Google (not provided)
Back in October, Google made an update that blocks website analytic systems from tracking Google search terms used by visitors to your site who are logged into their Google account. This search update was touted by Google as “protecting the personalized search results”;
“As search becomes an increasingly customized experience, we recognize the growing importance of protecting the personalized search results we deliver. As a result, we’re enhancing our default search experience for signed-in users. Over the next few weeks, many of you will find yourselves redirected to https://www.google.com (note the extra “s”) when you’re signed in to your Google Account. This change encrypts your search queries and Google’s results page. This is especially important when you’re using an unsecured Internet connection, such as a WiFi hotspot in an Internet cafe. You can also navigate to https://www.google.com directly if you’re signed out or if you don’t have a Google Account.” Source
Ostensibly, this update seems rather minor and inconsequential. However, after a month of being able to truly see the impact of this update, it is clearly a devastating blow to search engine marketing-here’s why:
When working to increase your search engine visibility, it is critical to know the value of the keywords/phrases you are targeting. For example, let’s say you’re engineering a SEM campaign to increase the rank of few important key phrases. Maybe your keywords are on the bottom of page 1, or page 2, and you know that with your current placement, you are receiving a decent flow of visits. Prior to the update, you could quickly identify the visitor value for each key phrase you are targeting with a few clicks within Google Analytics (November 2nd to December 2nd):
If my number 1 keyword in the list above were on the bottom of page 1, then it would make sense to invest in working to increase my rank, and get closer to the #1 position. Understanding that executing your SEM campaign will increase visits, thus increase sales, you had a very good chance of succeeding in your campaign.
The problem that we have now that Google instituted this new update is that we no longer have an accurate view of how many visits are being generated via our targeted key phrases. The “(not provided)” phrase quickly renders any SEM campaign inaccurate, and potentially compromised, since it does not allow Google Analytics (or any analytics system) to track which keywords the visitor used to find your site through the Google search engine.
November was the first month to truly feel the brunt of this update. Excluding a websites branded keywords (company name, domain name, etc..) the “(not provided)” keyword makes up close to 9% of searches for this site.
It is the leader in visits and sales, and we have no way of tracking what keywords are providing us with the sales. Granted, you can back track to see where these visitors came in (what content page) however, you will never truly know what keywords they entered through.
So, if you are investing time and money into increasing your websites ranks in the search engines, you will be unable to pinpoint your success in keyword positioning. Fortunately, only Google users who are logged into a Google account and find your site through a Google search will be excluded from your search data. However, with Google’s new push with Google +, and other properties, there is a good chance that many of your site visitors/customers will be logged into Google and not provide you the critical information you need to manage a successful search engine marketing campaign.
In another example, where I have not excluded the websites branded keywords (November 2nd to December 2nd), we are at 3.59% of searches, which is #4 out of 15,648 search terms used to enter the site.
This may be a strategic move by Google to dilute the effectiveness of SEO. While you will always be able to see how highly your page is ranked in Google for specific keywords/phrases, that information is pretty much useless unless you know how it affects the bottom line of your business-what types of sales does that placement generate. This adds another layer of complexity to search engine marketing, and optimization above and beyond the challenges of Google’s ranking algorithm.
All in all, it seems like a huge step backwards in the marketing world. Search engine’s ushered in the single most innovative advancement in traditional marketing because of the instant and accurate feedback it provided, and low cost of entry. With Google’s new move to block this feedback, we are losing out on valuable information needed to make critical business decisions.
Can anyone remember a recent homerun by Google-this certainly isn’t one!
David Rothwell says:
This is a clever strategic move by Google to "incentivise" people to adopt AdWords advertising, which is immune to the "not provided" syndrome.
As Google+ becomes more popular, more people will be logged in to their account, rendering progressively less referrer traffic visibility.
(see "google's biggest challenge" - http://www.davidnrothwell.com/google-plus-google-google-and-social-whats-googles-biggest-challenge-3942/)
But let's face it, if you're running a successful e-commerce store, why wouldn't you be running adwords campaigns anyway? And with the extra traffic you could scale up with, a free Merchant Centre account with data feeds to populate your products in search results, Shopping Results, and additional ppc and commission based shopping channels?
Louis Camassa says:
Hi David-I don't think it it's a ploy to get more businesses to use Adwords. Adwords and non-paid rankings are two totally separate marketing avenues. As such, they have wildly different statistics. It is still possible to optimize for your key phrases, you just won't know all the details...
If businesses were to cut out SEO and focus on Adwords, then they are going to be leaving a lot of money on the table. Also, some businesses don't have success with Adwords. Maybe they don't have the margins for it (competition is too heavy), which forces them to rely on SEO.