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February 4, 2013

The Future of Keyword Analysis – Blackout to Keyword Apocalypse

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Lately, when I log into my Google Analytics account to view my blog’s stats, it seems like the list of keywords people use to find my site is beginning to dwindle. I still see the usual assortment of interesting (and, occasionally, downright weird) search queries that people type into Big G’s search bar before they wind up on my blog. However, I feel as if the term (not provided) is creeping higher and higher up the list.

At first, it was a minor annoyance. Keywords masked by (not provided) indicate that my blog’s visitors are using some kind of privacy setting or protected browser to surf the web. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for Internet privacy. However, the added security measure leaves one heck of a gaping hole in essential keyword data for webmasters like me. (Not provided) was once a non-issue; nothing more than a tiny sliver of data missing from an already overstuffed keyword pie.

Now, however, things are changing. Protected browsers are becoming an industry standard. It’s a sad day, my friends: SEOs, webmasters, publishers, bloggers, and pretty much anyone that has anything to do with content creation on the web have lost one of the best tools in existence for growing their sites.

Who Turned Off the Lights?

Back in October 2012, Danny Sullivan wrote an article celebrating the first birthday of a phenomenon that he dubbed “Dark Google.” In the piece, he enlightened readers about the history behind the change. The darkness, he says, is search query information that Google’s begun withholding from publishers.

Before Google turned off the lights, webmasters could view all search terms typed by their sites’ visitors. The data existed courtesy of early Internet browsers. According to Sullivan, browsers used searches as “referrers,” so there was an open record of the information. Then, in 2011, Google started blocking users’ searches if they were logged into their Google accounts in order to “safeguard privacy.” What’s with the quotes, you ask? More on that later.

According to a Search Engine Land post from 2011, Matt Cutts had this to say about how the change would affect the availability of keyword data:

If you keep track of your website’s stats, then you’ve probably already seen (not provided) in action. And you’re probably just as agitated as I am about the category’s percentage inching upward – seemingly by the day. To show you what I mean, here’s a little snippet from my own Google Analytics account:

39.54%? Wow. Not even a year ago, (not provided) made up less than half that number in my stats.

The trend shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, web browsers and mobile devices are increasingly moving to secure search. Translation: webmasters should brace for impact – more sharp increases in the percentage of (not provided) data in their keyword stats are on the way.

From Blackout to Keyword Apocalypse?

Last week, Google announced on the Chromium blog that it was changing the Chrome browser to provide an entirely secure search experience for users. The wording of the post justified Google’s decision by citing other browsers that had already made the switch:

Let’s see… Firefox, Chrome, heck – even Apple products have switched to secure Google searches as a default. Greaaaat. This only means one thing, and I know you’re probably every bit as afraid to say it aloud as I am.

C’mon – we’ll say it together: someday soon we won’t have any information about search terms for our site analyses. Depressing, I know. But here’s the silver lining: there are a couple of alternatives that may help combat the ever-expanding info drain in our Analytics accounts.

Webmasters: You Still Have Options

Over at the CrazyEgg blog, Russ Henneberry outlined a fantastic option for webmasters who still want to collect juicy search data from their visitors: the Google Analytics internal site search feature. According to Henneberry, the info you’ll obtain from an internal site search is far more valuable than any data you manage to squeeze out of the search engines.

The author makes an excellent point – users who search your website are, in essence, telling you what they want to see on your website. You’re effectively scoring free visitor feedback without even having to ask!

To enable an internal site search for your website or blog, log in to your Google Analytics account and navigate to the profile to which you’ll add site search. Then, click “Profile Settings” and check the box to tell Google to begin tracking site search.

Then, enter the query parameter for your site’s search function. This part of the process freaked me out a bit when I set up my own internal site search, but I was relieved when Russ explained how to do this in his post (and it’s surprisingly easy):

Wait four hours at a minimum before you get itchy to check the results. See? Easy peasy.

Your other option, of course, is signing up for AdWords. Remember the whole Google’s going secure to “safeguard privacy” thing from earlier? I used quotes because – get this – Google doesn’t do the secure thing for its’ AdWords customers.

Hypocritical? You betcha. However, if you really feel the need to find out what people are typing into Google to get to your site, then consider breaking down and jumping on the AdWords train to get the goods.

At least you’ll get an ad outta the deal.


Nell Terry is a tech news junkie, fledgling Internet marketer and staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs. She thrives on social media, web design, and uncovering the truth about all the newest marketing fads that pop up all over the ‘net. Find out more about Nell by visiting her online portfolio at Content by Nell.

23 Responses to “The Future of Keyword Analysis – Blackout to Keyword Apocalypse

    avatar Gobras Daily says:

    first time i visit this blog to learn SEO, and here I found the answer. thx u

    avatar Newager says:

    One good alternative is to use AWSTATS for keywords and it collects more as it does not need a cookie.

    Having recently checked Google search with Bing and Yahoo I noticed the relevance of Google’s results was not up to the other two and Bing was particularly good.

    This leads to the question is Google forcing webmasters into pay per click for search placement and analytics.

    Moreover, is this making its search results less not more relevant and will this in turn lead to greater competition with users and webmasters looking for an alternative.

    avatar Barb says:

    Google is doing a lot of funny little things in a vain attempt to get people to fork over some money.

    I have always found that the stats in my cPanel were far different from G’s analytical “non” data. My awstats counts every visitor, where they’re from, how long they stayed, search terms used, etc. No one really needs G analytics when you’ve got awstats, which gives the true numbers on visitors.

    G can withhold all the info they want, but they can’t do a thing with the stats coming directly from my domain.

    avatar The Future of Keyword Analysis – Blackout to Keyword Apocalypse | The IT Chronicle says:

    […] Post from: SiteProNews: Webmaster News & ResourcesThe Future of Keyword Analysis – Blackout to Keyword Apocalypse […]

    avatar BlokeToys says:

    As my business is primarily adult related I see a large number of (not provided) search terms.

    But I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. I can still look at the landing pages, so I can still take a guess at what I have done there with regard to text which might be assisting placement.

    This also helps to force webmasters to be more fluid in their writing too. We all know the days of repeating a search phrase and having it rank well for that phrase are over (almost).

    Of course, Google is loosing its following thanks to the disastrous decisions it’s made in the last year or two. So that gives me even more reason to not care so much about the Google results.

    Now that Google has seemingly taken a lesson from China in restricting results and filtering, plenty of people are moving to Bing and others.

    avatar Ian Smith says:

    A good post Nell – although it does make quite depressing reading.
    I remember the days (oh so long ago) when we all thought Google was a lovely company who looked after us all. Suckered or what?

    avatar johan says:

    Cool feature but the adwords tool will outperform all this in terms of getting all the data. Just look at the impression count and it will give you a ll the research data you need…

    avatar stovemaestro says:

    Excellent article as usual. I wasn’t even aware that the (not provided) tag in analytics was occuring for this reason!

    avatar Bill says:

    This is just Google continuing its path of evil

    Google still knows what people are typing in and give that data to Google PPC account managers and the adsense tools – just set up a free account where they do it for you then set the clicks to $3.00 a click – hmmmmmmm

    Yes, you can stll maybe get data if you pay to do PPC

    What happened to transparency?
    Well Google will continue to test and pull increasing their revenue by exploiting information and taking more control

    There has been a clear pattern for the last 2 years on were this is headed. The once free internet, devices, and information is being controlled largely on a global scale by Google

    only 5 countries remain that Google does not control over 50% market share – scary

    and only they get to know who does what

    Thanks for the info! I always learn so much from SiteProNews articles.

    Hi Nell — Thanks for the mention! Great article!

    avatar geoio says:

    Very useful for web marketers, thanks!
    Another option, I think, is to use a hosting company, providing detailed (third party) statistics

    avatar Stephanie says:

    Hmmm..I am uncomfortable when an explanation for a decision includes “because everyone else is doing it” and “only a small number of people with be affected”.

    I am very OK with security and privacy for individual users, I am one too. I do not believe that applies to their queries, which can be anonymized (is that a word?).

    Yes, when users get to our websites (or blog sites), they can give us great information. The question still remains – the best way to get them to our websites.

    I did not fully understand how to enable an internal site search, thank you Ms. Terry and Mr. Henneberry, but I will check it out. Data regarding what users do on my website is invaluable too. Thank you.

    avatar Venky says:

    This is another problem in the growing list that is faced by bloggers and webmasters all around the world. I think having more clarity would help us create better content which would eventually complete the cycle.
    But as pointed in one of the comments its an opportunity for third party data providers.

    Relying on third parties for the success of your business was always going to be a long term recipe for disaster, and Google may eventually effectively shoot themselves in the foot by adding more people to the Bing advertising network instead (for a while)

    On the other side of the coin of course, businesses have always had to advertise (With costs involved) and AdWords is just the net’s progression of that.

    At least when you’re paying your in more control of your traffic, perhaps we’ve been spoiled for too long with the free organic search model – as the adage goes there is no such thing as a free lunch…

    avatar Creative it says:

    adding more people to the Bing advertising network instead (for a while)

    On the other side of the coin of course, businesses have always had to advertise (With costs involved) and AdWords is just the net’s progression of that.

    avatar Barb says:

    Been considering doing that myself. Many have yet to realize that while G is the most used engine for now, is a junk engine with junk search results.

    And the truth shall make you free.

    avatar TBO says:

    How does penguine play into all of this? Seems like Google has done something in the past few months, I have seen traffic change significantly!

    Thanks for the great insights Nell, and yes, the big G is getting a bit funny with steering us webmasters towards PPC. I mean shouldn’t all search queries be transparently displayed for us webmasters? Why do we have to spend extra time analyzing query data? Anyhow, we never just rely on what Google serves us on an Adwords menu. Our server logs do in fact provide relevant data for us to see which terms are doing better than others.

    Adwords will only get more expensive, thus staying current with Google search engine optimisation will still yield good results on ROI.
    I guess, thanks to Google, we all just have to work extra now.

    avatar Shaikul Akbar says:

    Nell, it was a great post. But then i couldnt find where there is an option to enable Track Site Search in Google Analytics.

    avatar Sujit Paul says:

    Excellent. Its really useful for webmasters but still can’t found where to enable this. Can you please help me a bit? Much appreciated!

    avatar Mike says:

    Yeah where is this “Profile Settings” link in Analytics account? I cannot find it….

    avatar Nina says:

    It doesn’t make sense to me why Google is making things difficult for webmasters and site owners. I wish Bing can come up with a way to give webmaster these information (keywords) Google is hiding from them.

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