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SEOs everywhere are asking themselves, ‘why is Google  against us?’ While many of the Google updates are problematic for SEOs we accept them because Google implements them to improve user experience for people using Google Search. As a Google user I can appreciate this from both perspectives, and see more relevant search results as a good thing. However, these new changes seem to have an ulterior motive.

Search Engine Land approached Google about the changes and they confirmed the switch saying the following: ‘We added SSL encryption for our signed-in search users in 2011, as well as searches from the Chrome omnibox earlier this year. We’re now working to bring this extra protection to more users who are not signed in.’

A bit of history

In October 2011 Google announced it would start encrypting search results for logged-in Google users, including Google owned sites such as YouTube, Google+ and Gmail. This change means marketers can no longer track what keywords were used to get to their website by users signed into, hence the annoying ‘not provided’ part in your keyword data. Without having the insights provided by keyword data provided by Google it’s now much tougher to target the right keywords to achieve more visibility in SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages).

What does this mean for keyword targeting?

The outcome of the changes is that marketers will no longer be able to get keyword data for users who aren’t signed in as well as those who are signed in; with these new changes this means keyword data is not simply limited, it’s non-existent.

When the first changes were made in 2011 Google’s Distinguished Engineer Matt Cutts said it was estimated that the amount of ‘(not provided)’ visits ‘even at full roll-out… would still be in the single-digit percentages of all Google searchers on’

Why is Google working against marketers?

Now to business, why has Google made such a sudden change? There are a number of possibilities; Google claim the change is to provide more ‘protection’ for searches. Search Engine Land suspect Google is attempting to block NSA spying activity. Although Google strongly denied it they were accused of giving the National Security Agency access to search data in June.

We can’t help but notice that amongst all this change one thing has stayed the same, search activity data is still available for ad clicks. Google is encrypting all search activity except for ad clicks, could Google be trying to get more people using Google Adwords and therefore increase spending on paid ads? It seems more likely than the reason they gave. The fact that the changes do not impact paid advertisers is why the reason Google gave for the sudden change just doesn’t wash. Consumers are generally unconcerned about organic search data, what does concern them is targeted advertising; you look at one crazy diet supplement on the internet to see what all the fuss is about one time and from that moment on you are shown diet ads wherever you go on Google. Therefore, Google is saying it’s okay to divulge information for advertisers to make money, but when it comes to organic search results it’s a consumer privacy issue, this makes their reasoning quite ironic.

So how do marketers feel about the changes?

Hubspot asked a few and here’s what they had to say about the changes.

Aaron Aders, Co-Founder:

“While secure searches may seem frustrating to many SEO marketers, this is actually a great move for our industry. Great SEO today is great content with powerful digital endorsements from relevant and authoritative websites, which results in business results that transcend the keyword conversation.

“SEO marketers need to be focused on raising organic traffic as a whole, achieving business objectives like online sales and lead generation, growing branded communities, and earning brand mentions. This move by Google will force SEO marketers to focus on business results rather than keywords — which is where the focus should be anyway.”

Larry Kim, Founder & CTO:

“Since SEO-optimized content is generally themed content around a specific topic, you can still track the SEO performance of all of your URL’s. I’d argue that tracking organic content at a page level, rather than an individual keyword level, makes a lot more sense given the recent increases in keyword ranking volatility.

“It’s worth noting that the keyword “(not provided)” issue only impacts organic searches. If your company engages in PPC marketing, you can still access a treasure trove of valuable search query data by linking your company’s AdWords account with your Google Analytics account and use that data for future keyword research projects.”

Andy Pitre, HubSpot Analytics Product Manager:

“As marketers ourselves, we aren’t too happy about these recent developments. We love having access to as much data as possible, and we love using that data to help create better experiences for our visitors, prospects, and customers. Google’s decision to withhold keyword data undoubtedly makes our jobs as marketers a little bit harder.

“But as marketers, we are also accustomed to living in a world where we frequently only have access to incomplete information. A big part of our jobs is to interpret that incomplete data and make the best decisions we can. Search is now one of those places where we only have access to a small part of the story. Our decision-making process in this area will have to adapt to these new circumstances, but it won’t stop us from reaching the customers who are searching for our products and services.”

Whatever your opinion it appears organic search is going to continue to get tougher for SEOs with emphasis being placed on paid search results by Google. Questions still remain, Search Engine Land sent questions to Google and still haven’t heard back: Is this worldwide? How soon until it happens for everyone?

What can marketers do?

Well, when it comes to keyword targeting – not a lot. We can still research keywords and traffic data is still available, but when it comes down to knowing what keywords got you that traffic, you simply won’t know. Another option is to use Bing and Yahoo as they still provide keyword data, although Google has 67% of the search market share Bing and Yahoo could still provide some indication of the most useful terms to SEOs. For those using Google Adwords if you link your Adwords with your Google Analytics account you can get the data this way, although obviously you have to pay for the ads you’re running and they won’t count as organic traffic.

While these changes will make things more difficult for keyword campaigners there are positives that should be noted. Although marketers won’t have access to the same data as before the changes are overall a positive thing for web content which will be vastly improved. These changes force marketers to look at their content and improve, this means better overall web content, more relevance, better user experience, better content being shared and fairer digital marketing for content lead marketers, who understand their audiences and put effort and research into their content to make it unique.


Article originally written as part of Nuance & Fathom’s portfolio.

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