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Say goodbye to branded vs. non-branded SEO analysis?

I’ve been very vocal in terms of downplaying the importance of Google’s recent SEO analytics curve ball (e.g  the way they track and report on granular keyword data for organic search queries). Partly because I believe Matt Cutts’ claim that the percentage of searches that will affected by this switch will not be monumental (for now). Partly because I agree with Alan Bleiweiss’ claim that good SEO can still happen even without granular keyword data analysis.

And mostly because I believe that when it comes to online marketing and SEO in particular, adaptation and evolution is a must. The sky didn’t fall when Google stopped providing accurate inbound link data via their :link command (back in the early 2000’s if I remember correctly). It won’t fall this time around either.

That said, there is one potential side effect of Google’s decision that does have me feeling a little bit uneasy, and it has to do with the general lack of sophistication in the marketing community as it relates to measuring SEO return on investment. My years in the agency world have opened my eyes to sad fact that many organizations (including those flaunting Fortune 500 credentials) fail to grasp the “apples and oranges’ difference between branded and non-branded organic search traffic.

This lack of understanding leads to a major disconnect between how executives think their SEO is doing vs. how it’s really doing where it counts (e.g. for non-branded keywords, which 99 times out of a 100 are the only ones that can be impacted by SEO). Fortunately, astute marketers have begun providing more granular breakdowns of branded vs. non-branded referrals and conversions, leading to more educated executives and a better business climate for SEO in general.

If Google’s recent decision begins to effect a meaningful amount of total organic search referral data (e.g. more than 50%) it will render this type of granular reporting more or less extinct. And that’s bad news for SEO practitioners and for the SEO industry in general.

Then again, if Aaron Wall is right, that probably makes Google happy since organic search results (and the SEO industry those search results spawned) are far from big G’s top priority.

P.S. I’ve noticed a lot of folks out there misunderstanding exactly what Google announced regarding organic search referral data. Some people seem to think that the change has to do with Google Analytics. It doesn’t. The encryption they are putting in place will affect all analytics platforms because it’s happening at the search engine level (e.g. Google.com is no longer passing granular keyword data for organic search referrals that come from users that have the personalized search feature enabled).




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  • http://twitter.com/danaditomaso Dana DiTomaso

    I agree. I’m going to wait and see how it affects some of my long-term client reporting, where we have a lot of data to draw on. But the percentage of branded vs non-branded is a major metric in my reporting and work. I’m sad to lose that if it becomes a significant issue, but we’ll find something else.

    • Anonymous

      Agreed, Dana, and I like the positive outlook. Thanks for chiming in!

  • http://www.organicseoconsultant.com/organic-seo Miguel Salcido

    I’m not happy about it at all, but I’m also not throwing a hissy fit either. I guess I’m a bit old and grizzled and jaded by too many “sky is falling in SEO” deal over the past 8 years. But as a data driven SEO, this blows wads! I don’t care if others aren’t uspet about it, they don’t do things like I do, I use lots of keyword level data and analytics. And for those clients that do not have a high volume of keyword search traffic this move could totally kill any quality keyword level data. For large clients, meh, probably will not have a large impact although it will have an impact.

    • Anonymous

      Good take, Miguel! It will definitely create a few headaches here and there but the SEO sky will not fall because of this.

  • http://www.ferreemoney.com/ WordPress SEO

    Maybe this is an early signal on how and why G+ Business Pages will emphasize Branded v. Non-Branded content? The love fest of Siri and Yelp will most likely have a sig impact on all of the above when it comes to mobile search and seo

  • http://www.seopittfall.com/ pittfall

    I think that the biggest complaint that I have is the fact that it will become the default for users logged into a Google account and we do not know now how great an impact that will be. 5% or even 10% might not be a great concern but if it is greater it could be very significant.

    The other concern is that Google is positioning this as a privacy and security enhancement, yet there is no justification to this claim. I really don’t think that anyone should be concerned with the search query you are using on a public network, rather actual PII, such as usernames, passwords and financial information. These are typically not provided by people in a search box.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for chiming in, Stephen! It’s never fun to lose access to actionable data, but that’s what makes SEO exciting/fun in a certain sense (all of the curve balls and ongoing change). As for the PR spin (e.g. “privacy”) that’s just typical big corporation silliness.

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  • http://twitter.com/seocharlie Carlos Chacón l SEO

    I´m agree with you Hugo. This is not the “end” of the SEO… but in some way shows the value –and power- of Google in terms of what they can do with the data.
    My big concern is about that they still getting the data from users and only their advertisers will be able to see it.

    So, if you aren’t paying Google AdWords, these data will be invisible for your analysis, maybe in a small percentage but still losing some “control” over your personal or client´s projects.

    Good SEO´s don’t require all data for bringing better results… but maybe this is going to be just the first part of something bigger on the SEO industry.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for chiming in, Carlos! The key for me is to not overreact and just keep plugging away. Good marketing requires flexibility.

  • http://twitter.com/nicolettebeard nicolettebeard

    Wait a minute. Don’t we still have access to our own server log files?

    • Anonymous

      You do, but Google is encrypting the keyword data on referrals that originate from searches their site (e.g. Google.com)

  • http://www.fluidounce.co.uk Dale

    Really enjoyed this post.

    I don’t think Googles changes should surprise anybody, and since the date this post was written I think the encryption story turns out to be a little more severe than first thought.

    Google sits on commercial information and they will decide the value in supplying data to maturing SEO industry they have nurturing for quite a while. Unfortunately, I think the free lunch is slowly being brought to an end. If you want advertising you need to pay for it. If you want advertising data then maybe you need to pay for it also (PPC SQR reports?)

    I agree with the tone of this post in as much as keyword research is a guide to user intent and volume. These days you can garner so much more about communities by layering other data from the social graph, content consumption, likes, retweets etc etc. I think it brings into focus marketing skills that are less about technical ability and more about visualising communities through analysis of different data types – keyphrase analysis is admittedly a component.

    The non-branded v branded part of this point really struck a chord with me. At board level, in my experience there is less interest in the ‘type’ of traffic beyond UV’s.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for the detailed comment, Dale! You make some solid points. The one thing I would say is that with regards to SEO, not breaking out “types” of traffic at the executive level is a mistake that almost always leads to lost opportunity.