Keywords Not Provided – Measuring Optimisation Success

SEO - Digital Marketing - JSBULLOCK.NET

Keywords Not Provided: KPIs for SEO get harder.

SEO - Digital Marketing - JSBULLOCK.NET

The following article discusses Key Performance Indicators and ways to measure Search Engine Optimisation performance. Starting with some background history relating to changes in the way Google search works and reports information. And then some modern era, 2014 suggestions for SEO measurement.


Google introduced encrypted search back in 2008. Apparently with privacy in mind, organic search keywords from any https domain search would yield a (not provided) score in your website analytics. At first this didn’t have a huge impact and only a small percentage of people’s search keyword data was no longer available in Google Analytics reports. From 2011 to now, keyword data from organic searches has moved to consistently 80% to 100% not provided.

The Problem

It would seem that keeping search user’s data private became a priority as most Google products moved to implement https security levels. This includes the omni-box in the very popular Google Chrome browser. The result is: your organic keyword data in Analytics is unusable. Website traffic from organic Google search can no longer be tracked at a keyword level via Google Analytics.

If you add up the recent Google changes, clearly ‘SEO’ is in the firing line. Prior to keyword data not being provided in Google Analytics, Google directly threatened to remove access to AdWords advertising API from the popular analytics suites RavenTools and Ahrefs. Both of these suites offered brilliant SERP keyword ranking data for professional SEOs, but not anymore!

It is important to note that keyword data is still available for AdWords advertisers. And with that you might feel the nudge to hedge your bets on a Paid PPC Campaign, and not so much keyword driven anchor text back-link building.

Moving Forward

According to the Moz Blog & their interesting survey results here’s how some of your fellow SEO professionals are coping with limited keyword data:

  • 68.8% are focussing on conversion rate optimisation and performance metrics.
  • 66.2% are focussing on landing page traffic.
  • 57.9% are relying more on Google Webmaster Tools data (GWT).
  • 40.5% are trying to estimate traffic based on other data.
  • 36.7% are focussing on social signals.

Organic Click Through Rates: Your original Search Engine Optimisation plan should have included estimates of how traffic will increase based on keyword ranking position increases. There are a number of keyword ranking tools available that keep track of and report your ranking positions. Every ranking position on a SERP (search engine results page) has an attributable click through rate. 1st place gets the highest, 2nd and 3rd have lower click through rates respectively, and if you’re website listing is on the 2nd page, you barely exist. Additionally, Google AdWords planner still provides estimated keyword volumes. With any keyword ranking position increase (on the 1st page of SERPs), there should be correlative increase in website visits (Analytics). When keyword ranking position increases don’t produce increases in traffic, it is also a good control mechanism to revisit your meta-descriptions as these will directly influence the click through rate of your improved ranking position on SERPs.

A visual example of how keyword visibility improvements directly impact traffic volumes is provided below:

SEO: Organic Rankings & Organic Traffic.

You will eventually find some limited consistency in organic ranking positions and their click through rates when you consider the user intent, relevance of your listing, competition, and how click-worthy your meta-descriptions (and page titles) are.

Clicks And Impressions: Google Webmaster Tools provides your organic keyword impressions (number of times your website is listed on a SERP) and where (average ranking position). Both metrics are rounded approximates, but still good data to work with. Historical data is limited with GWT so you must employ a routine of databasing impression and CTR data autonomously. Again with this data you will be able to compare increases in keyword ranking positions with increases in impressions and CTRs. If impressions are growing month to month, but clicks and actual visits (Analytics) are the same, again, you will need to revisit making your listing on SERPs click-worthy, and/or re-evaluate your target keywords.

In Summary

Not all is lost in terms of measurability and setting KPIs for organic traffic. The reality is organic visit metrics are still available in Google Analytics and thoroughly reporting SEO successes is now requires more time, resources, and sensible estimates. Wherever there is a will there is a way. And the above offers ways to breakdown and analyse your Search Engine Optimisation progress.

It will be interesting to see how the SEO industry (not only reacts), but finds new tools and methodologies to measure SEO results.




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