Google ‘not provided’ and the changing world of SEO close

Hannah Flores
21st November 2013
Google ‘not provided’ and the changing world of SEO

Google had made all searches ‘secure’, regardless of whether a searcher was logged into their Google account or not. From that day forward, any search carried out saw automatic redirection through Google’s https:// counterpart.

Suddenly, organic analytical data is uncapturable for Google traffic, something that was previously unconscionable for marketers. Seeing up to 95% of their traffic source keywords returning with a ‘(not provided)’ status completely changed the metrics involved in the measurement of SEO and marketing performance alike. Bear in mind, PPC insights are still readily available for those investing in paid search, meaning many of the old metrics can still be used by leveraging the insights from AdWords and tying them in with the existing metrics in Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools.

The metrics used in SEO that are still accessible from Google Analytics include:

  • Overall organic search traffic by engine
  • Total conversions from organic traffic/by URL
  • Search rankings for critical terms
  • Search rankings by page tags/types
  • Search rankings by keyword tag

Google’s sudden switch to secure search seems to be directly relatable to the NSA spying leak that surfaced in September. Google has publicly announced its frantic race to encrypt the data running in, out and throughout its servers, but has yet to confirm the rumours that secure search and removal of traffic source keywords was an integral part of customer privacy protection.

So what does this mean for marketers?

Now that these changes have been made, greater emphasis will be placed on alternative data sets as the foundation of keyword research - especially PPC impression data from AdWords, which will be the most accurate measure for identifying marketing opportunities and keyword performance.

The use of Page Rank tools will be crucial in analysing the performance of your SEO efforts across the web, but only when combined with the metrics still available in Google Analytics.

Despite the cries of marketers and SEO specialists over these critical changes to the most popular website analytics tool in the world, SEO hasn’t really changed that much. Black hat tactics that took advantage of the way computers analysed data were ousted years ago by Google - since then it’s always been about great content and a great user experience. These changes just make it harder to analyse the performance of your efforts as a whole.

How can you track keywords without the help of Google?

URL-based traffic levels
Finding where traffic is landing on your website by URL and correlating which keywords those pages are ranking for will allow you to come up with a (albeit slightly less accurate) measure for keywords in organic search

Webmaster Tools
These will still provide keyword data, although this has never been very accurate. Google did announce, however, that it would expand its keyword data set in Webmaster tools from a period of 90 days to a full year. Despite this data access, the integration of Webmaster Tools is crucial for any website.

Keyword Ranking Changes
Analysing ranking changes across keywords that have historically driven traffic to your website (using a tool like Google Page Rank from Moz) will allow you to continue measuring the performance of your SEO efforts.

Use non-Google data When it comes to non-Google data, even this is going to be limited thanks to the changes that have been put in place. Because Google is encrypting any data sent through its services, any third-party tool will struggle to pick up any information beyond what Google chooses to reveal.

Use historical data
You will still have access to your historical data for traffic source keywords prior to Google’s switch to SSL search and this data will still be highly valuable - especially for so called ‘evergreen’ data that has been performing well consistently over time. It will also be useful for analysing seasonal content - keywords that has performed well over Christmas, for example, could continue to do so going forward year-by-year without the need to reanalyse keyword performance.

Leverage your internal search query data
By capturing all the on-site searches that visitors to your site are making you can get a better idea of the exact keywords they are looking for.

Ultimately, SEO has not really changed that much and having great content on well laid out pages is always going to be the most important goal. The main implication of this change with Google keywords is how you measure all your hard optimisation work. Hopefully by following some, if not all, of our our suggestions you will be able to determine what is working for your site and keep doing it going forward.