Anonymous AdWords placements

Update: as of June 2013, Google Analytics no longer “de-anonymizes ” URLs reported as anonymous by Google AdWords (see the comments below). It was fun while it lasted, though.

Having a look at a placement performance report a few days ago I was both surprised and annoyed to see that I got the most clicks and incurred the biggest costs for some famous AdSense publishers, by the names of and such.

Obviously, those placements only got me clicks and no conversions, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this.

AdWords anonymous URLs

 According to Google, “Some publishers choose to offer placements anonymously and not disclose their site names to advertisers.” ( Which, to me, reads “you may find yourself spending money without knowing where your ads appear”.

It’s like going out to dinner, asking for the bill and seeing, next to everything, from hors d’oeuvres to desserts, some items which requested to remain anonymous. In spite of representing a significant part of the bill. They just don’t like publicity, you know, so they chose to remain anonymous. In the background. Discrete. 🙂

Luckily, every AdWords account I run is linked to a Google Analytics account, and AdWords related data is in there as well. And – lo and behold – Google Analytics knows no such thing as anonymous placement URLs. Every URL that got me at least a click is there, undisguised. In the foreground, for all to see. Transparent.

Which means that I can see, per placement domain or URL:

  • bounce rate
  • pages / visit
  • visit duration
  • goal completion
  • revenue

That’s enough for me to be able to judge whether a certain placement is worth my money or not. And although I won’t be able to say who is, specifically, I will be able to say that I no longer want my ads to show on a certain website or section of it.

The image below represents filtered data; domains containing the string “anonymous”. As you can see, there are no such URLs in Google Analytics. All data is visible there.

So, in the future, if you see a lot of in your placement reports, and do not know what to exclude, leave the AdWords interface and move to the Google Analytics one. Once there, see what placements are not performing according to your targets and expectations and exclude them.

If you don’t have a linked Google Analytics account, get one and link it to your AdWords account. It’s free, and it’s the only way for you to access post-click data related to your AdWords visitors (data which is not in the AdWords interface).

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to exclude placements with only impressions and no clicks, because those placements only appear in the AdWords interface, not in the Google Analytics one (obviously, as you need the visitor to reach your website in order for Google Analytics to be able to record anything). And those placements, if your ads keep showing without getting clicks, may drag your quality score on the display network down. But you can at least stop wasting money for placements that only get you clicks and no other benefits.

About Calin Sandici

Father of two and husband of one, at the crossroads of Google AdWords, Analytics and E-Commerce.

  • Lena S

    Great post, very helpful!
    One question though, regarding what you wrote at the last paragraph…
    “you won’t be able to exclude placements with only impressions and no clicks, because those placements only appear in the AdWords interface”

    How do you see placements with imps only, and no clicks…?


  • @Lena: Thank you. You can see placements with no clicks in your AdWords interface, under Display Network – Placements. Over there you can filter by Clicks = 0 and you’ll see some of them. Not all, you will still have some / many under “Other domains”, because, as it is mentioned in the interface “Your ad didn’t get a significant number of impressions. Your ad received a few impressions, but it didn’t get any clicks. Your ad ran on the website within the past 48 hours, so the page hasn’t yet been listed individually.”. But you will be able to see some, check those websites and if you think they are not a good fit, you can exclude them.

    Or you can exclude them if you see that the impressions are already huge compared to other websites and you can consider that if you did not get a click by now, it’s probably worthless to continue.


  • Tommy Sands

    Doing some placement research today for a potential client and found myself frustrated with the anonymous placements and decided to see what kind of info was out the wild on this…I did not hesitate to click on the first result when I saw who the author was. As always, great info Calin, Thanks!

    • Thank you, Tommy. It seems we all get frustrated eventually ;). It’s just a question of time.

      • Calin Sandici,

        This is awesome. I bitched in the past about anonymous placements. What I don’t understand is why should an advertiser “for Google Adsense” get anonymity?
        You are paying Google for placements. This is not a “Not Provided” issue as in free SEO traffic.

        • It beats me, Stanley, and I find it very frustrating as well. But it seems that frustration bears fruit sometimes, and in this case we can use Google Analytics to fill in some gaps left there by AdWords and AdSense.

  • dope. Thank you for the insight. I get it now. I was under the im,pression anonymous meant they were not logged in as Google users.

    thanks again

  • Hi Calin,

    My Analytics interface still shows anonymous placements like when I go to Traffic Sources > Sources > Advertising > AdWords > Placements.

    Or maybe I have to go to Traffic Sources > Sources > Referrals in order to see them? If so, how can I make sure that a specific referrals really comes from AdWords?

    Thanks for helping me.


    • Eric, thanks for pointing it out. From what I see, starting in June, Analytics and AdWords have gotten more and more integrated (in May I see no anonymous placements creeping into Analytics, though they are present in AdWords, but starting in June they rear their ugly head). Because of that (I assume), unfortunately, many “anonymous AdWords placements” are now reported as anonymous in Analytics as well.

      Pity, because in the end it’s our money that gets spent and we should be entitled to know where we’re spending it.

      One thing we can do though is to exclude all anonymous placements as shown here. Though we may exclude some good ones as well with this method.

      • Hi Calin,

        Thank you for your answer. You are right, we should be entitled to know where we’re spending our money (in my case it’s my clients’ money). I don’t want my clients’ ads to be shown on placements that are not in harmony with their philosophy and values. I know that we can filter out some categories (like crime, sex, international conflicts, etc.), but does it work efficiently?

        I am not sure that excluding all anonymous placements would be a good solution as some of them are converting very well actually.

        That “anonymous” thing is something good for Google because it prevents advertisers from identifying and contacting website owners in order to do business directly with them. Now it becomes harder to take the middle man (Google) out of the equation…

  • Patricia Sarsfield

    Hi Calin and all, that’s some great information thank you very much.

    I had seen these anonymous Google placements on my ad campaign and that’s how i got to your site. I believe that these anonymous hits could be also increasing our quantity of impressions and therefore increasing our CPM impression cost needlessly. I’m new to google ads so I could be wrong. Would love to hear your feedback thank you.

    (PS is it okay for me to insert a link to my blog here? I am trying to build traffic to my site but as I said I am new to this and I genuinely am not familiar with posting on blogs)

    • Calin Sandici

      Hello, Patricia. See my former discussion with Eric, below your post. Unfortunately, Google Analytics no longer shows you the real URL for what was formerly anonymous in AdWords, so if you want to exclude all placements you’ll have to exclude “” (add it as an excluded placement in AdWords).

      However, before deciding that clicks from those domains/pages are useless, look at what that traffic brings you in Analytics, and if it hits your goals. If it does, there’s no reason for you to exclude it. If it doesn’t, then give it a try, exclude it for a while and see what the outcome is.

      As for links, I do not know how Google would classify it, but I think that your website and mine are rather unrelated, so I don’t think that a link from here to there would really benefit you. But, like I said, I do not know.

      • Patricia Thomond Sarsfield

        That’s perfect Calin thanks-

        • Ugh, I was so excited when I found this post…

          • Calin Sandici

            Sorry, Philip, I think we all share your disappointment. Like I said, it was good while it lasted.

  • Quite informational post thanks for share ……keep it up……

  • Al Papazzo


  • Petra Kellerová

    informative and witty! what a nice way to start off the week 🙂

  • Jonathan Girouard

    Thank you, exactly what I was looking for! Great article, thanks for sharing!

  • ComUP

    I was thinking it’s related to Some mobile App junk traffic I already suffering with .
    I’ll get it back .even I don’t and won’t use Google Analytics .

    • Matthew Jackson

      You don’t use analytics, by choice? I really hope you’re only running your own account and don’t work with clients. That is literally the most irresponsible thing I’ve ever read regarding adwords.

  • maria

    Thank you for your post. It was very helpful for me.

  • Properti Market

    thanks for this.

  • Scarlet

    Very useful information, except.. My Analytics account does show several anonymous results. Is it even possible to exclude them if they show as