A discussion on Threadwatch Monday drew greater visibility to the fact that Google has begun encrypting all queries through the search engine, even for users who aren’t signed in to Google. Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land confirmed this shift with Google, as discussed in the recent article on SEL this week and highlighted in news coverage on our site as well.
The impact of this shift in search technology means that nearly 100% of keyword data, as reported in web traffic tools like Google Analytics, will be indefinable (“not provided”). For B2B marketers, this adds an arguably unnecessary challenge to the lead analysis of search program execution and the measurement of the ROI of SEO programs.
“Unnecessary” because Google could provide this data to marketers but is purposely removing it, all in the name of search privacy. However, Google does not block keyword data for paid search advertising (AdWords). More background of Google Encrypted Search can be found here, as well as analysis here, here, and here.
Earlier this year I wrote a column on developing “B2B SEO Benchmarks in a (Not Provided) World”. While I encourage B2B marketers to review this piece, the high level summary of recommendations include:
- Track Landing Page Performance – Define visitor success metrics of the specific pages created or optimized for search, by way of traffic, page performance, and goal completion.
- Evaluate Navigational Performance Post Landing Page – Document the percentage of times visitors to jump from optimized pages to a key conversion-oriented pages, such as a request for download or request for evaluation type web asset.
- Tie In Marketing Automation Prospect Reports – Leverage additional reporting to establish whether SEO landing pages and content assets are being accessed by prospective customers.
- Leverage Webmaster Tool Reports – I specifically referenced the inbound link report but pay attention to changes and improvements in the type of keywords Webmaster Tools indicates your site ranks well for and the average search positioning associated with them.
- Tie In Social Media Network Development – Make sure content assets developed for SEO performance are used for multiple channels of opportunity, especially social media distribution and network development.
Deeper analysis of site, brand, and page level performance, associated to organic search traffic, will be even more critical moving forward. A year after (not provided) search rolled out, we also talked about key recommendations on this blog and on Search Engine Land as well. They included:
- Set Proper Benchmarks – Get an understanding of how encrypted search is impacting organic search engine traffic over time, as well as how it has increased year to year (for the past three years at least). Seek to educate management ahead of time about the change.
- Non-Branded vs Branded Traffic – Attempt to establish visitor performance patterns for branded and non-branded traffic for two reasons: 1.) estimating percentages moving forward and 2.) making educated assumptions on the type of visitor coming through “not provided” search engine referrals in the future.
- Re-Evaluate Google Webmaster Tools – Google Webmaster Tools provides an aggregated list of the top 1,000 search queries that drove traffic to a site within the past 30 days. While this could be valuable information for marketers, keep in mind that long-tail search traffic can be equally valuable in lead generation analysis.
- Visitor Performance Metrics – B2B search marketers must look even more closely at the quality metrics associated with the traffic from search engines. This includes bounce rate, page views per visit, and certainly conversion rates, in comparison to other traffic channels and marketing investments.
- Use Visual Data as a Supporting Metric – When all else fails, take lots of screenshots of search engine result examples. I’m not re-advocating ranking reports as much as using visual data as a supporting metric along with increasing traffic, leads, and performance metrics.
It is also important for B2B marketers to educate themselves about the issues and communicate to managers, team members, and even vendors and partners how this change will impact SEO strategy in the future.
Additional Recommendations for (Not Provided) Analysis
In addition to the information and references above, here is a list of resources dealing with the subject of (not provided) traffic analysis for B2B marketers (and marketers in general), specific to recommendations and action plans moving forward.
- When Keyword (not provided) is 100 Percent of Organic Referrals, What Should Marketers Do? – via Moz
In this special Whiteboard Tuesday, Rand Fishkin covers what marketers can do to make up for the drastic change in (not provided) referral percentages, finding data from other sources to stay on top of their SEO efforts.
- Recovering (Not Provided) Keyword Data – via Search Engine Watch
In early 2012, Ben Goodsell wrote a column providing an interesting method for projecting impact of (not provided) percentages cross-referencing Google Analytics and Webmaster Tool reporting data.
- How to measure branded search traffic in the ‘Not Provided’ age – via Econsultancy
Chris Lake provides tactical steps on measuring branded traffic in association with growing (not provided) keyword percentages.
- Google Quietly Moves to Totally Secure Search – via Path Interactive
Michael Coppola provides additional background and a few pointers for marketers on uncovering organic keyword trends using other Google tools to make informed estimates.
- (not provided)—Distilled’s thoughts in review – via Distilled
Actually a collection of five of posts from Distilled that deal either with (not provided) explicitly or the changing conception of keywords generally, as highlighted by Benjamin Estes.
- (Not Provided) on the Rise: 4 Tricks to Compensate for Lost Keywords – via PR 20/20
Keith Moehring outlines 4 ways to utilize the data still available though Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools to garner better understanding of keyword traffic and opportunities.
- What Google’s Omission of Organic Keyword Data (not provided) Means for Search, Social & Content Marketers – via TopRank
Lee Odden comments on the shift to 100% secured search, how this impacts SEO’s, social media marketers, and content marketing professionals, and what to consider moving forward.
- Four More Ways to Crack the Keyword (not provided) Code – via KISSMetrics
Sean Ellis looks at four ways marketers can crack the (not provided) code: dissecting Google search strings, surveying users, instrumenting site search, and using query classification and advanced segmentation in Google Analytics.
- Smarter Data Analysis of Google’s https (not provided) change – via Occam’s Razor – Avinash Kaushik’s 2011 post dealing with the (not provided) change and establishing a better understanding of the data at hand and in transition.
- Additional forum discussion can be found at WebmasterWorld, Threadwatch and Cre8asite as highlighted by Search Engine Roundtable.
A critical point found in the majority of these articles is that there is still enough information available to measure organic search performance and assemble content marketing strategy, with or without (not provided) keyword data. B2B search marketing professionals need to be more diligent in their analysis and assemble a greater array of reporting data to connect the dots.