Over the past couple of years, SEO professionals using Google Analytics have witnessed a steady increase in the number of times “(not provided)” has replaced a valuable keyword phrase that led an Internet user to visit a website. Today, we may start seeing “(not provided)” on up to 100% of the incoming search phrases.
Google Analytics has been a tremendously useful tool used by SEO professionals to analyze ways in which site visitors reach a website and what they do once they arrive. All of that has changed as Google recently decided that all searches would be encrypted, therefore not passing along search query data to their Analytics software. This is very concerning for those of us who use this information to improve websites and the user experience.
Why do we need this data?
Knowing which phrases are sending visitors to a specific site or page gives us very important data which helps us find opportunities to improve a page’s performance and rankings in search engine results. It allowed us to see which pages were attracting visitors and once they arrived, stats such as bounce rate, visit duration and time spent on the page helped us see whether they found what they were looking for or left the site quickly.
Being able to see the traffic referred from specific keyword phrases also allows us to track our efforts. If we are able to observe which keywords are generating traffic and the corresponding landing page, we can see how well the work we’re doing translates into results for our clients. Without this key information, it’s more difficult for us to determine what works, and what doesn’t.
So why did Google do this?
Google has claimed “user privacy” as their main factor when justifying these changes. In the wake of the NSA’s spying program, PRISM, Internet security has been thrust to the forefront of the news and Internet users have made it clear that they no longer wish to be monitored.
Some industry professionals are under the impression that this is, in fact, an attempt to push clients into Adwords campaigns to increase Google’s revenue. Adwords campaigns will still show the search phrase that led a “Googler” to click on a paid ad. This is only a theory of some SEO’s and is based on speculation.
Now what do we do?
For some, starting an Adwords campaign might be a viable option for gaining similar statistics. Adwords allows you to create ads that appear on the Google SERP when a specific phrase is searched for. You’re required to place a bid on the keyword term, and the highest bidder gets the highest result position. You can then utilize the stats within your Adwords campaign to determine which direction to proceed.
As web marketers, it’s our job to improve the user experience and the Internet as whole. This job just got a lot more difficult. These new changes leave a gaping hole in the amount of statistical data we’re able to collect and as we continue to see the effects of these changes, we’ll have to use some creativity to gain the same type of insights.