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(not provided)?…not a problem

Along with a number of our colleagues in the SEO/SEM space, in 2013 we noticed two search engine data trends that seemed to be on separate tracks, but in retrospect were more likely the outcomes from related components of longer-term business goals for Google.

Throughout 2012 and 2013 we think everyone – professionals and clients alike – was noticing the steady decrease in the amount of organic search term data (not provided) culminating with the “blame it on the NSA” complete closing of the organic data spigot in September. Since that shut-off, there have been a good number of posts with tables and charts illustrating that declining progression of (not provided) data since 2011, some with empirical proof for this advertiser or even for an aggregate of advertisers or industries.

Vexing? You bet! All of us have relied heavily on organic search term and/or organic ranking data to measure and optimize performance of the “free” search engine and report the results to our clients. An awful lot of the automated platforms, attribution models and lead quality systems used that data. But at the same time, many of us also had seen that same behavior four years ago and felt the impact when access to the organic data centers was shut down and the fire hose of Google organic search ranking data was reduced to a trickle. Collectively we learned to adjust to the new TOS back then – and to manage client expectations – and we’ll adjust now.

As to the second data trend? In Spring 2013, we noticed an increase in the level of quality of the AdWords® search term data being provided. That data proved to be more and more consistent and thus increasingly valuable in terms of keyword refinement and audience segment targeting. Campaign results were improving dramatically and keyword harvesting tools were beginning to generate incredible results in managed paid search campaigns. And now search term and average ranking data is available in Webmaster Tools. Are these data trends unrelated events? It is hard to believe they could be.

And when you boil it all down, is the lack of organic search term data (not provided) that big of a problem? Again, we don’t think so. Many of us will finally, reluctantly shift our primary focus to the landing page(s) and, using the data that is presently available in AdWords® and now Webmaster Tools (and which can be expected to improve in the near future), build new content development and measurement models that incorporate more conversational or social signals and long tail search segment relevance.

In the end, to gather the data we need to analyze and measure for SEO, all we had to do is shift our primary attention away from Analytics (any web analytics) and re-focus on the other data sources already in use.

Just a thought.

Alan Hamor
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