Team G5ers Tony Griego and Johnathan Smith joined me in a quest to unlock the details - including implications - surrounding Google's latest announcement. Our findings follow below.
Background: What’s the situation?
In October 2011 Google began withholding keyword referral data on all users who were signed into their Secure Socket Layer (SSL) Google Account. As of this month, Google has now decided to roll out this encryption across all of its users regardless of their signed-in status. Google has reportedly made this change in an effort to maintain a stronger sense of privacy. In a quote on Search Engine Land, Google states:
“We want to provide SSL protection to as many users as we can, in as many regions as we can --- we added non-signed-in Chrome ominbox searches earlier this year, and more recently other users who aren’t signed in. We’re going to continue expanding our SSL in our services because we believe it’s a good thing for users...The motivation here is not to drive the ads side – it’s for our search users…”
This change in user privacy has caused a great deal of skepticism in the SEO community as to whether or not it's Google's attempt to either 1) block NSA spying activity or 2) increase revenue. Google fell under heavy scrutiny back in mid-June when it was accused of providing the NSA with sensitive user data (PRISM). Google strongly denied these allegations and has recently begun a campaign to specifically address the situation.
Regardless if their intent is for better privacy or more revenue, this is a dramatic change. Period.
Future: What this means for G5 and our clients?
There is going to be a shift in the way we assess our clients' organic keyword data, as well as how we report on it. We will no longer be able to drill down to the specific keyword level in Analytics, but we can continue to draw insights from other metrics such as page level data, time on site, impressions, click patterns, bounce rate, etc. to quantify the ROI.
While this feels quite sudden due to the absolute nature of the change, the good news is that we had already witnessed the growth of the “not provided” data and are well underway with alternative solutions. In the meantime, it will be necessary to merge data from a combination of sources using a variety of methods.
Alternative Methods of Tracking
Below are just a few ways that we still can provide our clients with insightful reporting:
Bing and Yahoo are still continuing to provide keyword data. Because Google Adwords does provide this data, we can link these accounts with our Google Analytics accounts in order to do keyword research. Although we will no longer know how much traffic a keyword is passing at the individual level, we will still know the amount of organic traffic we're receiving as a whole. We can then make judgments on whether our SEO strategy is having a positive or negative affect.
Webmaster Tools does provide data such as the amount of clicks and impressions that a selected amount of keywords receives (up to 2,000 per account). For many properties, this will be the overwhelming majority of the keywords they have. We can track the effects at the page level in Webmaster Tools. For instance, has a particular page improved as a direct result to our SEO efforts? Has traffic improved along with our rankings for this page's targeted keywords?
We can utilize other tools such as Google Insights and Google Trends.
For clients using Adwords, there are additional reports available that highlight the keywords searchers use for their queries including one on both a paid and organic level.
The bottom line: G5 will continue to push on with new solutions to answer the question, "how are people getting to my website?"
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