Once upon a time, in the not too distant past, you could use Google Analytics to see which keywords people searched to get to your website. No more. Now, Google has encrypted all searches — for both searchers who are signed into Google and those that are not. What that means for you as a marketer or business owner is that you now have little clue which of your carefully-chosen keywords are the most effective at sending traffic to your site.
The Reason Behind the Madness
The SEO world is in a bit of an uproar over this, just the latest in Google’s upheaving actions. Without keyword data guidance, how can we be effective marketers? And why did Google banish us to the dark corner?
Google reassures us the reason it now shrouds keyword data is to protect us (from ourselves?), but there’s also speculation that the search giant is trying to block National Security Agency spying activity. Either way, it’s a major change for those of us who regularly scrutinize keyword data.
The data limitation has been creeping in for a while, whether you realized it or not. Econsultancy says in August of 2012, about 15% of keyword searches were encrypted, which jumped to 50% a year later. Some predict that all keyword searches will be encrypted as soon as February 2014. Things are getting worse, not better, folks. So it’s time to adjust your way of looking at keywords and SEO and making the most of it.
The “Not Provided” Conundrum
Now, where there used to be keywords that people searched to find your site, there is the phrase “not provided.” This has infuriated SEO experts the world around. We’ve become accustomed to having this data readily available. So what will we do without it?
Before You Throw in the Towel…
Now that encrypted search has been the de facto for several weeks, SEO gurus are coming up with different strategies, workarounds, and even hacks. While none will give you what you had access to before, consider them the new way of doing business with Google.
Write Great Content. No, this isn’t a cop-out. People who wrote spammy, keyword-stuffed content are what got us into this mess in the first place. There’s no more “gaming Google.” You write for humans, so make it interesting. Use keywords, sure, but don’t center your solar system around them.
Focus on delivering content, both on your website and your blog, that your audience cares about. How do you find that out? Here are a few strategies:
– Ask your customers
– Look at your FAQs page
– See what topics are trending on social media
– Use the wildcard search feature (see below)
Track URL Performance. By focusing on the traffic and SEO performance of an individual page — rather than individual keywords — you can still gain an understanding of where you are in terms of ranking for a given keyword (assuming each page has its own keyword focus.) Let’s pretend you’re a dentist in Orlando. If you have one page for each service you provide (cleanings, fillings, and root canals), and you optimize each page, you can get a sense of how well your efforts are helping you based on the traffic for each page. This can also help you understand what services people are most interested in, so you can promote those more heavily.
If you’re tracking blog traffic, simply knowing which blog posts get the most views is valuable. These are topics your audience cares the most about, and ones you should write more on (that goes back to #1).
Pay Attention to What You’re Doing, and Do it Slowly. When you make changes to the content or keywords on your site, do so incrementally. First, benchmark where you are in terms of traffic and placement in search results. Then, make one change. Come back and see how that moved the dial. The problem with making more than one change at a time is that you can’t know which change caused the move, or if the two (or more) activities combined equalled the net results. Make a change, wait and observe, then tweak accordingly.
Date Other Search Engines. Google isn’t the only game out there. Bing and Yahoo are still happy to lift their skirts a little and provide that keyword data. I’m willing to bet, given that more people are disgruntled with Google, the other search engines are gaining a teeny bit more popularity.
Focus on Keyword Themes. Rather than drilling down to each individual keyword and its performance, focus on a slightly bigger picture. This goes back to tracking individual page behavior, but also looking at categories in terms of popularity. If you offer project management consulting and coaching services, pay attention to the keyword data you have as a whole, and make some informed estimates based on what you’re seeing. If you see more keywords (and web pages clicked) that relate to the coaching services, this is either because it’s:
a) the one you do a better job in promoting
b) the one people are more interested in
If you want to figure out which of these are the reason, tweak one thing at a time, like the keywords you use on the less popular pages. If you still see the scale tip in favor of coaching, you know that’s what your audience cares more about.
Use Historical Data. It’s not an ideal fix, but looking at which keywords drove traffic to your site a month or a year ago can still give you a pretty accurate picture of which keywords are working, assuming you haven’t changed anything. If you’re interested in seasonal trends, such as the traffic and keywords around the Christmas season, historical data can give you plenty to work with.
Look at the Keyword Planner. If you have a Google AdWords account, you can still get information on search volumes, both globally and locally. Even if you can’t be sure that a given keyword is working well for your site through your Analytics dashboard, you can start with better information about what keywords people are actually searching for, and avoid wasting your time using the less popular keywords.
Use Your Pay-Per-Click Ad Info. If you purchase PPC ads from Google, you still have access to the information about the keywords you paid for that people are clicking. This information is a bit in a bubble, since naturally, you’d hope that if you were spending money on ads, people would click them, but you can also figure out which are the more popular keywords. If you want to try to rank for those organically, you can do so through content marketing and SEM. You can also see what you can get from Google’s newish Paid & Organic Report. With it, you can assess both organic and paid keyword results, as well as any overlap. You can get ideas for additional keywords to use, as well as determine which keywords you should be investing more PPC funds into. Tools like iSpionage can also help you understand the PPC search marketing phrases your competitors recently used.
Back Off From Being Quite So Keyword-Centric. Many of us have become little analytics machines over the past few years, haven’t we? Every move up or down search results sends us into a tailspin. We consider things like keyword density necessary components of the SEO formula, and take painstaking efforts to ensure our formula is always balanced with the right keywords to attract new visitors to our sites. No longer.
The world we live in has changed. If you’re doing what needs to be done, traffic will come. If you’re using keywords that make sense, people will find your site. Get used to having limited resources in this arena, stop licking your wounds, and move forward.
Susan Payton is the President of Egg Marketing & Communications, an Internet marketing firm specializing in marketing communications, copywriting and blog posts. She’s also the founder of How to Create a Press Release, a free resource for business owners. She’s written three books: DIY Press Releases: Your Guide to Becoming Your Own PR Consultant, 101 Entrepreneur Tips and Internet Marketing Strategies for Entrepreneurs, and has blogged for several sites. You can connect with her on Twitter or through Google+.