SEO and Online Marketing with Even More Keyword Data Gone

If you’re using Google Analytics to measure your website’s performance (and if you have a website, you should at least be somewhat familiar with Google Analytics, or working with an agency that is), you’ve probably noticed some changes – possibly what appears to be a drop in performance. As of the end of March, Yahoo! has officially joined Google in blocking keyword data, and Google is reporting it differently in Analytics, causing some extra confusion for webmasters everywhere.

(Click here to skip right to the quick summary)

About Blocked Keyword Data

If you’re interested in learning more about blocked keyword data from Google, this article from late 2013 explains it well: SEO and Not Provided Keywords. In short, Google used to relay the keywords of all searches bringing traffic to your site in Google Analytics. Now for organic Google searches (and possibly soon for paid searches too), Google is citing privacy concerns and not revealing the keywords people used to get to your site. Note that the percentage of “(not provided)” keywords has risen in the six months since that article was originally published.

Yahoo! Joins the Blocked Keyword Club

Yahoo! is also now blocking keyword data from their search engine, further eliminating the keyword data that you have to work with. However, this is being reported differently in Google analytics. Searches from Yahoo! are no longer being reported as organic searches. Instead, searches from Yahoo! are being reported as referral traffic with the source “r.search.yahoo.com”. Needless to say, this is causing confusion and some issues in reporting. Know that when you see “r.search.yahoo.com” in Google Analytics, it is referring to organic Yahoo! searches with blocked keyword data.

What This Means for You

This isn’t a huge change, but it is an irritating one. There is almost no keyword data left in Google Analytics. Here’s what you need to know about the results of these changes right now and moving forward:

  • Your search traffic may not be as bad as you think. Yahoo! Search brings an estimated 10% of all search traffic. So, if your organic search traffic is now down about 5%, is it really down? Probably not. Check your referral traffic. Is there a spike in referrals from “r.search.yahoo.com”? Remember, that’s actually search traffic. It’s just moved from one place to the other. This means that if your search traffic appears down, it really may not be. It is very possible that the change in reporting from Yahoo! Search just threw off your numbers. Don’t panic, make sure you take a holistic look at your Google Analytics, and pray that Google is able to fix this soon.
  • Keyword research continues to rise in importance. As it becomes harder and harder to see how people are arriving at your website, knowing trends in search and what people are looking for becomes more important. The best stab you can take is by already knowing your audience and what they are searching for before you look at the end results in Google Analytics. If I know that people are looking for spinal cord surgery, and I rank high for “spinal cord surgery,” I can safely assume that I will be getting a good amount of traffic as a result. If you’re looking for more info about keyword research, we suggest you start here: Keyword Research.
  • Use Google Webmaster Tools to see what brings traffic. You can at least see a sample of the keywords that are bringing impressions and traffic for your website, as well as current rankings. Use this as part of your keyword research, and to help measure your effectiveness. You won’t see details of the traffic from these keywords, but you’ll certainly see how many people are coming and the percentage of potential traffic (impressions). Don’t forget to link Webmaster Tools to Google Analytics too!
  • Take a holistic view of your SEO. Don’t get sucked into just seeing what keywords bring traffic and using that to measure success. Use other metrics as well such as:
    • Keyword rankings for specific keywords – Use the keywords determined from your keyword research, knowing that there will be other peripheral keywords as well.
    • Measuring traffic patterns – Is your overall traffic going up or down? How about referrals (good links from link building should drive traffic too)? Are there any correlations to work you’ve done to increase traffic from specific keywords?
    • Measure actual conversions – Remember, the goal isn’t just people looking at your pretty website, it’s people who actually call you, buy your product, or contact you for more info. How many people are doing these things?

Google has tried to make Google Analytics as user friendly as possible for the average user, but many changes and more complex features make having an expert in online marketing and analytics quite valuable. Let us know if you want to talk more about how to increase your bottom line through your website.

And, for those who found too much detail here and want the quick summary, here’s the recap:

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read) Version:

  • Yahoo is now blocking keyword data in Google Analytics, as Google has already done
  • Yahoo! Search traffic now shows up in Google Analytics as “r.search.yahoo.com” and is under “referrals”
  • New declines in search traffic may just be because Yahoo! Search traffic has been moved to referrals – double check in your Analytics.
  • Keyword Research is more critical than ever. Know what to target, and the blocked data from Google Analytics isn’t as crippling.
  • Find as much keyword data as you still can from Google Webmaster Tools
  • Take a bigger picture look of SEO – focus on overall traffic and conversions.

Finally, if you have any other Analytics tips, please share in the comments below!

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