One of the primary ways SEO changed forever in 2013 was Google’s move to 100% secure search — otherwise known as “Keyword Not Provided.” SEOs long accustomed to measuring their performance at the keyword level have been forced to rethink their measurement criteria in order to prove the value of their efforts.
After Google’s announcement in late September 2013, SEOs may have seen charts such as the one below that show a sharp decrease in organic traffic from keywords ranked on Page 1. Yet organic visits to the site may not have actually declined; it’s just that the keyword traffic data is no longer available.
Without visibility into keyword traffic data, this long-standing metric of SEO success is now outdated. The “new SEO” must now look for new ways of measuring success. Rank is one measure of success, but rank isn’t useful without real traffic data to put into context. Analytics is the “Source of Truth,” and Secure Search requires a new way of looking at analytics.
Below, I have highlighted a framework for building a successful SEO methodology in the world of Google’s Secure Search. This contains three steps and two key enablers.
Keywords drive traffic, but pages convert. The page is the next level of granularity up from the keyword that can be easily measured. A user performs a search, clicks on a link on the SERP and arrives at a page. The page is where content resides, whether that content is meant to inform or entertain, capture leads or sell a product. The page — not the keyword — is the primary element with which the searcher interacts with your company. Unless the keyword is a brand name, the keyword is only the means by which the user arrives at your website and begins an interaction with your company.
In light of Google’s other changes in 2013, such as the shift to semantic search, the page is a better measure of performance than the keyword. The keyword can be generic, and the page is specific to your business. More importantly, the page is the place where the interaction with your content happens — and the place where you convert searchers into customers.
To transition to a page-centric SEO measurement approach, first establish baseline performance at the page level by ensuring that you have visibility into traffic, conversions and revenue for each page. Actual (not estimated) data is necessary here in order to understand how exactly your pages are performing and to take the next step in mapping your content (pages) to demand.
Keywords are still the primary engine of the SEO process, since it’s how users find your pages. And the ranking of your pages on those keywords is an important metric for correlating performance of the page.
Rank still matters (and it always will). Adopting page-based SEO does not mean the end of rank data. Rank data is essential for measuring the success of SEO activities. In 2014, tracking rank has become a multidimensional task, as rankings (and user intent) often differ by device type (mobile, tablet or desktop), location (city and country), and placement in Universal results.
When correlating rank data to conversions, it’s important to note which high-ranking pages are under-performing in conversions, or which low-ranking pages have high conversions. This type of analysis gives you insight into strategies for future success, particularly as you shift from a mindset of “How do I rank for this query?” to an audience-centric mindset of “How do I best answer the questions my users have?” in a post-Hummingbird environment.
Keyword discovery is still a necessary component for creating pages that answer user questions. Using keyword discovery tools gives you visibility into user intent and can inform the creation of pages that answer real questions users have, in the language they use to search.
Page is the new center of the SEO Universe. Page-centric planning, execution, and measurement means that page conversions (not keyword conversions) will be the metric of success. The planning of goals and the implementation of tasks will work toward that end.
Just in the way that you likely already group keywords, it’s now necessary to group pages by similar criteria appropriate to your business, whether that’s product type, audience type or line of business. Once pages are grouped, it’s easier to plan activities based on business priorities and measure the success of those activities through rank improvement and, more importantly, conversions.
All data is relevant and connected. Integrated and accurate data from sources such as Google Webmaster Tools and tools like Majestic SEO are essential in a Secure Search environment.
Google Webmaster Tools’ keyword click and impression data provides partial visibility into your success in the face of “Keyword (Not Provided).” Backlink data gives you a picture of what the search engines see about not only your site but also your competitors’ sites.
The right technology platform allows you to integrate data from site analytics, backlink trackers, social platforms and Google Webmaster Tools. When you can see your rank, keyword, social and content data in comprehensive dashboard reports, you’ll get laser-sharp visibility into the success of your pages and will be able to make decisions on how to prioritize future activities with ease. The right technology partners have deep relationships with the search engines and make frequent product enhancements, helping you stay abreast of the evolving search landscape.
As Dave Lloyd of Adobe says, “You’ve got to deploy the tools that will help keep your team ahead of SEO changes and rapidly responsive to market changes.” Without these tools, your best page optimization efforts could find you outranked and with declining conversion rates.
With secure search here to stay, page-centric SEO is the next evolutionary step in a 15-plus-year-old industry that had been overly focused on the keyword. Adopting a page-centric SEO methodology that pairs keywords to pages in 2014 is a “must do” strategy. Make sure that you focus on planning, execution and tracking to optimize page conversion. Doing so ensures that SEOs will continue to “earn” their rightful place in digital marketing mix going forward.