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Great, All of My Keywords Are Gone...Now What?

  |  October 8, 2013   |  Comments   |  

Google is encrypting all keyword-level organic search data. Here's how marketers can deal.

Google recently confirmed they would begin encrypting 100 percent of keyword-level organic search data for all users searching from any location. Although it will no longer be possible to see which keywords are responsible for traffic from Google’s organic results, the encryption shouldn’t paralyze your SEO (search engine optimization) efforts.

The keyword data is gone and there’s no one who does SEO that’s happy about it, but its time to move on.



Image via: http://www.notprovidedcount.com/

How does the change directly impact SEO efforts?

The changes made by Google over recent years have forced marketers to develop strategies based on quality and meeting customer needs rather than focusing solely on keywords.

Panda targeted low quality, thin content designed to rank for specific keywords. Penguin targeted low quality, paid for and exact match anchor text links used for manipulating rankings for specific keywords. Full encryption is another push in the direction to creatively provide true value in order to grow a business’ online presence.

In my opinion, it’s making the web a better place. We’re seeing less spam. SEO professionals are being held accountable for their work on KPIs that actually matter. The result is businesses providing richer, more interesting and engaging content for their customers. Couple this with the recently confirmed Hummingbird update geared towards a more conversational search and answering questions, and it’s a win all around. It’s the way the Internet was designed to be used all along.

I’m not saying keyword intelligence isn’t important or valuable. We can’t do our jobs without it, and no one is happy about losing it. What it does mean however is that we must look at the data that is available in a different light:

Target content themes, not individual keywords

With encryption, analytic analysis for new content ideas and keyword targeting must shift from the granularity of individual keywords to content themes. Which page(s) result in the largest volume of organic traffic? Which pages drive customers to conversion? Identify and make these content themes a priority when conducting keyword research and expanding or optimizing content. You already know it’s working, so build on it.

Alternatively, determine pages that receive organic traffic but don’t convert. Identifying these may uncover keyword relevancy issues. Searchers are landing on your sites, but not finding what they want, in which case you may need to rethink the keywords for your targeting.

Take the analysis in the opposite direction and identify which pages receive low traffic volumes. This is a sign that pages/themes of content have either no rank visibility or no interest. This is where search volume tools, rank tracking tools, and deep integration with SEM teams becomes critical in the decision making process.

Further integrate with Paid Search

If your SEM and SEO teams aren’t strategically integrated, you’re behind the curve. Many say they do it, but to do it with the precision needed to really achieve results as efficiently as possible is a difficult task that requires a lot of teamwork and coordination.

By working in tandem, SEO strategies can be developed through an analysis of PPC keywords that are performing favorably, as well as by identifying which keywords may have unacceptably high costs.

Further, PPC budgets should be used as testing grounds for new SEO keyword targets as this data isn’t encrypted. Use temporary PPC campaigns to drive keywords to desired pages in order to determine how well they’ll convert and if it’s worth the effort to rank in organic results. Target top performers with SEO and then determine if you need to create new content pages for the ones that didn’t.

This is the point at which many become upset with Google and feel the additional ad buying is the underlying reason for the encryption rather than any real privacy concerns. Whatever Google’s reasoning is, it doesn’t change the fact that this is a viable tactic for planning. It’s arguably one that you should have been doing prior to the encryption happening. If you know a keyword won’t convert, you don’t need to waste time, effort and money optimizing a page for it for SEO. This tactic may even save you money in the long run.

Leverage the data you still have access to

You may not have performance data at a keyword level anymore, but that doesn’t mean your strategies need to go blind. These are foundational pieces of data that have always been a part of any successful SEO campaign:

  • Analytics data: The keywords are gone, but your analytics haven’t become useless. Review you site’s page(s) for engagement metrics such as bounce rate, pages per visit, time on site and conversion paths to understand priorities. Further leverage this data by incorporating surveys into the site for people who exceed defined thresholds. If they’ve come from Google and viewed a high number of pages in a single visit, consider using a pop up asking them to rate their experience, if they’ve found what they’re looking for and what keyword they originally searched for. All of this can be fed directly into future content development strategies.
  • Internal site search: Internal search can be a gold mine for keywords and content ideas. Analyzing what people are searching for on your site will give you an indication of what they want, but are having trouble finding. If you already have content to support those keywords, consider optimizing for them and making them more visible on the site. If you don’t have content to support them, consider creating it.
  • Social media monitoring/listening: Actively monitor and identify trends in what your target audiences are saying about you and your industry on social media channels. Using the identified language, optimize existing content or use it to create new content that will have a high potential of being shared on social channels as it’s already being talked about in that space.
  • Google Webmaster tools and Keyword Research Tools: These are the obvious places to turn to for keyword level data. They can both be used to help prioritize and potentially develop forecasting models, but do keep an understanding that the data is nowhere near perfect.


Does the encryption make validation of recommendations more difficult? In some ways it will. Does it kill SEO as many insist? No. It’s dead only to those who are unable to evolve. SEO is about adaptation. It requires analyzing data in creative ways to spot trends, successes, and opportunities. The switch to encryption encourages that creativity and the development of more thoughtful pieces of content. Ultimately, I believe Google’s goal is to shift marketer’s mentality of simply focusing on keyword rankings to that of understanding audiences and coming up with ways to meet their needs.

I’d love to hear in the comments how your strategies are evolving and in what ways you’re shifting performance reports to show organic growth.

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Scott Kellam

Scott Kellam is a search engine optimization professional with over 8 years of experience in the industry. Scott has developed SEO strategies for marquee clients such as SAP, HSBC, Humana, Saint Laurent (YSL), SanDisk, The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and many others. He has worked in search marketing since 2005 with a proven track record of developing profitable SEO and social media strategies. With a deep understanding of both technical SEO issues as well as search marketing’s role in identifying and connecting with target audiences, Scott has been able to effectively scale strategies that directly impact bottom lines for clients of all sizes across B2B and B2C industries as well as non-profits.

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