The five stages of Google grief: how secure search has the online marketing space in mourning

Approximately two years after Google first clamped down on user privacy and secure search, the change has begun to have severe effects on how SEO professionals and content marketers work.

On 18 October 2011, search engine giant Google announced their decision to make SSL search the default for signed-in users. In humanoid terms, a user’s search queries on Google are to be kept private resulting in organic (or natural) search listings which no longer include information regarding each individual query. Rather, the term “(not provided”) appears in place of the user’s original search query. Panic.

For online marketers, this changes everything about the way in which they report and analyse data. Traditionally, marketers have relied heavily on the keyword queries compiled in Google Analytics reports in order to detect keywords that drive high user traffic to a website and in turn identify valuable keywords themes for content creators.

This pickle has had an immense effect on the way in which online marketer report to clients and create content, leading to a period of mourning which can manifest in the following stages of grief:

1. Denial

Though it was nearly two years ago that Google made major changes to the way secure search works, the transformation was either shrugged off with an “it won’t affect us yet” or plain denial, “Google will never go through with it”. This is the defence mechanism that gets online marketers through the initial shock of the announcement — the temporary buffer protecting professionals from the sense of impending doom and fear of change.

2. Anger

As the masking effects of denial begin to wear, the reality that Google has actually gone and done it causes the pain to re-emerge. We are not ready. Now that Google has switched all searches over to encrypted HTTPS searches, site owners are no longer able to access keyword data – a huge hindrance for online marketers who had relied heavily upon keyword searches when tracking users in Google Analytics or any other analytics software. This makes us angry. Furious. How could Google take away this importance analytics measure? Outrage and passive-aggressive Googling ensue.

3. Bargaining

The human reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is the need to regain control. Online marketers may find themselves considering the following:If only we had made preparations for this two years ago…

If only we had warned clients of this before all those angry phone calls…

If only we had switched to Bing…

If only we had set up PPC (Pay per Click) for our clients earlier…**Google is still providing referrer date to advertisers for clicks on their sponsored results. This means, SEO professionals and marketers can still use PPC to estimate valuable keyword themes and high traffic-driving keywords.

4. Depression

Sometimes even online marketers need a hug. The depression associated with that soul-destroying “(not provided)” that appears on analytics reports is a quiet preparation we make to separate and bid personalised keyword queries farewell. It is in this stage that they begin to consider how to adjust strategies and practices as well as begin ‘the conversation’ with their clients. This stage is about gradually letting go and accepting the change.

5. Acceptance

The final phase of grief is marked by withdrawal and a certain peace. Though it’s not a period of joy, it brings with it recognition and hope for the future. Here, online marketers and SEO professionals realise that all is not lost and that they can move on to the next phase. Though marketing types have relied heavily on the keyword queries report to identify valuable keyword themes, there are a number of alternatives where we can measure the success of content strategies and campaigns.

These include:Google Analytics metrics such as time-on-site, bounce rates and exit pages. Here, marketers can determine what users are interested in on the site and where they are staying or going. This identifies opportunities for new content ideas and warns of strategies that are not being well received.

Social reports play an increasingly vital role in organic visibility as marketers can use social signals to identify both site relevancy and authority. Here, one can identify: how often social media users are linking to the site; how users engage with the content; how often content is shared from your site.

By analysing landing page data, one can zero in one the performance of keyword-specific landing pages. Rather than analysing how successful individual keywords are, marketers can identify themes where they can determine what type of content is performing best.

Google Webmaster Tools provides a wealth of data your website including the top 1 000 daily search queries and 1 000 daily landing pages targeted over the past 30 days. Other Google Webmaster Tool metrics include daily impressions, clicks and click-through rates.And there you have it — all is not lost. Luckily, there exists a wealth of alternatives for analysing and measuring the success of your content or website. Go forth and move on… one day at a time, of course.

Image: Theodore Scott (via Flickr).

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