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google hummingbird algorithmSeptember 2013 was a big month for Google.

On September 26, they celebrated their 15th birthday by announcing that they have a few new features in the works. But they also revealed a new search algorithm named hummingbird.

What is an algorithm and who cares?

The algorithm is the very engine that drives what is revealed whenever you do a search. This is a big deal, especially for Google. However, it is not a big deal (yet) for businesses. Why can we say that? Because technically the new algorithm was released about a month ago and no one even noticed.

Apparently, Google did not change the actual order of results, much. (At least not yet!) But if you read carefully between the lines, it's obvious that they are preparing to make search results more personalized based on your location, profile, and search history. Search Engine Land has more details here.

The other change is a big deal...

No more keyword data

Google also started encrypting search queries for all searches on Google.com.

This is a direction they have been moving toward for some time. But soon, Google's keyword data will not be available from Google Analytics (or anywhere else, for that matter). In other words, you'll know how many visitors came from Google, but not what they typed in to get there.

This is very disappointing to business owners and SEO marketers. We have used this data effectively for years to determine which keyword phrases bring the traffic that converts the best. We also use this data to identify opportunities.

So now what?

It's frustrating to lose this valuable data. But there's nothing we can do about it. Google owns the search engine and they get to make these types of decisions.

Instead of crying or complaining, we're looking for solutions. Here's some things we'll continue to research to see if they can serve a similar purpose.

  1. Bing and Yahoo make up about one third of all searches. Google makes up two thirds. So we'll still have data from Bing and Yahoo to analyze. This works great unless you are in certain markets that tend to not use Bing or Yahoo, such as tech, marketing, science, or colleges.
  2. We can still sort search traffic from which page they landed. Certain landing pages are optimized for certain groups of phrases, so this is an indication of which phrases work best.
  3. Google Webmaster Tools provides some data on which keyword phrases visitors have typed.
  4. Many sites have an internal search box. What users type into an internal search box can be an indicator of what they typed into Google to get there in the first place.
  5. Doing Google AdWords gives us very valuable information on which phrases are typed in most and which ones bring traffic that convert best.
  6. Long-time clients or long-time Google Analytics accounts offer valuable historical keyword data.

None of these solutions are ideal. But together, they can pretty much make up for the loss of information.

Hopefully, now that the birthday party is over, Google will settle down and have no other major announcements. We'll need a little time to catch up from this one.

Photo credit: Curt Hart

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