At the beginning of this month, Google made another of its “quiet” announcements, and as usual it was a shot heard round the SEO world. Search Engine Land reported on Monday (23 September) that Google will begin encrypting all of its user’s search data in the form of a “(not provided)” keyword in analytics. Yes, ALL search data. But before the torches and pitchforks come out, let’s remember that Google added SSL encryption for its signed-in users in 2011, and added that same encryption for Chrome users earlier this year. As shocked, and frustrated, as the SEO community may be, you really couldn’t call this unexpected. Still, it does mean that the keyword data that we have come to rely on will no longer be provided in Google Analytics. So, what are webmasters and SEOs to do in the wake Google’s latest announcement? Well, let’s look at why Google has taken this step, and what it means for content marketing and SEO in the future.
Why Has Google Forsaken Us?
The primary reason Google has given for encrypting all of its user’s search data is privacy. Google began blocking the search history of their signed-in users in 2011 after various privacy concerns had been raised. This move to encrypt all user’s search data is merely a logical extension of that decision. Now, as always happens when Google announces a major policy change, the internet becomes clogged with hundreds of theories as to why the search engine giant made such a decision. As regards Google’s move to encrypt all of their user’s search data, the theories range from the petty (Google hates content marketers) to the conspiratorial (Google is trying to block the NSA from spying on its customers). One theory is that Google wants more marketers to use Google Adwords. This theory is not without merit, as the only search data exempt from encryption seems to be Google Ads. Coincidence? I think not.
When Will Google Start Encrypting Data?
Google has not announced a definite time table for 100% encryption of keywords, but Click Consult is closely tracking this best-guess date. It is assumed that the process will finalize in the United States over the next few months, and will eventually be implemented in other countries. Most webmasters have already seen a huge impact on their organic search data, and are already experiencing 80%+ percentage of “(not provided)” search data.
So What Data CAN We Use?
Webmasters and SEOs who have synced their Google Analytics account with Google Webmaster Tools can still glean some useful information concerning their keyword activity. While the “(not provided)” keyword data may not be as detailed or accurate as we would like, there is still a lot of useful insight into the flow of traffic.
We can see data such as impressions, click through rates, bounce rates, and average position under the “Search Engine Optimization” section in Google Analytics. I strongly recommend you sync both GA and GWT, but if not, you can still get an abundance of data in GWT alone. The problem is that there isn’t a way to track conversions through the combination of these two channels.
More importantly, data analysis should really start to shift more on your content marketing efforts. And, under the same “Search Engine Optimization” section in Google Analytics, there is a “Landing Pages” sub-section that shows top performing pages on your site.
It’s critical that we change our focus from “where are users coming from” to “where are users going” on our websites. With the combination of Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools, we still have a lot of helpful information to propel our SEO campaigns further.
What Does All of This Mean For SEOs and Content Marketers?
While the loss of some trackable data is a definite blow for SEOs and content marketers, it should not derail our optimization strategies. We should already be concentrating on creating valuable and authoritative content for our websites. In some ways, Google’s adoption of a secure search protocol may be a boon to search engine optimization. Black hat SEO techniques will become harder and harder to implement successfully, and the rewards for creating engaging content that provides real value for online users will increase exponentially!
The days of over-optimizing websites with keywords and phrases that have been parsed and analyzed with no other purpose than to game the search engines are over. Google has been pushing SEOs and webmasters toward concentrating on quality content, and away from simple off-page SEO tricks designed to game the system. Secure search, at least from an SEO point of view, should be seen as just another step in this direction.
Google’s “(not provided)” keyword encryption is likely to have SEOs and webmasters up in arms for the next few months. But it is really not the end of the SEO world. By providing high quality, authoritative content, SEOs and webmasters can continue to reach millions of potential customers every second of every day. The important thing is to not panic, and to keep moving forward using best SEO practices on all of our websites.