WHAT IS IT?
Google announced on Sept 23, 2013, the expansion of Google Secure Search to 100% of their searches. Organic keyword level referral data will no longer be provided to site owners as a result of this encryption.
Beginning in October 2011, Google began withholding search query data from users who were logged into their Google Accounts. This SSL encrypted data appeared in traffic results as (not provided) which was originally announced to only consist of a small percentage of query results but has expanded to a larger set.
In 2012, Firefox followed suit and implemented HTTPS encrypted search by default for all users searching on Google. Since that announcement, (not provided) data has gradually increased to include the vast majority of search results.
Over the past two years, (not provided) data has grown significantly. In the near future, (not provided) blinded keyword data will continue to increase and eventually all organic traffic from Google will no longer be mapped to a specific search query. Despite these changes to organic keyword referral data, search query insights will still be available for paid search ads and have not been impacted at this time.
Our below analysis tracks the (not provided) data for four major websites within a variety of industries, including automotive, retail, and finance over the course of 2013. In January, the existing secure data ranged from 25-35% for all the corresponding websites. For the month of September, 60-70% of all of the websites’ organic traffic was reported as (not provided). Since the beginning of 2013, the search query information withheld has doubled and is expected to continue to grow over the next few weeks. Website analysis can no longer rely on keyword referral data as an indicator of organic performance.
TRACKING SEO PERFORMANCE
Despite losing keyword specific traffic data, there are still several significant ways to measure performance and implement strategy at a keyword level.
1. Yahoo, Bing and Other Search Engines Traffic: Search query data will still be available for every other engine but Google. This data will provide valuable insights into how specific keywords are performing on a website.
2. Landing Page Traffic: Organic visits from specific landing pages help provide a high level overview of how keywords are performing. You can still see page-level referral visits from Google. By mapping keywords to specific pages, you can get an understanding of how keywords are performing based on how their designated pages are performing.
3. Keyword Rankings: Keyword ranking data will still be available on all search engines and should continue to be a major part in crafting an SEO strategy and measuring performance. Keyword rankings give valuable insight into how search engines rank your keyword for a specific query compared to your competition. Having a high ranking page position for a keyword is a reflection on how well your targeted keywords pair with your content.
4. Google Adwords: The Keyword Planner tool provides search volume for specific keywords and by combining rankings with this search volume you can get a good understanding of how a keyword is performing or will perform for your designated landing page.
5. Google Webmaster Tools: For a short window of time, GWT will still provide insights into what the top keywords are driving traffic to the site. While this information is not actual it will help to discern what keywords Google sees relevant for your pages and can be used to map back to your pages’ traffic.
6. Paid Search Data: If your website is running paid search ads, looking at paid search data can provide implications to how organic search is performing. If overall site traffic is performing well, but your paid search traffic is remaining stagnant, the increase in site traffic can be attributed to organic performance.
Combining a variety of these metrics and analysis will deliver an accurate measure of SEO performance. Without keyword referral data, the analysis process may be a little more time consuming but it is still possible to fully measure the impact of your SEO strategy.
Google Secure Search is changing the SEO landscape and shifting the focus from keyword level analysis to more a robust analysis of optimization efforts. While (not provided) keyword data creates a blindside for SEOs and marketers, we can work around this challenge by analyzing page-level data, reviewing keyword data from other search engines, and utilizing paid search and keyword rankings to create a directional if not holistic view of SEO performance.