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Steve Whiting, Clever Clogs

Mr Know It All

There's a very well known saying: 'Fast, good, cheap. Pick any two.' The point here being that you can't have everything, nothing that is free can be both fast and good, there's always a trade off, Google's recent decision to make even more search keywords 'not provided' in its Analytics platform illustrates the point splendidly but indicates that the Search giant is in danger of becoming a smart-arse.

Clever clogs

When I was a little lad, I was independent, keen to learn, I wanted to find out everything for myself (preferring not to have life spoon-fed) and quickly developed my own model of the world around me. Now that I'm older I've learned to highly prize these personality traits and I'm now all grown-up enough to recognise these traits as stubbornness. Although I'm not alone in this recognition because Mum clearly recognised these too as, from a very early age, this little self-starter was very often called "clever clogs" or mister "know it all". Now, in my 45th year, it's time for me to let Mum know that I don't mind being called a clever-clogs, it doesn't hurt any more.

No-one likes a smart-arse

The know-it-all will, given half a chance, delight in demonstrating they know more than you and the reason for doing this is fundamentally because the know-it-all is actually a bit lonely and so uses knowledge to compensate for a perceived absence of social skills and uses knowledge to build relationships. For years I wore the know-it-all badge wrongly thinking that it meant I was seen as a smart-arse and felt bad about it because no-one likes a smart-arse, do they? The smart-arse doesn't try to build relationships and is, in-fact, opposite to the know-it-all because, unlike the know-it-all, the smart-arse knows the answer but will never tell you how they got there because maintaining such an aloof divide keeps their position of perceived superiority secure and un-assailable. The smart-arse wants you to know that they're better than you'll ever be.

Google turns 15 years old

I'm the first to admit that I don't know-it-all so, just like the rest of society, when I don't know I Google it. A few days ago on the 27th of September, Google celebrated its 'official' 15th anniversary. In these 15 short years, Google has become the modern day know-it-all but, right now, it's in real danger of turning into a smart-arse yet, rather than deride this 15 year old digital clever-dick, we lay gifts at its virtual feet and gaze up in awe and wonder at the demigod-like teenager. No teenager handles fame, unimaginable wealth and worldwide popularity terribly well and perhaps, with the increase of the not provided keywords in Google Analytics, we're starting to see the first signs that the hormones of the company that once proclaimed "don't do evil" may have just kicked-in.

Google knows everything. Doesn't it?

If you want to find somewhere nice to go on holiday: Googlit; if you want to translate a word: Googlit; if you want to research a new marketplace: Googlit; if you want someone to write your homework for you: Googlit; if you want to know the lyrics for a song: Googlit - the things you Googlit with are little packets of energy called keywords. It seems there's nothing that this digital smart-arse doesn't know but, like all true smart-arses, Google's not about to tell you everything because there's two rules in business: the first is don't tell anybody everything.

Keywords Not Provided

Keywords are the little packets of energy which you type or speak into Google to precisely or vaguely express what it is you're looking for, seeing, thinking, feeling or hearing. Google's job is to match these keywords to its own list of keywords that it maintains as a summary of each and every website it chooses to visit and remember. This list is known as Google's index and it's an ultra-effective way of organising the world's information that works just like the index of a book. For years, Google's happily relayed to owners of websites the (key)words that searchers used to bring-up (and then click the hyperlinks to) owners' websites in Google's search results pages. However, the balance of this nice cosy arrangement is being dismantled as Google Analytics now refuses to divulge such search queries and simply says that keywords are not provided.

Upsetting the balance

Remember when, as a kid, you got a toy at Christmas only to find that batteries weren't included? You couldn't play with it because Father Christmas had forgotten the batteries and the shops were shut? Yeah. Well that's just what Google's Analytics is now doing; keywords (the AA batteries that power Search) are not being provided and website owners across the globe are creating like a spoilt child at Christmas because they think they can't play. Well, they're wrong. Website owners can still play provided they realise where the Search batteries come from and who actually sells them.

Digital pimping

The relationship website owners strike up with Google when they install Analytics was an equal one of give and take that gave Google privileged and totally unchallenged access to their website traffic data in exchange for unrivalled website traffic reports and analysis. The market and traffic data that website owners willingly provide is of incredible value to Google and the value Google gave back is that the big data that Google harvests is repurposed into spectacular reports which website owners stare in wonder at, like kids pressing faces up-against a department store's Christmas window. The web community has become so hung-up and, arguably, dependent upon the analysis Google Analytics provides for free that the spectre of not provided keywords is now too much for many to contemplate. Most website owners appear to have forgotten the most basic truth of SEO that it's not Google that owns the keywords but in-fact the website owners' customers.

Good, fast & cheap

You cannot have it all, to get good and fast you have to sacrifice cheap and the days where you could get accurate and up to date keyword data for free from Google Analytics have now long since disappeared - although keyword data is still available it's no longer cheap as it's now channelled through Google's paid-for AdWords platform. Google's market capialisation is based upon their ability to serve ads on a pay-per-click basis and so, in Google's quest to please the markets, the know-it-all's coming of age and is rapidly turning into a smart-arse; the Search giant's commercial hormones have well and truly kicked-in and it's not about to tell you keywords for free.

But all is not lost

When, like us, you appreciate that it's your customers that use, own and provide the keywords then you'll realise that the appearance of Google Analytics' not provided keywords is actually a very good thing because it forces the website owner to actually talk to customers, to listen intently to and to take notes of the (key)words they're using to describe the products and services that they are interested in and want to buy. We've been labouring this point for years and now that this not provided change has taken effect we think it presents an opportunity for those who genuinely value their customer relationships to pump this value into their website SEO and secure the high visibility they deserve.

It was always wrong to think that Google was the sole provider of keywords. No matter how good Google is, if you let the business insert itself between you and your customers then you'll only see the keywords not provided issue as Google taking the batteries away and abusing the position of trust it's worked so hard to achieve.

I don’t want to talk to my customers about their keywords, they have a short attention span so when they contact us I want to focus on what service or product we can provide them. If they want some leaflets then as soon as they given us the information we need to get the order underway they want to go ..I want to try and talk to them about their stationary, folders, corporate brochure ie make them aware of other products we can provide them. Its often a struggle to engage them much further than their initial enquiry so to try and talk about keywords too is a definite no no, having google provide this information is a much more effective use of time.

My business is not web design or SEO, understanding a little bit of how it works is just a necessity to get more business via the web. At least google keyword analytics provides some concrete information you could focus some effort on amidst a sea of mis information and bull sh*t from SEO and social media experts. Without it the majority of us who are not experts, or can not afford to hire experts, will be a lot less informed about how to improve their website performance and a lot more open and vulnerable to snake oil salesmen offering a magic fix .
Simon avatarSimon10th July 2013Prestige Print are the specialists in estate agency marketing and offer agents a huge online library of inspirational marketing ideas.
Completely agree with you Simon and, let's be honest about it, customers don't want to talk to you, me or any other business owner about keywords either, however, it's customers that use the keywords and buys estate agent leaflets from you, not Google. Google's data is nothing more than second hand data, get it first-hand from Customers. Yeah, it's hard but who said anything about getting to/staying at the top of Google was easy?

The obsession with keywords does nobody any good. A keyword is a concept used by librarians and archivists to quickly index books. Customer's don't actually realise that the words they're using to describe the stuff they want are INDEXABLE and, therefore, by definition, keywords.

Here's an example, I've underlined the keywords in a fictitious brief telephone conversation:

Vendor: "Hello, Prestige Print"
Agent: "Hello, I'm after some leaflets for my lettings agency - what's the cheapest leaflet you can deliver?"
Vendor: "Well, our lettings agency leaflets start from just £xx.xx - What kind of leaflet are you looking for?"
Agent: "I want a solicitors' leaflet."
Vendor: "I thought you were in lettings?"
Agent: "We are, we encourage lawyers and probate solicitors not to sell houses but set up trusts to let properties - this avoids capital gains tax."

Asking a customer "What kind of..." is a very powerful SEO tool. Try it out - customers WILL tell you what they want, the words they use are the very words they'd search with - the moment you write them down they become keywords that you'll stuff into web pages.

If you're feeling really brave then you CAN ask customers what their keywords are but you need to do it in a subtle way:

Vendor: "...thanks for your order. Before I get on with designing your leaflet, may I just ask you how you found us?"
Agent: "I Googled you."
Vendor: "I don't suppose you can remember what you typed into Google to find us?"
Agent: "probate leaflets solicitors"
Steve Whiting, Sub@omic Ltd avatarSteve Whiting, Sub@omic Ltd10th August 2013Author of 'The Art of Search' - the SEO strategy book 2,500 years in the making.
Absolutely Steve. Its too easy to talk 'keywords' and think we need to 'talk keywords' (eg "dear customer, please tell me what your keywords are"). Its all about listening to the (potential) customer and understanding what they are searching for. If we can and want to meet their need, then we need to get inside their head to some degree to predict their searches and set the scene for connection.

If we didn't care enough to be getting inside their head we wouldn't be in business, would we?
Anthea avatarAnthea10th November 2013Bringing you The Utility Warehouse, where it pays to be a member!
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