Update: There is a petition going around to try to reclaim this valuable keyword data. Add your name to the cause here: Keyword Transparency.
Google announced on October 18th that it would be pulling keyword data from Google Analytics reports for all users who are signed in to their Google account. (Read the official post here). This news has sent SEO’s into a frenzy about the quality of their analytical data.
Google has faced a lot of heat recently over privacy issues, and this latest attack on (what could be) anonymous data has got the search community fired up.
What’s the fuss?
Google, in an effort to protect privacy for it’s logged in users, has removed the search query data from organic search from it’s Google Analytics platform. What this means is, anytime a Google search is conducted by a user who is logged in to their Google account, their search queries will not be shown in Google Analytics. While the visit to your site will be recorded as “organic” and show the traffic source as “Google”, the most valuable information, the keyword they used to find your site, will not be available.
This is important because SEO’s use this data to help make informed decisions about the performance of keywords in an SEO campaign. If a certain keyword phrase isn’t driving traffic that converts, then adjustments can be made. Without this data, it will become more difficult for SEO’s to accurately determine how visitors from organic search find a client’s website.
Google claims that this change “will affect only a minority of your traffic. You will continue to see aggregate query data with no change, including visits from users who aren’t signed in and visits from Google ‘cpc’. ” The real truth is that Google is encouraging more and more people to use it’s Google tools, such as Google Plus, which means that users have to be logged in. And the more folks that are logged in, the more skewed your keyword based Google Analytics data will become.
There is a fix
We don’t have to loose this important data. Google has the ability to pass on search query data while keeping it anonymous for the purpose of analytical research though. Notice how Google AdWords data will not be affected. The same technique used to pull this data without compromising user privacy could be applied to Google’s organic search. But currently it isn’t.
Not only does this issue spell trouble for SEO’s trying to make sound decisions about keyword performance, it can have a ripple effect through every business trying to optimize their website for the end user. Not all business owners use Google AdWords (and it isn’t a good fit for all businesses) but they shouldn’t be penalized by inaccurate organic search query data because of it.
I encourage everyone who uses Google Analytics to either comment on the Google Webmaster blog post here or comment to them through the Google Analytics Twitter account here. Let’s try to keep valuable, anonymous data in our Google Analytics accounts.