What Google’s latest SEO keyword changes mean for PR and marketers

Much ado has been made of Google’s announcement that effective as soon as they can implement it, 100% of search data will be encrypted. This will have the side effect of removing all of the keyword data in popular web analytics platforms like Google Analytics, Adobe Site Catalyst, Web Trends, and many others; you will no longer be able to see what exact words and phrases people found your website in searches via your web analytics tools.

Organic Search Traffic - Google Analytics

In truth, this change has been coming for a long time; it’s been just about two years since Google started encrypting searches and the percentage of “not provided” keywords in your web analytics has been increasing steadily. Even before this change, the majority of keyword data was coming in as “not provided” for most websites.

So is this change a cause for mass panic? One would think so based on what you read in marketing blogs and search marketing blogs.


The truth is, no, it’s not a cause for panic for the average marketer or PR practitioner. Slightly lower quality data is available to you for the same low cost of nothing via Google’s Webmaster Tools. Sign up for a free account, authenticate your website by following the on-screen instructions, and you’ll be able to find similar keyword information about your site:

Webmaster Tools - Search Queries - https://www.shiftcomm.com/

The main difference between what your web analytics used to show you before the removal of keyword data and what Webmaster Tools shows you is that your web analytics tools would show you exact numbers of searches for keywords and Webmaster Tools shows rounded estimates. Webmaster Tools also only provides data from the last 90 days, so if you want a longer historical record, you’ll need to get in the habit of downloading your data every couple of months – set yourself a calendar reminder.

However, unless your job is full-time organic search marketing and nothing else, this change by Google isn’t likely to significantly impact the work you do as a marketer. Even with rounded estimates, Webmaster Tools allows you to see clear differences between the words and phrases that are driving the majority of traffic to your site versus niche words and phrases that are not.

Even more important, you can see for which terms you’re appearing for in search but people aren’t clicking on your site. Here’s an example of searches for which there were high impressions but low clicks:

Webmaster Tools - Search Queries - http://www.christopherspenn.com/

This is a handy way of determining what potential terms or ideas you might want to create some PR or marketing campaigns about, from basic blog posts and social shares to entire PR campaigns, and it’s additional data and context that wasn’t provided with your former web analytics keyword data. Find the opportunities you’re missing and create content around those opportunities!

Finally, be sure to use Webmaster Tools as a supplementary tool for media monitoring for your company. We’ve got a short video and transcript here if you’d like to learn how.

The removal of keyword data due to encrypted searches isn’t the end of the world, nor is it likely to significantly change any part of your PR or marketing program unless your only job is organic SEO. In fact, if it pushes more people to use Google’s excellent but underutilized Webmaster Tools, then it could be a net benefit to companies looking to improve their search marketing and content marketing efforts overall. And if your job is only organic SEO, you’ll want to check out even more advanced ways of processing the data you still do have, like this post from Rand Fishkin over at Moz.

Got questions about SEO as it relates to your PR and marketing? Contact us and we’ll see how we can help.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

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Posted on September 25, 2013 in Metrics, SEO, Strategy

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About the Author

Christopher S. Penn is an authority on digital marketing and marketing technology. A recognized thought leader, author, and speaker, he has shaped three key fields in the marketing industry: Google Analytics adoption, data-driven marketing and PR, and email marketing. Known for his high-octane, here’s how to get it done approach, his expertise benefits companies such as Citrix Systems, McDonald’s, GoDaddy, McKesson, and many others. His latest work, Leading Innovation, teaches organizations how to implement and scale innovative practices to direct change. Christopher is a highly-sought keynote speaker thanks to his energetic, informative talks. In 2015, he delivered insightful, innovative talks on all aspects of marketing and analytics at over 30 events to critical acclaim. He is a founding member of IBM’s Watson Analytics Predictioneers, co-founder of the groundbreaking PodCamp Conference, and co-host of the Marketing Over Coffee marketing podcast. Christopher is a Google Analytics Certified Professional and a Google AdWords Certified Professional. He is the author of over two dozen marketing books including bestsellers such as Marketing White Belt: Basics for the Digital Marketer, Marketing Red Belt: Connecting With Your Creative Mind, and Marketing Blue Belt: From Data Zero to Marketing Hero.
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