Recently Google made an announcement that they were “Making Search More Secure” through a change that will no doubt have a huge impact on the search engine optimization community. The basic change is that anyone who happens to be logged into a Google account (Gmail, Picasa, Google+, etc) and performs a Google search will do so through a secure (SSL) page. Previously, when users clicked on an organic search result the keyword phrase they searched for to find the result would be passed through to the website and ultimately into the web analytics program. However, under the change the search for logged in users will be done via SSL and therefore the data becomes encrypted and no longer passes the keyword phrase into the analytics program. Rest assured Google is still storing this data for themselves.
The Headaches This Will Cause
Keyword data is vital to SEO for a number of reasons. Among them is the ability to tie conversions/sales to specific keyword phrases. Knowing which phrases work (or don’t) allows for adjustments to be made to the search engine optimization campaign in order to enhance user experience and ultimately increased conversion rates. Google claims this will only affect single digit percentages of search, but many believe this number is far from being accurate.
Google already has a large hold on the web with properties like Youtube, Picasa, Gmail, and more. Add the recent release of Google+, Google hopes many more users not part of the Google network will signup for the social service allowing them to have you “signed in” to a Google property until you sign out.
While this will have little or no impact on the common user, the headaches it will cause the SEO industry will be far and wide.
Do No Evil
What is strange about this recent announcement is that it only affects organic searches while pay per click (PPC) will continue to pass keyword data to the advertisers campaign data. If privacy was really a concern of Google, wouldn’t they protect keyword data for all searches? Both paid and organic?
Since they have only impacted organic search and left paid search as is, to me it seems Google may be trying to accomplish a few things.
The Future of Search Analytics
Google Analytics has been a free resource for countless webmasters over the years. In exchange for our website data, Google has been able to provide this service to many of us without second guessing it since after all it was “free”. As we all know, nothing is free. Google has been able to take the data we have provided them and used it in ways we may have never imagined and surely profited from it.
Maybe the “free ride in exchange for website data” Google has been giving webmasters is not enough anymore? Do they need to create a revenue stream from Google Analytics? They did recently announce a paid premium version for $150,000 per year. While this is out of reach for many small businesses, maybe they have plans to release a cheaper paid version of analytics available to the masses that will allow for the now missing keyword search data to be available. After all, if you are paying through Adwords you still get keyword data, so why not do the same for analytics.
Keep in mind Google Analytics is not the only website analytics program around. There are many other services that provide great website metrics. With the recent Google search change, none of these providers have access to the keyword search term used to access a site from an organic logged in Google search (although Google is surely storing this data). With the inability for vendors other than Google to have access to this data, it could spell the end of many analytics companies. Should Google decide to offer a relatively inexpensive analytics product that allows access to all keyword data, you can easily see how Google can easily corner and control the analytics market.
SEO Moving Forward
As with any industry, the best learn to adapt. I have no doubt that people in the search engine optimization industry such as myself will be able to adapt to this change (and other changes yet to come). What are your thoughts on how this recent change will affect your SEO efforts and the impact is has on your clients?