The times are a changing. To celebrate their 15th birthday, search engine giant Google made a few changes. Like any teenager, they’re becoming increasingly complicated, stubborn and some may say selfish.
Not too long ago, Google played a little bit more cooperatively with webmaster and website owners.
Picture this quaint situation: A few years ago, if a hotel wanted more visitors to the website, they could go into their stats and see which keywords (words or phrases like "hotel" or "New Orleans") people were using to find their website. These keywords sometimes received thousands or even millions of searches every day. To get more traffic, they could put together a blog post or a few articles related to those keywords and possibly see their website higher in those search results.
Back in 2011, Google started to change the rules. They decided they wanted to start holding back some of that keyword information. Citing privacy concerns of their users, Google stopped providing stats for the keywords users logged into Google used to find a website. Instead of showing a specific keywords in the results, they started showing (not provided). In other words, they had that information, but they weren't sharing it anymore.
That was a pain, but not the end of the world. At the time, Google estimated not provided keywords would only be in the single digits.
Flash forward to 2013 and that number is still growing. This week, Google announced that they are no longer going to provide any keyword results to the webmaster, whether the user was logged in or not. That’s a game changer.
Currently, webmasters are seeing an average of 78 percent of their keywords as not provided. When that number was only 10 percent, website owners could still get a good estimate of their keyword traffic. As the number climbed, webmasters could no longer look at their keyword stats and assume what was left was an accurate representation.
When the number hits 100 percent, (NotProvidedCount.com estimates that will happen by the end of November), webmasters will be pretty much in the dark about how their search engine visitors find their site. They wouldn't be completely in the dark since there will be a few lights on from outside, but it does change the way SEO professionals will look at their analytics and stats.
Now, if a webmaster wants to still see which keywords are sending them traffic, they can look at their keyword rankings, either manually or with a tool. However, even the best tool isn’t 100% accurate. It’s an unreliable source of data because of all of the personalization and localization factors that Google now places on their search engine result pages. The way you see search results may be very different from the way it looks for the person sitting next to you.
The other option is through Google’s Webmaster Tools. There, a webmaster can still see an outline of their keyword traffic. The numbers are not as accurate as Google’s Analytics once provided, and it only shows records for the last 90 days.
A third option is to pay for those stats, not directly, through Google’s Adwords (pay per click search engine marketing). Using this tool, webmasters can still see the keywords that are sending them traffic.
Some website owners are complaining about Google’s changes. They’re accusing Google of breaking an unwritten rule, a rule that if the webmaster allowed Google to crawl their website, then the website owners would get traffic stats in return. Some even say that this is a ploy by Google to have people pay for information that was once free.
However, the best course of action is to move on. In SEO, things are always changing. If you want more traffic, you need to stop looking at keywords and how those keywords rank. You need to focus on creating value and quality via informative, entertaining content. Sites that create that kind of content have always ranked well and seen more traffic. It’s even more true with social. Now, if one person finds an article or website that they love, they can share it with their friends all over the world with one simple click.
It's also a good time to start looking at other key performance indicators. Instead of keyword traffic, now is the time for businesses to look at how well their website is converting, adding to the bottom line of their finical statements. While you’re at it, now is a good time to make sure that your website traffic isn’t just relying on one source of traffic.
If you want help navigating these choppy online waters, we’re here to help your search engine optimization. Contact via email or the phone at (504) 779-5188.