The justification of hiding majority of keywords from Google Analytics is a debate for another day but on 23rd Sep 2013,Google converted nearly 100% of keywords to (not provided). This means that Webmasters would not be able to track the keyword used by the visitor to reach each page through Google search engine.
History of (not provided) keywords
With the October 18th 2011 privacy update, keywords used by the visitors who were logged into Google product – Gmail, Google plus or the search engine, were not visible to webmasters. The 23rd update discarded this criterion, and converted all search traffic keywords to hidden.
We have shortlisted 4 Negative Effects of converting 100% keywords to (not provided)
1) Poor User Experience
A best practice used by publishers around the world was to optimize the user experience according to the keywords used by the visitors.
If someone searched for “health insurance”, and reached an insurance category page, the publisher understands that the category page should be targeted for a general search term and the “health insurance” page should be optimized for this search term. Earlier with the availability of keywords, brands could have promoted the health insurance page to the top of the category page so that the user access the information first in the category page. Without the specific keyword, the entry would look like:
Keyword Volume Page
(not provided) 1200 /insurance-category-page
It would become extremely difficult to optimize the user experience for 1200 visitors who were looking specifically for “health insurance” details. Marketers would have to second-guess on the probable search terms used by visitors to reach the category page.
For large publishers who create content on a regular basis, it would be difficult to differentiate the demand for each sub-topic based on this entry.
For users, it would be mean scrolling and clicking multiple pages before accessing the right information.
2) Confused Brands
For Google to survive as a formidable search engine, they have to continue offering relevant content through search engines in all industries. For content creation, publishers use keywords for article ideas, map intent of the visitor with the right keyword, and maximize revenue by optimizing user experience. Unfortunately, Google has double standards when it comes to monetizing visitors. They want to limit what publishers can earn through their content, and want them to depend on Google Ad Networks, which contribute over 90% revenue for Google Inc.
In the short term, Google would find it profitable to force the participants in the search Eco-System to depend on the Ad Network but soon the influential Search Engine Optimization and Internet Marketing community will start actively searching for Google alternatives in Social Media (Facebook & Twitter), other formidable search engines (Bing & DuckDuckGo), email marketing and other direct marketing initiatives.
Publishers can no longer depend on keyword tracking with Google to measure their progress in content creation investments. This would mean an increase in investment in third-party keyword position tracking tools. Since personalization is not taken into account in these tools, publishers will soon realize that keyword tracking from third-party tools has diminishing returns.
In the long term, publishers will start actively investing in website optimization tools. With the limited power offered by Google’s Content Experiments, expect an increase in the number of advertorial and product links in the first fold of the page. Whether this would impact the user experience depends on the relevancy of the product links. But without keywords to track, publishers would have to guess the visitor’s intent and place links accordingly.
When critical data like keywords hidden, the probability that user experience would be negatively impacted is high. With high bounce rate and lower conversion, you will find brands confused about their internet marketing initiatives.
3) Enabling Monopoly
With the 100% (not provided) keywords, expect a rise in Pay Per click campaigns in Google AdWords. As more brands compete for the same paid keywords, the cost of PPC campaigns are set to rise. This would mean that larger publishers and brands would be in a better position to monetize this traffic, virtually eliminating smaller brands that play a major role in offering niche content, expertise, and much required competition for larger brands.
When larger brands takeover the PPC networks, and smaller brands have limited exposure, the price that are set for products and services in the market would be determined by the market leader, increasing the financial burden and limiting the choices available for consumers.
4) Alienating SEOs
Google prefers that marketers don’t reverse engineer their search algorithm, but SEO community actively look for loopholes in algorithm and latest changes through patent filing to decode what is happening in the industry. If the positive intent behind the (not provided) change is analyzed, there are three objectives:
a) Remove spammy sites from search results that optimize based on long tail keywords
b) Increase content creation investments
c) Encourage thought leaders to dominate the results
Unfortunately, before a page is created publishers look for keywords that are relevant in the industry. The meta-description, title and URL are based on this data. When legitimate keywords available are from AdWord network, it doesn’t cover the wide range of relevant keywords that are part of organic search. For niche industries, keywords from PPC networks are limited. This would force Businesses to optimize their pages based on irrelevant keywords decreasing their reach to the right market. When the return on investment in content creation is low due to poor keyword targeting, the content creation in these niche sectors would slow down.
The SEO Community has evolved over the past 3-years, calling themselves “InBound Marketers”, “Internet Marketers” or “Content Specialists”. The negative connotation with SEO is deeply engraved in the minds of brands and marketing managers. The recent change of SEOMoz.org to Moz.com is an interesting example why “SEO” as a specialist skill is slowly dying.
But Google is underestimating the huge contribution that this community has played in educating the market. Even with a huge offline budget, Google cannot match the networks that SEOs have developed over the past 13 years. By eliminating SEOs from Search Market, Google is alienating their biggest brand evangelists.