A Search Strategy for Google's 'Not Provided'

Last month's news that Google is moving toward 100% 'not provided' search data had some claiming that SEO as we know it is dead. Not so fast.

The change signals the end of organic search traffic data previously available through Google Analytics. In simpler terms, webmasters will no longer be able to see which Google search queries are sending traffic to their websites.

Some critics say that by withholding more organic search data over the past two years, Google has pushed marketers toward its paid search platform, AdWords. It makes sense: Advertisers will always have access to information that reveals how their campaigns perform because without it, advertising spends could not be justified. But Google's explanation for the change has more to do with protecting user privacy, claiming that expanding encrypted search will offer additional protection, whether users are signed in or not.

So what does this mean for marketers and web publishers?

We need to stay one step ahead of the game. In search marketing, long-term success is not just about developing and implementing a winning strategy, but also a willingness to revise this process over and over as needed. Until someone bests Google (we won't hold our breath), we have to find ways to operate within the rules - even as the rules continue to change.

As keyword data becomes fully unavailable through Google Analytics, we can still find ways to make educated assumptions about traffic sources and keyword optimization. Here are three tips:

1. Webmaster Tools. The first step is to install Google Webmaster Tools (WMT) on your website. WMT provides 90 days of historical data about your site - not as much information as was available through Google Analytics, but a reasonable alternative. Google plans to extend the 90 days to one year, but has not said when this will happen.

2. Paid search data. If you run paid search through Google AdWords, the data and reporting can also aid your SEO efforts. You can view data for impressions, clicks and conversion to help determine which keywords to target organically.

3. Tap your SEO know-how. Ultimately, when you optimize a page for a particular keyword and see your site ranking for that keyword, you can assume this is a source of traffic. Is some of this traffic likely a result of branded searches? Absolutely. But when could you ever assume 100% accuracy from Google's provided data?

As the search landscape continues to shift, so too does search strategy. Stay flexible, take advantage of tools and focus on creating high-quality content, and SEO will remain integral to your marketing initiatives.

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