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Google doesn’t provide keywords data, what should I do?

Ever since Google started rolling out updates where it would not provide keywords data for logged-in Google users, there has been hue and cry in the SEO industry. If that was not all, Google recently updated its policies and made the search term keywords data unavailable for all users, whether logged in or not. And with that, they have shaken up the SEO industry to quite an extent. Just in case you’re not an avid follower of Google’s policies – it now doesn’t give the data of the search terms through which a user would land on your site. So what?

Well, people have been talking about a lot of things:

  • SEO is dead!
  • No keywords: No SEO
  • Focus on things apart from keywords
  • Its time to innovate (to an extent, yes)
  • Google’s playing foul (Well, this was bound to happen, after all Google is a profit making company, isn’t it?) (For the records, Google will give this data if you are advertising with them. So all the statements about protecting users’ privacy don’t actually hold true, it only means users’ privacy is not available for free)

Anyways, I am not here to discuss whether Google is Evil or not. I am here to ask and answer a few questions. Lets get to the my questions first, mostly targeted at SEO and Digital Marketing experts.

  • Why couldn’t you see this?
  • If you could, why weren’t you already taking corrective measures against it?
  • Why were you banking just on that keywords data?

About an year back I met the SEO Manager of a portal which got over 3.5 Million visitors, about 0.6M was through organic search. He asked me what should he do to increase the traffic? I looked at the site and after a couple of days came back about a list of things which would improve his traffic. He discarded all those and said this does not talk about keywords. I asked him what would he do? He replied, I want a thousand more keywords that I can target to increase traffic. Our conversations never went beyond that day. I would like to now ask him where is he today? And more importantly, what would he do now?

Of the list of things that I came up with, one important thing was how having a bad site architecture was effecting his side and how to fix that. Then it spoke about building content, about building a community and how eventually becoming a brand in their space. Interestingly, their SEO team worked in a silo and were reporting to their CTO! Really? They were not working directly with the brand or the marketing team? Well, they are not the only ones who do that but that’s not the focus of this article, so more on that some other day.

Coming back to the keywords issue. Interestingly, a few weeks back itself I did a small presentation on What SEO is and What it is NOT. You must go through it, would take just 2-3 minutes. We’ve always been believers that great SEO is about a lot of things of which the primary thing is content (and not keywords). When I presented this at a prospective client meeting last week, their SEO team was literally taken aback. They did not want to listen to me any further. The team kept repeating about terms like “keyword density”, “keyword ranking” and would keep mum when I would talk about content or the most important person – the reader! Their choice!

And now coming to the answers: So what should you do?

STEP 1: Get yourself and analytics ninja!

  • Ideally the job of your current SEO agency/guy but if they are not good at analytics, you need to immediately fire them! Then, get a better agency – someone who gives you inference based reports rather than sending reports filled with data and numbers! They should give you much more than just search terms, keyword rankings and landing pages data. More on what to look in reports, later.
  • Convert your ‘not provided’ data into meaningful data – that will give you a really good understanding of the users landing from search – if not the exact search terms. We just explained how to do this in another post recently. Just to share with you what I am talking about, look at the screenshot below

Find not provided data

Reducing (not provided) data to ZERO in Google Analytics

STEP 2: Research

  • Find out what does the brand owner think
  • Find out what the (potential) customer thinks
  • Find out what the competitor is doing
  • Collate data and you’ll know what to do

One of our customer was facing trouble in naming one of his services. We did the above four steps and you would be astonished to know the results! Unfortunately, the results can’t be published but all I can say is that the client is super impressed and now we are working on the next steps.

STEP 3: Find “context”

STEP 4: Build relevant content

STEP 5: Get back to your SEO guys then! If you’ve found the right guys they will know what to do next. If they don’t, repeat Step 1 🙂


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  1. Hi Abhinav, 

    Agree to most of your points here. Step 2 which you mentioned is the most important of all.. 

    People have a misconception about SEO, SEO is not about submitting your site to x,y,z 

    SEO is a process ! its a everlasting continuous process, a good SEO expert will not only think about wht Google suggests, but also about what every human and every bot that visits your website thinks.. and this can greatly be analysed using the right tools, and right people who know how to use them.

    SEO is a phenomena of reverse engineering and anyone who can unlocked this, will be a winner!

  2. Agree wholeheartedly 🙂

    To some extent, this is exactly what the guys at Hubspot are doing. I am quite sure they saw this Google whack coming long time ago..

    I had tweeted 2 read-worthy posts on this topic & I feel it makes sense to share them in the context of this article..hope they help 🙂

    5 alternatives to ‘keyword not provided’ by Kristi Hines and this one by Neil Patel (Kissmetrics/Crazy Egg)

  3. abhinav,

    check alok’s posts on SEO:

    Ever since we launched we began to grow thanks to:

    a) Distribution deals with partners like and

    b) more importantly – the STEALING and PIRACY of our games

    How did this work?

    The pre loaders, the logo tags on all the games that spread across all over the planet all had live links to and slowly and steadily, we built a very nice 5 million monthly visitors business to the site. On comScore, the uniques that view our pirated games are 12-15 mn per month (see comScore extended media metrics). So just content allows us to address 17-20 mn uu’s a month.

    Now review the Google Analytics of Games2win captured a few minutes ago – (click to expand)


    Here is the interesting part:

    FLASH by itself is not SEO friendly!! Google cannot read between Flash and hence itself IS NOT A SEO friendly site! 

    See the analytics:

    Only 19% of our traffic comes from Search. Also, ‘Search’ for games2win are tweens and teens TYPING games2win to go the site (lots of kids dont know how to use the browser address bar – they just type the site address on google and then click on the first link).


    Hence, I would believe that our REAL SEO traffic is less than 5%!

    Over 32% is DIRECT (yup – thats the power of having a good brand)

    Over 32 % is OTHER ( this is nothing but the pirated site that are sending traffic back – Google cant recognize them either)

    Over 17% is referring sites (the direct licensing relationships we have had)


    Note that the 5 million come from 220 countries monthly!

    Sure, we did our own SILLY SEO experiments of adding all kinds of stupid words on the site ( boys games, girls games etc etc), but I think its all cow dung.

    All you need is great content and the rest follows.

    What convince me further to post this article was an article I read on GigaOm today which describes how leading investors conclude the SEO and VIRAL marketing for building cheap and large audiences is now PAST TENSE.

    Check the article here –


    I did some more digging around the authors and concurred with what was now an open secret:


    – SEO was for an era whose time has past ( i would say pre FB era)


    – Facebook delivers massive visibility and audience – directly via likes and posts and MORE IMPORTANTLY via ads. A case there is an Interview  with the GROUPON CEO who says that he did VERY LITTLE SEO and instead bought listings and Facebook ads to start up momentum.


    For example – the site you are on – records 50% direct traffic and 40% Social traffic (FB and Twitter). Just about 10% is via Search.


    – Content syndication (like we did) in my view works very well. So what is zynga but a massive content syndication business? I mean they have housed their content (all their games) on Facebook and are reaping from the traffic of FB?


    The interesting mention that again I agree with is that even if SEO delivers some results – its EXPENSIVE!! It takes people, tweaking your website and then always chasing that ‘CEO Magician’ for the next trick – that honestly I have NEVER been able to accurately measure.


    On a final note, ‘accidental’ SEO traffic is meaningless. It shows higher visits but zero page views and zero loyalty ( happens on SEO that is generated via Google News stories).


    Long story Short:


    – Forget relying on SEO as the mantra for traffic. Think beyond this.


    – Syndicate heavily – let the content be loaned, borrowed, stolen – in the end it always comes back to you


    – Heavily Socialize – Tweet, FB, linkedin etc


    – Latch on – If you latch on to media companies or celebrities or just very popular people who control massive fan pages on FB ( I spoke to a UK media company yesterday who has 10 MILLION facebook fans) then one wall post on that fan community page is the equivalent of many many slow slogging months of SEO


    – House yourself in TRAFFIC Zones rather than trying to build content simultaneously (the Zynga in Facebook example). Its tough to climb 2 mount Everest in one attempt!


    Like there was never a free lunch – there is NEVER free traffic. And specially from SEO.


  4. and this one too!



    Let me present a case here so that we can all present a clear case of what we believe in (Seo believers Vs Seo Non believers) : 


    PS – (I used it in the argument that is ensuing on SEO is bunk – if you are visiting this article first time, do glance thru this link).



    CAN I HAVE SOME SEO SUSHI PLEASE? (image courtesy –



    Let’s assume i have a restaurant that sells Sushi.

    I make sure that the board bearing the sign ‘AL’ OK’s SUSHI is correctly placed and visible for those to know WHERE TO ENTER. In my view these are seo ‘meta tags’ and the one time hygiene that all SEO comes with (webcrawler friendly tools etc). This is a one time effort. Maybe the board needs new design once every 2-3 years.But no need to touch that often.

    Now, My PHILOSOPHY is to make the BEST SUSHI in town. This is CONTENT. As the years roll by, and I do indeed make the best content, people TALK (viral), share (license) and even rob my recipes (pirate) my food. I dont spend time trying to talk about what i dont do (read between the lines in SEO context)

    IT’S THE FOOD (content) that brings people back to my restaurant all the time – NOT the number of reviews (SEO mentions) that I may bribe journos to write and make people visit me by CURIOSITY (accidental traffic). Sure the write ups will help BUT not really in the long run if I have GREAT food. With great food, people will come to me on their own. (Think of the famous restaurants in your city and how often are they promoted or even mentioned in any media that you may read).

    What pisses me off is to be TOLD by SEO consultants – hey, people are searching for Paneer Tikka and Butter Chicken in your city (search results on google, etc etc), so why not mention THOSE items on your menu (you may not even make them) so that some people may VISIT you while searching for them on online media and then discovering those items on your restaurants online menu. If I do take their advise, then when these MISLED customers come to my restaurant, they will crowd out the real customers and never come back themselves.


    As I flourish, it’s my call to either expand into chains  (take VC funding and grow) or even license my brand (McDonald’s style), or just stay as is. So, growth happens as the entrepreneur wants it. PS – if I get funded first and then try and start a Sushi restaurant then all the wrong things happen!!!


    So, all ye SEO consultants and Gurus- tell me what your SEO thinking is on this case?


    What is SEO and where does it fit in AS AN ONGOING INVESTMENT (beyond me running my restaurant and paying regular costs of operations etc etc)???


  5. Interesting Views Abhinav,

    My view is that if Google has shut down keyword search they are trying to tell you something: perhaps that their algorithms are no longer using keywords to find content! Perhaps we should move on too! The last update affected approx. 2.3% of websites worldwide. Perhaps these are precisely those websites that based their SEO purely on keywords rather than content!

    But SEO is not just about great content or greater content, as you had put it; its about putting your reader first!

    So how does one put the reader first when Search mean putting the website with the maximum in-bound links first? How do you put the reader first when SEO means putting up the website with the maximum content on the subject first (quality just went out the window), How do you put your reader first when search says most relevant tags and urls should be shown first? How do you put the reader first when a simple question on google is answered first by the domain having the same words as the question? how do you put the reader first…..

    I can go on and on and I still have not mentioned keywords! So while I agree with you on the fact that keywords are not the only thing you should optimize on. The explanation that most clients are looking for is what does relevance mean on search for the user. How do I PR myself in if I cannot get through ethical and clean organic ranking. 

    Would like to hear your views.

  6. Hi Abhinav,
    Before ranting about not getting keyword data and all that, we need to understand some fundamental things.

    1. Google Search and Google Analytics are to different products, look at it as two different soaps from HUL.

    2. For Google Search the Searcher is a customer and not the website owner.

    Now Google Search like facebook and twitter started offering a more secure version of their site (the https version) to their users over a year back, unless they explicitly asked for them not to rather than the other way around, which we should agree is very pro customer move where they proactively protect their customers.

    Now Google analytics is a code that sits on your website which collects data from visitors which includes a thing called referrer that is the information of the referring page or the url that this person clicked on to get here if he did not directly type out your website url in the location bar.

    By design https websites don’t give you a referrer so how will google analytics or statcounter give you such information.
    Further you can always sign up for Google Webmaster tools (a Google search to Website owner interface) for your site and see the approximate data (because they don’t want to give precise data to protect their own interests) to know what terms you been searched for and where you’ve ranked on an averge for those terms (something analytics can’t give you).

    Last and the least for someone claiming to be different your still around the same game as us other SEO guys who work around keywords just that your packaging it differently with google trends and smart marketing… that said your article being published a day after Google officially announcing Humming Bird also adds more lulz for me in this article.

    @gounder from

  7. Bang on! Its an “everlasting continuous process”

  8. Well, Google is an investor in Hubspot 😉

  9. Hi Pawan,

    Thanks for your questions. Here’s what I feel and everything is coming from my personal/professional experience. 

    perhaps that their algorithms are no longer using keywords to find content!

    They did that long ago. See this Google’s own blog post which dates back to 2009:

    Perhaps these are precisely those websstes that based their SEO purely on keywords rather than content!

    Absolutely! That’s what happened. Often we’ve been asked to by clients to do “SEO Content” and every single time we’ve refused to do so. In fact I wrote something on that few months back: SEO content is a myth:

    So how does one put the reader first when Search mean putting the website with the maximum in-bound links first? How do you put the reader first when SEO means putting up the website with the maximum content on the subject first (quality just went out the window), How do you put your reader first when search says most relevant tags and urls should be shown first? How do you put the reader first when a simple question on google is answered first by the domain having the same words as the question? how do you put the reader first…..

    Pawan: A part of your answer is hidden within that question itself. “How do you put the reader first when a simple question on google is answered first by the domain having the same words as the question?” – 
    Imagine yourself as the reader. Now think what would you type in google when you are looking for an answer? Actually, don’t think – just do that – type that in Google and you would know what your headline should be 🙂

    As far as the rest of the factors are concerned. Google does not say these are only factors that it considers. It says they are necessary but they are not sufficient. If 100 people with the same set of headline, no. of back links, meta content post an article on the same topic, how do you stand out? Its the content.

    I’ll explain in detail. Imagine you write an article on a hot/trending topic. There will be other 100’s of people who will write an article on that. Assume all of these sites have the same page rank, traffic strength etc. Now how does Google decide which one to show up? First it would consider Originality. Then timing – who posted first. That’s for the initial period. After that? Content. How? Now if your reader finds your post better, then he/she will spend more time on that. He’ll get engaged with your post, maybe comment etc. He’ll share it with friends – Faccbook, Twitter. If his friends/followers find it useful too, they will reshare/RT etc. And your post will start getting more traffic, eventually. Now when Google sees your post gets more traffic than the rest, its more engaging and the shares are higher as compared to others, it will start moving you up in the rankings. Your job is done. So if you look at it, its your reader who has helped you get that higher ranking, not the technicals aspects. 

    Now if you keep writing great content about a topic again and again, chances are your content will start ranking better against those topics or in technical terms: “keywords”. But that’s because you are writing great content – which is liked by readers, not just by search engines.

    I hope I’ve answered your questions, please feel free to ask if something’s not clear 🙂

  10. Alex,

    Thanks for explaining the technical aspects, hope the readers enjoyed it.

    As far as your point on writing a day after Humming Bird update. Well, if you read my post properly, it doesn’t talk about that update but an update in Google Analytics, that came into picture a day earlier. And my post is targeted for people who were bothered about that. Nowhere in the article did I bother about the update you were talking about. 🙂

  11. Wow! Thats some news! didnt know this..I just hope they dont buy it out and shut it down like they did to Sparrow!

  12. Hey Abhinav,

    The 2009 link you posted talks about Google moving away from meta tags specifically and not keywords. They completed moving away from keywords with the recent furry animal update!

    We are on the same page in the thought process; good content yields better SERPs. So perhaps we should shift to content marketing or as we put it at Digicat inbound marketing rather than SEO.

    What would be more interesting is if any of you pure SEO guys have studied the co-relation between SEM and SEO for SERP? 

  13. I thought you being an SEO expert would get where I am coming from when I mentioned Humming Bird. So let me explain more clearly, The Humming Bird update changes how they approach search queries from a keyword based approach to more deeper understanding of the concepts and meanings of the query, because people now a days are using much longer queries to get more precise results.

    for e.g.

    “What’s the closest place to buy the iPhone 5s to my home?” A traditional search engine might focus on finding matches for words — finding a page that says “buy” and “iPhone 5s,” for example.

    Hummingbird should better focus on the meaning behind the words. It may better understand the actual location of your home, if you’ve shared that with Google. It might understand that “place” means you want a brick-and-mortar store. It might get that “iPhone 5s” is a particular type of electronic device carried by certain stores. Knowing all these meanings may help Google go beyond just finding pages with matching words.

    In particular, Google said that Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query — the whole sentence or conversation or meaning — is taken into account, rather than particular words. The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.

    Now unlike panda or penguin which were updates to the old algorithm this is a new algorithm itself which may use older factors, and according to Google should effect 90% of searches.

    So I wasn’t saying you spoke about this humming bird update, but rather that you spoke about “keywords” after news about humming bird being out an update which makes keyword much more irrelevant seemed a little funny to me. 

  14. Yes right indeed. Content is the kind of internet. Without fresh, unique content you wont be ranked in search engine for your business keyword. I have seen and worked with many websites that is ranked just because of good quality content and best on-page SEO.

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