For search engine marketers — and the companies who depend on them — things just got a little tougher. SEO companies, most still reeling from the impact of Google’s Panda and Penguin updates, aren’t going to like what the CEO of LinkSmart reported in Forbes on Jan. 22.
It’s not just links that are taking a hit from Google — now keywords are in trouble too, according to Pete Sheinbaum, who was the CEO of Daily Candy before taking the helm at LinkSmart. Google put an end to the easy acquisition of links, which for more than a decade had been essential to search engine rankings.
Links remain important, but their overall value has diminished. Worse for SEO specialists, quality links have to be earned. Google stripped sites of many links they deemed forced, purchased or otherwise tainted and now makes it harder for sites to gain links. Content marketing and social media marketing are usurping SEO’s dominance in link-building as Google now rates links based on perceived value — a link from an article published in a high-authority magazine or shared on Twitter — gets more Google love than links from ezines and directories.
Google Shields Search Results Data
And now, Sheinbaum says in Forbes, keywords are also losing their importance in marketing.
Google isn’t discounting keywords as it did links. But it’s making it harder for websites and advertisers to know what keywords drive traffic. Google is keeping much of that information to itself and may become increasingly stingy about releasing it in the future, Sheinbaum says.
If, for example, your marketing strategy revolves around keywords such as “how to make money online,” you may be paying a search engine company to put those keywords in anchor text and spending money on pay-per-click advertising based on the phrase “how to make money online.”
Google is not stopping you from spending money this way, but the company is making it harder to track results. You may not know if someone visited your site because of the keywords or because of some random reason.
What happened? Google used to freely pass along reports about keywords. But for any site that uses Google analytics — and about 57 percent do, according to study by Optify — Google keeps this information private. This is good for Google — it acquires information for its own advertising purposes — but bad for other companies who sell advertising based on traffic and keywords.
This means that marketers and advertisers are going to have a harder time analyzing traffic on their websites — and justifying their rates to website owners. Owners who want to get the most out of their marketing dollars — and SEO companies who want to keep earning their fees — will have to look beyond raw data and try to look deeper into the meaning of traffic rises and dips.
If traffic rises on a Tuesday, falls two days later and picks up five days after that, simple data will no longer provide the reason. It will be necessary to examine what changed on Tuesday — content was published on a high-authority site or a new ad campaign launch — what happened in the four days of slower traffic and on the fifth when traffic picked up.
New Strategies Needed
Todd Mumford , CEO of SEO Visions, says the information in the Forbes article should not alarm search engine specialists. For one thing, he says, Google started shielding keyword information months ago and savvy online marketers and company owners are already employing new strategies to test the strength of campaigns.
Mumford, interviewed for this article, cited three key ways to analyze traffic data despite Google’s attempts to keep the information to itself:
1. Google Webmaster Tools
These tools allow website owners to see statistics on daily average traffic, prominent search queries, ranking position and other statistics.
These tools do not, however, always provide accurate results. Google webmaster tools reports, for example that DavidAndersonWealth.com ranks at position 81 in the US, but it has rested in position 33 to 38 for several weeks.
2. Site Search
This tool helps owners and markets understand keywords relevant to a customer buy cycle — you can find out what keywords customers click on (or ignore) when they’re on your site and adjust accordingly. Mumford says websites can synchronize site search with Google to help synch up their data with Google’s.
3. Site Surveys
Mumford says site surveys can be a very effective way to collect data provided your website has a decent amount of daily traffic. Such surveys can be more valuable than Google analytics, he says, because they do a better job of capturing user intent. Questions, ratings and comments on your site tell you more about your customers — and how to market to them — than the keywords they click on.
When you understand your customers, you can match keywords to their intent without Google’s help. If, for example, your site visitors click more frequently on words such as “lose weight now” than “get healthy,” you can build your content and marketing accordingly.
Traffic analysis requires more nuance — and more guessing — and companies may make more missteps than they’re used to until their tracking skills become better refined.
Google is growing up and forcing website owners and online marketers to grow up, too.