Say goodbye to organic keyword data in Google Analytics
Back in June I wrote a post surrounding the growing incidence of (not provided) in Google Analytics, explaining what it is and how it works. To give you a quick overview, the post discussed Google’s approach to safe search and how this is increasingly affecting keyword data that shows up in Analytics.
Then, when a user was logged into any Google products, such as G+ and Gmail, for example, it created a secure search which Google don’t provide keyword data for and this shows in Analytics as (not provided). This was supposed to affect less than 1% of all searches carried out, according to Google in 2011, but some SEO bloggers at the time placed the figure as being nearer to 50%, with the majority putting the number into double figures.
This led to an average of around 16% (not provided) results for most industries and whilst many have jumped right back onto that old chestnut that is the ‘Is SEO Dead’ bandwagon, this isn’t the case at all.
An evolving industry
SEO and all of its related disciplines, like most industries, is evolving and adapting to changes in the modern web. Just take social media as a prime example of how rapidly changes can occur on the internet and you’ll see that if internet marketing were to avoid change, then it would indeed soon be as dead as a Dodo.
Getting back to (not provided) though, this has once again hit the headlines as Google has recently announced its intention to make all searches secure. This means that keyword data will be cut off completely, as Google is now going to encrypt all searches using HTTPS, which in turn means that organic keyword data won’t be passed to site owners (note however that keyword data from paid AdWords will still be passed through).
“We added SSL encryption for our signed-in search users in 2011, as well as searches from the Chrome omnibox earlier this year,” a Google spokesperson told Search Engine Watch. “We’re now working to bring this extra protection to more users who are not signed in.”
What it means: (not provided) to hit 100%?
As Search Engine Watch points out, to speculate on Google’s motives for doing this would be nothing more than that, pure speculation, as the search giant hasn’t revealed any of its reasons for doing it beyond the above. The article also discusses how it’s now nigh on impossible to make a search using HTTP only, as any attempt to do so just redirects you back to secure search.
In theory, this means that keyword data in Google Analytics is likely to disappear altogether (ie the ‘not provided’ term will be 100% of keyword data) and for SEO professionals, this could mean some big changes to how they carry out research and analysis with regard to keywords.
Already most of our clients are seeing the (not provided) % hit in the 80% and higher range – here’s an example from the past week, with (not provided) nudging just over 81% of all keyword data:
A blessing in disguise?
There are ways of extracting keywords from raw data, but for many businesses this will be either too time-consuming and expensive, or too much of a bother. The good thing to come out of it is likely to be what Google really want, which is for the focus to shift firmly onto content.
The use of keywords has historically been plagued with spam problems but this is something that’s all but disappearing now, so is it still necessary to concentrate so much on keyword data? Well, it’s certainly useful, but it’s far from being the only aspect to search marketing, although it has been considered one of the most important for some time now.
Quick Sprout’s Neil Patel advises SEO professionals to stop worrying about Google so much and says that they should now be putting the most emphasis on content. He points out that in a search for the keyword ‘computer’ Apple doesn’t show up in organic results, meaning that they don’t rank highly for a keyword that is highly relevant to their business.
“If you have an awesome service or product, you’re producing great content, and you’re building legitimate and relevant links, you should do fine. Plus, if you aren’t ranking for all of your keywords, it doesn’t mean that you won’t do well as a business,” he says.
He goes on to say that all businesses and SEO professionals should stop worrying about every single change that Google make and concentrate on producing excellent content and building the business using a variety of marketing tactics.
Create awesome content
This means that as well as the technical aspects to SEO, businesses should look to creating not just mediocre content, but awesome content instead. This should include high quality articles, blogs, infographics, videos, webinars, SlideShare presentations and so on.
It’s also possible to continue tracking keywords by using services such as Moz, gathered keyword data that you do have from Analytics and entering them into Moz to track rankings. Another tactic is to use the data from Webmaster Tools by clicking on search traffic and then search queries.
Whilst this data doesn’t really carry as much value as Analytics keyword data, as it can be inaccurate, it’s a useful way of looking at which keywords that you rank for.
When it comes to the crunch, digital marketing, which isn’t quite the same thing as SEO, but is a part of it, is a fluid technique. It should always centre around one main idea and that is the creation of excellent content. In order to show up in organic search, social signals are rising in importance, the Google Authorship program will evolve to become an important part of it and many different tactics should be employed to distribute and promote content. Google’s decision to make all searches secure will certainly have some impact, but in reality it’s nothing that using good, ethical and professional techniques won’t eventually overcome.