Alternatives to Google keyword data

Sep. 25, 2013 | by Magico Martinez

Since late 2011 Google has been encrypting organic search query data in order to protect users’ privacy. When it was announced, SEOs over the world were understandably concerned. In the last few weeks many sites have seen an increase in their (not provided) ratio. Some sites have even reported a 100% loss of keyword level data.

Over the next couple of weeks, even months, you can expect hundreds of blog posts and thousands of tweets announcing the death of SEO. I don’t think SEO will ever die, it will just change. Today we are seeing a pretty big change that will revolutionise the industry and similar to Charles Darwin’s theory, only those that evolve will survive.

It is important to remember that while Google is making an abrupt change, user search behaviour will likely remain unchanged – for now. This just changes the data that we have, not what people are doing. SEO remains a valuable marketing channel, it will just mean drawing upon new data sources to provide you with the insights.

There are plenty of alternatives to Google’s Keyword data and in this post I will go through some of the most popular options available today.

Landing Page Analysis

Since Google started hiding keyword data when logged in, many sites have started looking at landing page data rather than keyword level data. It’s very simple, if your “holidays to Tenerife” page is getting 80% more traffic than your “holidays to Mallorca” page, then it’s quite possible that the Tenerife page is doing quite well in Google while the Mallorca page may need a bit of work.

This method is a bit like working with keyword portfolios. Instead of focusing on a few specific keywords that may be quite challenging to get ranking well, you are focusing on the end result. This approach should also highlight the importance of user experience on your site.

Landing page reporting can be powerful when combined with estimated search volumes as it allows you to quickly understand what areas of your site are over/under-performing and what areas of your site you should be exploiting.

Google Webmaster Tools

Google will continue to provide search query information under Search Traffic > Search Queries. The numbers provided are estimations and while not as accurate as real analytics data, they are still very valid for trend analysis.

Google Webmaster Tools is not the easiest platform to integrate in reports, but they do have a good API that can be used to download search query data straight into your reports. It is worth remembering that Google only keeps the data for a little more than 6 weeks. If you want to have a yearly overview at a keyword level, you will have to start downloading and storing the data yourself. The limit is reportedly increasing to 12 months, but this is still a rumour at the moment.

Google’s Keyword Planner

Despite the recent retirement of Google Adword’s Keyword Tool, Google continues to provide search volume through the Keyword Planner tool. When combined with ranking data and CTRs, you can calculate an estimation of traffic generated through a keyword.

All elements here can be a bit imprecise. The search volumes are not exact; rankings will fluctuate during the snapshots; click-through rates will always change. All in all, possibly the least accurate of all alternatives, but still worth a shot.

Paid Search

It’s business as usual for those in paid search. With today’s change, only those sites that truly promote synergy between paid search and SEO will succeed. Paid media will continue to receive the keyword-level data that SEOs need and so, if your paid and organic teams are in the same agency/company, then data sharing will be easy and straightforward.

However, those sites that use different agencies for PPC and SEO and those sites that are not currently active on Google AdWords may be at risk of missing out.


Microsoft’s search engine will undoubtedly try to take advantage of Google’s decision. Unless users start using their SSL engine, keywords will continue to be passed through as usual. Since Bing and Google’s results are increasingly similar, it may be a good idea to check what keywords are driving traffic to your site and where in Google you rank with those same keywords.

Who knows, maybe after this change SEOs all over the world will move to Bing…

If you would like to know more about what brands should do to respond to this change, make sure you check out our POV on the issue or get in touch for more information.

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    Comment (1)

    • Scott Lawson

      Really great post Magico, we've added in automatic support for pretty much all of this into Trackpal reports.

      Although I must point out that the Google Webmaster Tools API is not so good, and the data required is only available through other means (Matt Cutts said full data outputs will be "coming soon" back in summer, so who knows when!). Although Matt Cutts actually condoned these means (involving scraping essentially).

      Also while Bing and Google results are similar, the user base is very different, so using referral data would give you a very skewed view.

      P.S. Claire says your reference to Charles Darwin's theory is wrong, natural selection, but we get what you mean ;) SEO won't die, it will continue to evolve.Nov 5, 2013 07:47 pm

    Please note: the opinions expressed in this post represent the views of the individual, not necessarily those of iCrossing.

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