Saturday, October 29, 2011

Google Now Hiding Keyword Data in Analytics

If you are signed in to a Google account, such as Gmail or Google+, and executing searches online, those searches will be encrypted moving forward. Google made this announcement on October 18th, sending the SEO community in to somewhat of an overblown frenzy. For those using Google Analytics, this means that the search query that person used to locate and eventually land on the website in question will no longer be available in the Keyword Report (assuming they are signed in). And while there is no doubting the fact that the loss of this data will create a few issues for SEOs and webmasters alike, Google has estimated that this should only effect 10% of the data compiled within Analytics. For now, I think it is worth addressing a few questions that have flooded the blogosphere, such as, "why did Google do this?" and "is this fair?"

There are a couple of different reasons that Google may have wanted to encrypt searches for people signed in to their Google account while searching. The obvious reason, the one that Google will most likely stand by in the upcoming weeks, is to account for privacy concerns that so many people have expressed. As social media sites like Facebook continue to lag behind when it comes to their privacy policies, Google may want to send out the message that they are not going to put their users (and their company) in an equally vulnerable position. And while the move is sure to give peace of mind to those that get caught up in the, "what is Google doing with all of my info" world, it is ludicrous to assume that is the driving force behind the transition. There are a couple of alternative reasons that I tend to lean towards.

Google is padding their bottom line (not as pleasant). 

I find it very interesting that Google is stripping the keyword data from Analytics for organic searches from users that are signed in, but not doing so if the person decides to click on a paid advertisement. In other words, SEOs and webmasters will still be able to look at the keywords used by anyone that clicked on one of their paid ads. The nuts and bolts - if you pay Google for it, the data may be accessed. Think about that. If this was really about giving online users more privacy and protecting their information, they would not make the keyword data available to anyone. Google is a business and the primary goal is to drive revenue and/or protect existing revenue streams. This decision reflects both intentions, as more people may dive in to paid advertising so they can get 100% of the keyword data to cross-utilize for organic search campaigns.

Google is making a more determined effort to eliminate content farms (this would be nice!)

Keyword data in analytics can be used for good or for evil. Content farms are websites that put out useless content to try and rank for high search volume keywords. Their reason for doing this is so they can drive revenue from their online advertisements that appear on these sites - the more visible they are for as many keywords as possible, the more these ads will get clicked on, and the more money they make. Such sites use the data for evil, assessing what keywords would be worth going after and then flooding their sites with keyword stuffed copy so they can try and rank well. Hypothetically, by making less keyword data available via Analytics, the people that run these content farms would be less successful in the future, and Google's search results cleaner. And while the transition will indeed hurt these sites to some extent, I don't really buy in to the notion that this is the dominate factor that influenced Google's recent decision.

In the end, this is definitely news. But the SEOs that are crying bloody murder need to take a deep breath and relax. First of all, it isn't going to influence a large percentage of the data. I do believe the percentage of lost data will increase over time (as the younger generations get older - the older generations don't utilize Google accounts like they do), but it is enough time until it becomes significant to generate creative approaches that may be taken to account for the loss. And, in my opinion, if SEOs in the industry are unable to get around this, they probably aren't experts to begin with. And for that, I say thank you to Google. Ironically, the loss of data over time may weed out the bad SEOs and reward those that are truly dedicated to their craft and put in the hard work to solve hard problems.

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