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What does ‘keyword not provided’ mean for SEO?

October 24, 2013

Over the last 6-8 weeks there has been lots of discussion about changes that Google has made to its Organic search data, completing a trend that began around two years ago. Now, the vast majority of search terms used to drive traffic to a website are invisible to site owners – instead appearing as ‘keyword not provided’.

What is ‘keyword not provided’?

Google now uses SSL encryption on much of its Organic search traffic. This means that sites receiving visits referred from Google get much less intelligence about the search keyword that the visitor used to find them on Google. Where you used to be able to see an almost complete picture of which search terms were driving visits to your site – “content marketing specialist” for example – now all visits will be shown as “(not provided)”.

The upshot is that although Google remains a valuable, often crucial, source of traffic, it’s now more difficult to know exactly what elements of you SEO strategy is working best.

Why has this happened?

There has been a lot of speculation as to why Google has done this. Some point to Google’s monopoly position and commercial interests and suggest that, because Paid Search isn’t subject to the same encryption, Google are trying to force more people to use Paid Search. Others think it may be a response to the NSA scandal.

What does it mean for SEO?

The key thing is that it doesn’t diminish the importance of SEO but it does mean that identifying keyword-based opportunities (ie. keywords/phrases where there is an opportunity to rank highly for a traffic-driving term) will require some budget to be spent on Paid Search activity.

When you take other changes like Hummingbird into account, what ‘keyword not provided’ means for SEO is that we’re forced to look at it more holistically and are rewarded for focusing on creating content that drives interest generally rather than thinking only about which keywords to create content for.

We’ll need to work back from which pages drive Organic traffic and make sure we’re creating a steady stream of content increases overall referred traffic. Pages will still need to be optimised for a key phrase, well written and themed both for readers and for search engines.

In short, keep calm and carry on.

[Photo Credit: Memeburn.com]