September 25th, 2013

Datapocalypse Now?

photo courtesy of

In case you missed it, Google appears to have moved entirely to secure search. The search engine giant has yet to release any information about the move in any Google publication, such as the Google Analytics blog. But search marketers and internet news outlets have been reporting the change since Monday, resulting in a near-hysteria – or, at any rate, a general disfavor – from SEOs about the keyword data implications.

Many folks in the search community suggest the change has been a long-time coming. Since we in the SEO world love our data, (Not Provided) Count has developed a chart to show the steady increase in “not provided” keyword data since Nov. 1, 2011 – just weeks after Google first announced changes to its organic search keyword reporting.

We at VIUS decided to seek a silver lining somewhere in the “not provided” panic or, at the very least, to make some sense of the sea of reports. Here’s what we were able to recover: 

Search Engine Land | Post-PRISM, Google Confirms Quietly Moving To Make All Searches Secure, Except For Ad Clicks

Danny Sullivan describes the history of Google’s move toward secure search, including his thoughts on the most recent (and, in his words, sudden) shift in not provided data:

“In the past month, Google quietly made a change aimed at encrypting all search activity — except for clicks on ads. Google says this has been done to provide ‘extra protection’ for searchers, and the company may be aiming to block NSA spying activity. Possibly, it’s a move to increase ad sales. Or both. Welcome to the confusing world of Google secure search.”

Moz | When Keyword (not provided) is 100 Percent of Organic Referrals, What Should Marketers Do? – Whiteboard Tuesday

In a special (early) edition of The Moz Blog’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand Fishkin spells out the real-world implications of the not provided change for both search marketers and web users.

“[M]arketers don’t use this data to do evil things or invade people’s privacy. Marketers use this data to make the web a better place. The agreement that marketers have always had—that website creators have always had—with search engines, since their inception was, ‘Sure, we’ll let you crawl our sites, you provide us with the keyword data so that we can improve the Internet together.’”

HubSpot | Google to Encrypt ALL Keyword Searches: Say Goodbye to Keyword Data

The developers of the internet marketing software open with a pretty typical marketing doomsday warning but wrap up their post with some valuable reminders about organic search data (and a plug for their software, of course).

“It is still possible to tell how much traffic your website is getting from organic search. Although you might not know the exact keywords, you can still correlate the work you do to optimize your site and create content to increases or decreases in organic search … Rank will continue to play a role in helping measure the results of search engine optimization and content creation.”

Browser Media | R.I.P. Keyword Intelligence as (Not Provided) Slips into Overdrive 

The UK-based inbound marketing agency’s founder, Joe Friedlein, points out which tools and measurements will still provide useful data in the wake of the analytics shift.

“For some time now, Google’s Webmaster Tools has included a report that sheds light on which keywords are performing for your site … This report, called ‘Search Queries’ is accessed via the ‘Search Traffic’ tab. You can also select a more advanced view which will show you changes in the data, which serves as a useful barometer to measure trends.”

Econsultancy | Google’s Keyword Data Apocalypse: The Experts’ View

In a post by Graham Charlton, search marketing experts weigh in on the change, answering questions like, “What does the removal of (most of the) remaining keyword data mean for search marketers?” Below is the response to that question from search strategist Rishi Lakhani.

“As search marketers, most of us are fairly resilient. If we can’t report on keyword traffic we will find work-arounds, and maybe bring back rank reporting as an important metric. So coming back to your question what it would mean to search marketers? It depends on what type of a search marketer you are. If you are resilient, you would take this in your stride.”

Occam’s Razor by Avinash Kaushik | Search: Not Provided: What Remains, Keyword Data Options, the Future

Analytics guru and digital marketing evangelist for Google, Avinash Kaushik shares his reaction to the not provided news and describes what analysts are still capable of, despite the loss of organic keyword data. He breaks down his thoughts in four parts: Implications of Secure Search DecisionWhat Is Not Going AwayAlternatives For Keyword Data Analysis and Possible Future Solutions.

“While not provided is not an optimal scenario, you’ll see that things are not as bad as initial impressions might indicate, yes there are new challenges, but we also have some alternative solutions, and realize that the SEO industry is not done innovating. […] We can fill some gaps, we can still bring focus to our strategy.”

Overall, what we can gain from the above opinions is that search marketing requires creative thinking, flexibility, and a sense of humor – especially when considering the following words from a Google Analytics support page about search traffic:

“Understanding which keywords drive visitors to your site and which of those keywords generate the most revenue is one of the most valuable insights you can gain from Google Analytics. Whether you’re optimizing your site around keywords or bidding on them for paid-search ads, knowing which ones to focus on makes all the difference.”


Which posts have you found useful in light of the shift to secure search? What is your opinion of Google’s locking down of the data? What are the alternatives you plan to use?

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