Google’s Encrypted Keyword (not provided) Update & How To Get Around It

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last few weeks, you would have noticed that the search engine dinosaur that is Google have rolled out an update to the way keyword data is shared, making life pretty rough for many Search Engine Optimization adherents and inbound marketers.

It’s been a slippery slope that started with the controversial Google Panda and Penguin updates, which stripped many long-standing websites of their top positions in the ubiquitous search engine. Now the ‘Google Gods’ seem to be frowning on traditional inbound marketing mainstays once again, making a sweeping move to begin encrypting the search data of all of its users.

While this move has been hailed by some as a huge step forward in the direction of protecting the privacy of user data, many internet marketers and SEOs have begun to view it as a ‘clear and present danger’ due to the far-reaching effect it will have on their ability to analyse their traffic sources.

One of the bread-and-butter metrics that most SEOs and inbound marketers rely upon is their keyword data. With this new move to encrypted search data, Google has essentially blocked webmasters from seeing which keywords visitors are using. This leaves marketers in the dark as far as being able to determine how the visitor may have found their site.

With Google Analytics, it used to be as easy as pulling a quick report; with just a few clicks of the mouse, you would have a list of keywords (broken down by percentage of overall traffic) that would help you determine the most commonly used search queries for your site. In other words, this keyword data gave you the ability to determine your visibility in the search engines for various search phrases.

This information is invaluable to us marketers; it allows us to to fine-tune our web content with additional keyword optimization and link building efforts to further cement organic rankings for those particular search terms and get value-driven content in front of our audiences.

The SEO challenge ahead of us

Unfortunately, however, all of this has now changed. Google has essentially ‘muddied the waters’ by displaying the now-infamous Google Analytics ‘not provided’ phrase instead of the actual search phrase. So instead of a rich list of keywords to help you gain greater insight into the search behaviour of your visitors, you now get the phrase ‘not provided’ in its place, essentially leaving you with fewer tools by which to measure your SEO efforts.

According to a study of over 420 websites conducted by the digital marketing firm Optify back in 2012, the average webmaster could see around 39% of their referring keywords land in the ‘not provided’ category.

All this has caused quite a stir in the SEO community, especially among companies that perform SEO services on behalf of a client. This lack of transparent data has hindered many SEOs from being able to show their clients which keywords are producing the most effective ROI.

All is not lost, however. Many SEO experts have bravely called it a step in the right direction, asserting that there has been far too much emphasis on keywords and search terms in general, to the detriment of providing an integrated overall user experience that is more content-driven and human-friendly.

They claim that there has been an over-emphasis on keyword stuffing and unnatural writing just for pure SEO value, and that the time has come for ‘writing for robots’ to cease. It’s true that Google is not the search engine it was even five years ago, as the move to become more relevant in the social networking sphere (Google+) has no doubt produced a few algorithm tweaks in order to favour a more fresh and relational approach to their search results.

If this seems a little foreign to veteran SEOs, that’s because it is – and Google will no doubt have to contend with an entirely brand new onslaught of exploiters and black hat types that will attempt to take advantage of these more social based search results. If you’ll notice lately, web pages that have confirmed Google authorship status, as well as YouTube videos – both of which lend a more ‘social’ feel to search results – are being shown considerable preference in first-page rankings. This leaves the more traditionally structured pages at a loss, even if their on-page SEO is pristine.

How to work around the ‘Not Provided’ data roadblock

One of the most useful suggestions for gaining greater insight into those missing keywords is to focus on extracting landing page data from Google Analytics. You can do this by navigating to the Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages section in your Google Analytics account. If you’ve been keeping track of the main keywords you focused on when building those particular pages, it should give you at least an approximate idea of which keywords people may be using to find your page.

In addition, organic search information can still be obtained by way of Google Webmaster Tools. Under the Traffic menu, the Search Queries section can provide you with a decent amount of organic keyword data, but admittedly it will be nowhere near as comprehensive as the data you may be used to getting from Google Analytics.

Google first announced that they would begin encrypting keyword searches for logged-in users back in 2011, a move that dealt a fairly damaging blow at the time, but the collateral damage was relatively minimal. With this most recent change, however, it is uncertain how far-reaching the ripple effect will really be. Webmasters should simply focus on the things that have been preached by a small minority since the birth of SEO, and that is to focus on making a site that is genuinely useful to visitors. Load it up with content that adds true value, and let the rankings take care of themselves.

Mediahawk customers: How to best track calls coming from organic keywords

You’re likely optimising specific landing pages to attract traffic for certain keywords. If you’re getting organic traffic to these pages, and these pages are leading to a call, then you can attribute with a limited degree of certainty that the call was caused by that particular keyword.

Here’s how to discover this information in Mediahawk:

  1. Log in to Mediahawk and click on the Vision tab on the left. Click on the Vision Campaigns sub-menu and select the campaign of choice from the first drop down labelled ‘Select Campaign’.
  2. Next, under ‘Select Report’, choose Mediums and press Go. You’ll see your list of Mediums, including Organic traffic (if you’ve received any).
  3. Click on the icon and you’ll see a list of visitors and, if applicable, their call data.
  4. Select a visitor where call data is available and click the icon to see all visitor data. This will show a box that contains the landing page at the top of the ‘Visitor Actions’ list.

If you’re using this landing page to target a specific keyword then you can assume with some certainty that this call was generated by that target keyword.

Make no mistake – this isn’t a 100% accurate way of ascertaining how well your organic efforts are doing; Google have always made it hard for us to do this, but now it’s slightly harder.

We’ll be looking at introducing some features that will make discovering this kind of data easier in the future, but for now follow the steps above and you should be able to make some educated attributions.

If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch – our consultants are always here to help and advise.

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