Two years ago, Google began blocking keyword data from organic search queries if users were signed into their Google accounts while searching.
They claimed that this was done to protect user privacy, but it produced a storm of criticism, largely because they were still providing keyword data for Google Ads clicks. This cast doubt on the whole privacy issue, and led to accusations that they were trying to increase businesses reliance on Google Ads. (Because, of course, they don’t make any money from SEO.)
Initially Google claimed that this would affect only about 1% of searches, but once it rolled out, it quickly became apparent that this was a laughably low estimate. Subsequent examination has suggested that, two years later, there are sites losing more than 50% of their keyword data (in some cases much more) to the now infamous (not provided) keyword.
The obvious result of course, has been that companies doing SEO have had to deal with increasingly reduced information regarding the keywords that people searched for in order to arrive at their site. As the number of (not provided) keywords grew, organic traffic became more difficult to quantify.
Keyword Blocking Extended
Earlier this year, Google extended the exclusion of keywords to include not only searches from signed in users, but searches from the “omnibox” in their proprietary browser, Chrome. And now Google has announced that they will be rolling out secure search (to protect users of course), for all users, whether they are signed in or not.
Google assures us that the motive is the protection of their users (from the websites the users visit), and that they believe this exclusion is a good thing. There’s no timeline yet for the implementation, but it’s coming nonetheless.
Of course, if you pay them for Google Ads advertising, you’ll be able to get the keyword data just like before, but only from paid search results, not from organic search.
Organic Keyword Data Obsolete
Organic keyword data in analytics is effectively going to be replaced by a single metric. You’ll only be able to see how many people arrived organically. Not what they searched for in order to do so.
At best, it’s no less suspicious than the original “limited” blocking was. At worst, it’s hard not to give credence to the idea that Google wants you to use Google Ads instead of trying to optimise for organic rankings.
Bing and Yahoo still pass keyword data just like always, and that’s great, in countries where they have some search market share. In SA, where more than 90% of searches are carried out on Google, that may be cold comfort for SEO professionals though.
And apart from using Adwords (and linking your Google Ads account to your Analytics), there isn’t much alternative on the horizon.
The reality is that we’re going to have to come to terms with being without what we once considered some of the most important data available for determining how visitors were arriving at your site.
(Not Provided) & The Death Of SEO
Is this the end of SEO as we know it? Of course not. No more than Panda was the death of SEO. No more than Penguin was.
What it will mean perhaps is a move away from keyword-centric SEO. Less picking a likely keyword and trying to optimise for it. No more seeing which keywords bring visitors to which pages. Instead, we’ll be doing what Google may have wanted all along…creating compelling and relevant content, sharing it, and developing a measure of credibility via it.
Do we like being denied this data? Of course not. When it comes to marketing, the more data you can get the better. Are we particularly worried about it? Not really. Individual keywords are only one part of a relevant and authoritative site.