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Honey, I Shrunk The Data

1st Oct 2013
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This was the deal - you create a website, and you let Google take a copy of it so that it can present it to search users. In return, you got keyword data telling you what people were searching for when they found your site.

This symbiotic little process worked well. People loved their keyword data because it told them about user intent - and gave them clues about their market. What are potential customers really looking for? What are they really saying?

And that ended last week. Google decided that it would withhold all keyword data and return (not provided) for 100% of organic search engine queries. Their reasoning - that it improves user privacy - is blown out of the water by the fact that they'll give you keyword data for Adwords.

So, you pay - you get the data. You don't pay - you don't get it. Privacy, indeed. 

(not provided) is nothing to do with privacy - it's all about Google's plan to force more small businesses into using Adwords. They continued their assault on webmaster data by withholding keyword query data in Google Webmaster Tools this week, further proving that they really don't care about you, your business or your website.

That's the world we're waking up to - some call it "dark search", but Google rants aside, it's a good moment to review the data sets we are using, and wake up to the fact that if we're reliant upon one source of data, then we're always likely to be upset when it breaks or is taken away.

Keyword data helped us make educated decisions across all marketing channels - but it's not the only kind of data we can use. Let's look at some of the great remaining channels of data that we can take advantage of - and some we might not have thought of...

Google Keyword Planner

Our reliance on Google for Keyword volumes leads us somewhat down a dark alley. There have been a number of comments recently about the trustworthiness of Google's new Keyword Planner - many of them saying that the data lies.

And indeed it does. However much the volumes may be skewed, the Keyword Planner does still give us an insight into potential alternative keywords to the ones we are thinking of when we design our websites. We could also assume that if the numbers are not accurate, then their relative size is.

For instance, last week I was working with some Italian people with diabetes, who were looking to set up a site helping parents with children who had been diagnosed. They discovered that "diabete giovanile" receives approximately 4 times as many visits as "diabete bambini" - and accordingly changed their strategy.

They won't be able to measure the volumes, as that is of course (not provided), but they already have a competitive advantage.

(not provided) Landing Page Data

There is a trick within Google Analytics that can display the pages on which your (not provided) keywords landed on.

At the very least, this will give you an idea where the organic traffic is going on your website - whether it's to deep blog posts, the home page, or your main SEO focus pages. It may not have the depth of a keyword report, but it breaks down where people are going from organic search, and can give a good level of insight.

IP data

You are able to link back to IP addresses through Google Analytics, but you'll have to make a fair few assumptions and tweaks to make sense of the data. Various software programmes help you make more sense of that IP data, though.

In B2B, especially, some 87% of businesses carry out their research online. I'd have thought it were more, but it proves that your first interaction is, most of the time, not going to end with a direct sale. What you're looking for is multiple-touch leads - and if you can understand those multiple interactions, you've got a head start. On top of that, if you can start tracking those interactions and matching them back to real companies, then you're way ahead.

IP data is one of the least explored areas of marketing. Once you start tracking real businesses and seeing how they interact with your website and your content, you have a much better idea of what's really going on online, and what you can do to improve it.

Conversion attribution data

Google Analytics recently unveiled its conversion attribution data, which goes a little further than the traditional conversion data, which informed you solely about the 'last interaction' that resulted in a lead or a sale.

For example, a customer may have visited your site several times before making a purchase or an enquiry. The purchase may have come through paid search, but three organic search visits came before that paid search enquiry - meaning that your investment in organic search paid off, despite not getting the credit.

The more you look at conversion data, the more you see that wider marketing efforts play a huge role in supporting your website. Email and referring websites often play a supporting role, with visitors coming back at a later date through organic or paid search. If you're looking at budgets for next year, this data set is a must.

*****

Losing keyword data is a blow, there's no doubt about that. However, there is a theory that it may not matter so much. After all, with the rise of 'voice search', it's not really going to be about keywords, it's going to be about intent - and what people MEAN instead of SAY. For example, you might say "number", but what you really mean is "song" - you might say "place" but what you really mean is "restaurant". Google's trying to work this out, and its latest update (Hummingbird) aims to understand synonyms better than before. 

The key is to look beyond keywords at actionable data across the board - showing us what users are doing, where they're going, and what they're trying to achieve. We need data that can help us make decisions - on content, and on budgeting - and it's all there, if you know where to look!

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