For many marketers, especially the SEOs of the world who feel their world is constantly crumbling these days, this week has reached an all-time low. On Monday, Search Engine Land reported that Google has quietly announced they'll begin encrypting ALL search data. This means that precious keyword data of yours that has slowly been slipping away will now be 100% unknown in the category of "Not Provided" within your website analytics.
If you're just learning of this news now, please pick yourself up off the floor and keep reading. This is not the SEO apocalypse, so don't panic.
I'm going to break down the reason why Google has made this decision, what it means for us Inbound Marketers, and how you can begin to change old habits and mindsets as you move forward with your SEO efforts.
Why Is Google Doing This? Do They Hate Us Marketers?
It's safe to say that, no, Google does not hate marketers. Ad spending from marketers keeps Google in business. (There are mixed opinions on whether Matt Cutts and the Google web spam team is purposely taking shots at the SEO industry, but that's a whole separate discussion.)
The primary reason Google began implementing secured search in the first place, back in 2011, was to protect users by blocking their search history when signed in to their Google account. This came after privacy concerns were raised. This protection then extended to searches made directly within the browser search bar (in Chrome, Safari & Firefox) and will now be extended to ANY search that goes through the Google search engine. The only exception are clicks on Google Ads.
Other sources, such as Search Engine Land, suspect this most recent change could be Google's attempt to block National Security Agency (NSA) spying activity after they were accused of giving the agency access to its search data this past June - which has been denied by Google.
One final theory, which seems legitimate to me and countless other experts in the search world, is that this is Google's latest strategy to get more marketers to use Google AdWords. As noted above, this latest encryption does not apply to specific AdWord campaigns and the data that is gathered and reported for AdWord customers will still show what keyword phrases users are searching.
When Will The Change Take Place?
That's the million dollar question here. You may have already noticed a more extreme impact on your organic search data over the last month, as far as the percentage of "Not Provided" search data, which is an indication that the process has already begun. What I've read is this latest update will first be fully implemented here in the U.S. over the next couple of months and then in other countries.
Some pray that Google will reverse their decision but based on their track record with past updates, that doesn't look too promising.
As I outlined in a recent blog, marketers can gain insights into their "Not Provided" keywords by using the data in Google Webmaster Tools if you have it synced with your Google Analytics account. Some argue this data isn't a complete and accurate picture but it does provide your top 2,000 keywords per day for the past 90 days (something Google has said will increase to one year, in the future). The jury is still out on whether this free data will be locked down as well but for now it's better than nothing!
What Does This Mean For Inbound Marketers?
For the true Inbound Marketer this update shouldn't be looked at as a negative. In a lot of ways, this is another positive evolution in the world of Inbound Marketing where the focus should be on creating original, valuable and engaging content. Forget the days of trying to hack the system (Google) by over-optimizing website pages with keyword phrases that were over researched and analyzed a million different ways. Or the approach of simply picking a keyword because it attracts a ton of traffic even though your page content isn't even related to that phrase.
"While secure searches may seem frustrating to many SEO marketers, this is actually a great move for our industry. Great SEO today is great content with powerful digital endorsements from relevant and authoritative websites, which results in business results that transcend the keyword conversation.
"SEO marketers need to be focused on raising organic traffic as a whole, achieving business objectives like online sales and lead generation, growing branded communities, and earning brand mentions. This move by Google will force SEO marketers to focus on business results rather than keywords -- which is where the focus should be anyway."
Here at Weidert Group, we're obviously mindful of specific keywords and keyword themes that we want to target and monitor but we don't over stress on them. We're more interested in the quality of traffic and lead conversions we're attracting through our content, how that content is helping secure organic inbound links, and how it's being shared on social media.
If your job depends on being able to specifically track the words and phrases that are attracting organic traffic to your specific website pages, and showing your SEO efforts are increasing this traffic, be sure to see what Rand Fishkin of Moz just published on his White Board Tuesday, which was titled: When Keyword (not provided) is 100 Percent of Organic Referrals, What Should Marketers Do?
As always, Rand does an excellent job clearly and succinctly outlining his thoughts on how marketers/SEOs can adjust current keyword tracking habits and methodologies based on this latest update.
Here's a handful of additional resources/articles I found valuable when writing this article that you may want to check out: