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10 Oct 2013

How the Google “Keyword (Not Provided)” Update Affects PPC

October 10, 2013PPC Advertising

How the Google Keyword Not Provided Update Affects PPC

For many, Google’s “keyword (not provided)” update removing all of Google Analytics’ organic search query data was a long time coming. Google first introduced secure search back in October 2011 which, at the time, caused quite an uproar. A lot has been said in the few weeks since Google announced its most recent Analytics update and, now that the dust has settled a bit, we want to touch on not only how this effects SEO but also SEO’s often times estranged brother, PPC. First let’s cover the basics…

What does “Keyword (not provided)” mean?

Historically, website owners have been able to capture organic search query data from users who visited their site by searching Google and clicking on their organic listing. As web users have become more and more vocal about their web privacy concerns, Google has moved to secure search which groups all organic traffic into a ‘keyword (not provided)’ bucket instead of showing users search query data. While privacy concerns may have been opened up a platform for Google to make this update, it may not be the real driver. We’ll discuss why Google made this update a bit later in this post.

keyword not provided

How Does it Affect PPC Today?

In regards to day-to-day PPC activities it really doesn’t change anything… for now. Despite protecting user search query data for organic clicks, Google has continued to provide search query data for PPC clicks. At least in the short term, PPC advertisers can breathe a bit easier as Adwords search query data remains intact and Google has made no comments about this changing.

What It Doesn’t Mean for Your PPC Strategy (and Shouldn’t Mean for Your SEO Strategy)

Among the initial reactions were shouts that Google is doing this to drive more advertisers to paid search. That by hiding organic search queries behind a (not provided) wall everyone would be inevitably forced into paid search campaigns filled with broad match keywords if they wanted search query data.

This simply isn’t true and isn’t a strategy that we recommend.

The keyword data that has been replaced with (not provided) in Analytics is organic search query data. While Adwords can, and should be, a key source for organic keyword discovery, it will never provide insights into a website’s organic search query data. Think about it: Just because a website’s Adwords campaign is capturing traffic from searches for a keyword phrase like “blue bicycles” doesn’t mean that the website is capturing that same traffic organically. Organic and paid search traffic is  completely independent of each other and using one to make assumptions about the other is just bad strategy.

We believe that Paid Search campaigns should be driven by definitive, measureable user engagement goals (leads, sales, phone calls, email sign-ups, etc.). Running a PPC campaign with the sole purpose of capturing search query data is both counter-intuitive and a waste of money.

Why Did Google Make This Update?

Because search query data remains available for Adwords clicks, it’s fair to discount Google’s explanation of user privacy concerns. To truly understand the “why,” it is necessary to look at the product– organic search and paid search–from Google’s perspective, taking into account Google’s #1 Core Value, “Focus on the user and all else will follow.”

keyword not provided

Image courtesy of www.notprovidedcount.com/

Google Paid Search

Paid search, Google’s main revenue stream, is targeted and optimized by keywords which advertisers select themselves. While Google has measures in place to help keep low-quality advertisers from placing ads, Google paid search market is largely self regulated. This may seem dangerous on Google’s part considering their core value but we have to remember that advertisers have to pay for every click.

Working backwards, Google can make the assumption that if an advertiser is willing to pay for a click, a user must provide value to the advertiser ($). In order to do that, the advertiser must provide value to the user (goods/services), which means that Google has done its job of “Focusing on the user.”

Organic Search

Without the ‘X factor’ of paying for each click, it is solely up to Google’s algorithm to determine which site across the entire web is most relevant to a user’s search. A combination of all sorts of data helps Google determine organic rankings including inbound links, keywords, semantic markup, site speed, and many more. For Google, judging whether an organic listing is providing more value to the user than another is very difficult. The goal of every organic listing is to capture as much traffic as possible, as it is all “free.” Organic rankings are made as Google’s algorithm decides, regardless of the end value a user receives.

We are Left with Keyword (not provided)

With SEOs becoming exponentially more sophisticated and better at improving rankings for specific keywords, Google may have made this update to make algorithm manipulation more difficult (as if Panda, Penguin and now Hummingbird weren’t enough). Google wants to provide users with the best possible web pages, not just pages that are optimized to rank highly and provide little value to the end user. This is Google’s way of saying, “instead of focusing on our algorithm, focus on making your website a better place for your visitors.”

What Should This Mean For Your Online Marketing Strategy?

Now, more than ever, it is vital for every piece of your online marketing strategy to work together towards the common goal of maximizing your online effectiveness.

  • Develop a holistic approach that includes content, search (organic & paid), and social
  • Cross-reference PPC data for SEO keyword discovery
    • Without organic search query data, effectively utilizing PPC data will keep you way ahead of the competition
    • Don’t just try to manipulate Google’s algorithm. Build your website based on a solid content marketing plan with the goal of not just attracting visitors, but providing them value
    • Instead of focusing just on organic keywords, improve your Analytics data to focus on landing pages and get something actionable from your keyword report
    • Optimize your site for conversion rate. Marketers often times spend too much time worrying about traffic that they wish they could capture, when they should be focused on turning their current traffic into customers

Will Google’s “keyword (not provided)” update make organic optimization more difficult? Yes, most likely. Can website’s still improve their online presence? With a good, balanced strategy and a comprehensive understanding of what is really important, absolutely.