How to obtain keyword performance data in the era of (not provided)
Much of the talk in the search engine world recently has centered on Google’s move to secure search, and its effects on the SEO community. While this change doesn’t really affect what we do, which is delivering great content to site visitors, keyword performance data is useful, and is still a significant piece of the SEO puzzle. The good news is that there are still many effective ways to evaluate your site’s keyword performance.
1. Google Webmaster Tools
Google’s webmaster tools platform is probably the best place to track the actual keywords that drive traffic to your site, with some limitations. Inside Webmaster Tools, click on your website listing, and from the left-hand menu select Search Traffic > Search Queries. You will see a list of the keywords that drove traffic to your site with data for impressions, clicks (visits), click-through-rate (CTR), and average SERP position. This data goes back for 90 days currently, although Google has promised that eventually this platform will provide a full year’s worth of keyword data. Be sure to click filters (below the top queries box near the top) and select “All” – as the default setting will not include visits from mobile sources or Google Images.
- Webmaster Tools is the best way to continue to monitor the actual keywords driving traffic to your site.
- Can easily be linked to Google Analytics.*
- The data is rounded, so it is somewhat inaccurate; because keywords with one click are rounded down to zero, a significant portion of long-tail keywords are lost (this is one of the reasons why Webmaster Tools data shows organic visits as being far less than Google Analytics does).
- The only data points provided are impressions, clicks, CTR, and average SERP position. More robust data such as bounce rate, pageviews, conversions and revenue are not available.
- Keyword data is only from Google search engines.
*Tip – By linking your Webmaster Tools account to Google Analytics, keyword data from Webmaster Tools is visible inside the Google Analytics platform. This allows the use of some of the more advanced filtering functions in Google Analytics to better segment your keywords (e.g., brand vs. non-brand, product type, etc.). To link the account, simply go into the main Webmaster Tools menu where your site(s) are listed. To the right of your site is a box that says “Manage Site.” Click on this button and select “Google Analytics property.” Then, choose the Analytics web property you want linked to your associated Webmaster Tools site.
2. Landing Pages
While this method will not yield actual keywords, it can serve as a replacement by tracking your keyword performance in groups and preserves much of the data that is no longer available on the keyword level (conversions, conversion rates, bounce rates, etc.). This method is useful if you want to track the performance of brand vs. non-brand keyword groups or specific keyword groups (e.g., product keywords or informational keywords).
First, you will need to assign all of your landing pages into groups. Typically, branded organic traffic is going to land on your home page or other top-level pages, such as customer service or informational pages, that don’t target specific keywords. Non-branded organic traffic is going to land on category, sub-category or product pages. So we end up with two buckets:
- Branded landing pages: Home page, customer service pages, informational pages
- Non-branded landing pages: Category pages, sub-category pages, product pages
Using advanced segments or custom reports in Google Analytics, you can group these pages and check their performance (be sure to only include organic search traffic in your filter). Once set up, this allows you to gauge the organic performance of the keyword groups; while this will not yield keyword-specific data, it will give you a good idea of how different types of keyword groups driving traffic to your site are performing.
- Conversion/behavior data is preserved.
- Works very well for sites with URLs that can be grouped into categories (i.e., URLs that use specific folders or parameters by page type). We have found that this method is 95% accurate.
- Very good for differentiating brand vs. non-brand organic search traffic.
- Specific keyword data is limited to searches from non-Google search engines.
- May not work as well for sites with URLs that cannot be grouped into categories (i.e., URLs that look the same no matter the page type).
3. Internal Site Search
This method is simple: pay more attention to your site’s internal search functions. It’s easy to set up tracking for this in Google Analytics. Click “Admin” inside your Google Analytics profile and select “View Settings.” Enable “Site Search Tracking” (about halfway down the page).
- Easy to obtain information about valuable traffic on your site.
- Can help uncover navigation or user-experience deficiencies on the site.
- Limited data; not all site visitors use internal site search.
- Behavior of site searchers may be significantly different from those using search engines.
4. Third party tools
Some of the SEO tools out there are able to provide estimated keyword traffic data via different methods. SEMrush, for example, uses their database of global search data and keyword rankings to estimate a site’s keyword traffic via their average position in the SERPs. From a purely keyword performance perspective, this service is probably not worth the cost; however, SEMrush does provide many other tools that site managers could find useful.
5. Google’s new demographic & interests features
Using data from these reports can allow you to see how well your site is performing for different demographic groups, and gives insights to help craft content better suited to your target audience(s). Many have even billed this new information as more valuable than the keyword data Google used to provide. More on this exciting new report in a future post!
Need help finding actionable keyword data or getting the most out of your Analytics platform? Contact The Search Guru and ask about our Analytics and reporting services.