Google Is Hiding More Data From Marketers

In some ways, Google is a marketer’s best friend.

  • The company released a version of Google Analytics for free, ensuring more people can get web analytics data, including those who don’t necessarily want to spend on tools like WebTrends or Core Metrics.
  • They enriched Google Search Console over the years to walk marketers through search and crawl data, even the ones who don’t necessarily identify as webmasters.
  • They make search volume available through AdWords Keyword Planner, make cheap qualitative data accessible via Consumer Surveys, and generally provide more information about web sites than almost any other organization on the planet.

That said, in the past few years, Google has been cracking down on some of that data.

  • Data about keyword referrals are now generally gone, replaced in most tools by the ominous (not provided).
  • AdWords search volume is starting to become pay to play, with reports of volumes obscured for marketers who do not spend enough on AdWords.

This is a slightly different Google than the one that democratized web site tools and search data. As information becomes less available from big G, you need to adapt.

Keyword (not provided)

What are keyword referrals, and why do I care if they are visible?

Keyword referrals are the terms people type into search bars for Google and other search engines before they get to your web site.

With a ton of sites getting more than 40% and 50% of their traffic from search engines, keyword referrals used to be a great source of data for user intent.

The data can be used to target not just more visitors, but visitors of a particular mindset – people who are just researching something, users who are past the research phase and narrowing down options, visitors who are ready to buy.

Now that the actual search terms are obscured, it’s harder to get intent data.

So, it’s more difficult, but still possible?

Generally, yes. Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools) can give you 3 months worth of your keywords data even if the search terms are hidden from tools like Google Analytics or Adobe Analytics.

You can segment your web site into separate sections to get just keywords for a particular part of the web site. You can read more about using Google Search Console for intent data here.

Learn how to get intent data using Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools)

Click here to read How to Use Google Webmaster Tools to Aid with Conversions.

Search Console. Got it. Anything else that can help me with user intent?

You can do two more things to get data about intent.

  • Track on site search – you can glean a ton of intent information from your own site’s search bar. (as opposed to Google’s) If you enable on site search tracking, you will be able to see which products people look for the most, what terms people actually call your categories, and a host of other insights. It takes just minutes to set up if you have Google Analytics on your web site.
  • Ask users to take surveys – the holy grail of web site data is a combination of three things:
    • what visitors want from your site,
    • whether or not users can get it, and
    • if not, why

You can’t get that data from quantitative tools; you need a survey tool to uncover most of those. If you’re looking for a survey tool, we’ve written before about how the web survey tools stack up against each other.

AdWords search volume obscured

What is the search volume data used for, and why do I care if it’s obscured?

Search volume is the number of times a particular keyword or phrase gets searched per month. You can get the information just for your country if you have a local business, or you can get global volumes if you have an international site.

Obscured search volume data makes it harder to identify which search terms will be more valuable if you have a page that ranks highly on Google for the phrase.

How exactly is Google obscuring the data?

Say you have two phrases, x and y. You used to be able to tell that phrase x gets searched about 6,000 times per month, and phrase y gets searched about 14,000 times per month.

Now, what Google is showing some marketers is that phrase x gets somewhere between 1,000 and 10,000 searches per month, while phrase y gets searched between 10,000 and 100,000 times per month.

That’s much less useful data, as it hides the scale of how valuable those search terms are as potential sources of qualified traffic.

Oh. So is big G obscuring data for all marketers?

Nope. Google is testing this out for a subset of users first. If you meet the minimum amount of AdWords spending, you’ll still see the good old discrete figures. Legacy and free accounts are the ones spotting the more generalized data – read more about it here.

Okay. What can I do if I get affected by the change?

You can get a ton of volume data from the search terms that your site already shows up for.

You can go to Google Search Console> Search Analytics to see the search terms that lead to your site. From there, activate Impressions, and you’ll be able to see how many times your page appeared for that search within Google. That’s pretty close to the search volume data that gets obscured, and you can get up to 3 months worth of it.

Putting It All Together

It pays to understand what information you have access to, both now and in the near future.

If you know your way around the tools that are available, you can get a ton of intent and keyword data – you’re just getting them in slightly different formats from slightly different tools. The good news is that your competitors are struggling with this data issue too – if you maximize Google Search Console, track on site search, and run surveys, you’ll have a lot of the data you need to make smart decisions about your web site. That may not be true about your competitors.