Google is rolling out encryption of all organic (non-paid) searches: every organic search will show as (not provided) in your analytics.
What That Means For Your Business
Your marketing team will no longer have access to keyword search data.
You cannot look up which searches via Google lead to traffic to your site.
You cannot find out which keywords via Google lead to specific pages.
You cannot set goals in your analytics that relate a specific search or keyword to a conversion: you can't measure the value of a search anymore.
This only applies to searches via Google. With Google owning 67% of the US search market this means the majority of your keyword search data is gone. For many websites, especially commercial ones, Google is the main search traffic driver -- meaning that the main search of keyword search conversion data is gone.
Five Ways Around Google's Keyword Data Grab
These are the ways in which you can approximate your keyword data.
- Keyword data from Yahoo, Bing, etc.
At least for now other search engines are not withholding organic search data. You'll still be able to see keyword search data in your analytic reports for searches that came from Yahoo, Bing, Baidu, etc.
Limitations: market is smaller so the keyword sample is smaller. Search audience may differ: there is a difference between a Bing user and a Google user. One of the best options though; real search data from real people via real search engines.
- Google Webmaster Tools
Your Google Webmaster Tools account shows the top 2000 queries for each day, going back 90 days maximum.
Limitations: no page correlation. No conversion correlation. No historic data.
- Google Adwords PPC
Additional click and search data -- and if you connect your Google Webmaster Tools with your Adwords account you can import and archive those queries too.
Limitations: no page correlation. No conversion correlation.
- Page Level Data
Track analytics for specifically optimized pages so you can compare if your "red widget" pages gets more traffic and conversions than your "blue thingie" page does.
Can be applied to content silo's so keywords can be tracked from broad to narrow.
Limitations: you can only make so many keyword variation pages -- Google can consider too many variations doorway pages or file it under low quality thin content and penalize the site.
- A/B Testing
The improved version of tracking page level data. Use A/B conversion testing to determine and improve which search terms perform best.
Limitations: requires sufficient search traffic to get data fast.
You Have To Shift To Focus On ROI
That last workaround -- A/B conversion testing -- may well be the true answer to the loss of keyword data.
As search marketers we're not trying to boost our keyword searches -- we're working hard to earn the website more money.
In other words: it's not about search volume, it's about the amount of money a search represents. A/B conversion testing is the most accurate and most efficient way to quickly and reliably zoom in on what works and what doesn't.
Keyword Data In The Future
Keyword ownership has moved to Google. They're sharing some of the keyword data piecemeal with some people (webmaster tools and/or Adwords account holders).
Here's what still can change in the future:
- Limit search data to premium Google Analytics
Pay for more, get more. At a cost of USD $150,000/year this is typically an enterprise service but still -- that's the price Google may put on getting access to full keyword data
- Sell keyword data in Google Analytics
Pay more, get more. Easy to imagine X amount of keywords for free in your Google Analytics with a price per block of additional keywords
- BLOCK keyword data
As we said, right now you can see your keyword queries coming from Bing, Yahoo, and other search engines. Nothing stops Google from not showing that data in Google Analytics. Nothing stops them from blocking that information to pass via their Chrome web browser (35% web browser market share).
- Limit to PAID Adwords accounts
Simple account holders can access some data right now; it's easy to put a premium on this in the form of a minimum spend.
Professional SEO and search marketing companies will be little impacted. It is their job to reverse engineer search whether the hidden variables are quality factors, index-wide keyword weight, or actual keyword traffic data. While it is always easier to have one-click access to that type of data, not having it doesn't prohibit these companies from increasing qualified search traffic. It does however make their service that much more valuable.
Data analysis on the search marketing side will increase in importance (see above). Big data is coming to digital marketing. Soon the on-page SEO, the marketing specialist, and the content writer will be joined by data analysts. (That's actually a trend that precedes this keyword grab but still...)
Keyword research services will see a major boost, regaining their desirable status of the early 2000's.
Business and website owners will grumble but will fall in line with what Google demands: Google is the dominant player and there is no way out. Anti-trust action from governments is unlikely. If the European browser' cookies law is any indication, even if politicians would get involved briefing them on what's actually going on would still result in such a confusion that their measures would only make things worse.