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From Content to Conversions: What Changes to Google’s Analytics Mean for Your Marketing

Google's changes to keyword searching makes for a hole in your analytics reports. // image by Brian Rea and found via Pinterest.
Google’s changes to keyword searching might make for a hole in your analytics reports. // image by Brian Rea and found via Pinterest.

You may have heard: Google made some changes to its flagship website statistics service.

That’s right, Analytics has been revamped. If you’ve logged into your Analytics dashboard lately, you may have noticed a difference in what’s being reported. For example, Traffic Sources has become Acquisition, and Content has become Behavior.

Like most things in life, there are some good bits to the change, and there are some not-so-good bits. I’m here to help you sort it out.

Let’s start with the good.

The good

Functionality has been ramped up in a lot of areas, such as:

  • Better linking of data to conversions/goals. The default summary view now includes conversion rates, number of completions, and relevant goal values.
  • Better linking of traffic sources to behavior. The new Acquistion section shows what channels drive traffic to your website, and how visitors from these channels behave on your site. Additionally, you can change and refine the definitions of these channels to fine-tune reporting to your specific needs.
  • Trackbacks in the social section. This area can help a company monitor conversations about its brand and can sometimes help a company spot when its content has been scraped.
  • Improved advanced segments. Not only does it look completely different, but creating custom segments features better filters and conditions.
  • A brand-new Cost Analysis Report. This tool shows traffic and revenue performance data for your paid marketing channels.

Hot Tip: At the top right of most sections of Analytics, you’ll now see a little graduate’s cap icon. Click to show/hide information and videos about how to use and optimize that section.

The bad

  • Organic (i.e. unpaid) keyword data is pretty much dead.

That doesn’t seem too bad, right?

Five bullets under “good” and only one under “bad?” Not too shabby, huh? Unfortunately, the one under “bad” is pretty bad indeed, if you’re a content provider.

What it means is that Google is no longer reporting most of the search terms people use to find your website “organically” — that is, when people type something into the search bar and then click on your website from the list of search results. The only search data being generated in Analytics anymore is the paid kind, from when people click on Google’s search ads at the top or side of the page.

You’ll see the difference when you visit your Analytics dashboard. Under Acquisition, Keywords are now divided into two sections, Paid and Organic. When you click into Organic, the unreported keywords appear as (not provided).

Why is this a big deal? Because keyword data from search traffic can be used to generate content that can drive even more traffic to your website. After all, a key component in building an audience or customer base is knowing what exactly is bringing folks to your website, so you can better deliver what they need.

For example, if a marketer can see what keywords are bringing visitors to his or her company’s website, that marketer could write blog posts tailored to those topics, or refine some of the website copy — ostensibly driving even more traffic to the site.

Now, much of that data is lost due to encryption. The move toward secure searching started a couple of years ago, when Google encrypted searches for anyone who was logged into a Google account at the time of the search. Now, though, every search conducted on Google is encrypted via HTTPS — unless you’re a paid search advertiser, that is.

Why did this happen?

Theories about why Google pulled the plug include:

  • Privacy concerns — especially after the massive NSA domestic surveillance story that surfaced in recent months, in which Google was one of the search engines implicated as a data provider.
  • More money — Google is pushing marketers to pay to see the lost keyword data.
  • Leveling the playing field — blocking keywords prevents some websites from rigging the search-ranking algorithms in their favor.

Some people are calling it the “death of data.” Those people are, in my opinion, a little given to hyperbole. Still, many businesses are bound to feel the impact of the changes — most notably small businesses who don’t necessarily have an online advertising budget.

OK, but what does this mean for my marketing strategy?

It depends! If you were previously using Analytics data to drive your content, then you are definitely feeling the pinch after Google’s shift to conversion-driven data. You may need to adjust accordingly — and you may want to consider throwing some dollars down on advertising to really make your dashboard hum.

But remember, even though Analytics provides an exceptional depth of information, it shouldn’t be the only tool in your marketing arsenal. Google may be the biggest, but it isn’t the only search engine out there — and others, like Bing, are still returning unpaid keyword data.

How have the changes to Analytics impacted you? Do you see yourself making changes? Let me know in the comments below.

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