Don’t listen to the hysteria: SEO is not dead. It did, however, just get a little more complicated. On September 23rd, Google made all of their searches secure. With that change came a potential death blow to organic search data, as webmasters are discovering that the vast majority of their Google Analytics keywords are reported as “not provided”.
What does this mean for SEO? Quite a bit. SEO strategies for organic search are almost completely data-driven. Under these new restrictions, when a user visits your site, you will have no idea what the user was searching for when he found his way there. Even worse, you’ll have no way of knowing which keywords have the highest conversion rate: in other words, which keywords are bringing customers that actually place orders.
So this is, indeed, bad news. Fortunately, there are a few workarounds you can use to analyze your organic search traffic in the absence of Google’s keyword data. Let’s look at a few of these ideas:
1. Google Webmaster Tools
Not everyone knows this, but Google Webmaster Tools still provides keyword data, even from encrypted searches. Just make sure you log in frequently: You can only go back 90 days at a time to view data on that time period, but the data can be downloaded so that you have permanent access to it. Google Webmaster Tools gives more detailed information than Google Analytics in general, so it’s well worth signing up.
2. Search Traffic from Non-Google Sources
Ok, it might be true that the majority of your search traffic comes from Google. However, you can still extract some useful information by analyzing your traffic from Bing and other sources, if your site is large enough to get a significant amount of overall traffic. For smaller sites with less traffic to analyuze, this approach might not work.
3. Google AdWords
Remember, Google’s secure search changes only have an impact on organic search, not paid search. This means you can still use AdWords to figure out the response rate to keywords via PPC search. Of course, rumors have been circulating that Google might make changes on this front someday; however, it seems fairly unlikely considering that advertisers need data to justify the traffic they’re paying for.
4. Filter Your Data
That great big slice of the pie chart indicating “not provided” keywords isn’t very useful information on its own. Fortunately, you can still squeeze some meaningful data out of it. Try setting up some filters within Google Analytics to give you the landing page for each of those mysterious “not provided” hits. While the keyword that brought the user to each page will still remain unknown, this kind of filtering can provide some clues as to what the user was looking for.
Regardless of the impact, secure search is here to stay. The impact on SEO is hard to ignore, but with the suggestions provided here, it should still be possible to extract useful data from your organic search traffic. With a little ingenuity, you can still come out on top in the search engine rankings.