The Big List of (Not Provided) Search Recommendations for B2B Marketers

September 25, 2013: A discussion on Threadwatch Monday drew greater visibility to the fact that Google has begun encrypting all queries through the search engine, even for users who aren’t signed in to Google. Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land confirmed this shift with Google, as discussed in the recent article on SEL this week and highlighted in news coverage on our site as well.

(Not Provided) Traffic Percentages

The impact of this shift in search technology means that nearly 100% of keyword data, as reported in web traffic tools like Google Analytics, will be indefinable (“not provided”). For B2B marketers, this adds an arguably unnecessary challenge to the lead analysis of search program execution and the measurement of the ROI of SEO programs.

“Unnecessary” because Google could provide this data to marketers but is purposely removing it, all in the name of search privacy. However, Google does not block keyword data for paid search advertising (AdWords). More background of Google Encrypted Search can be found here, as well as analysis here, here, and here.

Earlier this year I wrote a column on developing “B2B SEO Benchmarks in a (Not Provided) World”. While I encourage B2B marketers to review this piece, the high level summary of recommendations include:

  • Track Landing Page Performance – Define visitor success metrics of the specific pages created or optimized for search, by way of traffic, page performance, and goal completion.
  • Evaluate Navigational Performance Post Landing Page – Document the percentage of times visitors to jump from optimized pages to a key conversion-oriented pages, such as a request for download or request for evaluation type web asset.
  • Tie In Marketing Automation Prospect Reports – Leverage additional reporting to establish whether SEO landing pages and content assets are being accessed by prospective customers.
  • Leverage Webmaster Tool Reports – I specifically referenced the inbound link report but pay attention to changes and improvements in the type of keywords Webmaster Tools indicates your site ranks well for and the average search positioning associated with them.
  • Tie In Social Media Network Development – Make sure content assets developed for SEO performance are used for multiple channels of opportunity, especially social media distribution and network development.

Deeper analysis of site, brand, and page level performance, associated to organic search traffic, will be even more critical moving forward. A year after (not provided) search rolled out, we also talked about key recommendations on this blog and on Search Engine Land as well. They included:

  • Set Proper Benchmarks – Get an understanding of how encrypted search is impacting organic search engine traffic over time, as well as how it has increased year to year (for the past three years at least). Seek to educate management ahead of time about the change.
  • Non-Branded vs Branded Traffic – Attempt to establish visitor performance patterns for branded and non-branded traffic for two reasons: 1.) estimating percentages moving forward and 2.) making educated assumptions on the type of visitor coming through “not provided” search engine referrals in the future.
  • Re-Evaluate Google Webmaster Tools – Google Webmaster Tools provides an aggregated list of the top 1,000 search queries that drove traffic to a site within the past 30 days. While this could be valuable information for marketers, keep in mind that long-tail search traffic can be equally valuable in lead generation analysis.
  • Visitor Performance Metrics – B2B search marketers must look even more closely at the quality metrics associated with the traffic from search engines. This includes bounce rate, page views per visit, and certainly conversion rates, in comparison to other traffic channels and marketing investments.
  • Use Visual Data as a Supporting Metric – When all else fails, take lots of screenshots of search engine result examples. I’m not re-advocating ranking reports as much as using visual data as a supporting metric along with increasing traffic, leads, and performance metrics.

It is also important for B2B marketers to educate themselves about the issues and communicate to managers, team members, and even vendors and partners how this change will impact SEO strategy in the future.

Additional Recommendations for (Not Provided) Analysis

In addition to the information and references above, here is a list of resources dealing with the subject of (not provided) traffic analysis for B2B marketers (and marketers in general), specific to recommendations and action plans moving forward.

A critical point found in the majority of these articles is that there is still enough information available to measure organic search performance and assemble content marketing strategy, with or without (not provided) keyword data. B2B search marketing professionals need to be more diligent in their analysis and assemble a greater array of reporting data to connect the dots.

Did we miss your recommendation set on (not provided) traffic analysis? Please get in touch with us via comments below or through discussion on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google+.

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