When measuring the impact of online marketing via web sites, source attribution of traffic is critical for assessment of ROI. Organic SEO has traditionally relied on multiple forms of attribution to support and measure optimization tactics, including search engine source (what engine referred traffic) and query string (what keywords prompted the user visit).
On September 23, 2013, Google went from securing most organic search queries to securing all organic search queries — resulting in all keyword data being passed to analytics as (not provided). This was seen by most as a big flip of the proverbial bird to SEOs.
Now, Yahoo’s joined the security game, but in a more drastic way. On January 23, Yahoo secured all organic searches, and announced the rollout via Tumblr. But Yahoo isn’t passing these along as (not provided). They’re passing them in a way to remove all attribution, and turn them into direct visits in analytics — in other words, make them look like someone typed the URL or visited from a bookmark.
The Internet yawned. Where outrage, angst and general teeth gnashing occurred when Google pulled the trigger, the reaction to Yahoo’s move has been an overwhelming “meh” at best.
Now, sure, Yahoo is only 10.8% of the US Search market, but that’s 2 billion searmonth. They also command a fairly unique group of search users, who may not use Google or Bing much, if at all. They can be a good platform to reach older searchers and, in some cases, more rural searchers. They have some unique share of voice in certain search sectors, like travel, wellness, and even finance.
To be clear: All traffic currently coming from Yahoo Search will still count in analytics, it just won’t show as organic search traffic. And for some clients, that difference will show as a rounding error in traffic reporting. For others? It may be more disturbing. As for SEOs, those who work on the clients with greater Yahoo impact ought to be gnashing their teeth, rather than saying meh. If you can put value on the traffic generated through SEO efforts — and if you’re a halfway decent SEO you ought to be able to create a value proposition for your work — being unable to attribute the Yahoo traffic means your work is not exhibiting its true value.
So I can’t advocate saying “meh” to this change by Yahoo. While it’s not the giant “screw you” of Google’s change — Yahoo’s change does seem to be genuinely motivated by privacy concerns and reducing potential snooping by the NSA and similar organizations — it’s still yucky for SEOs who work in many sectors, or who appreciate the entirety of the market. There’s more to the Internet universe than Google users, and they have unique interests, and unique wallets. It’s now going to be even harder to justify pursuing them by any means save paid media.
And that makes me sad.