The start of October has seen a number of developments that impact on those in the online publishing world, notably Google's decision to completely do away with keyword data as a metric - or, at least - to keep that information hidden from the likes of webmasters. The move comes as no big surprise, as the appearance of '(not provided)' and '(not set)' have popped up with increasing regularity, just as meaningful keyword data has receded. But what will it mean for those in the content business?
The news seems to have been met with a dismissive shrug by many publishers who feel they can continue to thrive without access to this data. Others, meanwhile, actively welcome the move believing it may lead to fresher, more creative content. Over-reliance on keyword data has been a visible issue on the web for some time, and it can make content strategy increasingly circular: knowing how your readers came by your content can be fascinating, but what does it tell you about those whose searches are not getting through?
Certainly in the content world we could be about to witness a freeing-up of ideas that audiences may enjoy: a more spontaneous approach to publishing that may prompt a move away from the halcyon days of the 'how to' blog post or those strangely incongruous repeat mentions of a particular celebrity. Any site owner or blogger who's been watching their keywords over the years will admit to being baffled by some of the search queries that regularly bring in readers, suggesting that this information was never as reliable as might have been hoped; this inaccuracy also led to humorous posts on 'weirdest/most irrelevant search engine queries' that only served to highlight the limitations.
Where I believe publishers are now at a disadvantage is in the creation of long-tail or 'evergreen' content that picks up on the sort of widespread moods and appetites for which keywords were a great weather vane. Kevin Gibbons, UK MD at BlueGlass Interactive agrees: speaking to Econsultancy he said: "in terms of strategy, it will be more difficult to find hidden gems of referring traffic keywords and long-tail variations".
Search queries were certainly handy for building up a more general picture of audience needs, and often translated into the articles and blog posts that just kept on giving. But it seems we'll have to resort to workarounds to find out exactly what our audiences are searching for in future - whether that's a plugin giving insight into '(not provided)' results, data from other search engines such as Bing or Yahoo! or a bit of old-fashioned intuition and market knowledge. And perhaps we'll even see a few less identikit blog posts cropping up to address the same tired old queries?
How useful did you find Google Analytics' keyword data and how much do you think it will influence your content?