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Google's missing keywords - what now for business?

Posted by James Greig on 30 October 2013

Google has finally swung the axe and stopped passing keyword data back to website owners. In the latest update, known as Hummingbird, every search performed on the platform is now conducted securely, meaning that web analytics packages (including Google Analytics) are no longer able to show any information about the keywords that bring traffic to your site.

For a while now webmasters have been seeing terms like 'not provided' or ‘encrypted_search_terms’ in their analytics packages, as Google slowly moved users onto the secure (https://) version of their site. This means searches are being encrypted and hidden from third parties like website owners.

It doesn't matter if you use Google Analytics, WordPress or any other piece of software, searches from Google will be obscured, meaning it’s much harder to track the success of individual keywords.

So how can webmasters respond to this change of rules and still optimise their websites for search?

Focus on creating great content and a great user experience

This change continues Google’s mission to rid the internet of shoddy SEO tactics and produce the best search results for users. Focus on providing a great user experience together with genuinely useful, valuable and helpful information and your site will continue to rank well.

As Google’s Matt Cutts says, “Succeeding in SEO will be the same as it's always been if you're doing it right – give the users a great experience.”

You can read more about how to produce great website content here: Google is searching for great content and so are your clients.

Use Bing results for a sample

Visitors from Bing and other search engines will still show the keywords used, which means you won't be completely in the dark about how visitors are finding you. Taking the terms used on other search engines as an indicative sample of all your users can help show the areas in which you're most and least successful.

Use Google Adwords

If you use Google Adwords, you will have access to their keywords tool which will give you an indication of the volumes of keywords being searched on. The tool used to be accessible without having a Google Adwords account, but was recently made only available for Google Adwords customers.

Use Google Webmaster Tools

If you don't already have a Google Webmaster account, signup now. You can get access to keyword data by clicking on Search Traffic > Search Queries. It gives you impressions versus click data, which is data Google never gave webmasters in Google Analytics, so it can help you see what keywords people are using where your site got an impression in the search results, but the user didn't pick your site for whatever reason.

It is easy to add Google Webmaster tools to your account in the SEO -> Settings area of thewebconsole.com.

Work on conversions

Although you will no longer be able to see which keywords are converting, you can still see which pages are converting well. This can give you two courses of action: work on promoting the pages that get you the most sales, so they see more traffic, or tweak the poorest converting pages so you see more purchases, enquiries or sign-ups.

Although Google’s latest change will undoubtedly make things harder for site owners, it doesn’t hugely change your approach to website optimisation in the way that Panda or Penguin did. Hummingbird primarily affects reporting and measurement, so you might need to consider new metrics, but there’s still enough data available to draw insights into the behaviour of your site traffic.

Author: James Greig
About: James is the founder of Bloomtools and the software and Internet expert on the Executive Team. With a degree in Advanced Information Technology, specialising in Computer Science and Interactive Development, James founded the software development arm of Bloomtools in 2004.
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