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The Pros and Cons of 100% (Not Provided)

Some of the positives and negatives that come from the shift to 100% (not provided) keyword data.

So a week has passed since The Powers That Be took our precious keyword data away from us. I will be honest, I was absolutely terrified to begin with, and then I entered the five stages of grief for our dearly departed – not a completely original take on this situation, I found; there are a couple of great posts that talk about this phenomenon here (Ben Goodsell, from way back in 2012) and here (Stacey Cavanagh, from way back this morning).

This article is not about the grieving process. I’ve tried to take a considered look at both sides of the not provided argument. Below are the pros and cons of this shift from Google. Let’s take the bad news first, straight up, always best:

Cons of 100% (not provided)

1. Marketing value of individual keywords – It’s made reporting on the performance / traffic / conversion rate of individual organic keywords really bloody difficult! No longer will we be able to say with absolute certainty, “We should build links around / add a more focused landing page for the keyword ‘interrupting starfish’, as this has already driven enquiries. If we got it to position 1, it would drive substantially more enquiries.” Those days are sadly gone.

2. Client expectations – It’s made managing our clients’ expectations even more difficult! Just when you’ve turned them all on to the idea of SEO being one of the more measurable forms of marketing, with clear stats to base your projections on, and attribute the site’s performance to, at least at the keyword level, the goalposts have been moved.

3. Adwords keyword data still intact – It’s made us all a bit envious of our PPC cousins. They’ll still have loads of keyword data to play with. It’s not fair! Why do they get to play with the keywords and we don’t??

4. Potential reduced marketing budgets for SEO – Another thing on the PPC side, as keyword data will always be available for this channel, companies may choose to favour it over SEO. Google clearly stands to make more money through Adwords from this change, and we all know that money is the root of all evil. Whatever happened to Don’t Be Evil, eh Google??

I’m sure there were far more cons to speak of this time last week, but we’re all getting used to this now, right? What about the pros?


Pros of 100% (not provided)

1. Greater privacy for the user – This (not provided) business means that, as a user, your keyword data is no longer being passed through to webmasters. This means greater privacy for you as an individual, means marketing departments and agencies can’t base their strategies on something you did, in organic search that is.

Of course, as mentioned above, paid search is another matter. If you click on a sponsored ad, that data will still be passed through.

Companies will still be able to market to you based on your past online activity. And your search queries will still be tracked by Google, and reported on to webmasters via Webmaster Tools, which they can then use to base commercial decisions on.

So not a pro, then, at all. Hang on, I will think of some.

2. See The Bigger Picture – This change forces SEOs who were thinking one-sidedly about their strategy, basing it on the performance of ‘hero keywords’, stuffing keyword variants into meta data just because the research says so, to adopt a more holistic approach.

I’ve been reading the responses from some of the more prolific SEOs to this change; the general consensus seems to be “If you’re worried about this, you’re doing it wrong”, which obviously isn’t *exactly* true…

Implying that keyword data doesn’t matter to an SEO is just as ridiculous as stating that we shouldn’t be tracking rankings anymore. These stats are still immensely important, it’s really odd for people to imply otherwise. I guess sometimes we as SEOs say things to make ourselves seem above mere ‘tactics’. But it is true that keyword data is not the be all and end all, and we can all stand to learn a lot from this change, so thanks Google.

3. One Big Happy Family – This happens every time there’s a major update, it’s lovely to see. The SEO community is a caring, sharing community in general, but we particularly pull together in times of hardship. Triumph in the face of adversity and all that. Some fabulous ideas can come out of the brainstorms / moaning sessions we’re having with our fellow SEOs.

4. Actually using the search query data in Webmaster Tools -The clicks and impressions data in Webmaster Tools has always been there, but I’ve personally never really knew what to do with it. And now I do, so it’s not all bad.

5. A move to improved user experience – Will Critchlow made a really great point in his most recent Whiteboard Friday, before the (not provided) change occurred, about how hiding keyword data may be a statement of intent from Google around the subject of search no longer being keyword-led. Obviously this is a much more rational and less stress-y way of looking at things than “HOW DARE GOOGLE STEAL MY DATA???”.

Will, you’re not alone by the way, I’ve also Googled “breakfast”, and delicious it was too ;)

So these are some of the pros and cons of the (not provided) situ, are there any that I’ve missed off? What’s been your biggest challenge following the introduction of (not provided) across the board? Or are you a fan of the change? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

photo credits: <a href=””>Helga Weber</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a>


<a href=””>Nicholas_T</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a>

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Category SEO
Natalie Mott

Natalie Mott is the SEO Manager at Bolton-based marketing agency Bring Digital. She loves maps: Tube maps, Ordnance Survey maps, ...

The Pros and Cons of 100% (Not Provided)

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