Online marketing in a world without keywords: An opportunity not an obstacle

Online marketing in a world without keywords: An opportunity not an obstacle

If you own a website or you’re involved in online marketing in any way, chances are you heard that Google recently made a major change to its search engine. Without delving too far into the details, the result is that you can no longer see the keyword that a visitor used in Google to find your website. No longer can you attribute conversions or revenue to particular search terms.

Some people are viewing this as a disaster, others as a chance to wheel out the “SEO is dead” headlines. Personally, I think it’s a great opportunity for digital marketers. Although keyword data was useful, if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s been increasingly less so for the last few years. As more and more keywords became wrapped into the dreaded (Not Provided) segment, combined with the increasing levels of personalisation of search results, focusing on keyword-level metrics became an increasingly untenable strategy.

Much of the SEO industry knew that this was going to happen as soon as the secure search function rolled out in November 2011 and at Jaywing, we started working on contingencies. Today, I’m going to talk you through a couple of them.

The thing you need to understand is that the game has changed – it changed years ago with regard to keyword-level metrics as KPIs, but this is the last call. As handy as the information below can be, analysis of your online marketing channels will still need to change. 

Split the keywords out

We use a lot of custom reports and filters in our Google Analytics implementations with our clients; it’s pretty essential to the way we work, and one of my favourites is one which extracts the ranking position of the search term when it is clicked in Google search results. When we still had keyword data, this was a great way of demonstrating the variety in ranking positions for keywords due to personalisation, but it has an added bonus: it splits your (Not Provided) keywords out.

That’s right, while you might not be able to see what the keyword is, you can see how many different search terms have driven traffic to your site and the position they were in when they were clicked. It’s not 100% accurate because, as mentioned, we’re splitting them out by position so there may be duplicates and, for some reason, a lot of keywords come through without the position attached (I think that might have something to do with mobile devices, but I’m open to suggestions on that one), but it’s still a really useful way to get a rough idea of how many keywords are driving visits to your pages rather than one (Not Provided) one.

Here’s how you put that report together. Credit to Danny Ng for putting it together initially (you can read his post here).

Create a new profile in your Google Analytics account and create a new filter for it. You’ll have to create two, and it’s very important that they’re in order. For further depth on this, be sure to read Danny’s post.

Here’s the first filter:

And here’s the second one:

You’ll now have the following information in your Organic section in your Traffic Sources tab. The number next to the keyword is the position it was in when it was clicked.

For bonus points, split these keywords out further by landing page as I’ve done above (sorry for the depersonalised data) and make sure that you’re keeping an eye on their bounce-rate. This will give you a better idea of which key pages are performing and, crucially, underperforming.

Check your webmaster tools data

I know everyone’s told you this, and they’re right to. The thing you need to be aware of is that, when we’re looking at the clicks metric in particular, this data isn’t especially accurate. What it does tell you with some degree of accuracy is the average position of the term and a very rough, rounded-up figure of how many times it’s been seen in search engine results. Like I say, it’s not perfect, but hopefully you can start to see how you can begin tallying these things up.

As I say, the thing to be aware of is that the figures from Webmaster Tools simply won’t match up with your Google Analytics data. What you’re looking for here is an idea of your site’s visibility as a whole in search results. This can give you a lot of useful information, particularly if you’re paying attention to the Average Position column. It can help you diagnose high bounce rates on key pages, if you’re ranking highly for terms that aren’t actually that relevant (in which case, have a look at your content) and it can also give you some ideas for terms and phrases that aren’t quite performing as well as you’d like despite their relevance (again, have a look at your content and give those pages a push if needs be).

Think about the future

There are plenty of other tools and work-arounds available to help you get some form of keyword data back since Google made the switch to its secure platform (we use our own proprietary one at Jaywing), but these are my favourite ones that you can use for free.

I’m more interested in talking about the future. We know the (Not Provided) issue isn’t going to go anywhere, unless Google has a change of heart or, more likely, releases some kind of pay-for-data update to Analytics. We also know that, as search continues to change, search marketers are going to have to keep adapting to these changes. The landscape is always going to shift; the trick is to be prepared.

So, are you prepared? Search is an essential channel – if you’re not able to embrace the changes, you’ll be left behind.

Ben Johnston is head of SEO at Jaywing.


Anthony_Mac85's picture

Hi Ben

Nice write up. I implemented the same filter in our Analytics using Dannys instructions a couple of years ago.

By the way, the link to your website doesn't seem to be working - "Oops! Google Chrome could not find" 

Hi Anthony,

Thanks for the comment.

Yes, we've been using that report for the last couple of years too - it's always been useful but it's definitely been an added bonus in the face of this.

Don't know what went wrong with the link there, it seems to be working OK now though.

Thanks again.

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