Keyword Research in the Age of Not Provided

This is an intermediate-advanced online marketing post. If you’re just starting to understand (not provided) and its impact, check out Nick’s post on (not provided) for the layperson.

Here’s the corresponding slide deck that Ken presented at Pubcon this year.

The jig is up, keyword data on-site is now a shadow of its past self. Aside from crying into our coffee, what can we do?

For an up-to-the-day view, check out
For an up-to-the-day view, check out

The answer to that question varies depending on what task you need to accomplish. On-site keyword data was a primary or secondary data source for a few tasks, so we’ll need to take a look at a few of those tasks to determine what tool or dataset we can use as an alternative.

Basic Keyword Research (no website required)

At Top Draw, we refer to website agnostic keyword research as basic keyword research. Thankfully, very little has changed on this side. Currently, our best starting source of keyword data is Google’s Keyword Planner.


  • Very solid data straight from Google.
  • Keyword ideas help you find terms and alternatives you might not have considered.
  • Negative keywords option helps remove noise from the ideas list.
  • The data is downloadable.


  • You need to be inventive to use the thousands of keywords you just downloaded.
  • Ideas lists can be very messy, requiring you to look at the keywords one by one.
  • The tool is ultimately built for AdWords research, so it focuses heavily on transactional phrases, doesn’t provide good organic competitive metrics, etc.

Wordtracker is a lot tighter on keywords and does provide those organic competitive metrics that you can’t get from Keyword Planner.


  • Find tightly related keywords fast
  • Quickly build a list of relevant keywords
  • Sort large lists by search volume and several different competitive metrics (IAAT, KEI, etc)


  • A lot of keywords to wade through.
  • Not as intuitive as Keyword Planner.
  • Sorting is somewhat simplistic.

So, this was the easy part. Keywords from Analytics provided a great source of confirmation data but ultimately, basic keyword research still rules for market verification or for strategy before your site has a ton of traffic. A much more difficult thing to do is replace how keywords within Analytics helped with on-site usability and intent signalling. There are a few tools you can use to get at that data, but none are as solid as Analytics keywords.

One place you can check right within Google Analytics is to use Landing page data. If you have a content rich page, an organic visitor landing on a particular page can signal to you that it’s ranking within the search results. You still have to guess at the keyword that brought that visitor to the page. We have a dashboard template that can help pull this data out here:


  • Real data from your Analytics
  • Very quick to check


  • You have to guess the phrases that brought the visitor
  • Doesn’t work for small sites or those with less content.

The Adwords Paid & Organic Report is somewhat of a newcomer in that few people are using it for raw keyword research and user intent signalling. A combination of Webmaster tools and AdWords data, we’ve found it very interesting in understanding PPC cannibalization, but less useful as a keyphrase research tool. In any case, we thought we’d include it for those specialists out there who are running combined organic and paid campaigns for their clients.


  • Interesting data intersection between paid and organic


  • Not granular to the page
  • No conversion data

Back within Analytics itself, a fantastic keyword resource for websites with a high volume of visitors is the Site Search Terms Report. You need the volume as well as on-site search to support gathering of this data, but it’s pretty awesome stuff. This keyword data frequently provides insights to us at Top Draw on what navigation or content elements we may be missing from a site or page.


  • Very insightful data on what’s missing.


  • Not as much data.
  • You need on-site search, GA tracking, and lots of visitors.

Finally, our recommended best source of page level keyword data in some circumstances is Google’s Webmaster Tools “Top Pages Report”. WMT has got some deserved heat from Portent on their data quality, but we’ve found that a website in a “sweet spot” of getting a decent amount of traffic without having too long a tail on keywords has “OK” page-level data within WMT. Stay tuned for that article.

  • Laserheart

    Good article, Adriel, thanks!