The SEO Apocalypse: Living in a (not provided) World

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Published September 30, 2013 by Brad Knutson
SEO Apocalypse - (not provided)

Queue REM’s infamous track “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It.” With recent speculation that Google is moving to 100% encrypted search, marketers and SEOs alike are planning for the worst, and wondering what is next.

Not Provided Meme

I think people are overreacting just a little bit. Google has been ramping up (not provided) for some time now, and anyone in the tech industry, social media, or marketing fields knows deep down inside that this day was coming sooner or later.

I prefer to see this as an opportunity. This gives good marketers a chance to prove their worth and value even more than before. It gives a chance to the little guys to even the playing field. It gives us the chance to try new things, and most importantly, it gives us motivation to become better marketers.

The Wrong Attitude

“My clients need concrete proof that our efforts are increasing their search rankings and sending targeted traffic to key places. Without keyword data, we’re not able to prove without a doubt that the increase in search traffic is coming from the keywords we’ve optimized for, as opposed to a flux in branded search traffic.”

This is a legitimate concern for a lot of SEO Agencies right now. Clients do expect concrete evidence that your hard work is paying off in the way you said it would. Without that proof, some clients may be left wondering if they are truly getting their monies worth, or some other campaign they are running is paying off.

The problem with this attitude is that it makes you look stupid. I’m sorry, but it does. Didn’t your mother tell you to never rely solely on one source of sustenance? So Google took away your keyword data. Boo hoo… You’re a problem solver right? Well find another solution!

The Right Attitude

“Google took away my keyword data. OK – that’s a big bummer, but this really doesn’t change what I’m doing, or why I’m doing it. I’ll just have to be more creative in how I look at things.”

Perhaps one of the most, in my opinion, memorable points that Moz’s Rand Fishkin ever made was (I’m paraphrasing…bear with me):

The Claim

“I can’t do it. It’s too (insert excuse here).”

The Reality

You aren’t creative enough.

This mindset is what drives me in everything that I do, and marketing and SEO (let along web development) are no exception.

So when faced with Google’s latest challenge, I saw an opportunity to do things differently – perhaps even do things better.

How To Carry On Without Keyword Data

Keep Calm and (not provided)

Google Analytics Landing Pages

Google Analytics might be the last place you look for answers after Google took perhaps the most important piece of marketing data out of it. The data is still partly there, it’s just not as clear as it once was. It will take some detective work and a little bit of insight (you might say assumption) in order to learn more.

In Google Analytics, go to the Organic Search report that you’re ever-so familiar with. Instead of sorting by keyword, however, this time choose Landing Page.

Google Analytics Landing Page

This report will show you where your organic search traffic is going. You now have solid, concrete numbers on search traffic for a given page – this is useful.

Let’s say you spent a lot of time optimizing a clients landing page for a very specific keyword. You worked hard, and your efforts are paying off. Traffic to that page is increased, and your impressive conversion rate proves that this traffic is targeted for your keyword, and it couldn’t be just an surge in branded traffic (because that page might not even rank for branded keywords).

Google Webmaster Tools

There is much debate about the accuracy of Google Webmaster Tool’s Search Queries report, but the fact is that even if you consider it “mostly” useless – it can still be of value to you.

Google Webmaster Tools Search Queries

As you are probably already aware, here you are given keyword data that can help you generate reports that show your increased traffic for specific keywords.

SEMrush Organic Keyword Data

SEMrush provides another great tool that will help get back some of your keyword data.

SEMrush Organic Keyword Data

You’re website already has a report waiting for you!{}+(by+organic)

Just replace {} with your domain name and an entire report is generated with keywords that you rank for, search volume for those keywords, and much more. Check out my report here.

SEMrush offers you limited data for free, but the full report can be generated by signing up for their services.

Moz Analytics and Keyword Difficulty Tool

Moz is an incredibly useful tool for any serious SEO. I feel that their toolset has become even more useful in light of losing keyword data to the extent that we have.

The ability to track search engine rankings for your target keywords is a huge advantage for any marketer or SEO. Tracking this information yourself can be time consuming, and nearly impossible given the variation in search results depending on location, personalized search, and more. Moz Analytics tracks your targeted keywords for you and keeps you up-to-date on a weekly basis if they move up or down in the SERPs.

Moz Keyword Difficulty Tool

Combine this information with Moz’s Keyword Difficulty Tool, and you have more solid data to prove that marketing efforts are producing real increases in targeted organic search traffic.

The Keyword Difficulty tool provides Bing’s search data, so take it with a grain of salt.

Moz Analytics Keywords

In Conclusion

I don’t feel bad for SEOs and marketers who are panicking over losing their keyword data. At MozCon this past July, Annie Cushing talked about gracefully moving away from just using keyword data and looking at other signals and metrics. During her presentation, she also alluded to the prediction (now a reality) that keyword data would all but disappear in the near future.

If you’re worth your weight in salt as a marketer, then you shouldn’t be solely relying on keyword data in the first place. If you have been, then good luck my friend – it’s going to be a hard road ahead. Part of being a good marketer is being forward-thinking and preparing for changes on the horizon before they become a reality.

Is it unfortunate that keyword data is all but lost? Yes! Will it make SEO and proving ROI more difficult? Absolutely! Should we let this slow us down? I don’t think I need to answer that…

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Founder at Inbounderish
Brad Knutson is a Web Developer in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. He has experience working with WordPress and Drupal, and also has an interest in SEO and Inbound Marketing.

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6 thoughts on “The SEO Apocalypse: Living in a (not provided) World

  1. David Leonhardt

    The problem with reporting to clients is that the time wasted in reports is not spent either A) creating really good content or B) flogging that content with a bullhorn. Some reporting needs to be done, but that should be more of the “This is what I’ve been doing” sort. If the client can’t tell that traffic is increasing and to what products/pages, or somehow thinks that SEO and other aspects of marketing can be divided into separate entities, then the client should be paying for some education.

    1. Brad Knutson Post author

      Hey David,

      I absolutely agree with you, but we’re all aware of how difficult some stubborn clients can be. This certainly doesn’t help – but I still don’t think it’s a detriment to SEO in general. This recent action by Google will just make better marketers stand out amongst what is becoming an increasingly crowded field.

  2. The Gai

    Valid points, but a flag was raised when you said make some assumptions. As a data analyst first, especially in our space, considerable money is spent on weak data points that scientifically and mathematically are BS. While I’m not saying, “The end is high” losing real data and correlations by keyword and making assumptions with contestable data takes us down the path into psudo-ROI world where assumptions based phantom impressions (earned, display, etc) are used as success indicators.

    Again alternative tools and assumptions can make the case but isn’t the same as clear/transparent & trackable data.

    1. Brad Knutson Post author

      I understand where you’re coming from, but I don’t believe this is a point that should even be argued. It is reality now. We don’t have the keyword data we used to, and with a large enough data sample, we should be able to decipher some sort of statistically significant pattern to present to our clients.

      I’m not a hardcore data analyst, but I studied Statistics in college, and if something is statistically significant it means that our sample is representative of the larger population (even if we’re technically making that assumption because it would be impossible to know everything about the entire population without having that large data set right in front of you). Assumptions or not, this is what we have to go on.

      As far as “psudo-ROI” goes, if the return is there, and you have data to back up your efforts, isn’t it a win in the end?

  3. The Gai

    Agreed, it is a moot conversation now given that ‘direct’ data is gone – and you are absolutely right about the quality of the sample and being able to draw conclusions from it.
    ** As far as “psudo-ROI” goes, if the return is there, and you have data to back up your efforts, isn’t it a win in the end?

    We’ll played, yes – though when there are other cooks in the kitchen (re: other agencies) it was always nice to point directly to a page and show the direct referrals by keyword (which, granted, still exists – you still see organic referrals to a page by type which can be distinguished from other marketing channels quite easily.)

    1. Brad Knutson Post author

      You’re right, where this can get hairy is when there are competing agencies or “other cooks in the kitchen” as you say. I can absolutely see this being a problem without 100% definitive data to prove it was your efforts and not your competitor’s efforts that produced the results.

      I suppose this recent development by Google will make us better marketers, and more importantly, better data analysts :). The strong will survive.

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