Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Rand Fishkin Questions Matt Cutts' Statement Regarding Encrypted Searches

Rand Fishkin has (albeit indirectly) appropriately called out Matt Cutts via Twitter - and because Rand garners the sort of respect throughout the SEO community, Cutts actually responded. As many of you know, and as I discussed earlier this month, Google is encrypting searches for those that are signed in to a Google account. As a result, the keyword data for these individuals is no longer available within the Google Analytics reports. Regardless of what Google's intentions were for doing this (was it truly to address privacy concerns?), Cutts had stated that the number of people searching online while signed in only makes up a single-digit percentage of the total number of searchers. And because of that, the implication was that it shouldn't have a negative impact on running a search marketing campaign as the keyword data lost would be minimal. 

The Twitter exchange from my perspective was somewhat surprising. Fishkin, of the infamous SEOmoz crew, simply tweeted that the single-digit percentage estimate that Cutts had given at the time of the change was way off. This was after he and his team at SEOmoz completed a thorough survey of webmasters that have been affected by Google's decision to encrypt searches. The results suggested that nearly 12% of web traffic came from keywords (not provided) within analytics. He didn't make any derogatory statements towards Cutts or Google, just stated a notion that was well supported by the survey results. Cutts responded somewhat coldly, tweeting back, "Nope, it wasn't."

First of all, it is important to state that Cutts, like the rest of us involved on any level with the world of SEO, knows who Rand Fishkin is. It isn't like he is some uninformed SEO rookie making an absurd statement without cause. With that in mind, Cutts should (and definitely does) have known that there was substance behind Fishkin's tweet, and responded with a more professional approach. For example, tweeting something like, "Hey Rand, what kind of data did you compile that lead you to take such a stance." Fishkin tweeted it back to him anyway.

Had Cutts approached things differently on behalf of Google, he may have had an opportunity to respond with information that may have truly undermined the findings of SEOmoz' survey and supported his earlier single-digit claim. Instead, Cutts listed off a number of factors that should explain SEOmoz' supposedly inflated numbers, giving off the perception that he was blindly defending Google's decision to make the change in the first place. I say this because the survey that SEOmoz conducted pulled responses from a vast array of sources, ranging from content based, lead gen based, to small business and government related sites - something that seemingly Cutts did not look in to. Fishkin took the higher road and suggested that Cutts' response may indicate that things may not get worse than they are now, which would be a mild victory (I guess?) for anyone utilizing keyword data to make informed decisions that improve a campaign.

My biggest issue with the change, Cutts' original prediction, and the latest exchange with Rand is my belief that Google had enough information to make a more appropriate statement regarding the percentage of people searching while signed in to a Google account. At the very least, they could have taken the time to break down the numbers by industry, for example, to better prepare webmasters and SEOs for making the necessary adjustments to account for the subsequent loss of keyword data within analytics. Instead, it was more important for them to quell the fears of anyone utilizing analytics and minimize the inevitable backlash from their decision.

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