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(Not Provided) Sets You Free

Why the shift to 100% not provided keywords will make inbound marketers more focused on creating great content based on concepts rather than keywords.

Bad content has been prevalent since the beginning of the web because search engines have, until recently, rewarded it — whether they intended to or not (they didn’t). In fact, the Internet is unique in that it is likely the first medium in history to reward content based not on quality but on quantity: things like density, co-occurrence, and volume. This is because early web content was the first popular content to be evaluated primarily by algorithms and only secondarily by actual readers (or users, as the case may be).

In no other popular medium in history has human language been measured not on its ability to persuade humans — but rather its ability to persuade machines. We are still recovering from this trend. The switch to 100% (not provided) traffic is a nudge in the right direction. Now that referring keywords aren’t the ultimate measure of success in an organic campaign, inbound marketers can stop being small time with their strategies. It will be a challenge at first, simply because inbound marketers will have to learn how to stop being small time.

Keywords Don’t Make Good Content

Keyword Jail
Imagine Shakespeare as a 21st century poet and blogger, trying to get some web traffic to the blog where he publishes all of his sonnets. Imagine, for a moment, a reality in which Shakespeare, our language’s greatest poet, cares about keywords — or worse: a mid 2000s Shakespeare that cares about keyword density. Sure, the Bard in his day did a little bit of keyword stuffing, but it was always for the rhetorical effect: “More than that tongue that more hath more express’d”; “Put out the light, and then put out the light.”; or my favorite, from Hamlet: “Buzz! Buzz! Polonius” (perfect for social media strategy).

But SEO’s emphasis on referring keywords has been a major factor in preventing us from getting buy-in to really go after big ideas. Because how much more micro-focused can you get than monitoring referring keywords for bumps or dips in traffic? That said, inbound marketers have traditionally had little to do with the sort of work that really builds a brand. They’ve just been garnering traffic for the people who do that real brand work. Small potatoes, even if you are making money.

That said, a lot of people have made a lot of money doing it. Referring keywords were a really easy success metric. Clients loved them. If you could make the numbers move, you were in business. But traffic has never been all that. Especially when so many organic campaigns have cared so little about the user’s experience once they land on the page. Inbound marketing can’t be disconnected from user experience any longer. Organic content has to be central to the brand, and be able to not only draw traffic but also convert users. Marketers that will continue to do well after 100% (not provided) rolls out are the ones that don’t really care about (not provided) anyway.

Exclusive keyword targeting has been a boon for inbound marketers to the detriment of the the brands they promote.

Tweet this.

Optimizing for keywords has never made a brand stronger. Discovering audience needs through keyword research has. Designing content that’s only purpose is to serve as a potential landing page for a longtail query has done nothing to push our industry forward. Using a persona-driven keyword research process to create content that actually resonates with a brand’s users has.

But It’s Not Just About Content

Learning to market after being spoonfed keywords from Google is hard. I get it. The go-to answer is one that surely everyone is getting tired of hearing: it’s all about creating quality content. Sure. That’s great. Content is king, or whatever. But here’s the reality:

Content does nothing for your brand. But systems of well-promoted, well-organized, properly tagged content make your brand unstoppable.

Creating good content isn’t the hard part. People have been creating great content for a long time. It’s an ancient art. There are a lot of people who are really good at it. You just have to actually pay them. But preparing that content to succeed, to be found, to be amplified — that’s the hard part. (Not provided) doesn’t keep me up at night. Mobile does. I’m unlikely to wonder for hours on end what my client’s top keyword referrers are. I’m worried whether my client’s site is prepared for the technologies its users (remember them?) are adopting at an increasingly high rate. I’m worried about what Schema.org markup will actually be beneficial for my site. I’m not just worried about page titles and meta descriptions (I think we’ve mostly figured those out). I’m worried about creating taxonomies and systems of metadata that will allow a brand’s content to survive a technological transition it is already a decade behind in addressing.

Don’t Fear the Dinosaurs

Dinosaur
When Jurassic Park came out I had nightmares for weeks. I was terrified dinosaurs were going to rip apart my house and eat me. And the scariest part was that I couldn’t see the dinosaurs, but somehow I knew they were lurking. But why was I so scared? Because I was five. And things I couldn’t see frightened me. But 100% (not provided) doesn’t mean we’re operating in the dark. It’s worth quoting Mike King’s recent (not provided) deck again: “There’s way too much data out there for us to be crying about it…Google giveth more than it taketh away.”

The transition to (not provided) represents the slow death of an outdated marketing technology. That is is yesterday. In fact, now that we don’t have to worry about the performance of individual referring keywords, we can begin to create content that speaks to the users we discover through forward-looking avenues like market research. 100% (not provided) just means we get to implement more fun, interesting, risky campaigns as marketers, rather than the same ol’ thing.

The switch to (not provided) has done nothing to harm the actual discipline of inbound marketing. It’s only managed to trim the fat of SEO. It represents the maturation of Google, and hopefully the maturation of our industry as well (since we are the plover in the mouth of the crocodile). This move severs one of the final connections between old SEO and new inbound marketing. If we can’t measure with precision the success of keyword targeting, we’re now forced to measure the success of concept-based content — rather than simply tracking the incremental ups and downs of individual keywords. That’s a good thing.

Want to learn more about the strategies iAcquire is using post keyword referral data? Join iAcquire’s webinar, How We Solved (Not Provided) on November 6th, 3-4pm EST.

16 responses to “(Not Provided) Sets You Free”

  1. Clay says:

    This is the exact way I look at it. We’re done focusing on optimizing solely for keywords. It’s always been about conversions, bounce rates, content acceptance. The focus is greater, and it’s good to have the ability to point to success outside of ranking metrics and visits, but rather conversions from search traffic to an even larger degree.

    • Devin Asaro says:

      Thanks for reading, Clay. Yep, I think “conversions” is the keyword (har har) in your comment. Keywords still matter, we just don’t have to approach them in such a shallow way.

      • Clay says:

        That’s exactly the way it should be too. We can’t say as SEOs or marketers that this is a totally blindsiding change. Sure, it happened earlier than everyone estimated, but we can’t ignore the fact that “good” content and conversions has been preached for almost 2 years now.

  2. ronellsmith says:

    Devin,

    This piece capped off my “lunchtime reading.” So well worth it.

    It is interesting to me that the ONLY folks I hear/see complaining about not provided are those who allowed themselves to become slaves to the data, at the detriment of focusing on sound marketing practices overall.

    RS

    • Devin Asaro says:

      Ronell: Thanks, as always, for your awesome feedback. I totally agree. Our industry thrives on change. This is just an opportunity to do better work. No big deal, right?

  3. baldjake says:

    The further away I get from the (not provided) release, the less I worry about it. I used to bang my head against the wall tell my copyrighters to craft good stories but you HAVE to insert keywords in really important places. That is tough for must creatives to accomplish.

    While I don’t love how Google does a lot of the things they do, this particular action actually sets us free from those silly things.

    Good articulation of that message Devin.

    • Devin Asaro says:

      Jake, I appreciate your feedback. I agree. It’s really stressful before it happens. But once it’s done there’s not a whole lot that we can worry about. Brands will still need to leverage organic channels. If we can create great content and optimize our sites to make that content successful and versatile, we don’t really need referring keywords data. Thanks for reading!

  4. Michael King says:

    Incredibly well said. Dare I say we’ve solved (not provided)?

  5. Devin Asaro says:

    Awesome, checking it out now! Thanks for the heads up.

  6. Jamie Press says:

    Terrific read, Devin. Such a motivating piece to stop worrying about the (not provided) speed bump and start being real inbound marketers!

    • Devin Asaro says:

      Thanks Jamie. I’m really glad you found it motivational. It really is just a speed bump. Only a temporary inconvenience — something our industry should have never been leaning so hard on.

  7. Bill Sebald says:

    Very fond of this piece. Very fond of bigger picture. But I do stumble with, “Designing content that’s only purpose is to serve as a potential landing page for a longtail query has done nothing to push our industry forward.”

    Maybe it didn’t help our industry, but sometimes that 1:1 match is perfectly valuable. I think it all has a home. I made valuable things out of keyword data, but I’m still OK with the death for the reasons you cited.

    • Devin Asaro says:

      Bill, thanks for reading and commenting. I certainly agree with you. I’m always looking for ways to create landing pages for longtail queries, particularly if I can do it with user-generated content (less work for me and tends to align with what users are actually looking for).

      I didn’t mean to suggest that those aren’t of value — nor, actually, did I intend to say that referring keyword data isn’t valuable (as Russ Jones seems to think I did). It is. But focusing on the metrics we’ve long had ready available, such as referring keywords, isn’t part of the new way of doing things. What I’m suggesting is that this sea change should be responded to with as drastic a shift in mentality. There I think you and I are in agreement.

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  15. Spook SEO says:

    Devin,
    It’s freedom from just plain keywords indeed. It really makes sense that recent changes are simply an application of the objective to enforce quality rather than quantity. Thanks for shedding some light.

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    With not provided info things are getting bigger and better, its a great way to know where your going

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