Keyword Data is Dead. Long Live Keyword Data

Google has pulled the organic keywords that people use to find your site from Google Analytics, and has replaced them with ‘not provided’. As of today, ‘not provided’ is rolling out for every single search query for organic traffic in your analytics software.

The History

Since its launch in May 2010, Google has been replacing keyword information with ‘not provided’. Despite early assurances that ‘not provided’ keywords would remain an insignificant percentage of traffic (Google’s Matt Cutts originally stated that the proportion of ‘not provided’ would be in the single digits), every month the percentage has been growing in our analytics reports. Initially it was only users who were logged into their Google Account who would not be passing keyword data onto analytics software. Some changes — like the launch of Google+ and the fact that the latest Firefox version made not sharing keyword data its default — grew ‘not provided’ keyword data to be the vast majority of keyword data for some sites:

not provided - Google Analytics

However, some of our clients were still in that low double digits range with ‘not provided’ representing about 20% of keyword data. For those of you who were lucky enough to still see a lot of keyword data in your Google Analytics organic report, it’s time to look for alternatives.

Alternatives to ‘Not Provided’

The truth is, there is no magic solution to finding keyword data somewhere else. But there are other options:

Google Webmaster Tools / Google Analytics – Search Queries

The first place I would recommend is the Google Webmaster Tools or the Google Analytics “Search Queries” report where impressions, clicks, CTR and average ranking position can be found:

Google Webmaster Tools Search Query

The data can be sorted by any of the columns, so it’s a great place to find low-hanging SEO opportunities by boosting keywords with high impressions and high average position but low clicks (for example). Sorting this data by clicks will give you a report close to the one you are used to. If you have linked Google Analytics and Google Webmaster tools, you can find this report in Google Analytics which allows you to set up filters to extract data more easily:

Google Analytics search query report

The data in this report is not very accurate though so take it with a grain of salt. See this blog post about Ian Lurie explaining why he thinks GWT search query data is worthless.

Google AdWords – Search Term Report

If you are running Google AdWords, you can find what keywords users typed to get to your site using a paid ad. It’s called the “search term” report. You can find it under the keyword tab:

Google Adwords - Search term

Unlike the keyword report in AdWords, this will show you what users actually typed to find your ads. The keyword report in AdWords just shows you which keyword was triggered by the search, so it can actually be misleading.

Hack Google Analytics to See the Landing Page Instead of (not provided)

This blog post explains how to set up a filter that shows the landing page next to ‘not provided’ to go from this:

Google Analytics not provided - fromto this:

Google Analytics not provided - to

If your URLs are well set up, this could be a nice hack to give a rough idea of what is working on your site and what is not. Alternatively, you can just add the landing pages as a secondary dimension to the ‘not provided’ report.

Cross Match Data and Guesstimate

By cross matching the following data, you should be able to guesstimate what keywords brought traffic to your site.

Step 1: Group Keywords in Themes

Group your keywords per theme and assign groups to the proper page on your site. For example, if you sell sporting goods and have a few keywords around skis, assign those to the main ski page on your website.

Step 2: Check Rankings

If you are a website owner concerned by SEO, you are already tracking rankings with a tool like Authority Labs and have been for a while. Look at rankings of the keywords per theme.

Step 3: Search Volume

Extract the Keyword search volume from the Google Keyword planner or the tool of your preferred choice.

Step 4: Landing Page Average Position

Use this step to double check your data. If your ski keyword group ranks well but the main ski page does not, check which page ranks for those keywords. Use past landing pages and search query reports to refine your data.

Once you have come up with an acceptable setup, compare your estimates with past trends and you can actually make a fairly accurate guess as to what hides in the shadow of the ‘not provided’ monster.

The table could look something like this:
Google Analytics not provided table

If the group of keywords are detailed enough and assigned properly, the data should be consistent across all rows. This table may not show exact search query data, but it highlights potential issues and errors to fix, which is even better.

Alternative Search Engines

While Google is King of the search engines (with about 66.7% of all searches), there is still the royal family to provide you with information. Bing and Yahoo are still releasing their keyword data, and this will be an opportunity to gain some insights into how traffic is getting to your site, and the search terms that lead to conversions or sales.

If you haven’t used Bing’s Webmaster tool, now is a good time to get started. This powerful tool is easy to set up and has features that easily rival Google’s. A simple configuration and submission of your sitemap to Bing can have significant ranking increases on Bing’s search engine, and will ensure that you continue to have a flow of keyword data to work directly with in Analytics.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the ‘not provided’ data is never coming back. The alternatives don’t quite provide the same depth of information such as conversions per organic keywords. That’s where experience and a great understanding of your website and SEO are going to play a big role in analyzing the data.

 

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