Google & Not Provided Keywords: Forcing Marketers to Innovate Since 2013

The recent announcement that Google will encrypt all keyword referral data has created quite a stir in search marketing circles. Many folks find themselves faced with the challenge and asking the question, “How will SEOs optimize to keywords, if they can’t see the keyword data?”

The expectation is that by December, organic keyword data from Google will be nonexistent. However, many have seen lost close to 100 percent already! Marketers will not completely lose the ability to understand what words send visits to which pages, but the information now has to come from different sources and via different paths. Indeed, many have already offered workarounds and alternate data sources.

Additionally, many marketers will have to give some serious thought to how they measure the success of their content and strategies.

PPC Becomes Critical to SEO

One readily available source of keyword level conversion rate data is your PPC program; with Google, this is their Adwords platform. For years, savvy marketers have utilized historical keyword traffic and conversions data from paid campaigns to co-inform decisions in the organic realm. Now, the synergies between paid and organic search are even more critical.

It’s tempting to say that part of the motivation for this encryption is primarily to drive more marketers to increase PPC efforts. Whether that is true or not is really not important at this stage, if you’re already doing a reasonable amount of PPC. The reality is the Adwords platform is a viable source for data that is constructive for SEO.

Google’s Webmaster Tools

There are two useful tools for extracting keyword data within Google Webmaster Tools as well:

  • The Search Queries report shows us what keywords drove clicks to the site. Additionally, it provides data on what pages surfaced by keyword in Google’s SERPs through impressions, whether the page won a click or not.
  • Average position of the Page is the other useful tool to consider. This reports the average top position of a site on the search results page for a given query. It also displays the change compared to the previous period.

So what does the Search Queries report provide? Ultimately, it is a list of top pages that earn impressions and clicks targeted at specific key search terms that rank. Furthermore, the ranks for those pages have the potential to improve. Sound familiar?

Not Provided… an Opportunity?

ClickZ columnist Andrew Beckman points to traffic estimations based on logged-in activity within Google and possibly even Bing networks as potential data resources for future marketers. iProspect’s Josh Bledsoe points to alternative search engines and destination URL metrics as potential sources for elusive keyword data. Scott Kellam suggests you focus on content themes and leverage your existing data to survive the encrypted keyword debacle.

To some degree though, this shift in keyword data forces search marketers to focus their attention away from the keyword performance and more onto the quality of their pages. The best search marketers have always done this and will continue to do so.

Examine additional page level metrics, such as conversion rates and bounce rates. Find those pages that are performing well, identify the pages that aren’t and then start making honest assessments. For the pages that ‘work,’ what qualities do they possess? Are those qualities that the underperforming pages lack? Test, assess and retest until those underperforming pages produce quality results, then move on to other troubled areas within your site.

In the end, there’s no denying the Google secure search news is certainly going to change how many search marketers think at a fundamental level. But for the savvy content marketers and SEOs who have been working at page level optimizations, the only major change is the path to the baseline data.

Crispin Sheridan