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Google Analytics Makes Changes in SEO Keyword Reporting

Posted by | 4:48pm on Thursday, October 20, 2011

We have yet to see how much data will be lost; Google suggests it should be a minority 


This week Google announced that it is making a change to how Google Analytics (GA) reports keyword level data. Google announced this as a change intended to protect the privacy of the user data of people who are logged into their tools while searching.

Basically, Google explains the change as separating the keyword level data from searches into two groups: one for those who are not signed into Google’s universal login for all its products and one for those who are logged in. Google will remove/suppress/protect the keyword level data from the search results pages for those people who are logged in, and those keywords will be listed within the organic search reporting of GA as “not set” or “not provided.” Everything else from searchers who are not logged in will still be reported, as will all data from paid search campaigns.

What Impact Will This Have?
How much will this affect analysts’ ability to accurately report on website performance and make decisions on search engine optimization efforts? Google’s Matt Cutts has said that this should only affect about 10% of queries. We have yet to see how much data will be lost; Google suggests it should be a minority of the data, but this question will really only be answered over the next few months.

A lot may depend on the proportion of visitors to your site who are also Google product users. Personally, I am logged into Google about 90% of the time I am online, and I know a lot of others who are also. WebTrends announced their support of this change on their blog yesterday and said they would follow up with a way to still capture this data in the future despite Google’s efforts to protect it.

While personal data privacy on the internet is very important to maintain, this may not be the only reason that Google has made this change to GA. There have been some opinions online that suggest that Google may have decided to make this change for any of these reasons:

  1. To differentiate free GA from the new paid Google Analytics product and encourage the purchase of the paid product
  2. To lessen the processing requirements for all this data in GA systems
  3. To make it more difficult to use certain SEO strategies
  4. To encourage more use of their Google AdWords Pay Per Click advertising products

It has been suggested that using Google Webmaster Tools would be one strategy to get a more complete understanding of organic search term traffic to sites in lieu of using GA. I agree that Webmaster Tools has a lot of great data that can be used, but it is not set up for reporting and may increase the time required to get the same data that GA used to provide.

Overall, this is just the latest in many changes that are happening in the ever-evolving web analytics industry. We will post more information about this when we see the actual effects and keep you updated with what we find.

(Image courtesy of Carlos Luna on Flickr).

About CS Yates

She is responsible for search and analytics for all of the agency’s brands. She has 7 years of experience working with web analytics, organic search optimization and paid search campaigns. Via measurement reports, she is able to provide actionable insights for our clients. She is certified in Google AdWords.

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