I read the news today, oh boy…
Danny Sullivan announced that Google is actively moving towards 100% encrypted search results. This should come as no surprise to anyone in the industry. When Google introduced secure search back in 2011, we saw the writing on the wall. As Google increased their number of users, the number of (not provided) results would increase as well. The percentage of (not provided) traffic grew from 3% to 5% overnight, and upwards to 10% by the first quarter of 2012.
We’ve been able to get by for the past two years. We’ve explained to our clients what (not provided) means, why it exists, everything.
and though the news was rather sad…
Though it might not be tomorrow, next month, or even this year, soon enough 100% of Google’s organic traffic will be unknown to us. Sure, there will be a number of hacks we can use to infer data, or we can just lean heavily on AdWords (shut up and take my money!) to provide the information, but the truth is keyword-based marketing as we have known it is dead. We will no longer know what keyword drove that visit that drove that sale. It won’t exist. Not in Google Analytics, not in Site Catalyst, not in your log files, nowhere.
This has led to quite a bit of panic.
People are assuming that we’ll have to spend thousands of dollars on AdWords just to see what terms are working, and to find what terms we need to build a strategy around. Some are claiming that all the data Google collects is going to go away eventually, and that we’re heading to a paid-only world.
There’s even talk that we’ll have to start tracking keyword rankings like a hawk. That the only metric to determine keyword effectiveness will be ranking, and that we’ll map each page of a site to just a set of unique terms and we’ll weigh how much traffic those pages generate by how successful we are.
I just had to laugh…
At the end of the day, this really changes nothing.
While it has been very useful to have that data over the years, and I know we’ve all been able to glean new ideas for pages, blog posts, etc., it’s not crucial. That’s because, when you take a step back, everything we do is still just a part of Web marketing. In fact, we view SEO as a result of proper marketing.
If your site has a thorough hierarchy, uses clear architecture, is well designed, provides a good user experience, is fast, and has proper title tags, headings, well-crafted content, etc. then it’ll likely do just fine. It will get links and visits and will rank for whatever term you like. Write content that speaks to what you’re selling whether it’s a product, a service, or just an idea. We’re afforded a great opportunity as Web marketers; our audience already knows that they want something akin to what we’re offering. All we have to do is close the deal.
I know that I’m not going to start relying solely on rank tracking to convey keyword success. There are a lot of tactics we can use to get granular about how profitable traffic may be related to a specific search, and none of them involve heavy scrutiny of keyword ranking. Rankings shuffle all the time for various keywords. You could rank in position 3 for your most profitable term today, and rank number 8 tomorrow. It’s just not a part of a strong long-term strategy.
If anything, this is good news for all of us who have been in a meeting where a client says, “more sales are great, but we’re not number 1 for ‘widget keyword that doesn’t convert’.” Or think of it this way, imagine you sold umbrellas, and one day you found that 5% of your visitors came to your site using the term “parasols for rain.” Would you revamp your entire site? Of course not. A little traffic or a bump in search rankings doesn’t affect your bottom line as much as a sale does. So why not talk about site performance from that standpoint instead?
This is perhaps the best outcome of all. We can focus on how organic traffic and site performance influence unique visitors, conversions, sales, revenue, etc. If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to shift your conversation towards meaningful KPIs and away from silly things like ranking and traffic.
So, in the end, thank you (not provided) for our industry’s evolution away from outdated “metrics” and toward meaningful results.