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12 Nov 2013

Keyword Traffic Tool

On September 23rd 2013, Google moved entirely to a Secure Search environment where keyword referral data is no longer passed as part of the referral URL.   The online marketing community has been reeling by the news, mourning the loss of valuable data and trying to understand the ramifications.  If you’re past the grief stage and ready to figure out how to positively react to these changes, then read on!

We’ll start by looking at the historical trajectory of keyword marketing.

Traditional use of Keywords in Online Marketing

Traditionally, most online marketing campaigns have started with keyword research on Google’s Keyword planner tool or a variety of other keyword research tools.  Once valuable keywords were identified, pages were created focusing on those terms and links were built using those keywords in the anchor text.

The same list of keywords was then used to track rankings, which were then correlated with traffic for those keywords.  Combined with goal and conversion tracking, you could then assign a monetary value to each keyword which would then be used to prioritize online marketing efforts.

Penguin: Assassinating Keywords in Anchor Text

This combination worked wonders for many years, creating fortunes that crumbled under the Penguin genocide.  Anchor text optimized links were very effective in getting sites ranked in the top 10 of Google, until Penguin 1.0, the first blow against over-optimized anchor text with keywords.

Penguin 2.0 became a more refined assassin, focusing on the ratio of branded vs money terms in the anchor text and penalizing websites with obvious link building footprints with a high percentage of keywords in anchor text.

Having obliterated keyword optimization in anchor text, in the wake of Penguin, webmasters have to focus on building natural, branded links  to pages that are well optimized for the target keywords.

Secure Search: Bye Bye Keyword Data

By changing to secure search, Google will no longer give webmasters free access to information on how much traffic those keywords are referring, thus cutting out much of the data webmasters used to shape their online marketing strategy.

How do you know what to focus on if you don’t know what keywords are sending traffic to your site?  What keywords should you spend money on, and how much?  What is the value of those keywords?

At the same time as Google data disappeared, Google announced the release of Hummingbird.

Semantic, Conversational Search – The Advent of Hummingbird

keyword traffic tool

Google shared that their hummingbird algorithm was designed to provide faster, more precise answers:

We’ll keep improving Google Search so it does a little bit more of the hard work for you. This means giving you the best possible answers, making it easy to have a conversation and helping out before you even have to ask. Hopefully, we’ll save you a few minutes of hassle each day. So keep asking Google tougher questions—it keeps us on our toes! After all, we’re just getting started.

Amit Singhal

In order to provide better answers, Google has to understand CONTEXT.    Whereas in the past search results were based on word to word mapping, now Google is associating queries with concepts and giving them contextual meaning based on personalized search and previous queries.  Soon you will be able to have a conversation with your Google Now concierge, asking him about the Eiffel Tower, how tall it is, where it is located, and more..and Google Now will provide accurate, relevant answers.

With Natural Language Processing as a cornerstone of the hummingbird algorithm, the value of keywords has decreased.  Now a user’s search for “blue widgets” may return results that do NOT include the keyword “blue widgets” on the page if Google has correlated this term with other concepts.  Keyword Research has to evolve to Keyword + Meaning Research.

Is Keyword Optimization Really Dead?

Keywords are the SEO zombie that never die.  Even in a social search world where products and services are pushed at us from our social networks, we will always have language based questions that will organize data retrieval.

Say you are using Google glasses and you want to find out the side effects of a medication that your doctor just prescribed.  Even if you use conversational search, you have to NAME the medication, which is, in turn, a keyword.

Until we have advanced mapping systems that can map our brain with visual images, words will be at the cornerstone of how we understand our world and consequently, keywords will continue to be important.

Now that we have the context… How can you still access Keyword Data?

Pay for Data with Google Adwords

Google encrypted organic searches but NOT adwords searches.  Translation:  You can now PAY DEARLY for the data that you once had for free.  You can throw a tantrum like the rest of us and when you’re done, you can come out of the time-out corner and face reality with a good dose of acceptance.  We were spoiled by all that wonderful free data, and now it’s gone.  The silver lining: at least you can still GET the data, even if it’s expensive.

Create a Keyword Research Adwords Campaign, designed to test keywords, traffic volumes, and conversions.  You can limit the test period and budget, and instead of running the campaign continuously, run it as a way of acquiring information that will then be used for organic and content marketing efforts.  Consider quarterly “data acquisition” campaigns to help keep the pulse on your industry.

Use SEMrush for Keyword Insights

With over 95 million keywords of data from Google and other proprietary data sources, SEMrush can be an excellent source of keywords insights.

Searching for your site on SEMrush will give you information on different keywords you are ranked for in the top 20.  Digging deeper, you can figure out traffic estimates for those terms, the positions you are ranked for, and even estimated CPC costs.

If you export the data, you can sort by target URL, and then group all of the keywords ranked for a specific page.  Next, track traffic to that page, conversions, and engagement statistics.  This will help you understand how that page performed for the target set of keywords.  There’s no way to isolate how each particular keyword is doing, but at least you can evaluate a keyword SET.

keyword traffic tool

A Page for Every Keyword?

WIth the proliferation of content marketing, for years companies have been creating pages targeted at specific keyword silos.  With the removal of keyword data, should you create a page for every specific KEYWORD, not just keyword silo?  For example, whereas before you could’ve created a page about “Blue Jean Widgets” that targeted “Lovely Blue Jean Widgets” and “Gorgeous Blue Jean Widgets”, will this change require marketers to create a landing page for every long tail term?

The advantage of doing so is the extra data available due to page tracking in Google analytics.  The disadvantage is diluting authority amidst many more pages.  How can you build links and high page authority for thousands of long tail term pages?  And most importantly, how can you say the same thing 30 different ways and still make your content ENGAGING?

Webmaster Tools Data

Google will continue to provide query data in Webmaster Tools.  Although the accuracy of this data is questionable, you can still use this data at least to gain some insights into some of the words people typed in to find your site.  By displaying impressions, clicks, CTR and average position, you can get insights into the terms that Google is associating with your site.

Google’s throwing us a bone; even though the juicy steak is gone, at least there’s a skeletal amount of data to chew on.  You can’t track audience engagement, bounce rate, or conversions for that keyword, but at least you can find out in very general terms what words people used to get to your site.

TIP: Export all of your old Analytics and WMT data.  What if Google decides to remove historical data? What’s to stop them?  Secure your data while you still can.

Dear Santa, Please Bring me a Better Way to Aggregate, Correlate and Analyze this Data

On my wish list for SEO tool developers:  please create a better way to aggregate, correlate, and analyze this data. Although keyword data is not obsolete or fully gone, getting actionable insights from this data just got much harder.  In a rapidly evolving industry that demands more from companies and online marketers, creating a tool that offers easy access to Google’s crumbs would be highly valuable.  I’ll wait hopefully for a Christmas present.

Have you found other ways to gain access to keyword data?  Or do you have other suggestions?  Please share!


All images via Shutterstock.

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Search engine marketing expert with 15 years of experience in the industry, working with small mom and pop shops as well as large corporate websites. I have experience with all aspects of inbound marketing, including SEO, Link Building, Social Shares, Usability, Conversions, PPC, Email Marketing, and more.