SEOs March Through The Gauntlet

The sudden disappearance of organic keyword data available in Google Analytics is a startling realization that keyword data measurements for SEO success are rapidly changing. The industry’s reaction has been widespread, with an outcry from cynics and advocates alike; SEO vendors touting their wares as a critical solution to the problem; and many senior-level marketers resuming charge of SEO initiatives.

This latest evolution in the SEO landscape should come as no surprise, as SEO methods have always been unpredictable. In 2011, Google’s decision to encrypt search was put in place as an added security feature to prevent hackers from potentially spying on searches or manipulating results. Any Google user — that is, anyone logged into a Google account (Gmail, YouTube, etc.) — who performed a search while logged in no longer had his keyword passed through to Google Analytics. Only recently did Google move to encrypt ALL searches so that every query typed into the Google search engine was sent over “https,” resulting in organic search keywords disappearing from Google Analytics. Interestingly enough, though, keywords from search queries that come from clicking on a paid ad will still get reported in Google Analytics.



This transparency on how well — or not — organic keywords perform has significantly impacted the industry and how we, as digital marketers, measure, understand and improve campaigns to achieve our marketing goals. Indeed, it’s more challenging to be one of the top search results at a time when competition is increasingly high. And while the number of unique unbranded organic keywords driving visits and the volume of unbranded visits has long been considered a key metric of SEO success, paid search campaigns continued to supplement what is lacking organically.

This shortcoming creates an ideal opportunity for marketers to review their current SEO programs and improve their tactics. In fact, there are four things marketers can and should do so they don’t lose any traction during this latest SEO evolution:

Know your objectives: Rethink your objectives and KPIs: What is the most effective action someone can take on your website? Determine any and all information you need to optimize your site for organic search engine rankings and traffic. There are a vast number of metric tools to assess the overall health of your organic search program.

Set the baseline with Google Webmaster Tools:Google Webmaster Tools  has become the most reliable source for keyword data, as it is unaffected by the changes in Google Analytics. Individual keyword data can still be extracted from here, but there are limitations to how many unique keywords can be analyzed and fewer filtering options than those available within Google Analytics. Moreover, overall keyword volume metrics, such as exact number of visits per unique keyword, are not available.

Round out your tool set: Relying on a single tool for SEO or any other marketing measurement is a risky plan. Use this as an opportunity to identify, implement and leverage supplementary tools.

Test, explore and validate: Experience will be your best guide as you use all of these new sources to make keyword-based decisions. Refine the set of reports you use until you get comfortable with your new optimization process. 

Ultimately, each SEO program may require a different approach. Every marketing organization — from the world’s biggest brands and their cutting-edge SEO agencies, to the one-man marketing department — is affected by Google doing away with keyword data. As such, this is a perfect time to explore new alternatives and start 2014 off on the right SEO foot.

1 comment about "SEOs March Through The Gauntlet".
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  1. Stephen Baldwin from Didit, February 26, 2014 at 3:58 p.m.

    Good article. BTW, to easily view GWT KW data in GA, make sure you associate these accounts. (you need to do this in GWT in the "manage" area). This can save a lot of switching between GWT and GA as you do your complete usage analysis.

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