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November 2011 Posts

11/7/2011 11:17:56 AM

Sorry, keywords (not provided)

If you are user of web analytics software, particularly Google Analytics you will have had a busy few months; lots of new features have been added to the new version of the product, but there have also been some changes that will affect the data in your reports. Last month, I wrote about the change in the way Google Analytics records the close of a session. This came into operation in August and caused much consternation amongst webmasters and website analysts alike.

Two months on, and Google have made another change under the hood and this time both webmasters and search engine optimisers are up in arms. The change this time is that when a signed in Google user visits a website from an organic Google search result, all web analytics services, including Google Analytics, will continue to recognise the visit as an “organic” search, but Google will no longer pass the query terms that the user searched with to reach the site to the web analytics service.

This means that if you use a keywords report from your web analytics software to demonstrate the success of search engine optimisation efforts or improve your website, you will in the future be faced with incomplete keyword data. Considering the number of web users that regularly use Google services such as Gmail, Calendar, Reader, browse in Google Chrome or have joined the Google + social network, this is seen by webmasters and search engine specialists as presenting a significant problem.

There has been a lot of commentary in the blogosphere as to why this has been done; after all, its seems like an insane change to make considering how fundamental this information is to many people. The bottom line is that as a website owner or digital marketer you now face a new challenge, so what can you do about it?

1. Don't take this as a snub to your profession

This change does not undermine the importance of search engine optimisation as an industry. Granted traditional on-page SEO has less weight in influencing search engine ranking today. However, we are now publishing more, varied content than ever before, be that web page copy, geographic place information, video and social media campaigns. All of this can be returned in search engine results and all this content has the potential and need to be copywritten and optimised with measurable ends in mind.

2. Change the way you demonstrate results

What will need to change is how webmasters and search engine specialists prove their success. However, aside from a web analytics keywords report there are plenty of tools available; search engine ranking reports produced by tools like Web Position readily provide up-to-date information on how well a website or web page ranks against chosen keywords and demonstrate your search engine visibility or saturation relative to competitors.

Google itself provides Google Webmaster Tools. We have long been advocates of this product, seeing it as the unsung hero of the Google toolkit. For a while it has provided a Google Analytics-style search queries report that shows the volume of search queries for which your site ranks, your average position and your click through rate (CTR). This can be seen as similar to a search engine ranking report, but is also as good, if not even better than the Google Analytics keywords report as you are not only seeing keywords that result in click throughs, but keywords that do not. The good news is that Google Webmaster Tools reports are now available through the new version of Google Analytics, found in Traffic Sources > Search Engine Optimization; if you already have Webmaster Tools running on a site with a Google Analytics profile, you will simple need to validate the Webmaster Tools profile.

3. Change the way you think about SEO and insight

I can understand the appeal of the keywords report. You can see the number of visitors you are getting as a result of keyword combinations and the conversion rate for visitors using those keywords. Clients new to web analytics are certainly blown away by this when they first see it. However is the use of certain keywords to find your site going to influence whether a visitor converts on your site?

Often visitors come to a website using one set of keywords, only to use different keywords on the site itself. What about if a visitor arrives at your website and the copy does not tell them what they want to know? Or they do not like the price of what they are looking for, or the delivery charge is too steep? Has a visitor seen your email newsletter? Or have they interacted with you on a social platform? Maybe they are pushed for time to look for a product or service? Conversion decisions can be influenced by a wide range of factors, and in today's complex online ecosystem with numerous advertising channels, social media, and mobile and geographic contexts, I would argue that keyword use alone does not give us enough insight.

This is why Google have been adding tools like multi-channel funnels to Google Analytics, so you can review the relative importance of all your marketing channels in bringing visitors to your website in the run up to conversion. Just like viewing one metric on its own does not give you insight, looking at one marketing tactic also does not give you the true insight you need.

I am not saying that Google's change is trivial, and it is presenting another challenge in producing reliable information from web analytics reports. However, content optimisation is an activity embedded across all online marketing tactics which is only increasing in importance. What webmasters and search engine specialists need to look at in the light of Google's latest change, is which reports now communicate your success transparently and if you are a Google Analytics user, how you can use the new reporting features to illustrate true insight to clients.

Authored by Ian Cockayne

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