No Keyword Data? It’s Not the End of the World

SEO

No Keyword Data? It’s Not the End of the World

OK, so the keyword apocalypse is upon us.

Pretty soon, you won’t be able to see what keywords are driving your organic search traffic. But this doesn’t have to mean you’re flying blind.

I’ve been managing the SEO efforts for larger sites for more than a few years, and I’m here to tell you I’ve almost never used the keyword data in whatever analytics platform I happen to be using. So how do we know our magic is working? Let’s take a look…

Measuring Success

It doesn’t matter what size site you’re working on, the two basic steps are fairly universal:

Step one: Research

As part of the first step, make sure you get a reasonable idea of the search volume available for a given set of keywords.

You can then do some discovery on what the SERP looks like and plug in some formulas that answer important SEO questions. Here are some of my favorites:

  • How many searches end in an actual click on a link?
  • How many of those clicks happen on an organic listing?
  • What are the various CTRs for different SERP positions?
  • How well does the site generally/currently rank for keywords of comparable search volume and competition?

Once you’ve calculated all that up against something like Google Adwords numbers, you’ve got yourself a reasonable traffic goal or estimate. This is something you can work toward or use as a measuring stick.

Step two: Content

The second step is the key to all this. You and I are building content specifically to acquire traffic from a keyword or group of keywords.

I don’t have to measure the success of my initiatives by looking at the keyword report to see if I’m getting traffic from the keywords I’m targeting.

I can look to the landing page reports.

If I see movement in the traffic to the content built for specific keywords, I know I’m more than likely getting traffic from those keywords. You’re not going to build a site section or content around reviews for a specific kind of dog toy and then start getting traffic for “meatball sandwiches.”

Even without looking at what keywords are driving that traffic, I can probably tell you with a fair amount of certainty that those new visits to that landing page had something to do with someone looking for dog toy reviews.

Need an extra level of comfort? Go ahead and run a ranking report against those keywords and see what pages show up.

If you’ve created a site section, template or blog post directed at a specific keyword and that page ranks for that keyword, the traffic you’re seeing to that page is likely from that keyword.

If you are creating content that works to enhance the overall content or authority of your site for some general concept, you might see something like your homepage start to rank higher or for more terms.

Those rankings are simply means to an end — which is traffic. Therefore, you still wind up looking at traffic patterns to landing pages to tell you if your keyword strategy is effective.

Branded vs. Non-branded Traffic?

The other way I’ve seen people rely on the keyword traffic data is for segmenting or measuring branded-vs-non-branded traffic. I’ve even run the report myself a few times.

But if we apply the same principles we’ve already mentioned, we can almost see the importance of this report fading away.

From your keyword research and traffic projection calculations, you’ve got the amount of traffic you should be getting to your keyword-targeted pages if everything was working great. Compare that with how those pages are currently performing.

The difference, along with possibly a ranking report, is your baseline. At this point, does it really matter if the current traffic to that page is driven partially by your brand name? I can tell you it shouldn’t. All you should care about is how much traffic you should be able to drive to a page or pages from these keywords and how much traffic you are actually acquiring.

Focus on the Fundamentals

Granted, this is all a bit easier to do on larger sites with basic templates making up huge sections of content, like categories, sub-categories and inventory pages.

However, I still maintain that the fundamentals are there for any size site. Much like rankings, keywords are merely a means to an end.

That end is traffic to pages and content.

Learning to become more reliant on reporting the “ends” and less on the “means” will make the transition away from the keyword data a lot easier.

Good luck out there!

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SEO

Ken Shafer is currently the SEO Manager for Snagajob. Prior to that, he was the SEO Manager at Apartments.com and has been a consultant as well. He has worked on the interwebs for over 16 years and has been helping larger sites cope with SEO for about seven of those.

More about Ken Shafer | @knit_hat

Tell us what you think

  • Kenny Shafer

    Hi Brian — Thanks for the feedback! It sounds like, regardless of whether or not you had keyword information, you have an attribution problem in that case. However, I would say that you could probably see an increase in organic traffic to a specific entry page after the campaigns…like say the home page. So people are probably seeing/hearing your ad, then using Google to type in your brand name and click on the first link they see…happens a lot. If you see that increase dissipate over time…I think you can safely say that it’s not the SEO work having much of an impact and you can continue with your efforts.

    Or, you can take the growth before the ad campaign and compare it to where you are after the campaign’s cycle (get trending from past campaigns) has ended. Are you better off now than before?

    Either way, you wouldn’t need to look at keywords to get some understanding of success of your efforts. Hope that helps with that example!

  • Brian Belgard

    I have to respectfully disagree with the meat of this article, especially the Branded/Non-Branded point. As someone who works for a full service agency, I’ve seen huge swings in organic traffic when we either begin or end a radio/tv/cable campaign. When one of these transitions coincides with the beginning of an SEO campaign it makes it near impossible to determine if our work is having much impact. Unfortunately when it comes to attribution in these situations you’re really at the mercy of the branding from paid media.

    I don’t really see a solution for this, so the point may wind up being moot anyway, but I think it’s dead wrong to assume that the increasing loss of organic keyword data is no big deal.

  • Vancouver Internet Marketing

    Agreed. Google has been increasingly withholding search query data for awhile now. It’s not like we all didn’t already see this coming – this move simply pushes us to be more innovative.