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SearchDex™ discusses the impact on SEO reporting after Google’s query ‘Not Provided’ Update

SearchDex January 30, 2012

(Below is a transcript of this video)

SearchDex™ wants to know, are you looking at how Google’s query ‘not provided’ update has impacted your SEO reporting? If you own or manage an ecommerce site, of course you are, you want to get more traffic and higher conversions but you need to know how your prospects are finding your products and services online to be the most effective.

Historically Google and the other major search engines have provided the user search query and the referring information provided to websites as they refer traffic from their search engine results to the site themselves. Sometime in the middle of October, Google changed the rules by omitting the referring search query for all users that were lead to sites through any Google search when the user was actually logged into any of the Google products. For example, if a user was logged into Gmail and they ran a search, Google quit providing the query that the user typed in to the ultimate site that ended up getting traffic from that query. SearchDex began tracking the impact that this would have across different types of sites through Google Analytics and other reporting platforms where we began to see queries and search engine traffic that came through to our client sites with no keyword provided in the referrer. We originally saw the change take effect around October 18th 2011, where it appeared that Google released the update to a few of their data centers, probably as an initial test. And around October 31st or Halloween, it appears that Google ended up releasing the update across data centers for the most of the United States. Over time we tracked this when we originally reported on this we were seeing anywhere in the neighborhood of 5% to upwards to 25% of traffic being effected, that’s search engine traffic being effected depending on the type of site and the demographics for the users of that site. And as you can see here, we have updated our chart through the middle of January 2012, it appears for the most part that the amount of traffic affected has been steady since the original launch in the middle of October. And this indicates a few specific key items; one thing that this indicates is that the number of users that are logged into Google products over time has remained fairly consistent. What does this mean for your site? So just to give you an example of what we are seeing in this chart here, based on demographics we make some general assumptions about the types of users and why the sites have differing levels of traffic affected by the omission of the referring query. As you can see in the lines at the top of the chart in orange and bluish gray, clients G and H are actually two different sites that get a significant amount of traffic that are really focused on the college age segment. So the assumption is that the college age crowd is more likely to be logged into a Google product whether that be Google + (plus) or their Gmail account. On the low end of the spectrum client C, represented in green, their audience is academia, in other words for the most part it is highly educated individuals, people with multiple degrees, maybe a master’s degree or greater education levels, and people that are writing journals using academia. Client D, towards the middle of the chart represented in purple color actually is a luxury brand where the typical user is upper income females in the fifty year and older range.

Why should you care about Google hiding its referring query? Well there are several reasons that a marketer would want to know exactly what a user is typing into a search engine when they are lead to your site. With Google’s recent update, they make the point that there are several ways to get referring query data. One way is through Google Webmaster tools where you are actually provided a list of keywords that lead traffic to your site. The problem is that without having the referring data come through the actual referrer to your site, you are only given a limited number of referring queries through tools such as Google Webmaster tools. This gives your site a disadvantage from the prospective that you do not have the exact language, lexicon, syntactic, query language that your users are using to find your site. As a marketer it is important to know how users find you and what they are using to describe your site. Is the percentage of traffic that Google is suppressing the query from coming through with trademark terms? Terms that your site should already own? That your site should be doing well on or is your SEO (search engine optimization) program performing extremely well in the search engines? Is it possible that you have some new inutilities within your SEO program that are actually preforming with in one of these audience segments because of the type of query that you are using, but yet the majority of that traffic is invisible in keyword report because you are not being given the keyword data? When we originally reported on the effects of Google suppressing referring query data from our keyword reports we had seen numbers ranging from a little below 5% up to around 20%, since that time we have actually seen numbers go as high as 25% for several of our clients and those are sites that get a significant amount of traffic well over 10,000 hits a day from search engine referrals.


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