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Organic keyword data from Google is about to disappear. Instead of panicking, embrace this change and focus on content.
(courtesy of notprovidedcount.com)
For anyone who spends time in Google Analytics or website vendor dashboards, (not provided) keyword data appeared like a weed in your garden: slow, creeping growth that threatened to strangle out what you've spent years building. And after its announcement this week, the Big G looks set to make kudzu out of your organic garden forever.
In the wake of the public outcry over the NSA's snooping, Google decided to encrypt all searches. That means all organic traffic coming from the world's biggest search engine is going to be recorded in analytics tools as "(not provided.)"
But, rather than being the nail in SEO's coffin, this push for privacy is really just the death knell for outdated, keyword-focused strategies. Content is still king, and whoever has the best content wins in search, social, and digital as a whole.
End of the word as we know it
Before you give up on SEO keyword analysis, keep in mind that there are a few caveats. First, paid search keyword data isn't going away. This led to speculation that Google's ulterior motive is to drum up even more ad dollars, but that's a separate debate. The second thing to keep in mind is that all other search engines will continue to send keyword data, so Bing, Yahoo, and Ask.com organic keywords will remain for now.
And, if you find it too painful to part with your Google keyword data altogether, then you can always take a look at Webmaster Tools. The data there will provide you with a snapshot of your organic keyword performance, but the numbers there can be notoriously unreliable.
Paid search keyword performance and Webmaster Tools ranking data will remain helpful, but you're going to be left behind if you insist on focusing on keywords. This move from Google signals another sea change for SEO, similar to the Panda and Penguin updates that killed linkbuilding.
Content and user experience lead the way
Google never wanted webmasters to focus on keywords. Matt Cutts, head of Webspam at Google and the go-to answerman for all things SEO, has made it clear in plenty of Google Webmaster Youtube videos that site owners should focus solely on catering to users - not the Googlebot that crawls your pages.
According to Google's quality guidelines, you should focus on creating unique, compelling content that resonates with your audience. Pick a clear focus for each of your pages, make that your title, and add original content about that topic. If you engage your users enough, then they'll share your content or link to it.
Add to that the fact that 20% of searches on Google have never been made before, and you have even less reason to worry about specific keywords. Instead, concentrate on providing valuable content on topics that you know get results.
Know what's working - without keywords
So how do you know which topics and pages are working for SEO? Google Analytics still has the answers.
Instead of navigating straight to the organic search traffic report, go to the landing pages report under the Content section.
Use the advanced segments pull-down menu to restrict the report to only "Non-paid Search Traffic," and see right away which pages are driving the most visitors organically:
Aside from your homepage, which URLs show good traction? Take a look at the % New Visits column to see which are bringing in customers who already know your brand, and which are bringing in new visitors who are finding your site for the first time. This is a good early indicator of a page's SEO success, since part of what your optimization should be doing is bringing new customers to your digital door.
So, now you know which pages are bringing in the most organic visits, as well as which are bringing new visitors to your site. Next, it's time to look at bounce rate to figure out if those visitors you've competed for are happy with your page or not.
If your landing pages have high bounce rates, then chances are that the content isn't in line with what the user was expecting. Make a list of which pages are bouncing visitors, particularly if they're research pages geared toward a specific topic, and work with your web vendor to fix them.
Another key metric to pay attention to is the conversion rate of your top landing pages. In order to see this, click on the Goal Set 1 link near the top of the page:
If you have goals configured in your Analytics profile, then you will be able to see which landing pages brought organic conversions for you – that is, shoppers who not only stuck around on your site, but also submitted a lead form, clicked to call, or performed some other action that you've identified as being important for your bottom line.
With conversion rate, bounce rate, visits, and % new visits, you can immediately see which pages are working for SEO – and which ones aren't. For a quick look at these key metrics for only your organic search traffic, try this custom report we've created below:
Just the beginning
That custom report and the analysis discussed above are just to kick things off. And it may lead you to even more questions than you had to begin with. For example, why do your homepage, new inventory, and used inventory pages have 98% of the landing page traffic? A lack of custom, unique content is likely the culprit.
Or, if you do have custom pages that you've built, you may be wondering why they're not in the top 50 landing pages, or why they're bouncing 90% of the visitors who arrive. The answers are still in Google Analytics: if you're not acquiring traffic, rewrite your content and title tags. If your traffic is bouncing, then change your design to make the pages easier to understand and more enticing to shoppers.
The good news is that dealer websites are almost entirely template-based, so the differences are only skin deep. Get out ahead of your competition by thinking about prettier pages, each one with a clear focus, and start creating the unique content that Google wants to see. Leave the keyword obsession for the other guy.