Putting Google’s ‘not provided’ Keyword Update in Context

contextual-searchWe saw it coming that Google would eventually secure all keyword data in Google Analytics from the inception of ‘not provided’ keyword data in October 2011 and in the more recent inflation of the percentage of keyword data that was withheld in ‘not provided.’

As we compared organic search traffic year over year by non-branded and branded keyword segmentation, it was becoming increasingly challenging to measure SEO against traffic and behavior metrics. While not having any keyword referral data is difficult, it isn’t much worse (in terms of measurement and analysis) than comparing incomplete keyword data. More important is the loss of this valuable keyword data in our analysis of user data that helps us better understand the performance of our content and the experience of the users. Moreover, this absence of information and shift in analytics transforms our SEO strategy — not surprisingly, one that aligns with the direction of our main partner in SEO, Google. Algorithm/engine updates (even as recent as the just-announced Hummingbird) ; markup code and Google’s Knowledge Graph; the search-social connection, and an increased emphasis on user experience (especially for mobile users) all speak to Google’s focus on contextual search.

So if Google is placing such an increased focus on context, then why take away the most explicit aspect of context, keyword data, from those creating content (marketers) for queries, i.e., what people are searching for?  That answer I don’t know, and after the Google Analytics summit tomorrow the situation may change — perhaps keyword data is made available for premium users. However, if we observe industry trends we can begin to add deeper context.

In the kingdom of Digital Marketing Content is King, I’m sure you’ve heard all about it. It’s true: Quality, unique, useful content that provides real value to users is what Google wants to serve in search results. This focus on quality content and user experience is reflected in Google’s increased focus on personalization (think Google Plus) and design improvements in their products and search services. The Hummingbird update was designed to better address more complicated, longer, queries and voice searches. Google’s Carousel featuring image-enhanced local results is a good example of how Google’s attempting to better serve specific local related (so far mainly restaurant and hotel) searches.


The Carousel also ties in with structured markup data and Google’s Knowledge Graph, both of which display information more dynamically. Also consider Google increased social influence on search results and the surge of more responsible, authorship tagged content. The commonality in all of these updates is an effort to better serve users by understanding the context of their query.

As the display of results has evolved, so, too did the query model in the explicit and implicit aspects of queries, the keyword again being the most explicit aspect, and factors such as location, device and personalization being the implicit and underlying contexts in the query. In this nuance is our insight into strategy – not creating or optimizing content to target keywords but rather the user and understanding the context of a query and individual needs. Understanding users’ needs and serving those in results with contextual content— this is our partnership with the search engines.

Thus measuring SEO impact is now more than ever a measure of our content, its visibility and user interaction with it. We can improve our content by better understanding users through page metrics analytics, persona development and customer interaction. The discovery of who your customers are online and how to best serve them starts with search information, and Google products still provide plenty of keyword data to analyze this information, including Google Trends, organic keyword information in AdWords, search volume and insights in the Keyword Planner Tool, and  impression and click through data in Google Webmaster Tools, in addition to other search-engine tools and SEO software. Marketers can understand what content is relevant and valuable by analyzing search trends and keyword data as well as how content is performing. Keywords are still important to track and analyze through trends and rankings so that we can compare to page-level metrics and search traffic growth, analyze brand perception, and discover new opportunities to target.

As SEO and search engines evolve, so, too do other aspects of digital marketing. Content marketing and social media have begun to have a bigger effect on search results. Search-engine optimization is still at the core of an online presence and addressing customers’ needs.

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