keyword not provided by Google

Keyword data is important: Knowing what keywords searchers are using to reach our web pages can help us target terms which convert to sales, identify un-planned opportunities, and generally improve customer experience (giving people information which they are looking for).   However, recently Google took a part of this ability away from us.

What’s new:

On Oct 18th 2011 Google announced that they were no longer passing on search query for natural search info from logged in users from Google.com to websites, 3rd party applications (like Omniture) or even Google Analytics (their program designed to help webmasters analyze web site usage).  Anyone who is logged in and searches from Google shows up now as “(not provided)”.  Google Says that they expect this will affect less than 10% of the data, and the roll out of this will take several weeks. To clarify: This is only for natural search data (not paid search), and only for logged in searchers using Google.com specifically.

Why would they do this?

Google says they are doing this to provide additional privacy to users.  However, some in the search marketing industry believe that Google is doing this for financial reasons.  Other ad networks placed on private websites use this search data from Google to server focused display ads to a visitor’s interest.  By removing this data, Google deeply cuts into these other ad groups’ effectiveness.

What does this change for us?

This limits page level data, but really only in the short run.  It is important to remember that no web analytics program is 100% accurate, and this change really is creating a way for us to measure how much data we’re not seeing. In reality…we’re not seeing a lot of actual web visitors information because no analytics program can capture it all (due to many non-avoidable factors). Possibly, we’re only seeing 30-50% of the actual visitors information.

What can we learn from this?

I think this change from Google truly reinforces a few key parts of search marketing:

  • Highly quantitative – While never 100% complete data, we have many ways to measure our websites performance.
  • Long term – Looking at a single day or a small portion of data can be dangerous.  Using a statically significant sample size of data is important before making any change to a website.  We really do not need to focus on accuracy, but more on consistency.  Tracking and analyzing trending outweighs any single event in web analytics.
  • Change happens – Google and Bing are constantly trying to improve their business.  Since these two companies dominate search traffic, we have no choice but to yield to their changes.  Being successful in search marketing is being responsive and attentive to these changes; leading the digital marketplaces rather than trailing our competitors.

I’ll continue to track this change over time, of course.  My sits are currently showing data around the 10% mark, which is slightly higher then what Google said to expect.  The search marketing industry has already voiced their opinion to Google using the Webmaster Forums and personal blogs, and it will be interesting to see how (or if) they change this data limitation.

How has this affected you?

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