September 2013 was a big month for Google. Marking their 15th Anniversary, Google announced the major algorithm update Hummingbird, which will no doubt expand Google’s ability to parse search and lead to more exciting capabilities in the future.
While Google upgraded their algorithm, they downgraded the data webmasters can see in Google Analytics. Specifically, the keyword data associated with a search will not be provided to site owners. This change comes as a byproduct of Google switching all searches on its engine over to encrypted search.
Google started down this road in late 2011 by redirecting users signed into their Google accounts to secure search. Such searches appeared as “(not provided)” in web analytics packages, including Google Analytics. At first this was a fairly small percentage of searches. Now, it is 80-90%, soon to be 100%.
Why Google Made This Change
Google hasn’t offered much comment as to their motive for making this change. A Google representative commented to Search Engine Watch that they are “working to bring this extra protection [secure search] to more users who are not signed in.” It’s a simple explanation, but as with all things Google, any number of factors could be in play. For instance, keyword data is still available…in your AdWords account. If you’re willing to spend money with Google, they’re willing to let you know more about your industry space. Google is not a charity, but SEOs have taken note of this fact.
What You Can Do
Keyword data in Analytics served several purposes. You could compare keyword traffic projections to traffic realities. You could discover which keywords converted best organically, or find long-tail phrases to target with expanded content. You could also identify which keywords were bouncing most off of which page, and adjust your content strategy accordingly so searchers would be directed to a page on your site that better meets their needs.
These are all important functions, but many of these insights can be gained without the assistance of Google’s full keyword data. Google’s Webmaster Tools will provide some limited keyword data. Bounce rate will still be available, and the keyword data from engines like Yahoo & Bing can help you get a handle on how the page is being searched for. Rank trackers, while subject to inaccuracy due to personalization, still provide important clues to the nature of a site’s traffic. If anything, Rank Trackers will now be used more dynamically, not just for one or two word “head” terms, but more complex queries. Seeing your site underperform in the rankings on “red girl’s bicycle,” and perform well on “red boy’s bicycle,” will tell you where you need to add content and make you reconsider the focus of your page all the same.
For a long time now Google has been emphasizing to webmasters and SEOs that on-site content and on-site engagement are more important to them than any other factor, including links. Their technology continues to catch up to their stated aims. While we won’t be able to see, on a granular level, the keywords that are coming to your website from Google, the keys to getting traffic remain the same – provide a lot of content about something people like, and make the experience enjoyable, sharable, and memorable. This is perfectly in line with our values as a company, and at Leverage we’re excited to help our clients create such experiences for their users.