Google has announced that all searches on its network will now be secure – meaning an end to keyword statistics in Analytics. Google has been moving towards more equitable search results for some considerable time.. The mantra from web marketers has been produce good content and plenty of it, link it well, focus on the web site user and make sure your friends and colleagues contribute to your visibility via links and blog contributions and your traffic will grow.
In the real world, many many web site owners don’t have the resource, or indeed see the value in concentrating efforts on inbound marketing and use keyword tracking as a “how are we doing” overview in analytics. I’d be amazed if keyword tracking wasn’t the most popular measurement of success outside of the hard core inbound marketer set.
Why have Google done it?
Who knows.. Some say to prevent “fake searches” where software generates searches and clicks for a particular client around a particular topic – increasing their link performance artificially. Others say it is to move the focus away from keywords. Yet more suggest it is an attempt by Google to “lock down” search data to make sure people can only guarantee key phrase performance through the Pay Per Click platform, Adwords.
What does this mean for SEO?
Well, nothing, really, but it changes the way it is measured quite significantly. We can still use 3rd party software to rank keywords – checking if you’re #1 on your chosen terms. What becomes more difficult to see, is if we’re concentrating on the right keywords, because we can no longer measure click traffic in that way.
From a web site owner’s perspective, you need to decide how important it is to understand the performance of your web site is. We’d say its vital. Although people may question Google’s motives, what this move unquestionably does do is move us towards the needs of the user. If we aren’t measuring keywords (by its nature an introspective measurement), then presumably we’re best to actually look at what the user is doing – how much time they are spending on the web site, their individual and collective “journeys” through your web site and what proportion of them did we manage to convince to complete the journey we tried to guide them through.
So where next?
As I’d said previously, we can still rank keywords, so we know how the web site is doing, though this can’t be done through analytics and frustratingly, Google continue to try and make software measurement of this kind more difficult. What we expect to see is that inbound marketing budgets will begin to shift to where they should be – better definition of site goals, and design (and content!) to support those goals. We’ll continue to monitor time on site, levels of engagement, completed actions and all the important stuff. We can anonymously record mouse actions to understand which parts of web sites and pages are used most, and analyse why. So perhaps the internet is finally growing up and user experience is replacing search engine optimisation. On page SEO becomes on page user journey optimisation, but all other rules apply.
In the longer term, this move away from keywords will be fantastic for the internet. Anything that pushes web site design towards the user and away from a silo’d brief, has to be a benefit.
What is the long term outlook?
Those who invest… win. I’m sure there’s as many word press houses worried about the long term implications as there are half baked SEO houses this morning. This move from Google yesterday has put yet more question marks over their long term success in the mid and top market, because most of the platform based tools simply don’t allow you to work in the most flexible way for a user. They will still have a place of course, but just as developers and SEOs are having to deal with a new era, so too are the open source platforms and few of them, with the exception of Magento are equipped to do so.
What Can I do Now?
Start thinking about your user and your web site in a different way. You should have been thinking user first anyway,but now the key way we can monitor your web site performance is by optimising for user experience and to keep doing the good bits well.. (writing copy, linking properly, generally being a useful content provider).
We can help.
- Keywords and content: We can use webmaster tools from Google to understand search volumes and your web site’s general ranking across a wide range of Google searches – we can also use this tool to monitor for web site errors, duplicate content and any of the bad stuff Google doesn’t like.
We also use tools to optimise pages and keep an eye on keyword performance. This is still a valid thing to do – keeping on top of on page optimisation is important – its just measurement of click through that has disappeared.
- Popular content and UX: Analytics still lets you see which of your pages are popular, how long people spend on them and what people do next (most of the time). This can be used to drive user experience improvements, additional calls to action and to generate in depth reports on how your web site is being interacted with day to day.
We also use specialised tools that monitor movement, clicks, hover time etc. on pages so we can gain a deep understanding of how a web page, or web site is being interacted with. This is particularly useful for landing pages (either marketing / sales landers, or just popular web site entry points)
- PPC: Well optimised pay per click campaigns don’t have to cost the earth, and should provide a genuine and measurable return on investment. If you want to be sure you’re hitting page 1 with a keyword, it can still be achieved in Adwords – the sales revenues generated (or otherwise) will also bring your keyword choices in sharp focus and help you to understand what the triggers are for your customers. This knowledge can then be taken back into your content marketing and “organic” activity.
These activities and lots more can be undertaken on your current web site (whether we built it or not, in most cases). Next time you are considering a web site upgrade – if measurement and performance is important to you, and we really hope it is, we can help you plan and design the way we like to do it, from the customer up, instead of from the board down.
While this move does represent a huge change in emphasis, hopefully it becomes a positive for the engaged web site owner and their better engaged users and customers.
To discuss and of the matters raised in this article, please call 0121 616 0098 and ask for Karl Baxter