TAMPA, FLORIDA – A cornerstone of search engine optimization has been removed by Google, and now some members of the SEO world are wondering whether the foundation soon will topple.
Here’s a timeline of sorts that shows how Google has steadily increased the (Not Provided) information in recent years:
- I first learned of Google’s move to cloak information regarding keywords used to find websites in an article by Danny Sullivan in October 2012. At that time, he reported that “Google began going dark” in 2011.
- Barry Schwartz wrote in Search Engine Land in November 2012 about a study that found 39 percent of search-related Google traffic had search terms withheld.
- Rand Fishkin over at Moz recently wrote: “The site Not Provided Count now reports an average of nearly 74 percent of keywords not provided, and speculation abounds that it won’t be long before 100 percent of keywords are masked.”
- Ruth Burr wrote on The Moz Blog Oct. 8 that their (not provided) stats are around 80 percent these days.
That’s a powerful blow to SEO professionals. We thrive on that information. As much as we know we need to consider humans over Googlebots, it’s damn near impossible for hardcore SEO experts to not watch the numbers. We have reports that show keyword lists of our clients and where their sites rank for each one. We know how this week’s ranking compares to last week. I find myself getting worked up when I discover they’ve fallen to another page, or dropped from the second spot on a page to the 10th position. It’s all too easy to dwell on these figures.
I have to admit it’s kind of refreshing to be given permission to not care about keywords so much anymore. It’s much more freeing to simply write on my blog what’s on my mind at the moment. I write about topics based on the questions I get asked when people find out my line of work. I figure if they’re asking me in person, others are probably Googling in search of the same information, so I’d like to be the one to provide it.
These latest Google changes remind us – again – that you need to just focus on being an expert in your field. Become known as an authority on your topic.
“Make it easy for Google (and Bing, and, you know, people) to load your site, to navigate your site and to figure out what each page is about, and you will be rewarded with return visits,” Burr says.
Now that keyword information isn’t as readily available, Burr tells us that instead of looking at keyword level data, look at page level data – which pages received referral visits from Google search?
“Thanks to Google’s autocomplete feature, users are often using a suggested query rather than whatever their original keyword might be,” she says.
She goes on to say “the real killer of the keyword-driven approach isn’t (not provided)… it’s Google’s increasing devotion to semantic relationships between topics and entities on the Web. Author Rank, personalization and the Knowledge Graph have added new elements to consider: Now, in addition to what your content says and who links to it, Google also cares about who created it, what else they’ve done, and who’s shared it. Content from a trusted source can rank in personalized results for related keywords without specifically targeting them; Google’s gotten that good at figuring out topical relationships.”
What does all that mean? As if anyone needed more proof to the old cliché that content is king, Google’s move to provide even less information about keywords drives home the point yet again. Think less about using keywords to get traffic; more about getting traffic to pages, Burr says. Considering content over keywords will help you build authority on your specific topic. That is Google’s desire these days.
And if you simply can’t stand to part with keyword information, hop on over to Bing, which is keeping search data accessible – at least for now.