Google Analytics & Not Provided

The fantastic thing about digital is it defies the old adage: “Half the money I spend on advertising  is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

With tools like Google Analytics, digital marketers have been able to very precisely measure most if not all of the work we do. Amongst many, many other things, we could see exactly what keywords people were using to arrive at a site, which terms were resulting in sales or enquiries, and understand how the balance of branded traffic (ie those who already know about a brand) vs unbranded traffic (those who ‘discover’ it as a result of SEO efforts) was shifting. ….But all that is about to change.

Not Provided to cover 100% of searches

Google has recently announced that it will be phasing all of its Organic keyword data into the ‘Not Provided’ bracket – ie, it won’t be giving any data at all on keywords being used through Google searches. So where we could previously drill into specific keyword or category data at the click of a mouse, we will now only be able to see total visits coming from the search engines, without any idea of how that breaks down.

Ostensibly, Google has made this change for ‘privacy’ reasons – to protect its users. (Although it should be noted that detailed keyword data will still be available to advertisers on its AdWords platform – just not for the unpaid results…)

For digital marketers, it’s a tricky and unwelcome turn of events. But regardless of the whys, wherefores and ‘It’s not fairs’, it’s a change that will affect everyone, and we’re all going to be working on ways in which we can as accurately as possible ‘re-access’ the keyword data that was so valuable to our strategy planning and reporting processes.

How to get back the ‘Not Provided’ data

Of course, there are a number of ways this can be done. For example:

  • Analysis of the pages through which people arrive at the site should indicate the types of terms they used in their search.
  • Keyword data in Bing and Yahoo is still (for the moment, anyway) available. So there are extrapolations that can be made here.
  • Keeping an eye on where you’re ranking for particular terms should give you an indication of which keywords are resulting in visits (based on the assumption that first page rankings will be driving traffic).
  • Provided your rankings don’t change dramatically, historical keyword data from Analytics should give some indication of visits in relation to keywords.
  • Analysis of the ‘Site Search’ functionality can give you some insights into what people are searching for.
  • An AdWords account, if you have the budget, will give you all the keyword data that used to be available in organic search. (Though do note: people search differently in the natural results than they do in the paid results.)

Alas, none are as simple or accurate as what was previously available in Analytics, and it remains to be seen what depth of detail is accessible elsewhere…

Changes in reporting

For digital marketers, and SEOs in particular, it’s going to affect the depth of reporting we have thus far been able to provide to clients. Understanding exactly how SEO has contributed to an overall rise (or fall) in traffic and/or sales will certainly be trickier. We’ve had examples before where a client’s overall traffic and sales have declined – and yet we can see that the SEO element of their campaign (ie that which is concentrating on the non-branded, ‘discovery’ terms) is growing dramatically. Hence the business can point to a drop in PR, advertising or some other marketing activity as perhaps being the reason for a decrease in brand awareness.

What should be noted, though, is that although it’s disappointing for marketers (and business owners) to no longer have the same level of detail available in Analytics, this move does in part reflect the shift by Google away from keywords and towards ‘intent’ as the basis of its algorithm.

Google’s shifting approach to keywords

As Rick explained in his blog about recent developments at Google, the most recent ‘Hummingbird’ update to how Google ranks sites is designed to root out the intent of more complicated searches. Where we might previously have Googled “Italian Restaurant Soho” on a desktop computer, we might now use voice search on our phone to ask Google “Where’s the best Italian Restaurant near here?” – for which it will weave in location data, Google+ data from our contacts, Google News results and more to provide you with options in your vicinity.

Taking this into account, it’s easy to see how keyword data was going to become increasingly complicated to report on for Google anyway. So – as ever in the world of digital marketing, we will flex, adapt and find new ways to add value and deliver relevant data to clients. At the end of the day – the way we can report on SEO in particular will change. But as long as the quality of work is high, there will still be enormous value to be had from this critical marketing avenue.