Say Goodbye to Keyword Data: How to Tackle Google’s Secure Search Update

Google is taking back its keywords. While mainstream media outlets are buzzing about ‘Hummingbird’, Google’s latest algorithm overhaul, SEOs are still reeling from Google’s 100% secure search roll out last week.

Confirmed on September 23rd, Google has encrypted all search activity, tossing all organic keyword data into the ‘not provided’ bucket. To be clear, this is not the first time ‘not provided’ has come into play. Google began encrypting search data for signed in users back in October 2011, citing ‘user privacy’ as the reason for the change. Google touts the same argument for last week’s Secure Search update.

So why the sudden switch to 100% secure search data?

There may be a few driving factors. SearchEngineLand surmises the recent change as either a PR appeal to users in light of the recent NSA debacle or a new incentive for digital marketers to tap into Adwords’ paid search keyword data. SearchEngineWatch speculates the update may be a precursor to the “release of a new ‘premium’ version of Google Analytics”. Whatever the reason, Secure Search is here to stay and, like it or not, digital marketers must adapt.

But, before you panic, there are 3 loopholes for recovering at least partial encrypted keyword data:

1.       Use Adwords as a Resource.

Google says search keywords should be private, but not so private that advertisers can’t have access. Interestingly enough, Google’s secure search update does not affect paid search, meaning nothing will change for Adwords customers.

Adwords will still be a useful tool for vetting high-traffic, high-converting terms, before investing in a specific keyword driven content strategy.

Furthermore, by linking Webmaster Tools to Adwords, you can gain some valuable insight into organic versus paid keyword performance, and even instances where you rank for both. Keep in mind this data collection only starts when you link your accounts together, so be sure to do so as soon as possible to secure your keyword history.

2.       Tag all distributed links with UTM codes.

Google still reports on keyword data received from UTM tagged links, making it more important than ever to create campaigns for each marketing initiative. Increase your data set by making a point to tag all shared social media links, email links, etc.

3.       Use landing page conversion data as a guide.

Probably the biggest concern in losing keyword data is the lack of insight on top converting organic search terms. The good news is if you have a solid keyword mapping document for your website, you will have quite a bit of insight into converting keyword themes based on landing page conversions. Landing page performance data will become essential in measuring ROI on SEO.

Ultimately, while SEO reporting methods must adapt to secure search, the core of SEO strategy will remain the same. Google has emphasized quality content creation as the best way to influence search ranking for years now. The secure search update will revamp ‘traditional’ SEO measurement, but underpin the necessity of quality content.