Not provided – The search for transparency and data

October 24th, 2013 | SEO News 2 comments

Google’s information on traffic and conversions on organic keywords is increasingly “Not provided”. This is not new. The search engine giant started withholding information on organic referrers from its web-analytics tools, like Google Analytics, for reasons of “user privacy” some time ago. This means, the keywords the search user uses to get to your site are not divulged to the site owner anymore.

Searchmetrics - Keyword not provided

This means two things: First, because this development does not apply to paid search, those who want to get keyword-based data in the future must use PPC. In other words, they have to ‘buy’ the data. Second, those who cannot use PPC (or don’t want to) must retrieve data from (various) other sources in order to get keyword-based information, or at least to get comparative values. This is a fact that will probably influence the way of content-creation in the future.

Why analysis and optimization are nevertheless becoming more and more important – not “despite”, but rather “exactly for this reason” – where the trend is headed in the future, and what the right strategy is:

“Keyword not provided” – What does that mean for me?

Statistics show that today an average of 80% of search queries with which a user surfs a website via Google are no longer included in the information passed on in Google Analytics. That’s still not 100%, as one often reads. For some website operators, the number of visible referrers is already significantly lower – for others it is probably even higher (yet). In the foreseeable future, however, it will be 100%.

Incidentally, Google justifies this limitation with the catchword “privacy protection”, or the protection of the privacy of those who create this data with their searches. First, the majority of the data from logged in users or users of Google’s own browser, Chrome, was hidden. Google has now also implemented the encryption and removal of keywords in the referrer for users who are not logged in. In times like these, with the recent NSA and Prism headlines, this is a seemingly commendable undertaking. Incidentally this does not apply to the paid PPC adverts data.

Transparency for consumers at the expense of transparency for the provider

So first to the provider side of things: it is true that the omission of certain data for specific keywords can cause a loss of detail, yet the trend can be indentified through upscaling, even if a certain vagueness results.

In short: when it comes to the keyword-specific level, the conversions, traffic and not least the yield are more difficult to calculate because the respective basic information on the keyword level is missing. Many SEO’s take the route of saying “be creative” or “measure everything on a URL basis” but that is not a satisfactory solution. Without conversions on a keyword level your optimization is, in part, flying blind, because not all keywords are equal. If I was an e-commerce company, keywords with a higher purchase intention (transactional) would be the most important to me. Only with pure traffic data and the conversion to the URL will the optimization be significantly more elaborate. But more on this later. Transparency for (non-paying) providers is therefore “not provided” here.

Many decisions are simply made on the basis of keywords. If you take a look at PPC software, the rules based on keywords and keyword groups as well as their performance are affected. Without keywords, PPC would not be possible.

Why does Google do that? Keyword < Content?

The really good part about the change is that SEOs and companies can concentrate more on the user and therefore (should) create significantly more depth for the content. This is also in Google’s own interest because website operators produce great content. This, when only some keywords for the URLs can be identified and the content is much more user-centered, is a win for everyone.

Google always wants to “deliver the best possible experience” for the user (the person searching). Keyword spam and over-optimization, among others, have long worked against this purpose. Google has worked for some time to remove this “garbage” (read: irrelevant search results with a negative user experience) from the SERPs, and has been very successful of late. Transparency for consumers: “provided”.

Content and positive user experience at the focus

Google is getting better and better at recognizing reasonable connections between individual search terms, their hierarchies, and semantic structures, and has thereby dissipated a bit of the absolute dominance of keywords.

First, though, the user intention still has a string correlated with the keyword, contextual search or not. Second, keywords are important in order to determine which phase the user is in at the time. Those who think that it makes sense now to only optimize at a page level are missing out on important insights with which to guide their business.

There is a big difference between whether a user is searching transactionally because they have already decided to buy a certain product and are only looking for a good deal, or whether they are at the very beginning of the process and just looking for general information. Everyone who still optimizes primarily at a page level is missing this important information and is at a disadvantage.

The keyword is still the basis of the analysis! Good content is the result.

Rankings and their structuring by search engines are, on the one hand, composed of the complex interaction of a variety of factors. It doesn’t help to turn only a few screws. Businesses must not lose sight of the overall structure. The content and the positive user experience must absolutely stay in focus.

On the other hand, that doesn’t mean that keywords are obsolete as a platform for analysis and optimization. To the contrary: keywords continue to be the foundation for measuring and improving individual performance. Users have been trained for 20 years to enter keywords in the search field of a search engine. Just because Google no longer passes along keywords doesn’t meant that users will stop using them. The process of search engines delivering responses and the process of users searching “differently” will last longer than many seem to think.

Searchmetrics Suite: Holistic Search

The concept of “content” is the second, increasingly important step in that evolution – the result if you will. The measurable performance basis remains the keyword. Keywords are simply the cornerstone of the search and thereby also of the data.

Analysis and optimization is becoming more holistic as well as more complex – but its foundation remains the same: keywords, URLs, traffic.

SEO always was and always will be (fortunately) challenging!

SEO was never “easy”. Before, it was certainly easier to reach short-term rankings with few means and comparably little effort. In my eyes this has always been the wrong strategy for the long-term. Google’s intention is clear. To work against it is like tilting at windmills. With short-term effort, you can certainly make some headway, but in the long-term you will probably continue to be pulled back by the headwinds.

On the other hand, with the right strategy, you can use the wind to drive yourself forward. A few very useful methods were compiled by Rand Fishkin in his Whiteboard Tuesday on this topic. Namely, mapping a list of opportunities for the identification and function of the now missing data. In these times of “not provided”, such opportunities could be used to get that exact data – for example, rank tracking data, information from the keyword research tools, or (here again) AdWords.

The right approach from keyword to content and the right tools to implement it are the key to success.

From specific keyword to complex content with the right tools

Picture a complex Lego building: the individual Legos are the keywords, and the whole structure as a finished building is the content. The more relevant and complex the content, the more keywords it is made up of, for which it is also ranked optimally.

But how do you put such a complex structure together? Analysis and optimization are simply impractical without good building instructions. These instructions should be a good tool.

Searchmetrics Suite: PPC Keyword Opportunities

The URL is important in exactly this way. For URLs there are traffic and conversions. Because the Suite delivers all the required keyword information, there is a perspective practically by reverse engineering.

AdWords: Keyword information “for sale”

Just the fact that this information continues to be available for purchase alone places “keyword not provided” (and the data privacy justification) in a somewhat different light. For paid keywords, Google continues to send keyword information. Why is only the organic search secure, but not the paid search?

Upon closer examination, Google’s strategy turns out to be a double standard on both sides. For those searching, there is a “secure search” interface for the organic search with respect to the information generated in the paid area that can be leveraged by a third party, again for purchase. Providers, meanwhile, are deprived of the keyword referrer information, previously transmitted to them at no-charge, but now offered again with the prerequisite that fee-based ads for the desired keywords be inserted.

What to do to get the required keyword information?

The solution for providers, SEOs, and marketers to escape from “not provided”

Do you now have to use PPC for keyword data and SEO? I say you don’t “have” to, but you “should”.

For the overall success as well as the implementation of individual strategies – and now also not least for generating keyword data – the paid area can be a very import lever for SEO.

Certainly, the advertising prices can be very high for hotly contested keywords. Even more important is a decision on the extent and scope of the advertising campaign, and depending on the objective, it is also essential that the campaign be focused on an ever more specific area rather than widespread. However, the case is simply that a paid campaign itself can already put enormous momentum behind already well-performing keywords, traffic, and thereby also sales. In times of the knowledge graph, universal search, etc., the Google SERP 1 – and here I’m happy to repeat myself – has not been made of 10 blue links for some time, and consists of fewer and fewer organic search results “above the fold”.

We know that online marketers, website operators, and SEOs have preferred to concentrate more on mean (thematic) page areas than on special keywords for optimization, but even for this analysis approach, the cornerstone is still the information on the individual keyword itself, which is then upscaled to the topic level.

Relevant data with holistic search, keywords and URL rankings

A valid analysis should always be based on relevant data. The Suite contains several hundred million keywords and hundreds of millions of domains from about 20 countries. In short: the Searchmetrics Suite “provides” a majority of the data that is now lost to many decision-makers. And that data is from various perspectives – from specific, already available keyword rankings to holistic views of all keywords in a URL.

In addition, in the Searchmetrics Suite there is a holistic view (holistic search) of organic and paid search. From a single vantage, one can see traffic and revenue data (PPC, SEO), and make decisions based on organic rankings as to which keywords are more beneficial to a company and which are not.

Searchmetrics Webcast – Topic: “keyword not provided”

There will be a webcast on this topic. If you are interested, please find further information here.

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Who’s writing this stuff? My name is Marcus Tober and I’m the founder of Searchmetrics. Because we really love to analyze every kind of online data, we can give you more insights than any other company in SEO, SEM and Social Media. It’s not a job, it’s passion. You can find me also on Google+ .
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Comments (2)

Comments (2)

  1. 2014/01/20

    I’d like to add an update to Marcus words. You can check keyword information now in Google webmaster Tools. It’s not so vague as before and you can check exact keyword information now.

  2. 2014/02/22

    Search Metrics has one of the biggest assets in the fight against Not Provided. The Keyword Ranking option (which requires no setup) outlines organic keyword performance over a wide-scale. This make it easy for search marketers to watch performance of keywords associated with landing pages without reliance and setup time with a third party ranking tool. I mentioned and covered this tactic: http://www.spydertrap.com/blog/2014/02/ultimate-guide-to-google-not-provided/

    Hope you provide more documentation around this in the future! It really is a slick workaround!

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