Question: what’s the difference between Google and a drug dealer?

Answer: a drug dealer doesn’t make as much money.

Drug dealers, by their nature, hook people in by giving them something for free initially and then charging people forever more.

Google also hook people in by giving them something for free (in this case, data related to keywords people have used to then click through from organic results) … and then take it away.   To get the ‘keywords drug’ back in some way those people have to pay for Adwords as an alternative.

For those that haven’t noticed within their Google Analytics, the organic keywords data has been increasingly showing as ‘(not provided)’, something that’s been bugging business owners and SEO people alike for some time now.

‘(not provided)’ actually means “people typed something but we at Google have decided not to provide that information to you”.

Google had their reasons for stopping analytics from displaying keywords data, including waving the flag that ‘privacy’ is important to searchers … but for all the reasons they give, they’re utter rubbish.   There is only one reason for Google to do anything at all – and that’s to drive more people to using (as advertisers and searchers) the paid adverts that appear more dominantly than ever.

The executioner at Google made the deepest cut very recently, meaning that the presence of most keywords data in analytics (which includes our A1WebStats system) will be limited to traffic from outside Google, or paid advertising.   That basically means a microscopic amount of the keywords data that was previously available.

In our view, Google have made a huge mistake.  Clearly, they want to make the lives of SEO people harder (and they’ll continue to do so), but what they’ll also do is significantly upset those in business who genuinely want to get better insights into which keyword phrases brought people to their websites.

For example

At the most simplistic level, if you have a website landing page about, say, blue widgets, and your analytics shows that out of 100 visitors, 90% went no further than that landing page, you will soon have no idea whether the problem is:

1. Weaknesses on the page itself or;

2. Irrelevant keyword phrases bringing people into that page

The reality is that it’s probably a combination of both, but how would you know?   If, for example, you accidentally gained Google positioning for ‘free blue widgets’ (but didn’t know it), then there’s no way of telling that you get such (useless) traffic to that blue widgets page.

What will ultimately happen is that business owners will start assuming that their websites are ‘not good enough’ (because of low enquiries about certain products or services) and so will go down the path of making changes.  The reality could be that the traffic to those pages was irrelevant in the first place and so painted a picture that the pages weren’t retaining the interest of the visitors.

The fury that will rage on (since this Google change) is unlikely to make Google change its mind.  They will definitely pay for it later on of course, but they’re too big and short-sighted to see what’s coming.

For now, website owners are faced not with being weaned off their keywords drug, but instead are faced with going ‘cold turkey’.


The alternative

Assuming that the world of business is not going to start spending a fortune on Adwords in order to get a better view of what people searched for (to find their websites), there has to be an alternative.

As this blog shows, there are some options to exploit within Google Webmaster Tools, but they are also limited.  There may also be other systems (outside Google) that spring up to help businesses identify keyword phrases in some way.

The reality though is that the alternative should not be about identifying the keywords that people typed to find the website – it’s about thinking differently about website visitors.

In a way, we see this as a beneficial thing as it forces businesses to strengthen their websites.   Let’s take some hypothetical data that the widgets company can get from their analytics each month, focusing on certain products they offer:


Google analytics (or A1WebStats of course!) can be used to extract some of that data and the rest is done through manual calculations each month.   Adding in graphs will show patterns over a few months and the opportunities will become obvious.

When you focus on the percentages of your product/service page visitors that convert to enquiries (rather than pure numbers of people seeing, or landing on, those pages), you can then see what’s getting better results or not.

If it was the widgets company, their data would tell them that Red Widgets get the strongest results (even though they have the lowest page visitors) and so they could see if there’s something particularly strong about that page (and supporting pages), compared to the other widgets pages.

So what happens when you identify that certain products/services aren’t getting good enquiry levels compared to the number of people who visit those pages … and you really don’t understand why not?

That’s when you get some consultancy help (we’re always happy to give some free advice on the phone) or you go through the following process:

  1. Go to a search engine and type in phrases related to the products/services you offer.
  2. Identify competitors that appear in the search results.
  3. Look at their products/services pages that are the same as those you offer.
  4. Try to identify elements of those pages (or pages they link off to) that make you think “yes, that would make my website stronger!”
  5. Go and do something about it.
  6. Keep measuring your conversion rates from each product/service page.

As an example, if you don’t get good enquiries related to green widgets and you see another website that has case studies and testimonials about green widgets they’ve supplied, and another website that makes it clear they supply green widgets nationwide (instead of what could be perceived as a local offering), then you’re hopefully going to take those positives and recreate them within your own website.

Who cares about keywords anyway!

Obviously, knowing which keywords brought people to parts of your website would be hugely useful.  We don’t think anyone would dispute that.   Like a neglected friend or relative who dies (making you realise that you  miss them and should have focused on them more while they were alive), keywords identification has also died.  But you’ll get over it.  You’ll adapt.  You’ll find other ways to use your website analytics system to get more out of your visitors, even though you don’t know what brought them to your website.

And this is where it’s got very interesting for us at A1WebStats – since having less ability to see keyword phrases, and much more so recently, we’ve had a significant uplift in enquiries from people who are bothered by it.  What’s been intriguing is that those conversations have led to people thinking differently about how they use our analytics system, which probably wouldn’t have happened if they could still see keyword phrases people had typed.

So, goodbye to getting keyword phrases data from Google.  And hello to a new evolving mindset about how to get more from website analytics systems.


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