SEO in a Keyword Data-Less Landscape

It started around two years ago. Google began offering encrypted searches. Then, Google began encrypting all searches for anyone logged into any Google product. Last week, they finally flipped the switch and now all searches performed on Google globally are encrypted.

Why does encrypted search matter?

In regards to the privacy of Google’s users, this switch makes perfect sense. The encrypted search will make it much harder for government agencies and anyone else that would want to track what people are doing on Google to access this data.

Measuring search engine optimization performance, utilizing the natural search keyword data from web analytics providers such as Google Analytics, Adobe Marketing Cloud (formerly Omniture), and Coremetrics, has historically been the single best source of tracking the success of SEO (search engine optimization) programs. This gave us, in the SEO industry, the ability to see how every keyword that drove traffic to a site performed. It also gave us the data that we needed to show the true performance of any SEO campaign.

The switch to encrypted search by Google has removed web analytics tools’ ability to see keyword level data, which is reported as (Not Provided) or (Keyword Unavailable). Those in the search community have watched the percentage of Google traffic that we had keyword data on decrease steadily over the past two years, slowly growing from 10 percent of data missing to as high as over 80 percent for some sites just before the change. This means that moving forward; no one will be able to show you the traffic on your site, the conversions, the bounce rates, and all of the other amazing, keyword level metrics that the natural search industry has leaned so heavily on for years.

Is this the end of SEO (Reporting)?

Of course it isn’t! With nearly two years to prepare for the inevitable, the search industry has had plenty of time to come up with alternative sources of data to fill the void. Will it be as accurate as what we are accustomed to? Not exactly, but there are opportunities hanging in the midst.

The industry will have to start utilizing more data sources, which will give smart marketers multiple lenses to view performance through. It can and should lead to a whole new set of insights that might have been missed by leaning so heavily on just one data source.

What are some data sources that can be leveraged to fill the void?

Pay attention to other search engines: While Google keyword level data is gone, all other search engines should still be passing along their keywords.

Google Webmaster Tools: It provides great data and should have already been a part of your monthly SEO analysis. It gives you the ability to see your natural search “impressions” and “clicks” at both the keyword and destination URL level.

Google AdWords has been used for natural search keyword research ever since they offered a keyword tool, but recently they have added the ability to import Google’s natural search data directly into your AdWords reporting so that you can see SEO and SEM together.

Destination URL Metrics: So you can’t see keyword level data, but with some heavy mining of your historic web analytics data, you can get an idea of what natural search keywords drive traffic to which destination URLs. With a bit of work, you should be able to report on how your natural search destination URLs are performing and you can tie that back to the historical keyword data.

So what’s next?

Experienced SEOs are a resilient bunch and will always find a way to drive success for your company, no matter the challenges at hand. Search marketers in Asia Pacific especially need to ensure that their SEO partners, on both the agency and technology sides, have a strong action plan on how they are planning to overcome this change to data.

With some hard work, data integration and determination, the data lost through encrypted search will be compensated for by strong SEO professionals.

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