Google Is Hiding Your Website’s Keywords – What Can Be Done?

As someone who’s been in web analytics and search engine optimization for well over a decade, I’ve got to admit I’m a little sad that Google is hiding organic keyword information.
These are the words that people actually use in searches to find your website.  I’ve always found this information very insightful and it’s traditionally the first report I go to when looking at the analytics of a website for the first time.  Google has now rendered this report practically useless.

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Why Organic Keyword Information Is Insightful

Organic keyword information is important for getting to know your audience because it allows you to learn exactly what they’re looking for, and how they’re using language in various ways when performing searches.   Furthermore, by process of elimination, one can use organic keyword information to determine what important keywords your website is missing out on.  This is done by using a keyword suggestion tool (such as the one provided within AdWords) to
create a comprehensive list of important keywords.  These are keywords that are likely to bring
desirable visitors (ones that spend!) to your website.  When you subtract the organic keywords from this list, you’re left with a list of important keywords you need to endeavor to win through properly implemented SEO. The more of these keywords you win, the greater the revenue stream of your website.   I believe this also best serves the searchers because you’ll help them more easily find what they’re looking for, which is one of Google’s stated goals: “Focus on the user and all else will follow.”

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Why Is Google Doing This?

As far as I’m concerned, Google is hiding this information for no good reason.  They say it’s
because they “believe it’s a good thing for users”, but I don’t understand how hiding compiled organic keyword information protects individual Google searchers.  It seems to me as if someone high up at Google made the arbitrary decision one day, and they’re just running
with it.

Google is also being criticized for being hypocritical because they’re hiding keywords from people who use free Google Analytics accounts (or any other web analytics solutions for that matter), however Google will provide keyword information to any advertiser who spends money on Google AdWords.  This brings to mind another one of Google’s stated goals: “You can make money without doing evil.”

I personally have an easier time believing it’s simply a bad decision rather than a decision based on deception, but many people in the SEO industry would say I’m too trusting that Google actually follows their stated goals.

What You Can Do About It

We still get organic keyword information from other search engines like Bing, but for the vast majority of websites out there, the biggest source of search engine traffic is from Google – usually by a country mile.   Also, as of the date this article was written, Google still shows some keywords. According to one source who tracks 60 websites, it’s less than 20% and falling.  Here are some alternative methods for understanding your organic keywords:

1)       Consider the keywords you’re able to see to be a sample of the whole.  It may not be
appropriately representative, but it will provide some insight.

2)      Look at the keyword information provided within Google Webmaster Tools.  If you don’t have an account, set one up.  It’s free!  This information is limited as well but will
also provide some good insights.

3)      Look at the pages of your website people are landing on from Google organic search. You can use this information to make some assumptions on the keywords being used.  The gShift Web Presence Optimizer does a good job of doing this and also taking this concept a few steps further.  There are also a few different ways to tease hidden-keyword landing pages out of Google Analytics.

4)      If you haven’t already done so, integrate internal site search into your website
and configure Google Analytics to track it. If you already have internal site search, consider making it more prominent.  To start mining for insights go to the “Google Analytics > Content > Site Search” report.

5)      Look at your paid search keywords.  Although this information is not a replacement for knowing your organic keywords, it will still give you insights into your audience such as what they’re looking for and the words they’re using in searches.

The Final Word

The days of knowing the exact keywords that brought people to your website through organic search are coming to an end.  Although unfortunate, at least there are some alternate sources of keyword information but the ‘picture’ they provide seems low-res in comparison.  I know it won’t happen, but a part me still holds out hope that Google will change their mind.  If you happen to know someone at Google, feel free to share this article with them :)

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