Secret Histories: What’s Missing From Your Change History

One of the not-so-fun parts of PPC is troubleshooting: there’s been a drop in performance and you need to know why so you can fix it. You’ll usually consult the Change History to see if it’s the result of a change in the account. But there’s a lot of changes that aren’t in the History.


Approvals and Disapprovals

Ad approvals aren’t in the Change History. You may have submitted an ad that needed manual review – an image ad, or something with the word ‘tablet’ in it – and there’ll be no indication when exactly Google approved it. You can only see when it started getting traffic.

Similarly, disapprovals aren’t in the History. Even if an ad was working fine before, Google might suddenly decide it was somehow against a policy. If that ad was your best performer – or if all ads in a group get disapproved – then there could be a fall in traffic.

Of course you should get an email if ads are disapproved, but it’s easy for the message to fall into a spam folder. There should be a notification, and a red and white exclamation mark on the notification bell, in the top right of the AdWords screen. You can find disapproved ads if you go to the Ads tab and filter by Disapproval Status: check if ads are ‘Approval (limited)’ as well as Disapproved.

Also, if you’re using PLAs, problems with the merchant feed won’t be in the Change History.


Shared Lists

It’s easy to miss shared campaign negative keywords lists, hidden away in the Shared Library. But someone could have added a keyword, or applied the list to a campaign, and accidentally cut out useful traffic.



Conversion tags could have been dropped. Or URL changes could have messed up GA goals that are then imported as conversions.

Also if you’re using Conversion Optimiser or Enhanced Bidding, which relies on your conversion tracking, then things may go wrong if the tracking has gone wrong. Or if you’ve changed the conversion process, or what counts as a conversion, then the bids are being determined by no longer relevant data.


Remarketing Audiences

It says in the Change History if you’ve added a remarketing audience to an ad group. But it doesn’t say if there’s been a change to what the audience is.

Perhaps your site’s URL structure changed, and your audience was defined by words in the URLs that appear in new places. Perhaps the remarketing tag was accidentally dropped and you’re running out of people. Perhaps there’s been a change in the people visiting the site – perhaps there was promotional activity to a new demographic? – and that changed who the audience is.

You can’t see the exact changes in AdWords, but if you go to the Audiences section in the Shared Library you can click on an audience name to get an Audience Report. This will show if your list’s size has decreased (or increased) over time. More subtly, if you’ve previously made notes of what the demographics of your list, you might notice if there’s been a change in the people as well as the numbers.



If your account has been hacked, the hackers’ actions will be in the Change History the same as any other users’. But if Google spots the hack and automatically deleted campaigns the hackers have changed, then that won’t be: it wasn’t done by a user, so it isn’t logged.

If your account has been hacked, talk to Google and they’ll give you an itemised list of what you need to change for your account to be put live again.


Quality Score

Improvements in QS cause lower CPC or better ad position. However historic QS isn’t in the Change History, or anywhere in AdWords.

To get around this you can use an AdWords Script to record quality score – either at account level or keyword level. Then when there’s an unexpected change you can see if it correlates to a change in QS.


Billing Issues

You might have run out of credit or had a card disapproved.


Changes to AdWords Itself

From time to time Google decide you shouldn’t be able to exclude tablet traffic, or have exact match shouldn’t actually be exact. New features – or rather, new loss of features – won’t be in the Change History. There’s not much of a way around this, except for keeping on top of the Inside AdWords Blog so you know when these things will happen, or have happened.


Anything Over Two Years Old

This doesn’t matter if you’re just looking at recent changes, but it’s something to remember if you’re planning for the long term.


Is there any way to get around this?

My main tip to get around the Change History’s limitations is to take notes when you make changes, or (in the case of enhanced campaigns) when change is thrust upon you. Then when you come to troubleshoot in the future, you’ll have a reference. Also, even for changes that are recorded, your notes are probably easier to read than the Change History. Also make note of the reasons for change – then your future self will know whether to undo the change or keep it.

If you want a very thorough record then you can export your account from AdWords Editor as a CSV, so you can make an archive of what the account used to look like. But this doesn’t capture all settings (especially those pesky Shared Libraries) and is hard to search through.

Another technique is to use labels – if there was a major change to something, label it with a note to your future self. (And if you want to label things in bulk I’ve AdWords Scripts to label ad groups, ads and keywords.)


Do you have any tips on keeping track of changes? Have I missed out anything that doesn’t get logged? Let us know in the comments.


Image credit: IMG_1760 by Robert Couse-Baker

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