How to Deal with Google Encrypting All Keyword Data

by Zain Shah November 5th, 2013 


Has Google's recent announcement of encrypting all keyword data caused you to have sleepless nights? You are not alone. The latest breaking news (along with Hummingbird and Penguin 2.1) has caused quite a stir in the on-line marketing community. There have been talks of Google's high handedness in making life for SEO experts almost impossible. But fear not, there is always a solution to any problem. Even in the darkest of times, there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Before we can begin implementing a solution, we must first understand the problem.

This September, Google made a hint at encrypting all of its organic keyword data, which was previously available to internet marketers through any analytics software (though only in small chunks). This was the after effects of the post-prism government scandal. For those unfamiliar with the term "not provided" this was a bucket of traffic in your analytics software that Google would mask due to privacy reasons. Back in October 2011, Google decided that any user who was logged into a Gmail product would appear as (not provided) and website owners would not know which keywords the searcher typed in to reach their website. This only affected organic search. Those running PPC campaigns would still be privy to keyword search data (so much for security!). Initially, the percentage of not provided data was a few percentage points of overall organic traffic. Over time that number grew and today, it could account to almost 60% of a website's organic traffic! That's huge for us internet marketers.

So how does this effect what we do? Let's first figure out why this data was important to us. Below is a list advantages that the data provided internet marketers (not listed in terms of importance):

1. Keyword-Traffic Correlation: Through analytics, we knew what keywords drove traffic to a website. We could then present this data to the client by saying our SEO efforts to rank xyz keyword has brought x visitors to your site. This keyword metric showed a direct correlation of SEO efforts and any positive results it brought to the site.

2. Potential Keyword Opportunities: With keyword data, we could analyze and find opportunities throughout the site. For example, if we noticed that the keyword "motorcycles" brought visitors to our "cars" page, we could go ahead and create a separate page for "motorcycles" and monetize on the incoming traffic. The keyword data provided this valuable insight on a page by page level.

3. Keyword Performance: Another valuable metric that keyword data provided was the bounce rate on a keyword level. We could see exactly which keywords had a high or low bounce rate. If we noticed that a specific keyword we were targeting for SEO had an extremely high bounce rate, we could re-do keyword research and find better opportunities. This useful metric will also go away once Google encrypts all keyword data.

4. Branded vs. Non-Branded Comparison: Generally speaking, SEO experts are very focused on non-branded keywords and any associated traffic from it. This tells us how our performance is compared to branded (non-SEO driven) traffic. Without keyword data, we no longer have the ability to see any comparison between our efforts and those of any off-line marketing campaigns.

Now that we now what we'll be losing out on, lets navigate through possible solutions around these obstacles:

google update

1. Keyword-Traffic Correlation: As of today, we still have access to Google Webmaster Tools (and all the associated keyword clicks and impressions). This data is not 100% accurate, but it is close enough. In fact, it provides a little more data than Analytics because it also provides data on searchers who do not have JavaScript enabled on their browsers. Google Analytics cannot report on this data. Another drawback is that the clicks are not accurately reported if they are fewer than 10 clicks. Also, GWT only reports on keyword data from Google.

2. Potential Keyword Opportunities: Again, we still have data from GWT showing us what keywords we are receiving impressions and clicks for. Unfortunately, we will not know which pages those impressions or clicks are going to, but at least we know if there are keyword opportunities. We can determine this if we see keywords that are not part of the campaign or look unfamiliar.

3. Keyword Performance: Again, thanks to the mighty GWT we can still see which keywords are bringing in traffic via impression and clicks. The only metric we will not be able to see is the keyword specific bounce rate. However, we can make this determination by examining how the page is performing (through Analytics). Google still reports overall traffic metrics on each landing page. We could see the overall bounce rate for a page and make a determination if the keyword is performing well or not. This is not 100% accurate, but at least an indication.

4. Branded Versus Non-Branded Comparison: Yes, you guessed it, GWT provides this data as well (not 100% accurate), but its good enough. We can lump keywords in our usual non-branded and branded buckets by extracting it from GWT in an excel spreadsheet.

In the end, the data is available to us (for now), but just not in an easy to extract and analyze fashion. This change takes us back to the core of what SEO should have been about, which is great content, traffic and conversions. These are the three pillars of internet marketing that we should focus on to make clients successful and ultimately, happy.

google update

As internet marketers, we have become accustomed to an ever changing landscape thanks to the engineers at Google. This means we have to constantly evolve with Google. I see this as a positive move because it increases the barriers to entry into the SEO industry. Previously, anyone who read a few articles on SEO could claim expert knowledge. That is slowly fading away. Only battle hardened and knowledge hungry internet marketers will be able to navigate the shores of on-line marketing. This makes our skill-set much more valuable in the long run.

Zain Shah

Zain has been in the internet marketing space for several years helping businesses of varying sizes increase their online visibility. When he’s not analyzing rankings, traffic and conversions, Zain likes to travel the world and visit exotic new countries. Zain is also the founder and CEO of Search House Media, which is a digital marketing agency.

Search House Media

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2 Responses to “How to Deal with Google Encrypting All Keyword Data”

  1. Jerry Low says:

    Zain, those are some great tips.

    With Google closing up their data (but reserving it for the paid advertisers), I thought perhaps it's time for us to check out on some other tools. SEM Rush, for example, is a good SEO tools that help check on ranking and the amount of traffics from Google organic search. Yes, it's a premium tool that cost quite a bit; but it can be quite useful.


    • Zain says:

      Hi Jerry,

      Thanks for the comment.

      SEM Rush is a great tool that I have used myself from time to time. The only problem with these tools is that they are great for reference only. I find all these types of tools to be highly inaccurate (who knows how they aggregate data). This is especially true for small mom and pop websites, Having said that, even the keyword data that Google provides is not 100% accurate :) Personally, I would use a couple of sources for reference. One thing we have all learnt from this is not to rely on any one particular data set. There are so many tools out there, that I would use a few of them in conjunction with each other (if your budget can entertain it).