The Oncoming Dark Ages of Keyword Data

dark ages castle

There’s no way to ease the blow on this one, so we’re just going to come out and say it:

Google is cutting off organic keyword data completely. 

And you thought “(not provided)” was a pain before? Now it’s becoming a black hole, sucking in all of your beautiful keywords.

Almost two years ago to the month, Google introduced a change to their secure search that made keyword searches private for users logged into Google at the time. Since then, the (not provided) count has risen steadily, as each browser started providing encrypted searches without requiring users to be logged in.

Our Not Provided data increased by almost 15,000%

Two years ago, Matt Cutts said webmasters should only lose data from a “single digit percentage” of searches.

Well, with Google’s quiet change yesterday, that (not provided) percentage will eventually reach 100% of keyword data, as Google has switched all searches over to being encrypted using HTTPS.

There’s been plenty of speculation about Google’s motive, from pushing users to Adwords because of a privacy loophole for advertisers, to blocking the NSA, to actually protecting users’ privacy. Google responded to Search Engine Land yesterday evening, claiming the latter:

We want to provide SSL protection to as many users as we can, in as many regions as we can — we added non-signed-in Chrome omnibox searches earlier this year, and more recently other users who aren’t signed in. We’re going to continue expanding our use of SSL in our services because we believe it’s a good thing for users….

The motivation here is not to drive the ads side — it’s for our search users.

So what happens now? We will be left to rely on the data from Google Webmaster Tools and archives provided by third-party reporting systems like Raven Tools. So from here on out, it’s definitely worth linking Webmaster Tools with your Adwords account to make sure you have the data indefinitely, as Google could change its rules for third party tools at any time. Linking the two also allows you to gain valuable insight into your paid and organic search performance, while even identifying opportunities to optimize one based on the performance of the other.

Nevertheless, this is the beginning of what seems to be a very dark time for keyword data.