The Tiny Tweak From Google That Means Big Changes to Your Marketing

Organic Search Traffic - Google Analytics (1)A big change has been brewing in the online marketing world, and it finally came to a head last week. If you have been looking at your Analytics (and you should be), you have probably noticed the increasing prevalence of the phrase “(not provided)” showing up in your organic keyword traffic. As of last week all traffic from Google organic search will begin to show up as (not provided). This means no more Google keyword traffic data for anyone. Yup. It’s the end of an era.

This might come as a surprise unless you’ve been paying super-close attention to your organic search traffic. About two years ago, Google began offering a secure version of its search over HTTPS, which meant that the keyword query stopped being passed to your website. The initial impact was supposed to be minimal, but over time it increased as Google began serving more and more secure search. Now everyone’s operating with this secure search by default, resulting in this total loss of Google keyword data in any analytics package.

But why would Google do this to me?

This new move by Google is all in the name of privacy. Not so long ago, we could look at someone’s search terms and, with some other available data, potentially figure out who was doing the searching. That might not seem like a big deal to you, but there are some instances (think about some more delicate searches) where this might matter to the searcher.

What does the loss of keyword data mean for bloggers and business owners? That all depends on how much you used it in the first place. If you had any sort of research-based content or marketing strategy, then the chances are good that this keyword data played a big role.

At LKR, we would frequently look at what keywords were bringing traffic to our site in order to evaluate where we needed improvement. For example, we recently noted that we receive a good deal of traffic for “facebook marketing”, but almost nothing for “facebook marketing education” and related terms. Since one of our main products is social media education, that’s a huge opportunity we have barely tapped into.

Monitoring trends is also important to us. If we begin losing traffic for “twitter marketing” then either Google changed their algorithms, we broke something on our site, or a competitor has begun to beat us. That’s a big signal that we need to get our butts into action.

So…what your new plan?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a perfect resolution to the loss of data. It’s gone for good, and there’s no alternative. Yet we can persist and look for the information we need in different areas.

Google Webmaster Tools offers a very, very rough estimate of keyword traffic data. If you aren’t signed up and set up with Webmaster Tools, you’re going to want to get on that now. Under the Search Queries area you will see a list of phrases where your site shows up in search results, and a rough estimate of how many impressions and clicks you receive. This should give you a general idea of where you are performing well and any trends that may call for action.

Did I mention those numbers were all rough estimates? Don’t put too much stock in the exact figures – just stay focused on the trends.

Although you can’t see which specific keywords are bringing traffic to your site from Google, you can still see which pages are. Where you would normally look at keywords from Google organic search, you can click the little blue link above that table to see which landing pages are receiving the traffic. From there you can deduce which keywords are resulting in traffic, and experiment to see what works best.lkr-GA-search-traffic-screenshot1

Then there’s Bing and other search engines. For the time being, they are still sending keyword data. Chances are that you’re receiving a significantly less amount of traffic from non-Google search engines, but it might be enough to give you an idea of which keywords are driving you the most traffic..

The one thing to do now without keyword data

Finally, the thing Google probably wants you to do is to stop thinking in terms of keywords, and it’s a good strategy considering the changes to Google’s search results algorithm over time. (They’ve gone from focusing 100% on the phrases you searched for to showing you the most relevant and highest quality content they can find.) My recommendation? Write quality content and let Google figure out when and how it should be shown in their search results. In other words, don’t make a guide that says “how to cook bacon” 13 times in it because you want to rank for that phrase. Instead, write a quality guide to cooking bacon and let Google figure out when to show it.

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  1. Wow, this is interesting! I had noticed the same thing and was wondering what was up with it. I always look forward to seeing the keyword trends on my website. I love your recommendation at the end about just creating good content and not worrying about the keywords – I feel like this is what we should do anyway, and Google is just making it easier for us to focus on what really matters – creating amazing content. Thank you for covering this!

  2. Wow, thanks for this! I’m not really in it deep enough to be wondering about keywords, but I had noticed that I never saw what terms were bringing people to my site anymore. Now I know why.

  3. Natalie Sisson says:

    It’s definitely a pretty major move and means less access to data but at the same time hopefully more privacy for all and a better quality of data. It wouldn’t surprise me if they release a premium key word tool you have to buy access too

  4. I sort of stopped even looking at these the first time they implemented this on the majority of my keywords and started focusing more on social interactions. Of course I didn’t completely dump the old SEO but I focused more on what looks like the new Google course – social shares and personal recommendations. Do I miss having all the keywords on display? Heck yeah. But I guess we have to deal with what they give us, lol. I do need to go through my Webmaster tools more, though :)

  5. Google has launched their new algorithm called Hummingbird, they’re now favoring sites with long tail keywords, (Siri search could be the reason.) I think I still get the keyword data in my account. And there are alternatives that are even better than analytics keyword data. I’ll going to write about it on my blog So stay tuned.

  6. That is so helpful to know. It’s definitely the end of an era. Wow!

  7. I did notice that more of my analytics were coming up as not provided & wasn’t sure why. Thanks for writing about this. I agree with you, Laura, to just focus on quality content. I’ve found looking at my Google Analytics to be enlightening as to what topics (based on the landing pages) were more popular or not. It’s much like you say in Creating Fame. It’s the thing that we think is so simple because it comes so naturally to us that other people want to know and are willing to pay for. Amazing the way that works.

  8. I’ve been taken notice of “not provided” since I started my blog in July. I thought it was because my site was new. But now I know. Thanks Matthias.

  9. Thanks for the article, Matthias. Unfortunately most of it went over my head because Analytics is sooo confusing to me. I came back specifically to share this link, though, because I just signed up for Google’s Analytics Academy: I’m banking on reading this article again soon and actually understanding it! :)

    • The tl;dr version is that when someone clicks to your site from Google, you can no longer see what they were searching for.

      I haven’t gone through their new Academy training yet, but I *highly* recommend learning a bit about Analytics. There’s so much useful information to be had!

  10. And I thought I was doing something wrong with the analytics! Nice! Although I must admit it was VERY boring and unnatural to write posts in the way engines expected you to. I’m excited about this new concept of focusing on quality normal content. Great post.