November 19, 2012: Last week, KoMarketing Associates covered a study released by Optify, which revealed that organic search terms returning “not provided” keyword results have risen to 39 percent; this change represents a 171 percent growth since last year. The study covered traffic associated with 424 B2B sites.
Nearly a year removed from Google’s announcement that the search engine would encrypt search referral information for logged-in users, this data should be alarming to B2B marketers seeking to better understand how lead opportunities are released on their website.
Traffic patterns from our client base are similar.
Check out the steady increase in the average percentage of “not provided” search engine referrals across sites we manage and for which track website traffic patterns. In October, the average percentage of “not provided” search referrals was approximately 32 percent across all clients. Only three clients had a percentage lower than 20 percent (two of those were 19 percent).
This is a far cry from the single digit percentages Google spokespeople indicated marketers would realize in late 2011.
For the KoMarketing Associates website specifically, we witnessed a staggering 50 percent of our organic search engine traffic come through as “not provided” search engine referrals in recent months.
While it was unreasonable to expect a low percentage impact in the long-term, one year later I don’t know if B2B marketers were prepared for more than a third of their keyword data to be missing as 2013 projections and budgeting came into focus.
Recommendations for B2B Search Marketers Seeking to “Bridge the Gap”
- Set Proper Benchmarks – Get an understanding of how encrypted search is impacting organic search engine traffic immediately, as well as how it has increased over 2012. 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. This data may not appear in GWT reports.
- 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.
- Lead Conversion Optimization & Site Performance Integration – Solutions such as A/B testing platforms and tag management solutions need to be a part of the B2B search marketer’s toolbox, in order to better serve marketing teams and initiatives in the long term.
- 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.
Lastly, it is important for B2B marketers to educate themselves about the issues and communicate to managers, team members, and even vendors and partners how the change will impact SEO strategy in the future.
As secured browsing becomes more predominate, organic keyword traffic patterns from Google will become even more elusive. While it was easier to overlook this issue when “not provided” search percentages were at lower levels, the rapid increases this year and moving forward can no longer be ignored (and won’t be ignored by management teams moving forward).
It is important for B2B search engine marketers to make adjustments to their measurement strategies and how SEO programs are evaluated in the future.
Additional References Related to “Not Provided” Search Data