By Elise Gould published November 6, 2013

Affinity Data: Measuring Marketing Effectiveness Without Keywords

thumbs up, thumbs down, likes and dislikesA few years ago, I shared a post on finding the right keywords for content marketing. I loved reading and interacting with your feedback, but I am (not so) sorry to say that it’s time to switch gears from keywords to the shiny-bright future. See, you may have heard about Google’s keyword data disappearing act. According to the Not Provided Count, the amount of data Google is now withholding is rising dramatically. Soon, we won’t have any access to keyword insight.

Yes, it’s scary. But no, it’s not the end of the world.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s a long-overdue switch to a new form of user insight that may prove to be far more useful than keywords. Marketers, meet the next big thing when it comes to measuring marketing effectiveness: affinity data. 

What is affinity data?

Let’s say you have pinboards full of DIY ideas, a few crafting blogs that you frequent, and an email account connected to several crafting stores in your area. On the weekends you check in at your favorite craft fair using Facebook, and occasionally you Google new places to buy craft supplies. The way you interact with websites and social communications (including email) provides affinity data. In short, the “database of affinity” is the expansive portfolio of individuals’ likes and dislikes based on what they interact with. The affinity data that you produce from all the characteristics listed reveals that, dang, you really like crafts.

Unlike search intent, affinity is a long-term measurement. The idea is that if you like something now, chances are you’re still going to like it in a year or two. It’s a measurement of emotional attachment.

How does it work?

Right now, if you were to search for “party games for kids,” you might get lists of ideas to incorporate into your child’s next birthday. However, if affinity data were built into a search engine’s algorithm, it would know that you “liked” your friend’s shared link to grills on sale, checked in at the local YMCA, and are regularly receiving emails from a pool-building company. Taking affinity into consideration, your results might show more outdoor, or even water-based games.

Affinity data goes far beyond mere search intent and aims to provide what you, as an individual, like. Think of it as that mind-reading boyfriend you never had.

The future is near

Who will be leading the affinity marketing revolution? Why, none other than Google, of course. Removing keywords is step one. Integrating the new data will very likely be step two. We can already see the baby steps of the movement in Google’s integration of +1 data into search results. But it’s going to be so much bigger. Right now, affinity data is pretty much inaccessible. We have the data, but not any way to translate it into valuable information. However, soon we will see companies emerging to take on the task of breaking down the raw information into meaningful statistics.

How it will affect your content marketing

So, here’s the all-important question: What does this all mean for you, as a marketer? First, as keyword data becomes harder and harder to access, we’ll see a decline in keyword stuffing (hoorah!). Content writers will focus evermore on great content; however, the way users will interact with it will be much more specialized. Search results will hone in better on what is being searched for, especially in light of Google’s Hummingbird update.

But there are far greater implications than merely decreasing keyword influence. Consider this for a moment: If you knew exactly what each of your individual customers liked and responded to, what could you do? In short, a lot. Imagine ultra-segmented audiences that could each be contacted in a unique, personal way. Affinity data paired with search intent will allow you to tap into what people are genuinely attracted to, and your marketing will be more effective because of it.

Three things you can do right now: 

  1. Even without access to the data, you can begin thinking in terms of affinity. When creating new content, ask: What kind of person would like this article? Visualize that person. Maybe it’s even someone you know. Then imagine writing it to him or her.
  2. Take some time to research your audience members’ demographics. What are they into? What are their commonalities? Their differences? Know your audience like you would know your own child.
  3. Last but not least, get in line with standards. Google will be relying on these meta-tags increasingly to create quality results. If your content is not marked up, it will slowly become invisible.

Want more insight on content measurement? See CMI’s eGuide on Measuring Content Marketing Success.

Cover image via Bigstock

Author: Elise Gould

+Elise (Redlin) Gould (aka @redlincook) is the Marketing Director at LaneTerralever, a strategic marketing agency in sunny Arizona providing a range of services including online marketing, website design and development, social media marketing, content marketing and lead generation, public relations, media buying and branding. She's fully immersed herself into the world of content and marketing and admits she has the best job in the world.

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  • Max Traylor

    For those of us focused on quality content, keywords have been a thorn in our side for a long time.

    In the content creation process, interviewing clients and so on, they continue to get caught up in the idea that keywords are what is going to get them ranked.

    In every case, the challenge is giving them something new that they can understand and work towards.

    I just thought you should know that this is an article that will serve as a great tool when explaining WHY genuine quality content, based on the interests and the informational needs of consumers, is what will grow their business online.


    • Elise Gould

      Max, I’m so glad that you found the post helpful. It will take some time, and education of your clients but you’ll get there eventually.

  • Alec Painter

    There’s already a great company with a content marketing focus that has gotten to “affinity data” – and more important – individual affinity profiles way faster than Google ever will.

    Check them out:

    • Elise Gould

      Thanks Alec. I’ll check it out.

    • Jonny Rose

      Alec – Thank you for the mention.

      Elise – this idea of “affinity data” is something we’ve been thinking hard about at idio (although we have’t called it that!).

      The latest Google landgrab for keyword data coupled with their move to semantic search with the Hummingbird update – see: – has interesting implications regarding how brands can expect to get the most out of measuring their content marketing *and* learn about the people reading their content.

      In “Google (Not Provided): Goodbye Organic Keyword Data, Hello Onsite Behaviour Tracking” (, we suggest that using content analytics and tracking interactions with each piece of content is actually a far better way to do content marketing than merely relying on keyword search data.

      Suffice to say, the rise of using content as a proxy for audience data should be looked on as an exciting opportunity for content marketers! 🙂

      Jonny Rose (idio)

      • Elise Gould

        Jonny, we also look at content analytics pretty heavily when measuring content effectiveness and I agree it’s often a far better way to measure effectiveness. Great posts by the way. 🙂

  • Dave Link

    It seems like this new swing in affinity data is only going to increase the importance and relevancy of creating accurate buyer personas. While personas are already key in content creation, I imagine this gradual shift toward affinity in search will finally bring around some of the holdouts who feel that knowing the customer/user is just an option as opposed to a requirement. Thanks for sharing!

    • Elise Gould

      Agreed, Dave. I’m looking forward to what will come. Thanks!

  • kizi 2

    very good article, the topics you analyze very well, I totally agree, thank you

    • Elise Gould

      Thanks Kizi.

  • Kizi 1

    Security is always a very important thing that we now need to do, thanks

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  • Jeff Gottschalk

    Elise, this is an awesome article! Well written, well articulated, and love the action items! – Jeff Gottschalk

    • Elise Gould

      Thanks Jeff! Much appreciated.

  • Sergey Shevtsov

    Nice article, good examples, found very useful tips for myself.
    Thank you!

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  • Techinplain English

    The last tip is something I’ve been putting on the back burner, so it was nice to see. You worded it so casually, though. I guess you don’t want to alarm people?