Solving the 100% (Not Provided) Keyword Dilemma: Q&A with Nathan Safran of Conductor

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In the post 100% (Not provided) world, the shift SEOs have undergone is moving from a keyword centric world to one that is content/page centric. In addition, one interesting by-product of losing keyword data in analytics is that rankings have made resurgence as a metric. Says Nathan Safran (@nathan_safran), Research Director at Conductor, who recently sat with Jagruti Bansal (@adwebspark), SEO Manager at AT&T, to solve the 100% (non provided) dilemma. 

If you were to do a search for (not provided) on Google specifically for blogs, you would see about 75K results (0.32 seconds). It has been the talk of the year especially since Google announced it is to become 100% by the end of 2013.

not provided blog search

When was (not provided) introduced?

The (not provided) discussion began in late 2011 when Google announced an effort to make search behavior more secure. Google product Logged-in users were switched to using https from http. This encrypted their search queries from any prying eyes, and kept from being passed on to websites, the user’s visits after seeing search results. This led to the problem we, Marketers, SEOs, Analysts, fondly refer to as not provided. As such, the referral data relating to that search is hidden.
 


 
Following revelations of NSA activities via Mr. Snowden, Google has now switched almost all users to secure search, resulting in even more user search queries showing up as not provided in all web analytics tools. However, the percentage of organic search keyword traffic coming from keywords that were “(not provided)” grew steadily in past years, to the point that many sites were accumulating more than 50 percent of keyword “(not provided)” data (and in some cases upwards of 80 percent or more).

nathan sefran conductor

Why turn it off completely?

Nathan Safran, Director of Research for Conductor, the leading enterprise SEO technology platform, says, “The stated reason is for privacy concerns, but that becomes more difficult to swallow considering the keyword data is available to those who pay for it in Adwords.  I know that privacy is top of mind for many large tech companies in the wake of the recent NSA issues, but it is difficult to understand their motivations in light of it still being available in Paid search. I don’t know if other search engines will follow this trend.  They may feel that privacy is too much to ignore, but if they do do it I think they will make it all or nothing, either it’s not available in both Paid and natural or it is.”

How does this affect organic search?

  • Keyword level data via analytics tools cannot be tracked now
  • No keyword data in competitive intelligence/SEO tools.
  • No keyword-level conversion analysis.
  • There will be a limited amount of keyword referral data available in Google Webmaster Tools.
  • No longer have visibility into traffic numbers:
    • Brand / Non-Brand.
    • Long-Tail Performance.
    • By Keyword Group.
  • Decrease in visibility for new keyword opportunities based on analytics data

non provided

Is it just another ‘death of SEO’ talk?

“I don’t think it’s accurate to say it’s the death of SEO, I do think it’s accurate to say it’s the adaptation of SEO.  That is, the SEOs have to respond and adapt to shifts and changes in our industry by understanding the metrics we have available to us, and using them in an intelligent manner.  Raising the view up to read the content themes that are resonating on one’s site vs. the old in the weeds view of the individual keyword performance.”

How to justify SEO strategy when there is no keyword-level conversion data to back it up?

“In the post (Not provided) world, the shift SEOs have undergone is moving from a keyword centric world to one that is content/page centric.  That means that on the one hand, SEOs will need to focus on page and content performance, building and measuring appropriate content on the page level. On the other hand, in my opinion, one interesting by-product of losing keyword data in analytics is that rankings have made resurgence as a metric.   That is, many have proclaimed ranking data to be dead—no longer relevant.   With the loss of keyword specific traffic data, keyword ranking data becomes more significant as a top of the funnel indicator.” says Nathan.

What skills are required for Marketers to be able to understand and react to (Not Provided)?

“An understanding of how a particular page and particular content is performing.  How is the content on page X resonating?  What are the content themes that are and are not resonating?  Looking at an overall site and subsections of a site and reading the tea leaves becomes increasingly important.”

farewell_google_analytics_keywrod_data

Source: SocialMediaToday.com

What innovations are you coming up with in Searchlight and how will this help in combating  100% (not provided)?

After Google shifted to blocking all or nearly all keyword data Conductor announced an innovation in Searchlight called True Traffic.  True Traffic uses algorithms to calculate the traffic and revenue generated by individual keywords based on their online visibility, consumer demand and consumer behavioral models (i.e. – B2B consumers go deeper into a set of results vs. a B2C consumer).
 


 
Using a mix of industry and internal data Searchlight is able to algorithmically, bring Marketers a large portion of the way back to full keyword data and recover a large portion of what was lost for Marketers.

Will the SEO and SEM team would have to be lot more collaborated now, more than ever?

“In my opinion this is a significant by-product of the loss of (Not Provided). This came up in a recent panel discussion I participated in at SES Chicago, particularly on where in the organization SEO should sit.  All panel members agreed that it’s less important to ask where in the org. SEO should sit than it is to ask if SEO has C-level support to bring the rest of the organization to the table to participate in and drive the company to SEO success.  That includes departments like PR, Marketing, Tech, social, and now that keyword data is available in PPC and not in natural search, the PPC team.”

Google’s constant challenge to the SEO experts of the world has now risen to a whole new level with 100% (not provided). If you create a success formula in this environment you evolve as true survivor. And this has emerged as the leading question for recruiting managers, differentiating one candidate from another.

eureka light bulb

Source: nursingtimes.net

The 8 Strategies for Solving the 100% (Not Provided) Dilemma

1) Adopt a page level approach to analyze the success of organic search rather than by keyword

  • Preserve current historical data and use it as a base to prepare for future keyword strategies and decisions
  • Instead of looking at keyword-level data, look at page-level data. Look for which pages received referral visits from Google Search in Google Analytics. And then compare it with rankings.
  • Based on the new Google change, the following metrics are and will still be available:
    • Overall Organic Search Traffic By Engine
    • Total conversions from Organic Traffic / By URL
    • Search Rankings by Page Tags / Types

2) Refer to Google Webmaster Tools

Your look-out is to make an assumption on the clicks and that’s where one would refer to Google Webmaster tools. You now also have the option of linking Google webmaster account with Google Adwords to obtain a combined paid and organic report.

The new paid & organic report allows you to see and compare your performance for a query when you have either an ad, an organic listing, or both appearing on the search results page. It should be noted that the keywords in Google Webmaster Tools area are limited to the top 2000 per day and only going back for 90 days.

3) Monitor anchor text

As suggested by Kristi Hines is a professional blogger at kissmetrics in a recent post, it would be recommended to look at the anchor text used to link to your website. Using tools like cognitiveSEO, you can see an anchor text cloud for your website or sort anchor text by number of links. To add to this, analyze the pages where these anchor texts are placed on and analyze in Google analytics which of these pages are related to organic traffic.

4) Keep an eye on internal search engine keywords

It is highly important to look at keywords that visitors are searching for on the internal search engine. It will give you some keywords that people search for once they arrive on your website. If you have site search tracking enabled in Google Analytics, you will be able to see which keywords people search for using the search box on your website.

5) Keep a tab on trending

Tools like Google Trends provide insights on trending terms, rising terms and searches that are currently hot. In the (not provided) world, this tool shall gain prominence for SEO research.

6) Research and review competitive SEO

Refer to competitor’s pages to understand what keywords they are going after in the similar niche. Analyze their meta tags and how they appear on natural search, including their most targeted anchor text, which is made easier through tools like searchlight. On the paid side keep an eye on competitive performance through Google Adwords reports and tools. Here, you can also get information on conversions and branded/unbranded keywords performance.

7) Collaborate with PPC

Since PPC users get keyword traffic data, this would be the ideal time to collaborate and plan keyword strategies cohesively. In a recent post Avinash Kaushik highlights that Google focuses a ton of effort towards advancing PPC. With awesome ad extensions like Offer Extensions and Click-to-Call Extensions, Google works hard to make PPC work for advertisers. If Google’s focuses on it, chances are you should be too, he says.

8) Look at Non-Google Keyword Data

While Bing and Yahoo don’t provide nearly the amount of traffic that Google does, insights can still be made about the keywords that are driving traffic to your site, in particular at the URL level. This is especially true for those sites that have a significant amount of traffic.

Check out the list of 10 unconventional keyword research tools you should include your SEO-toolbox for ideas on how to gather non-google keyword level data.

About Jagruti Bansal-Ghaghda

Jagruti Bansal-Ghaghda (@AdWebSpark) is SEO Manager at AT&T. Backed by a MS in Direct and Online Marketing from Mercy College (NY), she is a digital strategist with the hands-on knowledge of web designing, SEO, SEM, social media, and email marketing. She is an active blogger at AdWebSpark.com.- a blog that she created and manages, and speaker at universities such as NYU and CUNY. Jagruti is based in the New York-New Jersey metro and currently leads the SEO for the AT&T Enterprise division.

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3 Responses to Solving the 100% (Not Provided) Keyword Dilemma: Q&A with Nathan Safran of Conductor

  1. Jasmin Shah December 15, 2013 at 10:57 am #

    Hello Jagruti,

    very useful post. Thanks for sharing it.

    I just wrote an Article on CognitiveSEO and How to use it ! I think you would like to see it.

    Check this out : http://www.googlersays.com/get-rid-seo-problems-cognitiveseo/

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