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What Google (Not Provided) Keywords in Analytics Means For Marketers

Market Trends - October 3rd, 2013 by Natalie Issa.

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Earlier this week, Google made a major change that shook up the digital marketing world. Namely, the company stopped providing keywords for search traffic.

I guess we all knew this day was coming since Google made the first change back in October 2011. At the time, Google made it so that keywords of any searches performed over SSL could not be tracked. You might not realize the gravity of this until you think about how often searches are performed over SSL – any time you are logged in to Gmail, using Chrome, or using most other Google products.

You see, (not provided) keyword results began immediately eating up tons of valuable data very soon after Google made the first change in 2011. There is even a site that provides an estimate of the percentage of keyword data that is now being displayed as (not provided). Last I checked it was at 80%. (Note: in Woopra, not provided keywords will appear as “-encrypted-”)

Not Provided Keyword Chart

Now Google has gone one step further and made all Google searches encrypted.

The exception of course being that you can still see the keywords from paid search (i.e. if you are running Adwords ads), but not from organic search. Some argue that Google made this change just so that marketers would have to spend more money on Adwords in order to get the data. While many people would love to crucify Google for, well, being evil, let’s remember that at the end of the day they are a business and they’re (justifiably) not going to do something that would jeopardize their biggest revenue stream. I think we can all agree that would certainly happen if they removed keyword results from paid search.

If you’ve been spending some time with your analytics over the last couple years, you have no doubt noticed these drops in your reporting. Since the first change in October 2011, we’ve received many frustrated inquiries about this from our users. Unfortunately there is little we, or any other analytics provider, including Google Analytics, can do to retrieve this data.

I myself have seen a drastic drop in keyword results for www.woopra.com. As a marketer, I was so frustrated back in 2011 that I actually decided to boycott Google search and set my homepage to Bing (which is better than you might think!). Now that we know keyword results are essentially gone for good, it’s time to face reality and see how we can overcome this challenge. Here’s what you’re going to experience and what you can do about it.

1. It Will Impact Your Messaging & Content

Many marketers look to search terms to get a sense of what prospects are looking for that ultimately leads them to the company. While certainly not the primary resource for evaluating customer needs, search terms can be very helpful in giving you insight regarding customer pain points and how customers themselves express them.

Now that you won’t have access to the vast majority of keyword data, it will be harder to gain this insight. Furthermore, the keyword data that you do have will be coming from people who use other search engines, which often represents a different demographic which is quite possibly not your “average customer”.

Solution: You can still see what keywords are sending you traffic at an aggregate level by using Google Webmaster Tools. You won’t have the same ability to use this information to segment and analyze various reports, but you will be able to at least get some insight regarding what is generally resonating with your customers. Even if you’re already using Woopra, the two products play well together and you can benefit greatly from both.

2. It Will Hurt Your SEO

This is probably the most obvious one. A lot of marketers are asking themselves right now, “how are we supposed to optimize our SEO if we don’t know what people are searching for?”

Solution: As Richie Lauriden writes, “SEO has always been more than just keywords”. He explains that you are not only looking for exact keyword matches but an “entire register of keywords” that are relevant and engage your audience. Consequently, you can look to your bounce rates and time spent on site to evaluate whether or not visitors are finding what they’re looking for. You can also look to rankings and traffic to see how keywords are performing. Richie even suggests an upside to the situation. He says that marketers can now move away from writing for keywords and focus more on building great content.

3. It Will Limit Sales Team Insight

Knowing what a prospect searched for often provides a great deal of insight for sales teams. It allows them to understand the lead’s interests and tailor their message to them. With this update from Google, your sales reps will no longer have this advantage for the majority of leads.

Solution: While nothing can change the fact that you will ultimately have less information, you can still find clues in a number of places. First of all, if the lead came from a paid search campaign, then you can still track the keyword. If not, you can look to the landing page they arrived on to quickly understand what message drew them in. You should also look at what content they spent time exploring on your site in order to get a sense of their interests. And if all else fails, you can always go the old fashioned route and simply ask the prospect.

Woopra Customer Profile Encrypted Keyword

How Are You Coping?

What have you done to cope with the drastic increase in (not provided) results? Share your advice in the comments below!

Here are a few other articles with great advice:

Google ‘(Not Provided)’ Keywords: 10 Ways to Get Organic Search Data

No Data For You: SEO Experts Offer Opinions On Google’s Move To Withhold Even More Search Term Data

The Impact of Encrypted Google Searches on Online Marketing

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