How to get around Google’s new stranglehold on analytics

Google has made some changes on how users can access search referrals. Here’s what you can do now.

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As a kid, I had an ant farm for a few months (my mom made me get rid of it after I left the lid off one day in the kitchen, but that’s another story). That simple ant farm, just a clear box with dirt and a few ants inside, was great. I loved seeing the tunnels and all the work the ants were doing that would normally be hidden underground. Every few days, feeling very powerful and a little mischievous, I would shake up the ant farm. It was fascinating to watch the ants panic, scurry, and then try to rebuild all of their complex tunnels.

Google Is Shaking the Ant Farm

Every few weeks, Google releases some new update to their algorithm or some news tidbit about their platform that causes a shakeup. I often applaud them — they usually seem to have good reasons for the changes. Of course, a lot of people are not as optimistic as I am, and they argue that Google is acting a little like me as a boy — shaking up the ant farm to feel powerful and mischievous, and maybe to make more money. This week, unfortunately, I’m siding with the pessimists.

Messing With Google Analytics

We love using Google Analytics with our clients because it allows us to see how many people view your website, how they get to your site, and what content they look at and like once they get there. In a section of Google Analytics called Traffic Sources, we’ve been able to see what keywords people use when they search and then click on your site. For example, if someone typed in “florist in Birmingham” and then clicked on your website in the search results, we’re able to see this — as well as most of the other words and phrases that drive traffic to your site.

Google Hides Data

Unfortunately, for the last couple of years, Google has hidden some data inside Google Analytics. Inside the Traffic Sources section, they have a keyword listed as “not provided.” We’ve never liked this, but could live with it, because “not provided” was a small number (it represented the keywords people searched for when they were logged into their Gmail accounts). Citing privacy issues, Google claimed that they were protecting Gmail searches from prying eyes, but most people agreed that the real reason they protected the data was so they could eventually sell it. But everyone moved on, since the “not provided” number was small.

Big, Big Announcement

This week, Google doubled down on their hidden keywords, announcing that they’ll be moving all Google searches in Analytics to this “not provided” category. Holy cow! This is around 75% of all searches! The keyword searches in Yahoo and Bing will still show up in Google Analytics, but obviously this is a much smaller number, so it will be harder to use this data. Google is once again claiming more privacy protection, including pressure from the National Security Agency, but I’m not buying it. Here’s why: The data will still be available in AdWords accounts.

So, Your Privacy Is Super Important … Unless Google Wants to Sell an Ad

The data will still be available to anyone with an AdWords account; it just won’t be blended into Analytics like it was previously. Why? Google thinks that, if you’re in AdWords enough, you may just pull the trigger and spend a little money there. It’s a smart business move, but it makes it substantially harder for the rest of us to drive organic traffic to our websites. Now what used to be simple requires more research, more time studying your Analytics, and possibly buying additional tools that you haven’t needed before.

What To Do?

First, if you don’t have an AdWords account, you’re going to have to get one. After you have the account, it needs to be connected to Google Analytics. We can help you do both.

Second, you need Google Webmaster Tools installed on your site. The data for Google searches will still be available in a smaller, abbreviated form in Google Webmaster Tools, but it only reflects searches from last 90 days. This data is not as good as the data that Google Analytics provided, but we need it now more than ever. We can also help you with your Google Webmaster Tools.

What’s Next?

The data we want is still available, but we’ll have to spend more time comparing data collected from multiple places. Unless you’re an expert, I recommend finding someone to help, because what used to be simple will now be more complex and time consuming.

Finally, it’s plain to see that, as digital marketing becomes a larger part of a company’s total marketing strategy, it’s becoming more complicated. You need a multi-tiered strategy. If you’re struggling to navigate these waters and need hands-on help or a guide, please click the ‘Get in Touch’ link below.

Get in Touch

Photo Credit: datalicious via Compfight cc

Jerry is not afraid of a good fight. Not with other people mind you, but with your competition. He loves to help our clients get web traffic and high search engine rankings for terms that are usually dominated by big box retailers and Fortune 500 companies. This doesn't happen overnight, but when it does, it will transform your business. He is one of the pioneers (he hates that term) of Web Marketing in Alabama and is scary good in his understanding of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), pay-per-click advertising, analytics, and online user behavior. You definitely want him in your corner.
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