SEO has changed forever.
The great philosopher Heraclitus once said "change is the only constant". But wait? Einstein said a similar thing about the universe. Even the very subject on the correlation of change and constant in life is open to debate.
This sums up the situation that search marketers face themselves in today. SEO has a new meaning, a new direction. How we deal with it is driven by marketers' perception and the word "secure" now has more than one connotation in our market.
When Google made it apparent that 100 percent of its keyword data will be "(not provided)" (to the SEO community), many reacted with anger, angst, and frustration. Others sat back to absorb the news and some, content-based marketers, embraced the news as part of the natural evolution of SEO. They saw it coming and planned ahead.
What Has Changed?
Since 2011, Google began making secure search the default for signed-in users. This shift signaled the market that the existing model of keyword-centric SEO.
Add to this content 'Pandas', link spam 'Penguins', and now entity-based 'Hummingbirds'. We should have all seen this change coming. Google's Carousel also shows us that search results are not just about one query and one result anymore.
Moving Forward – Reactive vs. Proactive SEO
SEO has morphed into marketing. Proactive marketers took this into consideration a long time ago and began to focus on social signals and convergence, page-centric methodologies, and content-based marketing approaches to increase relevancy, authority, and influence. After all, Google gave us all the signals in advance.
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Reactive marketers still focus on the "SEO is dead" debate and look for quick workarounds to "(not provided)" conundrums. Proactive marketers "invested and innovated" while reactive marketers now "repackage and repurpose".
Now, let's be honest and cut straight to the chase. Google is looking to monetize its data (it is a public company). However, it is also trying to protect its data and online privacy.
Regardless of your point of view, argument is like a pencil with no lead – pointless. There is no going back so let's focus on the future.
5 Top Tips From Brands on Dealing With Secure Search
Secure search has brought challenge, that is unavoidable, but it has also brought opportunity. Last week, I spoke with a few leading brands and agency customers on the impact of "(not provided)".
Below are some insights and top tips on moving forward in a "(not provided)" world.
1. Embrace Google Change
Raj Rao | Vice President, Global eTransformation – 3M:
"We applaud Google's shift in natural search from key words to the meaning of words, in relationship to one another. This enables 3M to rank well, and in some cases better (e.g. 'which abrasive do I use to grind aluminum').
"Rich content, the cornerstone of 3M's strategy for SEO, remains a critical aspect of our success going forward in the face of these recent changes. We need to get even better at structured data since what Google is looking for is pre-defined fields plus metadata, like providing better descriptions for our products.
"With the search phrase not being provided, it is extremely difficult to understand which searches are driving traffic and conversions. We will, instead, rely on Search Traffic to Pages versus detailed Keyword data to guide our organic search tactics. Content and context rich pages, alongside paid search optimization, will be even more important."
Everett Whitehead, SEO Manager - Monster.com
"With the change, most SEOs will shift to page-level analysis and reporting. As a result, many marketers will double down on on-site content investment by publishing new pages and lengthening existing pages in order to increase the traffic value of site pages.
"Although page-level analysis will become more prominent, we shouldn't stop doing keyword-level analytics altogether. Marketers will still have access to referring keywords data from other search engines such as Bing and ballpark click data from Google Webmaster Tools (at least for now). Additionally, a site's historical referring keyword data can be mined for keyword research purposes.
"SEOs can also utilize keyword referral data from their Google Adwords account to help inform optimization decisions. Perhaps this is the opportunity to finally break down the silo between SEO managers and paid search managers and to usher in a more holistic approach to managing the SERPs."
Warren Lee, SEO Manager - Adobe
"The fact that keyword level data is now 100% '(not provided)' has not taken away our ability to derive the insights we need, it has only changed how we get those insights.
"We're still able to analyze the performance of Google organic search traffic at the page level and we can also analyze keyword level performance by combining page level signals with other signals from a variety of other sources.
"We are continuously working on developing solutions that help search marketers get the insights they need. In the near future, Adobe will be sharing a few new methods and solutions to solve for keyword-level insights on the Adobe Digital Marketing blog."
Dixon Jones, Majestic SEO
"The biggest takeaway here is that (yet again) the only constant is change in SEO. The ability of technologies to foresee potential changes in the landscape and protect themselves in particular against changes made by Google will always sort the men from the boys in the tool space".
2. Focus on Quality Content
Ellen Mamedov, Sr. Manager of Enterprise Search – American Express
"The impact has been significant since from the SEO perspective, we've been forced to analyze paid search data and any keywords level data we can get our hands on. Instead, we've been trying to focus more on quality content and social media to connect users to relevant information and use the analytics that are available to see impact.
"Being able to get that data back or find smarter ways to anticipate trends and topics would be something we would love to see in the future."
Robin Francis, Sr. Manager, Search + Web Content – Autodesk
"We still have the user intent available to us in the form of the SERP itself. Take the time to vet if your site belongs in that result set at all before going after any keyword. Get really good at reading between the lines of what Google is showing you and you can deliver on what the user actually wants with your great content.
"Now is the time to focus on Schema.org markup to differentiate your result on the SERP. Not everyone is in this game yet and you may be able to reap the potential increased click through rewards and get a handle on auditing your content at the same time."
3. Ensure You Get the Most From Your Data
Jason Tabeling, Partner – Rosetta
"In order to get the most out of your data, we recommend the following steps:
- Link your AdWords and Webmaster Tools accounts for increased visibility.
- a. Read Rosetta's POV
- b. Set up an automated, daily report to be delivered to you so that you do not miss out on the organic data since it is only available for the past 90 days.
- Continue gathering organic search data, but review as an overall channel vs. digging into specific keywords.
- a. Align increases in overall performance with specific optimizations to understand impact and drive future recommendations.
- Focus on different SEO metrics, such as deep-linking page visits, to understand what content is optimized and appealing to searchers.
- Utilize non-Google search engine results, as well as third-party trend/insights tools.
- Bing and Yahoo organic search data is available (unless the engines are used in a browser blocking search terms) and directional for all organic optimizations.
- Google Search Monitor and enterprise SEO tools can provide your company's information as well as competitors for more impactful analysis."
4. Move Toward Page-Centric SEO
Chris Keating VP, SEO, CO and Data Feeds - Performics
"We see this as a healthy development that allows us to further evolve toward broader strategies to help our clients acquire and retain customers. While still a highly effective tactic, SEO is only part of the larger picture. We have been expanding our practice to address performance content, social content, experience optimization and more.
"The industry has become overly dependent on keyword referral as a data point. We will continue to leverage other search engine-provided data, but our main source of advanced metrics will cover page-level performance, share of voice, and other enterprise measurements."
Sean Kainec, Senior Manager, SEO – Home Depot
"Bringing things together at the page level is how everyone needs to approach SEO today and into the future."
5. Focus on Revenue and Conversions at a Page Level
Bryson Meunier, Director, SEO Strategy – Resolution Media
"What we need to be thinking about is how to increase revenue from organic search and this change might help us help all of our clients do that. Since keyword-level conversions are more difficult to get for everyone, we can shift attention to page-level metrics and overall increases in revenue from organic search.
"It's also a good challenge for SEOs. The best SEOs have thrived in adversity and become even better. The best SEOs are figuring out how to take what many are calling an impossible situation and make it work for them. Really looking forward to seeing great solutions that this challenge will inspire."
It should come as no surprise that authority, relevancy, and influence will dictate how we optimize going forward. Future SEO revolves around these three centers of excellence.
Optimizing content based around your audience and developing strategies that allow you to track and measure what is happening with your content, on your webpage, allows you to move away from pure keyword dependency methods of management and reporting.
If you really want to drive forward with Future SEO you need to act and think like a marketer more than ever. Understand structured data, the semantic web and how Google looks to "link" topics and entities. Build content to help facilitate this "link" and become an authority on topics relevant to your users.
Finally, look at social signals and utilize social media to drive traffic to your site. Structure your site accordingly. Make sure you have a page manager.
Simple keyword reporting methods have become obsolete. That doesn't mean SEO has. It's just a question of definition and moving forward.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!