Remember in 2011, when just 0,68% of your website visits were affected by the encrypted search data for logged in users, a.k.a HTTPS, a.k.a « Not Provided »? Oh good old times!
And then it got worse, Google encrypted up to 33% of search referral. I started struggling with it, so bad I started to look for a solution and wrote an article about it: ‘Not Provided’, ‘Not Set’, Google is Not Cool’.
At the time I understood Google was about to go fully “Not Provided”. Your heard me, 100% “Not Provided”. That is when my Love-Hate relationship started with Google. In one hand, as a full-time Google logged in user I was glad Google was trying to protect my privacy but on the other hand Google’s real motives made me really suspicious. Especially since this keyword data is not obstructed when you are paying Google through their AdWords program. Why would they talk about secure search if paid search is not concerned by the “Not Provided” effect. Allow me to be doubtful about the true level of security here.
You might have noticed that the percentage of searches with no keyword data being passed has consequently increased lately. If you’re part of the lucky ones your “Not Provided” should “just” count for 60%. As many advertisers and marketers we’ve hypocritically hoped to be favored by Google because the mainstream press gave us more attention. Poor us, we complained so much we really thought that somehow Google was about to take a step back. In fact it got worse, data from Parse.ly showed that 87% of all Google organic traffic of the biggest websites is “Not Provided”. For us, marketers it’s about 75% now. Stunning shutdown, they say!
Just think of it this way: We had free data for years. Google has been giving us free access to great data and we took it for granted. The question now is not “Why?” but rather “How to move forward?”
There are challenges but we should take action! Sign petitions at Keyword Transparency and Notprovided.co.uk and, while we wait, all move to Yahoo! search engine. Haha, just kidding! Running away is not the answer, especially if other search engines end up doing the same. And I heard they will. SEO industry is not done innovating, we are resourceful, so let face the problem and find a substitute.
Pros and Cons
The first points coming into our mind are Cons, so let’s start with that.
As marketers, the real issue is: Our customer. How can I sell my service if I can’t tell whether or not my marketing efforts are working well? How can I show the effectiveness of my work if I am no longer able to:
- Measure the performance of my SEO efforts by connecting a search term with my site’s metrics such as traffic, conversion rate, leads, engagement (page views and time on site), and revenue.
- Use referrer data to customize and/or personalize the user experience. For example, if you used to offer related content based on referring keywords, or used referring keywords in your lead nurturing rules, you will no longer be able to do that.
- Score visitors and leads based on their referring keyword. If you use a lead scoring system that uses referring keyword as one of the rules, this option will no longer be available to you.
Of courses the Cons are from a Marketer / SEOer / Analyst ‘s point of view. There are Pros on the other side of the wall.
- Google’s motive behind “not provided” means that, as a user, your keyword data is no longer being passed through to webmasters. It means greater privacy for you as an individual, in other words it means marketers and agencies can’t base their strategies on something you did in organic search and only organic search. Remember that for paid search, let’s say you click on sponsored ads, data will still pass through. Just a way to promote Paid Search then?
- The move with Google + and Google’s author ownership, we, from marketers, brands, bloggers to authors will have to move to less keyword-stuffed content, and more overall high quality, original and relevant content. Content is king, it’s now truer than ever.
- This cruel change pushes us to rethink our strategy, change the way we market and do SEO for us and our customer, go above mere tactics. We have been through this a thousand time, or maybe less but let’s tone this down. It happens every now and then, for every major update. The lovely SEO community units in times of hardship and great ideas appear. We stand and learn a lot from this changes, we innovate.
Let’s consider this as an alarm, from Google to make us understand that it’s time to start focusing on site performance that actually matter. After all, why should we rank first for a thousand keywords if you have a 100% bounce rate? If they are not even generating any conversions?
I am not pretending I have the solution, I have “actionable” tips and alternative solutions. I have read many things and I have to admit my research turned into a real hunt. I had to evaluate what was left to us, and which were the primary options. I have listed and curated them. I will not explain all of them as it would take forever and others already made a real good job at it.
The PLAN B
We can’t stop caring about keywords. Keyword is our drug! Good news is we still have ways to collect them and other data. It is still possible to know what pages are getting search entries (organic landing page report). Google Webmaster Tools data is valuable and keyword ranking reports run by a third-party is precious.
Google Webmaster tools
It is the most overlooked resource in the SEO world. The clicks and impressions data shown in Webmaster Tools has always been there, but we never really knew what to do with it. And now we do. It’s the only place you will find any SEO performance data at a keyword level. GWT will help you know which are the search queries your website show up for, together with your click-through rate.You can see approximately up to 2,000 search queries but note GWT and Google Analytics use two completely different sources of data and data processing and it only stores data for 90 days.
Look at the CTR by keyword and by landing page, to evaluate meta description changes and to identify content opportunities. Use this information to trend your ranking and to know when it’s time to spice up those meta descriptions.
If you want to take this a step further into GWT, I recommend you read Ben Goodsell’s article “Recovering (Not Provided) Keyword Data” for SearchEngineWatch.com .
By viewing keyword information by landing page you will be able to get a good feel which keywords are driving organic search traffic to your website. To do that, simply check your top landing on Google Analytics under Content > Site Content > Landing Pages and then choose Source as the secondary dimension. And then use the advanced search and include sources exactly matching Google.
Combined with historical data it allows a better understanding of which landing pages are generating most traffic and which are generating leads, which content / keywords have been attracting search engine visitors to your website. By focusing on landing pages, you can also see how pages are actually performing, and put more effort into better targeting and calls to action. It gives a general idea on what people are looking for when they land on a given page.
Keyword ranking reports run by a third-party
Many third-party tools will continue to provide keyword data. A variety of these tools allows you to track your keyword rankings automatically. Make sure you specify a user location, or add a Geo-modifier (i.e., the name of your city) to the keywords you are tracking.
Note that these tools aren’t accurate to the number, they only provide directional insight. Pay attention to persistent rank changes, though. Declines generally mean there’s a problem with your content in that area.
Google Keyword Planner
Google Keyword ‘(Not Provided)’: How to Move Forward by Ray Comstock for SearchEngineWatch.com
Internal Site Search Analytics
How To Turn (Not Provided) Into Useful, Actionable Data by Carrie Hill for SearchEngineLand.com
Each of these has problems of course. Just like us you are probably trying go move away from using keywords and looking for other signals. So, share your alternative ideas (please!), critique of the above analysis and ideas about this impossible analysis.