The Changing Landscape of Organic Search
If you’ve been paying attention to the headlines over the past year or so, businesses, marketing agencies, SEO practitioners, and other online marketing enthusiasts predict that keyword research as we know it (or knew it), is rapidly diminishing in effectiveness. Keyword research has been the SEO go-to source for website optimization.
What’s behind these views?
The increase in secure or encrypted search is the byproduct of secure technologies implemented to protect our privacy and data. During a secure browsing session, information including the search term is stripped away. For the searcher, there’s no impact. For website owners, that visitor’s search terms are removed and they show up in your web analytics with the keyword term “(not provided).”
Many of the popular browsers, including Google Chrome, Firefox 14, and Safari iOS 6, have implemented secure search as the default search mode. As more browser sessions become secure, the not provided category will continue to grow.
For those who want to take a deeper dive into secure browsing and the differences between HTTP and HTTPS information, check out this post from HubSpot.
How extensive is the impact?
The most notable impact is that a growing percentage of your organic traffic now lands on your site from a secure search. That means less data points to analyze and optimize your site for the words and phrases people use to find you. In a recent post, HubSpot states that about 55 percent of its organic traffic is encrypted and the percentage is rising 4 percent each month.
We are seeing the “not provided” keyword category grow as well. In 2012, 31 percent of our organic search results ended up in the “not provided” bucket. Here’s a monthly view of our site’s encrypted search in 2012, as a percentage of total organic search traffic. Note the rising trend line.
Analysis of organic search results for several of our high tech B2B clients shows a similar rise in encrypted search.
Actions You Can Take Now
There may not be anything we can do to change the secure browsing course, but the following actions will help you understand the scope of the impact on your site and how best to optimize your site in the face of declining keyword analytics.
- Get a handle of the impact on your site – Have your webmaster dig into analytics, filter non-paid organic search results and chart similar to what we did. If you are the techie type and want to dig into Google Analytics, I suggest you refer to this detailed blog post that shows you how to get the most intel on your not provided organic search traffic.
- Enable Webmaster Tools for your site – Webmaster Tools such as Google’s will provide some useful optimization information that analytics does not. According to Google’s official blog, while companies will not receive information about individual search queries, they can “receive an aggregated list of the top 1,000 search queries that drove traffic to their site for each of the past 30 days.” Also, Google still allows advertisers access to their individual keyword referral data, making it an exception to the encryption rule.
- Think holistically about website optimization – Go beyond search engine rankings as the metric. Focus on where website visitors are entering. Ensure your pages have clear Calls-To-Action. Analyze lead conversion rates to gauge effectiveness of the page.
- Focus on content and your most successful offers or promotions – HubSpot recommends that you identify and promote offers with high conversion rates and evaluate high- and low-performing landing page conversion results to identify what’s working and what’s not. Obviously pages that attract the most attention will give you clues about site visitors and what they are most interested in.
- Don’t give up completely on keyword research – Keyword research remains an important step for establishing the best terms around which to develop content.
How has secure search impacted your business? How are you dealing with it?
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