Google Makes Search More Secure (and Adwords more attractive)

Yesterday Google announced they were making search more secure by defaulting all Google.com users who are logged in to a Google Account to the encrypted SSL protocol (https). While this has been applauded by some privacy advocates, it has left the SEO community aghast as it became clear that from now on users’ keyword referral data will not be passed by Google to the website.

Critics are quick to point out that by leaving PPC data unaffected, Google’s claim to be ‘protecting’ user privacy sounds a little ‘false’. Matt Cutts has been keen to point out that the expected drop in keyword visibility will be a ‘single digit’ percentage but with over 260 million gmail users around the world so this has the potential to be massive.

SEO keywords will show as (not provided) in analytics reports

What does this mean for SEO and analytics? Well in a nutshell you still know that the traffic sources came from Google.com however the search term is hidden from the analytics tool and changed to (not provided). As all internet marketers know, the referring keyword is a hugely valuable piece of data. It gives you so much insight into the users intent that without it SEO instantly  becomes devalued, look at the comments on the Google Analytics blog to see what I mean.

SEO visits from Google.com showing as (not provided)

As you can see from this (slightly embarrassing) Google Analytics real time report on the Elisa DBI site; logged in users who come from google.com now via SEO now have the keyword set to (not provided). This is not the case for PPC, as Adwords marketers will still have access to keyword level data, not only in their adwords reports but also their web analytics.

Google Webmaster Tools reports will continue to show website owners limited organic keyword reporting which can be accessed via Google Analytics also. If Google do roll this out across all domains then SEO traffic may become a lot harder for companies to optimise, particularly if Google’s plans for +/plus reach fruition and more and more users are logged into a Google Account whilst searching. This will also have an impact on keyword research tools.

Adwords the real benefactor from the change

Ultimately the change could mean that SEO becomes a less effective advertising medium for marketers. This will result  in Adwords becoming a more appealing acquisition channel as keyword data is essential for many kinds of analysis. Without this kind of intelligence it will be harder for analysts to understand the intent and maturity of a user. Of course this means more revenue for Google ,who announced increased revenues of $10 billion for Q4 last week, largely due to its Adwords platform.

What does this mean for web analytics and SEO

Well as of writing this only seemed to apply to google.com. Google.es still showed up the keywords. But it will likely get rolled out across the countries eventually. So in summary:

  1. You will now know how many users who come to your site have a google account. What is this percentage has never been known
  2. This does not affect ppc, only organic traffic
  3. Users won’t suddenly switch keywords so there won’t be any affect in conversions
  4. As Google Plus grows more people will be signed in and expect to lose more information about organic traffic

It’s too early for a knee jerk reaction about what this means for SEO, but it was a surprising and interesting development. One thing is for sure, if Google were to make this data available in Google Analytics Premium then they would not be short of takers for that.

Is SEO sustainable with personalised search?

When speaking to Pere Rovira, the Managing Director of Elisa Group in Spain, he raised some very good points about the nature of these changes. First of all, when search is personalised according to your browsing habits, SEO becomes a social and very personal activity rather than a purely keyword optimisation activity. If this is the case then, Pere asks “why the hell you want to know the keyword that the user typed in”? If all results are unique to that specific user then the pages can no longer be manipulated as much for commercial purposes. Indeed any keyword of significant commercial interest is no longer ‘natural’ in any sense of the word. Companies pay top dollar for SEO rankings and so the natural links are in essence also advertising.

The challenge for the SEO industry is to focus on how their world is changing and as always with evolution, those who adapt best will survive.

This Post was co-written by Adam Gutteridge.

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