In 2013, Google switched all its searches to encrypted searches using HTTPS, effectively eliminating keyword data for site owners. Google searches no longer pass keyword data through to websites, which effectively eliminates the ability of website owners to track their users by keyword searches. This also means the end of segmenting users by keywords within web analytics software. By now, you’ve probably realized that if you log into your Google Analytics data, you will see that the term “(not provided)” takes up the majority of your keyword data. So, how can you still understand your search traffic despite the fact that Google is now limiting access to keyword data? Here’s what you need to know.
What is “Not Provided” Keyword Data?
Officially, Google claims that it has made the shift to “Not Provided” keyword data in the name of privacy in order to protect users. In fact, it’s a shift that has been happening slowly over the last few years. Encrypted search first launched in May 2010; a year later, Google added SSL encryption for our signed-in search users. Over the next few years, conversion expanded globally to all signed-in users, and also became the default for Firefox. By 2013, “(not provided)” data accounted for more than 50% of all keywords, according to a BrightEdge study.
Google’s move towards limiting keyword data reflects a bigger shift within the company’s approach to organic search. Google Hummingbird, the latest search algorithm, powers semantic search, which delivers relevant, engaging and highly personalized search results based on predictive queries and conversational results. Rather than just returning search results for key search terms, Hummingbird weaves implicit intent into its search results. Keywords are not dead, but thanks to Hummingbird, Google is rapidly diminishing their importance and placing greater emphasis on user intent. Not providing keyword data is one way that Google is pushing SEO away from keyword optimization and towards the production of quality, engaging content.
Site Search: What Do Users Search for on Your Website?
Sure, no one is stuffing their site with keywords these days, but even as webmasters move towards producing highly relevant, engaging content, keywords are still important for site traffic analysis. So how can you get your “not provided” keyword data back? The easiest option is to enable site search on your website. Setting up site search lets you track queries from visitors who use your search box. Site search is a solid starting point:
1. To set up site search, go to Google Analytics; use view to select the account and web property you’d like to use.
2. Open “view” and select “site search settings”
3. Choose “Do Track Site Search”
4. Find out your query parameter; go to your site and conduct a search; you’ll see the URL following the search changes to something like http://www.mysite.com/search?q=awesome The “?” is your query parameter; in this example, “?” corresponds with q, so add q to your site search setting.
5. Next, select the “strip query parameters out of URL”; select this option to prevent your search rom showing up in content reports.
6. Once you’ve completed the above set up, go to Behavior -> Site Search -> Search Terms to track what individuals are searching for on your website.
The results from your internal site search provides insight into what individuals look for when the visit your website. This prime information will tell you exactly what users are hoping to find on your website, which is a great starting point for creating new relevant and useful content that will engage your site visitors.
4 Ways to “Steal Back” Not Provided Keyword Data
While site search is a great supplement for finding search data on your website, it’s not a complete substitute for keyword data. Nor does it fully answer the questions, “What drives users to your website?” Wondering what motivates users to come to your site? We’ve rounded up some of the best options.
#1: Google Webmaster Tools.
Sure, Google Analytics won’t be revealing your keyword data any time soon, but Google Webmaster tools offer a few insights. It’s not the same as analytics, but viewing “search queries” (under “Search Traffic”) is a starting point.
#2: Bing Keyword Tool.
Bing may not get as much traffic as Google, but it’s still an option for keywords. Keep in mind, however, that in order for Bing’s data to be relevant to your site (and not thrown off by outliers), you will need to have a highly trafficked website. Consequently, Bing may not be a realistic option for smaller businesses.
#3: Google Keyword Planner
Google may have retired its keyword tool, but it introduced a powerful replacement: Google Keyword Planner. Keyword Planner is far more focused and structured, delivering a number of pluses to users. These advantages include the ability to bundle geographic regions together along with enhanced geographic segmentation will prove especially useful for analyzing keyword search volume data on a city-by-city level. Keyword Planner provides enhanced insight into keywords, ad groups, bidding and budgets. It’s a great source for conducting keyword research, including searching for new keywords and ad group ideas, obtaining search volume for different key word lists, obtaining traffic estimates for a list of keywords, and multiplying keyword lists to find new keyword ideas.
New to keyword planner? Start by selecting the first option, “Search for keyword and ad group ideas.” There are three key brainstorming methods:
1. Keyword: Type in a keyword or phrase relevant to your business
2. Landing Page: Enter a landing page on your site (or a competitor’s site) and Keyword Planner will scan the page and infer keywords that are relevant to the landing page
3. Product Category: Select from thousands of pre-defined keyword categories
Keyword planner is great for finding less competitive, higher converting phrases that are relevant to your website’s content.
Choose the “Search for Keyword and Ad Group Ideas” option to enter an existing keyword or phrase to describe what you’re advertising
Click “Get ideas” and review the keywords listed under the “Ad Group Ideas” tab
#4: Google Trends: Brand Monitoring
Do you currently monitor your branded keywords? Branded keywords are words or phrases that include the brand name or a variation of the brand name in the word or phrase. Examples include “Company ABC”, “Company ABC careers”, and “Company ABC hiring”. Monitoring branded keywords is critical to knowing what people are saying about your business online.
Sure, you may have already set up Google Alerts or SocialMention, but Google Trends provides valuable insight into how searches for your business have evolved over a fixed period. For example, let’s say your business weathered a minor scandal that was covered in the local news; Google Trends will show how this scandal affected searches that included your business’s brand in the search terms. For the latest searches, choose the “Hot Searches” category; this will show the most popular resent search terms. Check “Top Charts” to see the most popular searches by category, including politics, entertainment news, and technology. Use information from your branded keyword monitoring to brainstorm topical website articles and blog posts. For example, how can a popular search term add a new and insightful angle to a blog post or article that you are writing?
Moving Beyond Keywords: Structured Data Markup & Google Authorship for Higher Page Rank
While keywords will always be a primary search factor, increasingly, keyword importance and relevancy is diminishing. The move towards Semantic search and structured data markup requires a new content optimization approach and page rank. For example, structured data markup is now an absolute must for all websites. Structure data is rich data snippets that are added directly to a page’s HTML. These rich data snippets make it easier for search engines to crawl your website and quickly identify key data, such as NAP (name, address and place). Is your website optimized for structured data? Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper is a great free tool for quickly “tagging” website elements and generating sample HTML code for quick addition to your website.
Google Authorship is also critical. You need to publish your web content under you Google Authorship identity. Google Authorship improves SEO by building a strong relationship with readers, which boosts your Author Rank. And while Google has yet to “officially” use Author Rank to determine search results, most analysts agree that it’s only a matter of “when” not “if” Google does this. To add your Google Authorship to published content, be sure to add the relevant “?rel=author” tag to the end, an extra line in the URL that alerts Google to your blog’s authorship.
While Google may not longer provide traditional keyword data through Google Analytics, all is not lost. There are still other free options to find keyword insights, including Google’s Keyword Planner tool, which is great for paid search. At the same time, do not obsess too much over “(not provided)” keyword data; if anything, use this as a push to embrace Google’s mandate for high quality, relevant content. Semantic search, structured data and Google Authorship are all major players in the new SEO frontier – be sure your business is ready.