Google Giveth The Geo Data…Then Taketh Away

Within the last two weeks, Google has made updates to its Adwords reporting that offered new data insights, but also began taking away some key data points that are critical to national advertisers which leverage geographic bid modifiers.  If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t feel bad because Google didn’t announce the change to make you aware of the change.  And we all know that when Google doesn’t announce changes it is because they know it is going to be unpopular among Advertisers.

To our surprise, we recently uncovered on behalf of our clients that Google began obfuscating Metro DMA data fields within their Geographic Location dimensions reports.  When pulling reports and placing into pivot tables in Excel, we quickly determined that Google decided to provide a blank data field of information for Metro DMAs, even in circumstances wherein they know the City or Zip Code location of the search user.  In short, Google is providing the granular data but making the directed business decision to blank out the macro level geo location data despite having this information readily at their disposal.

In reviewing the changes across our client accounts, we have found that Google is blanking out data at rates that range from 35% to 55%.  More concerning is how they applied the change. Google recasted all past data and represented the data with new Metro DMA assignments.  Therefore, if you didn’t archive your past geographic data it is forever lost given the recasted processing of the data by Google.

Given the importance we find in geographic data and our agency’s aggressive utilization of bid modifiers at Metro DMA level, we archive geographic data weekly.  Below is a sample of impression data by Metro DMA pulled 30 days ago and then re-pulled over the same exact time frame for the very same locations.  The impacts are quite significant with 37% of data being lost in the mist.


For those that utilize geographic bid modifiers at the Metro DMA level, you now currently have no way to easily pull a report and evaluate the ROI impact of the changes you have applied to your campaigns. With 1/3 to 1/2 of the data missing, any assessments you make are not valid when it comes to ROI assessments.

Most concerning is the lack of logic behind when Google fills in the blank and when it doesn’t.  We found it to be more extensive on Google Display Network campaign than on Search Network campaigns.  And within the campaigns, for example, you will find one row record for Houston, TX wherein the Metro DMA data field is populated and another wherein the Metro DMA is not populate.

As advertisers, we are only left to scratch our heads and question whether or not we can rely on the data when we don’t understand the logic behind Google’s tabulation and presentation of the data. For those of you who heavily rely on Metro DMA, don’t be overly worried.  Appending the data back into the reports can easily be done buy purchasing a USPS data file that includes Metro DMA,  Google is extensively providing details on City and Zip Code level, so the data export from Google can be matched back and the Metro DMA columns left blank are easily populated.

Given the easy ability to do such appending, it brings to question on why Google would obfuscate such integral data that can so easily be appended using a $100 USPS data file along with a working knowledge of an Microsoft Excel VLOOKUP function.  Only Google knows their true motivations for such a change, we as Advertisers can only draw conclusions.