Three Easy Steps to Replacing Your Lost Keyword Data

Three Easy Steps to Replacing Your Lost Keyword Data

by Rob Newhouse
Analytics & Measurement Consultant

19 February 2014

Over the summer of 2013, Google adopted secure search for most of its search results. SEO consultants lost their keyword data, organic keywords disappeared from Google Analytics, most search queries now show up as ‘not provided’. More recently, in December 2013, Google improved the quality of the keyword data it provides in Webmaster Tools. Which means there are now three easy steps to replacing your lost keyword data.

Step 1: Where is the traffic?

A first step must be to understand Google’s listings. Which positions do searchers click on – and why? Let’s take a look. Here is a search I ran for one of our clients, who sells gifts for men.

It’s no secret that the first organic result gets more traffic than any other. Cleverer marketers than me have studies the search results, using a combination of eye tracking studies and search engine data, to produce estimates of the proportion of traffic that clicks on each result.

So, what do we know?

Well, the research suggests that roughly 30-40% of the organic traffic will click on the first result. Search data that leaked from AOL in 2006 suggested that the first position receives 42% of clicks. A survey by Chikita, the online advertising network, suggests a figure of 33% for first position. At Receptional we use a figure of 30% when planning our campaigns.

Even if we don’t take the numbers literally – and we shouldn’t, because the click-through rates (CTRs) will be different for different keywords – it’s clear that the number one spot is a very good place to be.

Of course, not everyone can get to the number one spot. So, let’s look at the other listings. What proportion of searchers do you think click on the listings in 2nd, 3rd and 4th spots?

Well, second spot gets about 12% of clicks. That’s quite a drop: the decline in click-throughs continues the further down your site is in the listings:

If you’re in 4th spot, you’re getting (roughly) 6% of search traffic. That is a big difference from 1st place which only reinforces how important that top spot can be.

Now let’s consider the whole of the first page – the first 10 results in Google’s listings. What proportion of the clicks go to the first 10 results? Some quick maths tells us it’s about 90% of traffic.

Ranking position

Click through rate





















Total (first page)


* These figures are taken from AOL’s leaked search data from 2006. Actual figures will vary by keyword and fluctuate over time. At Receptional we use a more conservative 30% for first position clicks.
** Figures may match due to rounding.

Even though we know that CTRs vary by keyword, we can be confident that the majority of organic traffic will click on the first page listings and many searchers will click on the first organic result they see.

Another question: we know that the first page of Google’s results is a great place to be but, what’s the difference in traffic between 10th place on that page and first spot? How much more traffic will we get if we can rise up the rankings by nine places?

Well, first place gets 14 times as much traffic. 14 times, just for jumping nine places in Google’s results. The rewards for effective SEO can be enormous. Which is why it’s crucial that you know which keywords are driving traffic to your site.

Step 2: Get Keywords from Webmaster Tools

Over the summer of 2013, following revelations that the US government was covertly monitoring its data, Google adopted secure search for most of its search results. The outcome was that search queries show up as ‘not provided’ in Google Analytics. Which, if you work in digital marketing, is a pain. And that’s putting it politely.

But there are workarounds. In December 2013 Google announced that it was improving the quality of the keyword data that it provides in its Webmaster Tools (WMT) software.

From now on Webmaster Tools will be the place to look for keyword data. If you’re running an SEO campaign – optimising your pages and building links to them – you’ll still be able to see whether that work is getting you more clicks by looking in WMT.

What you see

Here’s how to find your keyword data.

1. Log into your Webmaster Tools account.

2. Select the website you’d like to work with:

3. In the left-hand navigation click on ‘Search Traffic’ then ‘Search Queries’.

You’ll see the “queries” report, which shows all the keywords your site ranks for, regardless of whether the searcher clicks through to your site. By default, the report is sorted by the number of impressions you are receiving.

You’ll also see the number of clicks your site received for each keyword, along with your site’s average position in Google’s listings, and the click through rate (CTR) for each keyword.

We have already seen that Average Position (your site’s ranking) is important, as it has an enormous impact on the amount of traffic your site receives.

As you can see from the first result in the table, if your ranking is low (the bottom of the first page and beyond) or your listing isn’t appealing, your click-through rate can be 1% or less.

Whereas, the third result in the table shows that if your ranking is good (first position in this case) and your listing is well written with a strong call to action, then your click-through rate could be 40%, 50%, or even higher.

Limitations to the data

We’ll shortly look at how to increase the number of clicks your site receives. But first, there are some limitations to the WMT data. While I wouldn’t want to get hung up on them, it’s worth knowing what they are.

  1. Crucially, only the last 90 days of data is available. At Receptional we have worked around this limitation by building our own tool to collect and store keyword data, so we are able to track changes over a longer period. Alternatively, you could download the data yourself.
  2. The keyword data you’ll see is sample data, it’s not exact. You’re not seeing the actual terms used by searchers. So when you cross reference WMT’s Click data against Visits in Google Analytics you’ll see different numbers. But, of course, we see the same issue with other keyword data sources, which also use sample data. There’s little point in getting preoccupied with small differences in the data, they are unlikely to make any difference to the action we take.
  1. Likewise, when you compare Google’s rank tracking data with any of the major rank tracking tools you’ll see discrepancies. Again, we have to be pragmatic.
  2. The data in the report is delayed by two days. So, if it’s instant reporting you’re after … tough. Sorry, it’s not available.
  3. Finally, there’s important information missing. For instance, we have no sense of how well your keywords are converting. Getting lots of traffic is great, but if it’s not converting, it’s not helping your business.

Those are the limitations, but as I say, we’re pragmatic. We’ll take whatever insights we can get.

Step 3: Get more clicks

Our next and final step is to use the keyword data to help us plan our SEO campaigns. We start by prioritising our work.

If your business is anything like ours, your marketing ‘to-do’ list is probably several pages long. Every month, there are thousands of improvements we’d like to make to our website, there are hundreds of improvements we really really need to make, and yet we only have the resources to make a handful of changes. So, it’s important that we prioritise our work and focus on the changes that are likely to have the most benefit.

We only ever want to target keywords that are relevant to your business. We are rarely interested in traffic for its own sake; we want to find keywords that are likely to convert into sales or enquiries.

Keywords that already rank in first position

We start our optimisation efforts by looking for quick wins. That means working with keywords that already rank in position 1, get lots of impressions, but fail to get clicks (a click-through rate of less than 7%).

Here is a fictional example. It shows the keyword ‘Receptional’ ranking in first position. Yet it’s only getting a 10% click through rate.

We’d hope to see a 30-40% click rate for a first-position listing and we know that 60-70% is possible.

There might be several reasons why the keyword isn’t attracting as much traffic as we’d like. Here are some quick checks you can make:

1. Check your description in Google’s listings. Is it accurate? Does it sell your services effectively? In real life, I ran a search for ‘call tracking’ and here is one of the results I found. The description is barely relevant to the search, and doesn’t sell the company’s services.

As a comparison here is the next listing, for Mediahawk’s call tracking service. The listing explains the service much more clearly. The only element lacking is a strong call to action:

2. Check on the number of competing ads. If you’re operating in a competitive market, the chances are that lots of your competitors will be advertising against the keywords you’re targeting.

Let’s say we’re looking for a lucrative market such as insurance. We have a client that sells camera insurance, so we know it’s a tough market.  See how the listings are dominated by Paid search ads. The presence of advertising is likely to reduce the click-through rates your site gets from the organic listings.

If you’re competing in a retail market, you’re also likely to see Google’s shopping results, which push the organic results down the page:

What can you do about it? Well, you can’t beat ‘em, so you if you want to compete at the very top of Google’s results, you might want to join ’em by setting up a Google AdWords campaign.

3. Are you fighting rich snippets? What do we mean by rich snippets? Well, we’re really talking about listing that’s not just plain text. In the result that’s shown below, the stars are a rich snippet.

Amongst the other listings you might see images …

… videos …

… as well as event listings, social media activity, recipe ingredients and more.

These types of rich media are likely to attract more clicks than plain text listings. They can increase CTRs by around 20% compared to plain text results.

Keywords that rank in positions 2-4

We love finding keywords that rank in positions 2-4 in Google’s results. These keywords are quick wins for the link building team. We know that pages ranking in positions 2-4 contain relevant content and have sufficient authority to rank well. Often, a small SEO push can lift the page to the top of the listings, where it might attract 2-3 times as much traffic.

There are two main ways of improving your search engine optimisation (SEO).

First, you should consider on-page optimisation.

Once you’re happy with your on-page marketing, successful link building will be key to improving your rankings. You’ll want to promote the page (off-page optimisation), so that it attracts links from external sites and gets shared on social networks.

For keywords that rank in positions 2-4 you should also check the click-through rates you’re getting (as outlined above). Clearly, we need to check whether Receptional’s meta descriptions could be improved, because we’re not getting many clicks for SEO success stories:

Finally – before you start any SEO work, it’s worth checking that there are sufficient impressions available to justify the work. If you were to rank in the number 1 position, how much traffic can you expect to attract (take the impressions figure from WMT and multiply by 30%)? And how many of those visits can you expect to convert into new business?

Keywords that rank in positions 5-10

Pages that rank in positions 5-10 in the search results have great potential. SEO work can help boost them into the first three positions – and we know that’s where a majority of the traffic clicks.

You’ll need to follow the same steps that we have already discussed – check your listings, upgrade your on-page optimisation and build links. But it’s likely that you’ll need to invest more resources than for keywords that are already ranking in higher positions. So, make sure you’re targeting terms that are going to generate larger amounts of traffic and sales.

In the table below are two examples of keywords that Receptional won’t be targeting. We get lots of impressions for the query ‘chromestore’ but it’s largely irrelevant to our business. So, it’s a no-go.

The query ‘find competitors Adwords keywords’ is more relevant, but there are too few impressions for it to be interesting. Even if we were to rank in the number one spot, we’d only receive about 7-8 clicks a month (30% of 24 impressions). So, in our SEO campaigns, we’ll ignore the keyword.

Keywords that rank below the first page

If you’re targeting keywords that rank below the first page, you want to be sure they’re going to generate good business. The process for improving your rankings remains the same, but the investment needed is even greater. Choose your targets with care.

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