For online marketers, the recent disappearance of keyword data in Google Analytics has been the biggest SEO nightmare of the year. This is a big deal because it has meant the loss of digital intelligence and the ability for marketers to understand visitor intent.
Keywords are a critical part of understanding why visitors have come to a website and without this information, it is impossible to successfully target your visitors.
However, this has not been a new phenomenon and back in 2011, Google started showing ‘not provided’ in Analytics keyword reports. Initially on a small percentage of keywords were affected – and this was from visitors who were logged in to their Google account at the time of the search. Later, Google rolled out secured search in the US and the ‘not provided’ keyword data jumped from 2 to 11%.
Then Google rolled it out to Canada and other countries in early 2012 and this was at 20% of all searches across the globe. Now, Google has completely hidden keyword data and made it secure whether a visitor is logged in or not.
So what can you do about it?
• Webmaster Tools – Remember that Google webmaster tools will still provide you with keyword data that will alert you which keywords are bringing traffic and what some of the missing keywords are for your landing pages. You can also see what your current rankings are for your keywords and which keywords will require extra work from you to get them to the top of the rankings.
• Non-Google Keywords – Looking at search traffic data from Bing, Yahoo and other search engines will give a good indication of how your rankings are performing on Google. This will also help you decide which keywords to focus on, based on current conversion rates. Unfortunately, Bing and others don’t bring a huge amount of traffic, but if you are in a country where Google doesn’t have a dominant position, then you are at an advantage.
• Advice from Avinash Kaushik – Analytics expert and Google evangelist, Avinash wrote in 2011 a blog post “Smarter Data Analysis of Google’s https (not provided) change: 5 steps” about what marketers can do in their Analytics accounts when Google first turned on search encryption. Although it’s for high level Analytics users, he gives step-by-step instructions that are well worth following.
• Paid Search – Finally, it may be worth considering Paid search either through Google Adwords or Bing Search. Your keyword data will come through your Analytics reports and when you link your Adwords and Analytics accounts, you will have full keyword data. This allows you to also target long tail keywords which usually convert better because there is less competition and it makes up about 80% of all search traffic.
Whether we like it or not, Google’s secure search is here to stay and complaining about it won’t make much difference. In fact, Google is unlikely to revert on this change because they class this as a security decision.
For SEO professionals who are able to adjust to these changes and compensate for the missing keyword data – the future possibilities are endless and they will win the ranking battle in the end.