There’s an elephant in the room, but no one wants to talk about it. The internet landscape is vast and varied but still dominated by the giant that is Google.
We’ll talk today about keyword referrals and Google’s actions to control information. Especially information provided to those running ad campaigns and attempting to work the system through SEO efforts.
In 2013 Google made the choice to mask keyword referral information. What is this?
It’s specifically the keywords that individuals will use to get to your website. With many tools the norm for analyzing keywords, this choice caused widespread surprise and consternation when implemented. The difficulty in successfully planning ad campaigns through keyword analysis took a step backward with this new change implemented.
While it’s a given that Google runs the show, this was somewhat controversial. Their action directly removed available Google organic search terms information from marketers. Although it’s an accepted fact that Google does what it can to push away from SEO techniques and move towards organic rankings the choice to pull such information was met with many a raised eyebrow.
The crux of this is the (not provided) keyword referral that shows up all across Google Analytics. It was previously the case that this showed up for around 20% of all traffic that Google deemed organic. This wasn’t a drastic amount but as you might imagine it did cause some concern for marketers.
They suddenly couldn’t account for a portion of the traffic. The shock was when this moved all the way up to over 80%. That means that for the vast majority of results, the (not provided) referral shows instead of the keyword that the user actually put in to have your site show up in the SERP. Oh, dear.
What does this mean?
There were previously a few nifty tricks that could be done under the previous system where Google organic search was a bit less obscure. A good example of this is the ability to measure how many non-brand results were organically received by a website.
This used to be possible through a customized filter editable in Analytics. It stripped out all keywords that were related to a brand. As you can imagine, the ability to measure this metric was stripped with the sudden surge in not provided referrals.
This reduces the total reporting that a marketer or SEO can provide to the aggregate visits and the total amount of conversions off the back of this. Those metrics are still critical for those interested in SEO. However, it’s easy to see how this has hurt the professional service provided by many companies and consultants.
The end result of the changes is that it’s a lot harder for an SEO to link value to a certain keyword without using pay-per-click advertising which lines Google’s pockets.
It’s still possible to see whether a site is ranking in a certain position against a keyword but it’s no longer a simple matter to link that to traffic and the conversion value metric.
It’s an unfortunate and consistent fact that Google has been moving in such a direction for many years now. And the fact that Google Organic Search keywords are being systematically hidden, does not make things any easier.
The understanding of the SEO game is that skilled professionals make the best use of the tactics and techniques identified and learned to play the system and force websites up to the top. This actually goes against the ultimate goal of Google.
They hope to have algorithms that are smart enough to only reward natural and organic content. It’s an eternal game of cat and mouse with only the most agile and up-to-date SEOs staying at the top of the pile.
Money is, as always, a large factor for Google. The majority of their gargantuan income is through paid ads and these algorithm tweaks help push marketers and site owners toward PPC advertising instead of outsourced SEO services. The result is still the same but Google receives a larger part of the marketing budget share.
Is SEO still effective?
It’s sadly not a market anymore where you can expect to spam poor content blog posts and be rewarded with rocketing up to the front page of a SERP.
The SEO market has been naturally narrowed. The reason is that it has become more competitive as changes such as these have been pushed through. The general trend is not that SEO has been made defunct more than it has been made a process involving more skilled work over more hours. The time for an SEO campaign to take effect has also naturally increased. This is because of the changes to these algorithms implemented by Google.
SEO is still alive and well with the caveat that it is now a skilled and intensive field of work. Many companies are moving towards having SEO as part of their existing marketing strategy instead of relying on it to such a degree as was previously the case.
What does this practically mean for me?
The key take-home is that you can’t rely on consistent and significant monthly increases in your ranking by SEO alone. Hiring the services of SEO and expecting it to take care of itself and magically boost you to page one is an outdated expectation. That will ultimately punish your marketing strategy if you continue to believe in it.
Baked-in SEO work that sits alongside other marketing channels is the most common method in the modern day. A measured expectation of what SEO can do for a campaign together with thorough and diligent work still provides great benefits to companies over time.
PPC vs SEO
We mentioned the time that modern SEO can take. It’s now the case that your SEO campaign will provide results but will do so over an extended period. This is on the understanding that modern SEO techniques and tricks will be used along the way to avoid penalization from Google which can damage page rankings.
It’s often the case for modern marketers and site owners that a combination of paid ads and SEO works well. Paid ads can provide an immediate boost to website traffic.
It won´t need investment in weeks and months to come into effect. The combination of short-term paid ads such as PPC campaigns together with ongoing SEO development is a comprehensive strategy. It sometimes provides the best results for a site that hopes to reach page one and stay there.
Google Organic Search Keywords will remain hidden, but SEO is far from dead. Google has pushed these changes through in an effort for its services (paid ads) to remain competitive against SEO companies. As the years pass and both SEO techniques and Google algorithms mature and increase in potential, it is inevitable that one will be ahead of the other at some point in time.
The increasing sophistication of SEO is a natural result of this conflict. It is now easy to see why Google has made such a change in an effort to stay one step ahead.