Behind every search there’s a person looking for something specific. And that something specific – that kernel of human truth dropped into a search bar – lies within the consumer’s natural search phrase. Organic keywords (that source of free traffic resulting from a person’s natural search query) used to be visible in a website’s backend analytics. However, ever since search engines transitioned into Encrypted Search, this monumental data that gave businesses insight into consumer intent is no longer provided. The missing organic keywords, a.k.a. the (not provided) keywords in Google Analytics/Omniture reports, have been impacting companies’ product strategies, conversion rates and outreach programs in a major way.

As someone who’s been in the SEO game for a long time, I’ve witnessed how the lack of information around consumer’s natural keywords has driven SEO managers and search marketers of all kinds to hack their way around these obstacles. There is a multitude of  workarounds and hacks in the market, with varied complexity and efficiency, but one thing remains the same: they all supply search marketers with speculations and educated guesses about what their customers search for.

I know what it’s like to be attached to a hack – there’s a sense of accomplishment and loyalty that comes with discovering your favorite workaround. I’ve been doing search marketing since 2003 – I ran SEO and Structured Data Feeds for Travelocity and was the Head of Paid/Natural Search and Affiliates for Gap Inc. for several years – so it’s safe to say I have a few hacks up my sleeve. Here is a list of my favorite workarounds that have helped me decipher organic keywords over the years:

1. Analyzing Landing Pages: Looking at landing pages that receive organic traffic really helps when making assumptions about the overall context of the search engine results page (SERP) driving the traffic. There are published hacks about how to pull out portions of the URL and incorporate them in Google Analytics or Omniture reports to attempt to reverse engineer the natural search phrase that ultimately sends traffic to the landing page. Not the exact keywords, but close enough for marketers to get close to a general idea of what their customers want.

2. Site Search: Companies are able to see what customers have been searching for through their own site search. These searches tend to draw a parallel to how people get to the site in the first place and offer valuable insights into what products or categories they are interested in once they get there. Since these are the search phrases used on-site, one can assume that they, or a close variant, would also be used off-site (in Search Engines).

3. Farming Related Searches and Autocomplete Suggestions: When Google, Facebook and Yahoo enabled Autocomplete suggestions in their search bars, they took the game of predictive search to a new level. Combining user trends, big data and machine learning predictive models, Autocomplete enables searchers (and search marketers) to easily see popular search queries. Enter in a word or phrase and pay attention to what gets suggested. Write a script and you can mine this list to expand your keyword list by the thousands. Similarly, another insight you can glean is the Related Searches Suggestions found at the bottom of SERPs, which provide insight into popular user queries.

4. Competitor Analysis of Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs): Most online businesses have been analyzing how other companies show up in organic search results for a while now in order to speculate the types of keywords that drive traffic to those pages. The way they do this is by analyzing the SERPs that generate traffic: who shows up in the top organic search results placements and the difference between them and the other, lower ranking organic search results. To analyze the differences between the leading search results and the rest you need to look at the page source for metadata and code differences, then contextually analyze the page content, look for social network integration, inbound links, etc.

5. Paid Keywords Search Query Reports (SQRs): Paid search platforms, such as Google Adwords provide their advertisers with detailed reports of the exact keywords they bid on and their performance (impressions, clicks and CTRs). Meaning that SEM professionals still have access to the actual paid keyword that led a searcher to their website. If a company implements Google Adwords conversion pixels, they can see the keywords that drove traffic and conversions from Paid Search. You can use this list in many ways, you can target broadly to discover new keywords and search phrases or chose the exact set of paid keywords to bid on an track. By utilizing the SQR search marketers can create a list of presumably strong organic keywords and natural search phrases.

Sure, these hacks have proven useful from time to time, but most marketers want data-driven results that provide real insights about real people. The best way to get that is through the organic keywords. What are our customers searching for? This should be an easy answer. We shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to find out.

Bottom line: Hacks have become an industry norm, with SEO professionals and search marketers building customized workarounds to try to extract those elusive (not provided) organic keywords. Many search marketers get so used to using these workarounds that they become emotionally connected to their process. And to be truthful, it is hard to part ways with the hacks we’ve worked so hard to perfect. Despite our efforts these hacks and workarounds remain imperfect, deeply-rooted in speculation and inference, which is why we at Jumpshot are working on bringing back visibility into keywords and tieing them to conversions, for everyone! We don’t want to replace your favorite workaround. We just want to make your lives a bit easier, by supplying you with real keywords, real conversions, and real results.