tabs

6.  Library

Any discussion of the new reporting features would be incomplete without a look at the Library. The Library option (part of “control panel and library”) is at the bottom of the expandable area to the far left on the Campaign tab. It’s not a tab; it’s not a setting; it’s … something else. This is the secret location of all reports you’re pulling from other tabs. After you pull a report, that report is saved in the Library. Why call it the Library? I have no idea. Why put reports here instead of under a tab called Reporting? I’ll leave that explanation to Google. Should you ever want to stop/adjust an automatic report (one that is emailed each week, for instance), this is where you might find that report.

Figure 8.  Library

Conclusion

Overall, it’s really not clear what Google’s motives were for these changes. Their stated claim was that these changes would be “faster and easier” and give us “more control.” Based on the tour above, that seems far from true. Powerful reports are now hidden. The ones that we can find are harder to pull, require multiple steps, are subject to errors due to Column and Nesting issues, and often require offline work to get the data into usable formats. This all seems far from fast and easy.

Regardless of “why” Google made these changes, Google’s Customer Service Reps tell us the decentralized changes are here to stay. Advertisers who have long been with AdWords may need to put clues together from articles like this in order to illuminate the location of some previously obvious options. Data is important. Ultimately, we will all need to dig in and learn how to navigate the new reporting functionality as we work toward ROI in our campaigns.

About the Author

Guy Hill is an online marketing consultant with DroidINDUSTRIES, specializing in SEM, customer acquisition programs, and tracking/analytics.

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