Knocked out business man lying on the floor.

Another Blow For SEOs [Updated]

Breaking SEO news. If you’ve followed my blog, you know I’m on a mission to convince you NOT to build your business on traffic from Google search.

Here’s today’s SEO news, confirming just that.

One of the most important things you need to know to optimize your web site efficiently is:

From which search terms do you actually get traffic to your site?

At first this information was readily available through Google Analytics. You could exactly see what people were searching for when Google sent them to your web site.

2 years ago Google started to hide some of the information for a small percentage of search queries. Within 2 years this has gone up to 40%.

Meaning, after 2 years:

  • For 40% of your search traffic you could not find out the search terms they used.
  • For 60% you still could find out the search terms and optimize further.

Within the last 6 weeks the hidden search traffic has gone from 40% to 74%.

It is expected to go up to 100% within days or weeks.
[For details read more here and here.]

Infographic showing rise in hidden search terms.

Conclusion: Via Google Analytics you can no longer find out which search terms people used to find your site!

I’m not blaming Google. Google, like everyone else, must change, must evolve. The result, however, is not good for small business relying on search. Or, for the SEO industry.

Today’s news is just another piece of the puzzle.

The big picture is: Google is changing, and within a few years it will send dramatically less traffic to business web sites.

Update 1: Brian Pasch’s video response to this post.

Brian Pasch has written an excellent response to this blog post, titled “The Death Of Visible Keyword Referral Traffic Is A Premature Claim“, and also created a detailled video. While he’s talking specificlly about automotive dealership websites, the article and video are just as relevant for any other industry.

I’ve included the video below.

  1. Brian shows real life statistics from actual business web sites.
  2. He’s showing how to access the keyword information in Google Analytics.
  3. And he shows you 4 strategies how to get keyword insights besides those covered in this blog post.

Update 2: My own web site analytics.

This post was originally published Sept, 23, 2013. I’m adding my latest statistics today, October 8.

After Google Hummingbird I’m seeing a slight increase in traffic across almost all of my sites. Not sure if Hummingbird is the reason, might as well be seasonal effects.

I went to my analytics and checked for the current state of ‘keyword not provided.’

As of today I have several sites in the 70’ies, one site above 80%. Clearly, the days of getting this valuable keyword information from Google are gone.

Google Anayltics Screen: keyword not provided 72%

Google Analytics Screenshot, keyword not provided 81%


But again, this is not important in itself, it’s important as an indicator of the overall trend: SEO, as we knew it, is dead.

    Keith Knowles

    I’m not getting the connection in how these changes will send less traffic to business websites. As a search engine, Google has been steadily improving the quality and relevance of its results over the years. That’s their business and love or hate em, they’re pretty good at it.

    A website owner may not be able to get the keyword search data anymore, but that doesn’t mean the user’s experience is going to degrade as well.

    Maybe I’m missing something here. Can you explain?

      Ralf Skirr

      Hello Keith, thanks for your question.

      I like to keep posts short, so sometimes useful explanations might be missing. Let me expand the ideas and answer your question.

      1) Knowing which keywords you’re getting traffic for was by far the easiest way to increase search traffic. Often those were keywords you had not optimized for, but Google used them anyway. Once you had the info, you could optimize and quickly rise to the top for those previously ignored keywords. Now this is almost impossible, and that’s why traffic will be hurt.

      2) I called this issue a piece of the puzzle, and indeed it’s only a tiny piece. My prediction that traffic will decrease significantly takes the other changes into account. I wrote about it in my post The Google Prophecy and will add some details in a post next Thursday. I plan to list the 5 biggest trends I see with Google that will affect web traffic from search results.

      3) Look at what has already happened during the last two years. We’ve already seen a massive decrease in search traffic for web masters – and by far not only spammers were affected, but lots of small business web sites who never used any questionable tactics.

      Regarding your comment about user experience I fully agree. Over all user experience in Google search is getting better – but at the expense of search traffic for individual web sites.

      There’s 2 sides:
      – Users who search. Google wants to take care of those, and rightfully so.
      – Webmasters who want to get ‘free’ Google traffic. Google couldn’t care less. [And rightfully so, again.]

    Keith Knowles

    Thanks for the clarification. I know I’m guilty of not connecting all the dots as well sometimes. Sounds like these changes further support the need for businesses to focus more on content marketing and less on the SEO game.

    Randy Hilarski

    The only SEO I have ever done on my site is the basic SEO provided by the WordPress Plugin SEO Yoast. Thanks to people like Mark Traphagen and David Amerland I just focused on Google Authorship and the changing semantic search. The internet is changing quickly and SEO as we know it will be a page in internet history.

      Ralf Skirr

      Yes, Randy, doing basic SEO is still a good idea. I’m using Yoast’s plugin too, in my opinion it’s the best SEO plugin for wp. Regarding authorship I’m amazed how many sites still aren’t using it. 🙂

    Kevin Ruskowski

    I followed this when it was announced yesterday.

    One thing that I found to HELP, but not replace (obviously), and is more geared toward companies with multiple optimized pages…

    1. Change you Advanced Segments to “Non-Paid Search”
    2. Go into “Content” and diagnose the “Landing Page”

    This will show the landing page that the search took you to, which can at least help show you what pages are getting the most traffic.

    You can also still see some of the data in Webmaster Tools as well from what I heard.

      Ralf Skirr

      Great tip, Kevin. Identifying search traffic landing pages and then applying some guess work to optimize is probably the closest we can get.

      I never used the keyword data from Webmaster Tools. Seemed not very helpful, but maybe it’s worth taking a second look now.

    Robert Tyson

    Like you Ralf, I read this news with great interest. It appears to hasten the end of SEO as we knew it.

      Ralf Skirr

      Thanks for your comment, Robert. Yes, the SEO that we’ve successfully used for more than 10 years is coming to an end. The good thing is that it gives businesses an incentive to focus on marketing instead of focusing on how to get free traffic.

    Adam Ross Infinite Prospects

    Good article, Ralf. Thanks for sharing. I recently read an article from Hubspot about how the hidden keyword data can be extrapolated via Google Webmaster Tools. Do you agree with this?

      Ralf Skirr

      Thanks for the link, looks interesting. I’m at Abu Dhabi airport now and in a hurry to get to boarding. [always late :-)] I’ll check the Hubspot article later.

        Ralf Skirr

        I’ve read the article now. It’s the best strategy available to get as much keyword data as possible.

        Unfortunately the connection betwen keyword and landing page is not not as easily available as before.

        Adding those keywords from Google Webmaster Tools to a rank checker software might provide the missing data.


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