Things changed in late September when Google rolled out major changes toward encrypting all search activity. Since the change, any user searching through Google has automatically been redirected to the https:// version of Google, an SSL encrypted search.
There is no doubt that secure search is the new rule of the day, which means that keyword referral data is a thing of the past, at least from the perspective of analytics. It is worth noting that the update only affects organic search data. Paid search data from Google continues to report on keyword referrals.
So let’s take a look at which metrics have evaporated.
A number of metrics are pretty much gone at this point. Granted, professionals have watched the dwindling of keyword data for two years now, but it’s still a bit of shock for them to have disappeared outright. Here are some of the data points that will no longer be directly accessible:
- Bounce rates
- Page views
- Time on site
- Overall organic search traffic broken down by search engine
- Total conversions from organic traffic broken down by URL
- Search rankings for critical terms
- Search rankings broken down by page tags/types
- Search rankings broken down by keyword tag
- Unbranded phrases that referred traffic (used as a means of understanding total reach)
Additional/Alternate Data Sources
Google Webmaster Tools is one way to see some of the newly shielded keyword referral data. You can use it to look at impression versus click data, which shows the keywords people are using and where your site gained an impression in the search results. The two downsides of this approach are that the data isn’t 100 percent accurate and is usually only available for a small overall percentage of search queries for most larger companies.
Don’t toss your historical keyword research. Historical trends for your URLs allow you to determine the keywords that have historically driven traffic, as well as other details (e.g., whether they were mostly brand or non-brand keywords).
Ad Words is another source of potentially useful data. The impression records it provides can be used in conjunction with Google Keyword Planner to identify possible keyword opportunities.
Additionally, lest we get hung up in a case of Google exclusivity, don’t forget that you can look at traffic derived from Yahoo and Bing to identify the keywords that are working on their engines. Of course this will only be an effective approach until they decide to shift to SSL as Google has.
Updated algorithms are a fact of life in our business. Every time we have one the internet is flooded with “Is SEO Dead?” pieces, and every time that fails to be the case.
In addition to the data sources listed above, there has been a massive rise in the significance of social signals and quality content that must be watched. Social media plays a more important role every day, and the creation of truly exceptional content should always be the primary goal.
At SixEstate we pride ourselves on producing top notch, niche-specific content. Such content has always been the one constant needed throughout the history of online search.
Image by Jeffrey Beall