Organic keyword data from Google is slated to disappear permanently. Smart car dealers who embrace this change and focus instead on creating killer content have everything to gain.
Anyone who spends a signifcant amount of time in Google Analytics or website vendor dashboards has experienced a slowly creeping scourge over recent months: (not provided) keyword data. After its recent announcement that it will no longer be providing information on specific keywords, the Big G has businesses who rely heavily on search marketing in a tizzy.
Image source: notprovidedcount.com
You can thank the NSA for this change: In the wake of public outrage over online snooping, Google decided to encrypt all searches. The result: all organic traffic coming from the world's most popular search engine will now be recorded in analytics reporting as "(not provided.)"
But, rather than being the end of SEO as we know it, this privacy push is really just the death knell for outdated, keyword-focused strategies. Content is still king, and dealers who take the time to cultivate relevant, engaging content will win the search, social, and digital game.
The end of keywords?
Before you abandon SEO keyword analysis altogether, bear in mind that there are a few caveats. For starters, paid search customers will still have access to keyword data. This generated speculation that Google has an ulterior motive to drum up even more ad dollars, but that's a separate issue. And while the 900-pound Google-rilla may be opting out, other search engines like Bing, Yahoo and Ask.com will continue to send keyword data, so you'll still be able to gain some insight into what's working and what's not.
If you find it too painful to part with your Google keyword data altogether, take a look at Webmaster Tools. You'll be able to view a snapshot of your organic keyword performance; but keep in mind, the numbers there can be notoriously unreliable.
Paid search keyword performance and Webmaster Tools ranking data will remain helpful, but you're going to be left behind if you insist on focusing on keywords. This move from Google signals another sea change for SEO, similar to the Panda and Penguin updates that killed linkbuilding.
Content really is king (not to mention user experience)
Ironically, Google never intended webmasters to focus so extensively on keywords. Matt Cutts, head of Webspam at Google and the buck-stops-here authority for all things SEO, has made it clear in multiple Google Webmaster Youtube videos that site owners should focus solely on creating content for users - not automated crawlers and bots.
According to Google's quality guidelines, the best strategy is to concentrate on creating unique, compelling content that resonates with your audience. Pick a clear focus for each of your pages, make the page title relevant to that focus, and add original content about that topic. If the content is engaging, then users will share your content or link to it, which would feed back into Google's algorithms.
Here's a fact that should make you feel better: 20% of searches on Google have never been made before. Specific keywords aren't as important as you think. Instead, concentrate on providing valuable content on topics that you know get results and drive users to your inventory and service pages.
Know what's working sans keywords
So how do you know which topics and pages are working for SEO? You'll still find the answers in Google Analytics. You'll just take a different path to find them.
Instead of navigating directly to the organic search traffic report, check out the landing pages report under the Content section.
Use the advanced segments pull-down menu to restrict the report to only "Non-paid Search Traffic" only, and right away, you'll see which pages are driving the most visitors organically.
Your home page is important, but what other URLs show good traction? Take a look at the % New Visits column to see which are bringing in customers who already know your brand, and which are bringing in new visitors who are finding your site for the first time. This is a good early indicator of a page's SEO success, since a major goal of optimization is bringing new customers to your digital door.
So, now you know which pages are bringing in the most organic visits, as well as which are bringing new visitors to your site. Next, it's time to look at bounce rate to figure out if those visitors you've competed for are happy with your page or not. If your landing pages have high bounce rates, then chances are that the content isn't in line with what the user was expecting. Make a list of which pages are bouncing visitors, particularly if they're research pages geared toward a specific topic, and work with your web vendor to fix them.
Another key metric to pay attention to is the conversion rate of your top landing pages. In order to see this, click on the Goal Set 1 link near the top of the page:
If you have goals configured in your Analytics profile, then you will be able to see which landing pages brought organic conversions for you – that is, shoppers who not only stuck around on your site, but also submitted a lead form, clicked to call, or performed some other action that you've identified as being important for your bottom line.
With conversion rate, bounce rate, visits, and % new visits, you can immediately see which pages are working for SEO – and which ones aren't. For a quick look at these key metrics for only your organic search traffic, try this custom report we've created below:
Just the beginning
That custom report, and the analysis discussed above, is just to kick things off. And it may lead you to even more questions than you had to begin with. For example, why do your homepage, new inventory, and used inventory pages have 98% of the landing page traffic? A lack of custom, unique content is likely the culprit.
Or, if you do have custom pages that you've built, you may be wondering why they're not in the top 50 landing pages, or why they're bouncing 90% of the visitors who arrive. The answers are still in Google Analytics: if you're not acquiring traffic, rewrite your content and title tags. If your traffic is bouncing, then change your design to make the pages easier to understand and more enticing to shoppers.
The good news is that dealer websites are almost entirely template-based, so the differences are only skin deep. Get out ahead of your competition by thinking about prettier pages, each one with a clear focus, and start creating the unique content that Google wants to see. Leave the keyword obsession for the other guy.