Keyword data drops out of Analytics

There’s been rather a stir going on in the SEO world over the past few weeks.  Google has made quite a drastic change that impacts significantly on how SEO experts do their job and prove their value to the client.

Traditionally, when you looked at the Traffic Sources report in Google Analytics, you could see a breakdown of traffic by search keyword.  I.e. – you could work out what keywords people were using in Google to find your website.  This gave a rather useful insight and, if the data was actually used correctly, would foster a continuous cycle of improvement, site changes, etc.

Since October 2011, Google decided to start hiding keywords in Analytics – for searches performed by people that were logged into a Google account (e.g. Google+ or Gmail) when searching.  This was ostensibly for privacy reasons.  The result was that there has been a gradual rise in so called ‘(not provided)’ data in the Traffic Sources keyword list.

A couple of weeks ago, on September 23rd 2013, Google extended this to all searches.  And so eventually, it is expected that the only entry in the keyword list in Analytics (for Google searches – this doesn’t currently apply to Bing, Yahoo, etc) will be ‘(not provided)’.  Which isn’t particularly helpful when trying to work out which of your keywords is working/which to focus on/etc etc.

Why?

There are various scenarios I have come across as to why Google has done this:

  • Google wants to protect user’s privacy
  • Google wants to force more people to use its paid AdWords service, where keyword data IS available.
  • Google is trying to protect itself from the whole US National Security Agency/PRISM spying thing (?!)

Whatever the motive behind Google’s move, it looks like it’s here to stay, and it wouldn’t be entirely surprising if the other big search players didn’t follow suite at some point.

If you want in-depth advice as to how you can use other data within Analytics to make up for this loss, have a look at this video on Moz.com, or this post on SearchEngineWatch.com

So what?

On the down side, there is no getting away from the fact that this move is going to widen the gap between the real SEO professionals and the average small business owner who is attempting to understand and make the most of the web and Google!  It is undoubtedly going to make the latter group even less likely to take meaningful action based on their Analytics stats.

But I like to always try and draw some positive things out of something like this:

  • So many people were already overwhelmed with Analytics anyway, and didn’t actually use it to drive changes.  That’s not a particularly good thing, but if you were one of these people, these changes are not actually going to make a huge difference to you – so don’t get too bogged down with them!
  • You never know, perhaps Google has done this to try and level the playing field a little – it has become far more difficult to do decent keyword analysis, so perhaps most people will stop even bothering, and focus on creating good content instead.  From my own experience, and from working with my clients, I have found that common sense goes an awful long way.  Good content, clearly labelled for what it is (via meta data – page title, description, headers, etc), will get found, and will have a positive impact on your traffic and rankings.
  • Another positive lesson to pull out from this – any marketing-savvy person will tell you that it’s important your new business leads come from a mix of sources.  Listening to all these web people chunter on sometimes J, one would think that Google and Social Media are the be-all and end-all.  Guess what – they’re not.
  • A business that gets all its leads from Google is actually pretty vulnerable – who’s to say Google won’t suddenly change drastically or shut down next month? (unlikely, but you get the jist…).  For many businesses, if a good proportion of your business does not come from word of mouth, you’re doing something a bit wrong.  Again, a client of mine recently advertised in the local magazine ‘Round and About’ and got a huge amount of business from it.  That’s not to say their website is not important – but they’re doing something very healthy – building up a mix of lead sources, rather than putting all their eggs in one basket.

Got to dash now, but leave a comment below with any questions and your thoughts on the matter!

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