Google Analytics and “(not provided)”
If you haven’t heard the news, Google is hiding even more of it’s data in Google Analytics, specifically the keywords being used to find your site in search. Two years ago, Google started replacing keyword data with “(not provided)” for searches used by users currently logged in to Google. They promised this would only affect 5-8% of search queries. This has now escalated to, in some cases, over 75% of search queries. It is likely that in the upcoming months, this data will be totally unavailable. (Note: this only applies to organic search data. Paid search data is still available. For more detail, check out Danny Sullivan’s post).
There are several speculations as to why this is happening. It is no longer believed to be a privacy issue from Google, though some speculate this has to do with the recent NSA issues, and that this may be an attempt to prevent further data from being captured and “spied on.” The more likely scenario is that Google is trying to drive more people to paid search to receive further data, where it is still available. Personally, I believe that we will most likely see a paid version of Google Analytics in the next year that offers full data.
The Silver Lining
In any case, it’s here, and we have to deal with it. Here’s the good news – this may actually be good for the SEO industry. First, it’s going to cause us to work harder for the right data. That helps to eliminate some of the lazy SEO’s, or at least make them easier to spot. Honestly, that’s good for everyone inside and outside the industry. We should be making the web a better place, not a place resulting from laziness.
Second, and more importantly, it is going to be much more difficult to focus on the “money keyword” – the one keyword that we dwell on for traffic. That’s an old way of thinking about SEO, and it isn’t the best way to look at things. SEO’s need to think of themselves much more as marketers as opposed to “people paid to increase a keyword rank.” As you market a site and company, links will develop naturally, helping the SEO for a site. As you build valuable content around a key concept (maybe a better way to think of things as opposed to key words), that word and similar phrases should raise in rankings. And, as both of these happen, branded searches will rise. With the advent of “not provided” we will not be able to see a differentiation between branded keywords and other keywords. We can measure the overall effectiveness of the site. That may actually be a better measure of success. As the site traffic grows and, more importantly, conversions grow (the metric we really should be focused on in 95% of cases), we should see success, and should be able to claim success. Think as a marketer to grow a business, not just in terms of keywords.
And please, don’t mistake this as a call for laziness. If anything, this should cause us to work harder. And that’s a good thing.