Keyword Ranking KPIs Should Go The Way of the Dodo

In Analytics, The Digital Marketing Blog by Sam HarriesLeave a Comment

At the tail end of 2011, Google announced that they would stop providing the keywords of logged-in user’s searches to webmasters. The main reason this was done was in the name of privacy; Google are making the assumption that users searching “securely” would not want their search term to be passed on to the destination site.

The impact of this change has started off small with the original release of Secure Socket Layer (SSL) version of search.  As the updates have come in one by one, the snowball that is “(Not Provided)” continues to gain in both size and momentum as it travels down the digital mountainside.


Webmasters are reporting an average of one third of all organic traffic being returned (Not provided), which increases the difficulty in drawing accurate insights from any Analytics data as they can’t always tell what keywords their viewers are coming from.

Apple’s iOS6 Update

While the forums were ablaze with talk about Apple Maps, a bigger issue for webmasters came into effect: Google searches through the Safari search box are going through “Secure search”. To make matters worse rather than being dealt with as “(Not provided)” traffic, all iOS6 traffic is being misread as ‘direct’ traffic.

We would expect the blue line (iOS6 direct traffic) to remain relatively stable with the orange line (iOS5 direct traffic) – however you can see the extent of the misread traffic being listed as direct instead of organic search visits, in some instances losing several hundred searches as direct.

Misread iOS Traffic

So what can we do?

The digital landscape is in a perpetual state of flux, ever shifting to accommodate the wants and needs of the industry. Successful marketers must be flexible and stay ahead of the game to avoid becoming yesterday’s news.

Brand vs Non-Brand

With the rise of “(Not provided)” obscuring brand vs non-brand reporting and the loss of ‘organic’ traffic due to the iOS6 changes what can be done about this?

First and foremost a shift that should be made is to move away from the distinction between brand and non-brand. A good digital marketing agency is also pushing your online reputation helping to secure branded searches as well.

Reclaiming some data

While this approach is limited in not knowing the exact keyword or any insights into longtail searches, by using secondary dimensions of ‘landing page’ you can make reasonable judgements as to the keyword, if not the keyword set that the search was related to. If a searcher comes through ‘(Not provided)’ and lands on a page about loans, it isn’t an unreasonable leap to assume the search was loan related.

This approach has its obvious drawbacks as it’s a bit more finger to the wind, but setting KPIs to landing pages will help justify these steps.

What key performance indicator to use will naturally vary depending on the client and the client’s goals but one thing is certain, keyword ranking KPIs need to go the way of the dodo.

By focusing on the wrong KPIs you can miss out on the bigger picture wins, which will hurt the only KPI that truly matters: profitability.

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