There’s been a lot of noise around Google encrypted search hiding keywords in Google Analytics. Instead of seeing where all of your traffic comes from, a large percentage of searches show up as “not provided” keywords. Not only is this annoying, but it also leaves you in the dark when it comes to knowing which keywords are driving profitable traffic to your site and segmenting brand vs. non-brand keywords.
The good news is that we have some strategies that will help. This post discusses three ways you can gather keyword data from “not provided” visitors. But first, we’d like to talk about how this keyword data was used to optimize SEO and content marketing results.
What did we do with the data before?
The lack of keyword data affects two groups differently. The first group is agencies and the second group is in-house marketing teams.
Agencies previously used keyword data to show clients the value they were providing. Now, it’s much more challenging to prove what you’re doing is working.
From an in-house perspective, it’s not quite as devastating. Businesses are looking to see the amount of traffic they’re driving as a whole when it comes to organic traffic, but knowing which keywords are driving the traffic isn’t quite as important. It’s helpful, but it’s not as vital as it is for agencies.
In either case, the data is useful because it shows which keywords are driving people to your site and which keywords lead to the most conversions. You’ll know if you’re ranking for a term that has a lot of volume but isn’t converting (in which case you won’t want to invest any more SEO efforts for that term), and you’ll know which terms have both a high volume and a high conversion rate.
Additionally, when SEO and PPC are working hand in hand, SEO is a great source for negative keywords. If you’re ranking for a term that’s not converting, you’ll learn that it’s irrelevant and can add it as a negative keyword. Or maybe you find a keyword that is converting well that you should add as a keyword to your PPC account.
In short, knowing more about the keywords that are driving traffic to your site has an impact on which keywords to invest more time and money into when it comes to both SEO and PPC. “Not Provided” keyword data leaves businesses not sure what content to focus on.
So what can you do? Is there any way to get this information back? Yes, there is, and we’d like to show you how.
It is very important to find out what percentage of organic SEO traffic is branded and non-branded. SEO agencies should only get credit for non-branded traffic because you don’t need help ranking for your own brand. Branded SEO traffic can also spike from something like an offline ad campaign, press release, etc but that’s not something an SEO agency deserves credit for.
Strategy #1: Google AdWords
The first place to look for keyword data is in Google AdWords. Yes, PPC can be expensive, but it’s a great place to start when you want to find out which keywords are profitable and worth targeting for your SEO efforts. It is very common to conduct Keyword research, which provides you with a list of terms, but you don’t know if those terms are going to convert or not.
Many companies ask to rank for these list of keywords but if you invest time and money into ranking for these keywords that either provides little traffic or doesn’t convert, then content marketing can be really, really expensive. An easy solution is to test with AdWords first. You’ll learn more about the search volume and find out which terms convert at the highest rate.
Economics 101, supply and demand applies to search marketing too. Within AdWords, the best place to start is the demand or impression for each keyword. You want to sort by monthly impressions with the Google Keyword Planner. It’s slightly inaccurate, but it provides data as a good starting point.
At this point you’re looking to find which terms describe your product and have a high volume. You also want to find out how competitive they are. Do you even have a chance to rank for these terms? “Wine rack,” for example, is difficult to rank for, but there are lots of other options. You can target “wooden wine racks,” “metal wine racks,” “mounted wine racks,” etc. The search volume will decrease, but relevancy will increase because you’ll get higher quality visitors that convert at a higher rate.
Once you’ve done some research to find out what the search volume is, you want to find out which terms drive traffic and lead to conversions by adding them as keywords to your AdWords account. You can then compare this info with your organic traffic rankings to compare the conversion rates.
For example, f you’re ranking #2 for “wooden wine racks,” and “wooden wine racks” converts at 5% in AdWords, then there’s a good chance your organic ranking is converting around the same rate. You still won’t know the exact amount of traffic coming from that term, but at the very least you have a better idea what the conversion rate is. This assumes of course that you’re somewhere in the top three because click-through rates go down significantly if you’re on the second or third page.
Using AdWords in this way, you’ll begin to fill in the gaps that “not provided” leaves behind.
Strategy #2: iSpionage
iSpionage first and foremost is a PPC tool. The Key Effectiveness Index (KEI) and other indexes make it possible to find effective keywords and ad copy based on what’s working for your competition.
However, you can also use the URL of your website to see the SEO keywords, search engine rank, and average volume for the keywords you rank for organically. By clicking on the “SEO” tab within iSpionage, you can see the keywords and the position your site ranks for each keyword. This sheds light on which keywords are driving traffic to your site.
At this point you can say, “OK, I got a thousand visits from Google last month, and I know how many keywords I rank for after looking at iSpionage. After sorting by volume, I’ll have a pretty good idea about which terms drove the majority of the traffic because the terms with a high volume and high ranking are going to bring the most traffic. Now I have a better idea about which terms are driving the most traffic to my site” This insight from iSpionage continues to peel back the lid on the black box hiding the “not provided” keyword data.
Something else that’s really helpful in iSpionage is being able to see search volume and ranking side by side. For example, just because you rank #1 for “10 bottle wine racks” doesn’t mean that much if the search volume is really, really low, and you can find this out with iSpionage.
Strategy #3: Google Webmaster Tools
The third and final strategy you can use is Google Webmaster Tools. Within Webmaster Tools, you can log in and look at “search traffic” and then “search queries” to see the keywords, the impressions, and the click-through rate for the terms your site ranks for. This information isn’t necessarily 100% accurate, but it provides a data point and offers insights on what’s working and what’s not.
The click-through rate and position is valuable because the click-through rate isn’t available on either iSpionage nor Google Analytics. Thus, Webmaster Tools provides a benchmark you can use to measure your site.
When you look at the click-through rate, you want to make sure you’re looking at the position as well. If two keywords are in the same position and one is getting a much higher CTR than the other, you may want to edit your title tags and meta description to see if there’s anything you can improve.
Overall, looking at Google Webmaster Tools provides more data about the keyword info that’s been lost with “not provided” data in Google Analytics.
Why does all of this matter?
Whether you’ve invested in a full-time writer, you’re an SEO employee, or you’re an agency, you’re probably interested in knowing the return of the time and money you invest in PPC and SEO. You want to know how much revenue is coming from your organic search traffic, etc. You can always do a high level profit/loss analysis to get an idea, but the problem with this is that you can’t really see which keywords are driving results. However, when you double check with tools mentioned in this post, you get a better idea about which terms are driving traffic, and which ones are getting clicked on.
You eventually want to produce relevant content for the words that are performing well and integrate high-performing terms into both your PPC and SEO campaigns. This process begins with AdWords, continues with iSpionage, and ends with Google Webmaster Tools. Once you find terms that have a low cost per acquisition and a high return, you can choose to invest in more content and campaigns along those lines. Good luck!
Jamie Smith, got an early entrepreneurial start during the beginning of the Internet boom building and selling websites. Mr. Smith has over 15 years of Internet Marketing experience and has been quoted in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and frequently speaks at industry conferences around the world. Jamie founded Engine Ready, Inc in 1999 and sold the service agency division to BRIM Agency in 2013 and now focuses on software revenue growth and helping clients bring their marketing in house. (twitter) @jamiesmithnow