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Adam Stetzer

How to Counteract “Keyword Not Provided”

Adam Stetzer

First, Google gave us Penguin, the algorithm update that made all of us work harder and smarter to get good rankings on Google. And now, encrypted search, aka “keyword not provided,” is rapidly approaching the 100% mark.

Essentially, Google is taking away all access to keyword data. If you’ve relied on keyword rankings to measure and prove your client’s SEO success, well, now you can’t.

Hence, SEO has gone from complicated to ridiculously complicated.

Some would have you believe that this roadblock is, once and for all, the demise of SEO. It is not. All websites that want traffic — essentially ALL WEBSITES — still need to optimize for search engines. Content marketing and other SEO tactics will not cease just because Google is withholding keyword data.

Google Forces An SEO Detour

SEO firms have always had to contend with Google’s covert maneuvers and contradictions. For 15 years, Google has made the rules, then rewarded some for breaking the rules and/or pushing the boundaries. Others are penalized for the same behavior. With “keyword not provided,” there are no boundaries to push; we have to work around it.

Sending traffic to a website has always been the goal of SEO, but it’s not enough. At my agency, we’ve continued to provide keyword traffic reports because it is a nice bit of data to have. But we turned our focus to the more important metrics of leads and conversions a long time ago. First, though, we have to perform a website intervention.

About That Website

A client with a bad website is destined to be a loser for your SEO business. Unless the client (or you) fix the obvious problems, you will eventually bear the blame for a failed SEO campaign. Advise the client to clear up any issues with the website structure, title tags, lousy content, etc. Encourage the client to invest in a complete overhaul of the website, if that’s what’s really needed. If you’re a website designer or a website reseller, that’s another service you can sell to your SEO client.


PPC Retargeting

About 98% of people who visit a website come and go without a trace. A significant number of those visitors weren't ready to complete a conversion, but did intend to come back later. Problem is, they often don’t – unless you run a PPC retargeting campaign.

We feel so strongly about the value of PPC Retargeting that it’s built into some of our SEO plans (set up and management are included in the plan).

PPC retargeting is an effective way to get highly qualified traffic to your client’s site, capture leads and improve conversion rates.

PPC retargeting ads are shown only to people who have been to the client’s website. Accidental visitors, and those who decided they weren’t interested after all, are unlikely to click on a retargeting ad. The people who do click are interested in the company’s products/services and very likely to convert. Typically, retargeting campaigns have high click-through rates from highly qualified visitors, and high conversion rates.

Who’s Calling?

Not everything happens online! People still pick up the phone and call. In many industries, a large percentage of leads come in via phone call. An SEO agency that does not track phone call leads gets zero credit for those leads. Why look like you’re failing when you’re not? Track web leads and phone calls and show your client that SEO is effective.


Instead of dwelling on the keyword data that we’ve lost, take advantage of what we do have. Google still gives us some analytics data that can be used to prove the value of an SEO campaign. We still have keyword ranking data and monthly keyword search volume. Use the available data and implement the tactics I’ve described to drive leads and conversions – improve those metrics and your clients will need no other proof that SEO is working.

Author bio:

Adam Stetzer, Ph.D. is President and Co-Founder of HubShout, an online marketing firm specializing in back-office fulfillment. You can follow his column on SearchEngineWatch or watch daily videos on the HubShout YouTube Channel.

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