SEO is dead. We’ve all heard so many times over the years. Yet we are still here. Google’s latest strike with the move toward 100% (not provided) is only one more line in a long list.
In 2011, Google announced that they decided to move toward secure search to improve their users’ privacies, which meant that search queries made on a secure Google page would no longer be passed on to the destination website. As a result, the keyword data available in Google Analytics started to quickly disappear and be replaced by the phrase, “(not provided).” As of today, the share of “(not provided)” keywords in GA has reached 82% in America and 75% globally, making keyword level analysis more and more irrelevant for SEO.
But in reality, focusing your SEO efforts entirely on keyword performance would probably not have been a very smart and efficient strategy, even before the loss of keyword data. What we all need to realize is that whether we are working in the world of search engines or in search optimization, our goals are the same: to present internet users with amazing websites that offer them exactly what they are looking for.
What (not provided) Means for SEO
In the world of “Dark Google” and the steady disappearance of keyword referral data, SEO specialists have had to put on their creative hats one more time. It’s no longer about finding search terms and optimizing your website for a set of keywords. It’s about understanding what people want, what they are looking for, and how you can make it available to them.
Although the loss of keyword level information is calling for a change in how SEO performance is measured and reported on, there is still a wealth of data available to digital marketers. It will be our job to turn to other tools and find innovative ways to leverage that data to measure search engine optimization performance.
The Future of SEO
Page Level SEO Analysis
One way to circumvent missing keyword referrals is to look at your data at the page level. You can still see how your content is performing even if you are no longer able to tell exactly what search term is tied to each visit.
Overall number of visits and unique visitors, average time spent on page, page views per visit and bounce rate at the landing page level can provide relevant and interesting insights that you can analyze to determine content performance. If you are trying to optimize a page for a specific keyword and you see that your content is not performing as well as it should, then you can tell that your targeting strategy and content is probably not properly optimized.
Using Other Google Tools
Google’s advertising platform still provides its customers with keyword level data, so be sure to use your Adwords campaigns to inform your SEO strategy. You can analyze keyword/landing page success as well as run SEO specific tests within your ad campaigns to determine which search terms you should be targeting in your SEO strategy.
With the advent of (not provided), Google Webmaster Tools is also becoming more and more relevant, particularly with the search queries and landing page reports. Although the data is limited and not 100% accurate, it still provides very interesting insights into how your pages are performing and the type of search entities that bring visitors to your site.
But Really, Forget Keywords & Think Queries
In the words of Matt Cutts, Google’s future “is about things, not strings”. How things are connected is becoming more relevant to how search engines return results for each query. Think about optimizing your pages at a topic level rather than a keyword level by learning what people are saying and more importantly how they are talking about your topic. You will most certainly discover that a hundred people will find a hundred different ways to phrase a similar idea.