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OMG I’m Going to Lose Keyword Data That Was Already Gone!

Okay, maybe it wasn’t ALL gone, but darn close. Baby making surprised expression

Old News is New Again

A lot of people have been asking for my opinion on the recent news that Google is “going to” start encrypting searches, which means that website owners won’t be able to see what keywords a searcher used to find their site in Google. I emphasize “going to” with sarcasm, because Google actually began using encrypted search as far back as 2008, and began encrypting all searches for logged-in users in October 2011.

“Not Provided” Started Out Big in 2011 and Kept Getting Bigger

Although Google predicted that affected searches would be in “single digit” percentages, webmasters immediately began seeing “not provided” keyword data in the 30% – 60% range, and that number kept increasing gradually ever since. My site started out with “not provided” in the 40% range after the October 2011 announcement, and gradually increased to an average of about 70% for the majority of 2013. My clients’ sites followed a similar trend. With two-thirds of my keyword data gone, I had already adapted to measuring the success of my SEO efforts in other ways. So I have giggled to myself quite a bit over the past week as people asked me, “What are you going to do now?” after hearing the news that Google is going to encrypt even more searches.

The Latest Change

Yes, I did see a recent spike in my “not provided” count in September – from 70% to 90%, but I didn’t blink an eye. The only thing I’ve been relying on keyword data in Analytics for is to get ideas for blog articles. As described in my Top 3 Google Analytics Reports for SEO recorded webinar, I suggest using the organic keyword data in Google Analytics to mine for blog article ideas. Looking at the “onsie-twosies”, the terms that you get one or two hits per month on, gives you an educated guess of what terms you’d rank for if you wrote more content about them. Since you already have a little traction on those words, it’s better to use those than ones that you’re not even on the search engines’ radar for.

Keyword Data IS Still Available

That type of analysis will still be possible even if Google moves to 100% encrypted searches, because organic search terms from OTHER search engines will still show up in Google Analytics (yes, there are other search engines out there). Also, keyword data, even for encrypted searches, is still available in Google Webmaster Tools. While some may argue that the data in Webmaster Tools isn’t as accurate as in Google Analytics, there is still usable data there, including impressions and average ranking positions, which Analytics didn’t even have.

Rankings & Organic Landing Pages Are Good Enough for Me

Let’s talk hypothetical worst-case scenario: 100% of Google searches go into “not provided”, other search engines follow suit and encrypt all searches as well, and Webmaster Tools stops sharing keyword data. How would you track the success of your SEO efforts then? Easy. Track rankings and organic landing pages. Using a rank tracking tool like Moz, plus knowing what pages your organic search visitors came in on, will let you know exactly what you’re having success with (and what you’re not). If I’m ranking #1 for “Facebook Marketing Plan Template” (which I am) and the #1 landing page for organic visitors on my site is the download page for that template (which it is), then guess what? My SEO efforts on that project succeeded. That’s the method I’ve been relying on the most ever since the original encryption announcement in October 2011, and will continue to rely on now. So nothing has really changed as far as I’m concerned.

Is This Whole Thing a Scheme To Get Us To Buy AdWords Ads?

There’s a lot of speculation that Google is making this shift in order to encourage people to buy AdWords ads (because full keyword data is available for those campaigns). Is that the case? Maybe. Maybe not. Google cites the privacy of their users as a driving force behind this. Others say the moves are NSA-related. I don’t really care what it is. I have a method that allows me to measure the success of my efforts (see previous paragraph) and that’s all I need.


I hope this clears up some of the confusion surrounding this new-old news, but if you still have questions, leave a comment below.

Pam Aungst Cronin
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