SEO has been an active investment for companies in every vertical, and it’s been supported an industry of marketing and software professionals for nearly 15 years. One important tool for this industry has been keyword data provided by analytics software such as Google Analytics (GA). But — and this is a big BUT — Google has disrupted the fundamental metric that can improve a client’s ROI and will be  blocking 100% of organic keyword data.

An organic search query is defined as when a user searches in a search engine using a keyword. Google Analytics had previously reported which keywords have been used to find your website, and how many times. But that was then. This is the new age of SEO, where we must work without keyword data and with, as it’s displayed in GA, (not provided).

Below you can see the rise of (not provided) keyword data since March 2013 for one of our client’s sites:

In September, (not provided) accounted for 68% of searches in Google, and in October it’s already up to 75%!

For the sake of analyzing change, (not provided) was less than 1% on most client sites throughout 2011, and  less than 25%, on average, in 2012. Now, it’s expected we will hit 100% of keyword data being blocked by Google by the end of November.

That’s an awful lot that’s not being provided. Understanding organic keyword data helps SEO companies understand the ROI of an SEO campaign. It tells us how or where to adjust.

How Do We Get Around This?

With 100% of organic keyword data blocked, this won’t be easy, and it will make the measurable return of SEO harder. Some may even shift more of their budget from SEO to Paid Search. But good internet advertisers are naturally creative, and there are ways to backfill the information needed to make decisions. For one thing, some of us at Obu have been optimizing and advertising law firm websites for 15 years and have a firm enough understanding of historical keyword data to make informed decisions moving forward.

Here is how Obu is moving forward without keyword data, which we have been doing all along!

When most SEO campaigns are conceptualized, the client often chooses keywords for which they want their site to rank highly. This is great for flushing out suggestions; however, honing in on the terms which lead to conversions, and thereby “new business,” can be surprising. A step we have taken at Obu is to launch a Paid Search campaign before determining primary keywords in an SEO campaign. This allows us to quickly test and gather gobs of data early on which give us a better strategy for both the SEO tactics as well as for revising the webpage to better improve the user’s experience.

Rand Fishkin, an authority in internet marketing and an all-around bitchin’ guy, suggested just such a strategy in a recent video at Moz, so it was nice to get an affirmation that our strategy is at least on the right path.

Why Did This Happen?

Last I checked, most SEO companies don’t donate to Google and barely say thank you for giving them a job. Many, in fact — and I was one of these people about 10 years ago — supported and pushed the claim that “nobody clicks paid search ads.” But as the design of the Google results page has changed, and the prevalence of paid ads go to Google’s bottom line, Google may be finding itself leaving money on the proverbial table by providing keyword data. Should this be the case, I don’t blame them.

What To Do About It

While this was an important metric, the shock and dismay most SEO companies are experiencing over it is probably because they are not prepared for change. As previously mentioned, there are still ways to determine and discover search terms that generate business for your company and there always will be. But don’t get lost in the numbers of analytics.

Continue to build and maintain easy to use, clean websites with informative content, and use Google+! With the right SEO company, the rankings will take care of themselves. Trying to trick Google and its thousands of smart folks isn’t going to work. And, if you are making money from Google, maybe think about paying a little back. Couldn’t hurt.

Image credit: Vocus

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