Earlier this week, Google announced that they would be ramping up their efforts to make their search experience 100% secure. This sounds great, especially with all the NSA stuff going on right now. Anything to keep spies from knowing what we're up to, right?
But there's another effect of moving all searches to encrypted: no longer will they share variables like the keyword(s) used. That means that soon your Google traffic is going to rise to 100% "not provided" for keywords. You'll no longer be able to see (in Google Analytics) what keywords people are using to find your site. This includes people using Google, Chrome or any other Google property used to do a search.
What Does This Mean for the Small Business Owner?
Well, the far most obvious one is that you'll no longer get that data from Google. You'll no longer know which keywords sent (or didn't send) what amount of traffic.
As of right now, Yahoo, Bing and several other search engines are still sending that data. So you won't be left out in the cold totally, but typically Bing and Yahoo only send about 16% of all search-related traffic. So the numbers are going to be very, very small, and the data therefore is going to be a bit skewed.
Interestingly, Google also reports that their data isn't really stripped out. If you happen to be an advertiser on the Google AdWords system, suddenly that data is available again. Convenient, right? Just spend money with Google and suddenly the data appears as if magic.
Keyword Tracking is Dead
At the beginning of 2013, we stopped providing our clients with Keyword Ranking Reports - reports that showed where a domain ranked for a term across the different search engines. Because of the integration of social media and past history into the Google search algorithm, these results became nearly useless. Every computer is getting different results for the same search.
For instance, if you're searching for a home loan, and a friend (who is connected on Twitter) recently mentioned that they closed their loan through Granny8, it's very possibly that Granny8 would show up a bit higher in your rankings when searching something similar. Your friend's mention influenced your search results.
So for an SEO company to provide an accurate listing of where a company ranked for a certain term has become an exercise in futility. The data would be skewed to the computer that the report was run on, whether or not it was logged into Google, whether the computer had been used in the past for similar searches, and who on that computer was connected to who.
Missing Keywords: A Theory No One is Talking About
Google analytics was the first major analytics program to be offered for free. Because of the great reach Google has, their free analytics program has been widely adopted by millions of businesses. With that said, I also wonder about the possibility of another version of Google Analytics coming out that's paid (and has the keyword data). Sure, there's already the Enterprise version of Google Analytics - which costs $10,000. Most small businesses can't afford that - but what about a version that costs $99/mo and contains keyword data, conversion data and perhaps more? I see a lot of businesses that are going to be forced into buying something like that.
But then again, I'm just some small potatoes SEO guy in Arnold, MO, right? What do I know? (We'll have to wait and see!)
So is SEO Officially Dead Now?
Heck no. SEO is simply evolving, which it always has done. Smart SEOs have already moved towards a non-keyword-driven way of doing business, as we did earlier this year. SEO is no longer just about getting more traffic to a website. It's about getting quality traffic that converts.
So What Do We Do Now?
There is a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel. Even if you don't want to advertise, or can't because of the amount of money required, you can still get some rounded-off keyword data and numbers from Google's Webmaster Tools. They'll give you information (albeit a few days behind) about how many times your website showed up for certain searches (impressions) and what your CTR (click through rate) is for that term during that date period.
While this isn't the best scenario, at least it's something. There are ways to take that data and (through the magic of Excel) figure out roughly what keywords are likely passing the best traffic and conversions. If you're not good with Excel, or just don't have the time, look into hiring a professional to help you with this.
The other thing you can do (and we've been preaching this for some time now) is to start providing content that is, well, awesome. Answer your customers' questions, provide value to your visitors and watch your traffic and conversions continue to rise. This is the most powerful paragraph on this entire page, and those that heed it's advice will be the winners online, keywords or not.