The Internet raged last week as Google quietly confirmed that they’re now forcing SSL search for all users, which means effectively removing our beloved keyword data from searches where Google is the referrer. It’s called “(not provided)” and if my FeedDemon is any indication, it’s the obvious downfall of civilization as we know it, akin to a world you might have seen in The Walking Dead or I Am Legend. Except of course, in this version folks like us are fighting a monster much more powerful than ourselves. Yep, Keywordocalypse 2013 has finally arrived, and as the horrified masses clinch for the final blow to the SEO industry, we’re going to keep our heads intact and help you slice through this unnatural disaster.
We All Knew It Was Coming, but We Looked the Other Way
Any decent SEO will tell you (not provided) has been inching up higher and higher over the last 6 months with a few substantial upticks making waves just recently. In an analysis across several of our own client accounts, we estimated that around 70% or more of keyword data was (not provided), even before last week’s findings. We knew the day would arrive when keywords could no longer be the priority—when the focus would have to shift to creating valuable, engaging content just as Google’s stressed for so long. Yea, we all saw it coming . . . but that doesn’t mean it hurts any less.
So how do we dig ourselves out of this? Here are a few tips:
Keep Up with Trends
Find out what is trending on—you guessed it—Google Trends. Here, you can find out what’s popular right now, plus you can view projections for search terms that may be on an upward (or downward) trend. Viewing search trends will give you insight into how users are searching, as well as take into account seasonality. For example, it may not be the best idea to optimize for “Christmas Cookies” in the middle of July. Sure, it sounds like a no-brainer, but most of marketing is remembering 1000 no-brainers all the time. Keep all of this in mind as you compile a list of target search terms. Once you’ve got a good idea of the terms you’d like to focus on, use the Keyword Planner to get estimates on the traffic of certain keywords (albeit not entirely accurate). Keep in mind also that the estimates fluctuate and should be reviewed when ever you’re changing keywords.
It’s completely cliché, but I’ll just say it: BE YOURSELF. Don’t optimize for something you don’t offer because you know a lot of people search for it. Instead, optimize for terms that relate to your content, products, and services. Look at your site’s funnel and establish where people are spending a lot of time, returning to search results, or bouncing off your page altogether. Focus on pages with high bounce rates and begin to make a plan for improvement. Do you have pages you’d consider successful? Use those as a model. Determine whether you’re providing useful information on those pages as well as a great user experience and if not, make it so. In other words, showcase what you do in the best way possible and make sure your users are happy.
Analyze, Don’t Compromise
Even still, data abounds through Google; you just need to know how to find it. Webmaster Tools is a mighty resource and is extra useful when linked to your Google Analytics account (and hey, it’s free!). Log into Webmaster Tools, and in the left navigation bar, you’ll see the “Search Traffic” tab and under that, “Search Queries.” Pick the span of time you want to see in the upper right-hand corner. For now, you’ll see data goes back only 90 days. The Search Queries section displays not only queries, but also Impressions, Clicks, CTR (Click-Through Rate), and Average Position. Once you’ve linked Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics, you’ll be able to access this data from either dashboard. In my opinion, it looks a little cleaner in the Webmaster Tools dashboard too,
Run a Paid Campaign
Yeah, I said it: run a paid campaign (oh man, Google would be proud!). Running a campaign in AdWords or Bing Ads is a great start for testing keyword opportunities as well as page performance, and hey, if you run it in AdWords, you’ll even be able to see keyword data for it! Use the data from your campaigns to identify keyword opportunities, refine your message, and even help with conversion rate optimization.
Since keyword statistics are only going to be available for a short period of time (90 days for the time being), you’ll want a way to track your performance over a longer time frame. You can keep track of these stats in two ways: the manual method or the automated solution. Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics give you the ability to download search queries with stats to a CSV file.
Remember, data is only available for 90 days, so you may want to begin archiving soon. Set a reminder for regular intervals (at least every 3 months) to remind yourself to download what you need. Once you have the data, you’ll have the freedom to archive it by week or month or compile it into one giant Excel spreadsheet. Alternatively, you can use a tool like Raven to automatically archive your data indefinitely You can also link Raven to your Google Webmaster Tools account to see a concise snapshot of impressions, clicks, CTR and Average Position for a specific list of keywords you are targeting.
So what’s the takeaway here?
The world is not coming to an end, so keep your head on straight and don’t panic thinking that you can no longer perform your marketing duties now that Google has stripped away precious keyword data. You have all the information you need, really; this is just Google’s way of weeding out the over optimizers and keyword-centric marketing scoundrels. With a little persistence, you’ll know just where to take your strategy, and we’ll watch Keywordocalypse come and go like Y2K.
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