B2B content marketers are charged with getting more qualified prospects to consume their helpful content and moving them down their automated sales funnel. You can tell when the right people are finding your content, such as your blog, by looking at the conversion rates on your top-of-the-funnel offers. Assuming you have built strong calls-to-action into your blog articles, which lead to contextually aligned pieces of premium content, you will see your traffic and conversions moving up and to the right. As you examine the conversion rates for organic search—search engine traffic that actually converts to leads—you will always be confronted with the fact that about 40 percent of your organic traffic has hidden source data or SSL traffic, meaning that you do not know what search term that person used to find your content (See screenshot below). Yes, you know these people are arriving via a search engine, but Google will not release information on what terms they were searching for to find your content. So, how does Google decide what source data gets hidden from you in analytics? Anyone that is signed into Google will have hidden source data, which means that this mystery segment will continue to grow with every new Google application. This is quite scary, right?
As a content marketer, you cannot avoid getting questions from your client or your boss like, “What does that SSL line item mean? And why is the majority of my traffic hidden from analytics?.” Your manager or client will be looking at something like the screenshot below, so you better have a more satisfying answer than, “Google hides data for anyone signed into a Google account. Sorry, nothing we can do about it.” This is your opportunity to be insightful and further establish yourself as a thought leader in the evolving science of organic search analytics and content marketing.
How to Use SSL Conversion Rates to Your Advantage
Your task is to get from a “nothing we can do about it” answer to an answer that reflects your understanding of Google’s shift towards personalized search. Nothing is more pointless than a client or a boss obsessing over search engine rankings for some broad industry search term like "marketing" or "sales." Personalized search results are decreasing the significance of “ranking” as a #1 performance indicator. As Google learns more and more about users—the prospects you want to find your content—it personalizes search results based on what it knows about the searcher. So even if your boss or client searches for some keyword and finds your content at #1, your celebration is pointless, because a prospect searching for the same term will most likely get a different set of results.
As Google provides more and more personalized results, the job of a content marketer gets very simple: know the problems that your prospects are experiencing, or more precisely, the questions your prospects are asking, and then create educational content that will help them understand and solve their problem. Google will do the job of matching the prospect to your genuinely helpful content, which is is where SSL comes into play.
How SSL Affects Conversion Rates
You should be using content to generate qualified leads, and one of the most important measurements of your success is your “conversion rate,” the percentage of website visitors that fill out a form with their personal information in exchange for some insightful, educational piece of content that relates to the problem they are trying to solve.
SSL represents users that are signed into a Google account or have purposefully elected to use the SSL version of Google search. (Google has a good explanation of the technicalities of SSL here). So naturally, Google will have more information about these users and can develop a better understanding of the information they are actually looking for, thus providing more appropriate search results. This translates into a higher conversion rate, as Google starts to understand who finds value in your content and why.
We have noticed that, with almost every one of our clients, the hidden SSL keywords have a significantly higher conversion rate than the average of all other “non-hidden” search terms. The above screenshot shows a 2.7 percent average conversion rate for SSL traffic. The screenshot below shows a significantly lower conversion rate—1.8 percent—for the same time period across all organic traffic, i.e., non-hidden terms included. The good news is that SSL is on a screaming trend to take over all organic search, which from my point of view means that our holistic content marketing efforts will generate even better results in the future, including higher organic search conversion rates.
The Takeaway: We Can Now Trust Google to Do Its Job
In the “old days," content marketers controlled the playing field; we could use link farms and all kinds of tactics to manipulate Google. However, now Google has regained control and prevented us from manipulating results—a trend that will only increase, as Google hides more and more data from marketers. The good news is that you do not have to throw your arms up in frustration, since this is actually a really good thing for content marketers. The more targeted content you produce, the better Google will be able to match those robust user profiles to your content. The difference in conversion rates (non-hidden terms to SSL traffic) is a leading indicator of content marketing success. The game is no longer simply “get more traffic.” The game has become “write better content,” and let Google do its job, which sounds simple, right?
Use this insight to help educate your managers or clients, who are obsessing over search rankings, that ranking is increasingly becoming obsolete. Instead, you should be spending your time and resources on understanding your prospects, the problems they are having in the marketplace and discovering what helpful content you can provide through blog articles, which will establish trust and thought leadership. SSL is simply an example of how the market is shifting to support this holistic approach.
What do your SSL trends look like? How are you addressing the SSL question with your boss or with clients? Just some food for thought... Comment below.