The day Google took on SEO, CRO and Analytics

by Peter Young on October 18, 2011 · 12 comments

Sometimes I see Google make decisions which make absolutely no sense at all – and today is just one of those days. Increasingly I can’t help feeling we see Google make decisions purely on the basis of increased revenue and that is there perogative – as at the end of the day its a business, it needs to make money and at the end of the day they are not a charity.

For those that don’t know where I am coming from today, I will let you in. Google Analytics blog recently announced that from now on the SSL Search on Google.com would be become the default setting for users logged in to Google (although at present it important to highlight this would only affect a single digit percentage of users in the US according to Google however…). So what does that mean. Well quite a lot of this rolls out further afield and even more if you utilise SEO as a significant proportion of your marketing framework. Whilst at present this may not affect the vast majority of users, the likelihood of this having a significant impact is significantly magnified should other Google assets such as Google+ etc take off.

The main impact of the changes above to the use of the SSL search is that this is likely to impact many analytics systems that use the Google search string to determine search intent (ie what term a particular browser has used to enter the site) – take for example the snippet below from my Statscounter stats

The bottom result is that of a typical non SSL search. As you can see the result pulls through all the relative query and positional data. Compare that against the top result. The top one was made from the SSL search site and as you can see none of the data is retrieved as part of the result. Google Analytics responds in a similar fashion although information such as source is still able to be accessed. However browsers who have entered the site from the SSL search site will not return query data. This however will only affect organic search traffic and NOT PPC data which remains unaffected (surprise surprise).

What bugs me about the announcement that they are not passing search query data in SSL searches – no to a certain degree I can go with that, what does bug me is that this affects ALL users logged into accounts (well US at the moment but I am fairly confident that this will spread further afield. This isn’t something you can choose – to protect those unscrupulous advertisers who want to know your every move – no its something Google dictates you do (a so called opt out rather than opt in). For Google to hide behind this is to protect users feels a bit of a cheap shot as lets face it, this is significantly going to fly in the face of many SEO’s particularly those I would suggest who are likely to be providing a more professional SEO service by utilising data such as organic query data to determine the impact of their organic search data.

For the life of me I cannot understand why Google would do this whilst at the same time encouraging take up of its new products such as Google+. Certainly greater revenues are an obvious one as this does not affect PPC data which in itself is ironic as I have lost count of the number of agency accounts I have come across where the PPC data is not correctly tagged up and is only tagged up so they can differentiate from organic data. To be honest the fact that its perfectly acceptable for PPC data to be tracked in the same circumstance that Google says it cannot pass organic data through for ”privacy purposes” would suggest again this privacy is the least of their concerns. “You can have the data – as long as you pay us” would appear to be the rhetoric here. Further to this – If Google are so worried about privacy how come are they so keen on retargeting and social profiling? Doesnt sit right with me

So who is this likely to affect.

Well SEO’s obviously.
For the meantime, many will remain unaffected but their is a good chance we will see this rolled out further and to be honest that is when this becomes a real issue. Good SEO’s track the success of a campaign by the impact it has. Driving an SEO campaign without keyword data is a bit like sailing a ship without a map. What it is likely to do is impact on a number of levels

  • Make rankings and share of voice much more important
  • Bring about the opportunity for ‘smoke and mirror’ SEO’s to take advance of the ‘unknown’. Many of us have worked hard to try and clean up the industry and I can’t help thinking this is a big step back
  • Some data is still available from Google Webmaster Tools however this obviously isnt in a format where advertisers/online marketing managers can get an aggregated view of all channels in a granular format.

Analytics & CRO

To me this is where we may see an even bigger impact than we see in SEO. With Google potentially looking at removing query data from referrals we are in a position where people may not be able to understand where their traffic is coming from. I can’t help thinking this is the sole reason many organisations actually use their analytics as lets face it organisations are more likely to use Adwords itself or Doubleclick/Atlas etc if they are tracking their PPC campaigns.

Whilst Google are good enough to provide the fact is organic, granular data is best and to me it just feels like Google haven’t thought through this properly unless we are to see future developments but given this is supposedly privacy based I can’t help thinking thats the case. Further to that should they choose to let Google Analytics understand the SSL strings would open them up to further antitrust action something I don’t think Google will be keen on.

PPC

Well the obvious impact is likely to be the migration of big budget SEO campaigns to PPC as advertisers look at migrating spends to channels where they can understand where each penny is being spent. This would likely have a further knock on effect as demand would likely increase CPC and further increase revenues. Not a bad idea when you look at it from this perspective – not that I am suggesting this may be in any way associated with this decision.

My conclusion

One thing is for sure. Its going to be an interesting time. It only affects a small number of users in the US and in the UK we are currently unaffected, however I for one will be watching this very closely over the coming weeks. Like I said I can understand why they are looking to move to a more secure framework – its just the fact they differentiate paid and organic data in such a way that doesn’t sit right with me.

Other reading
Google To Begin Encrypting Searches & Outbound Clicks By Default With SSL Search – (Highly recommended read) – http://searchengineland.com/google-to-begin-encrypting-searches-outbound-clicks-by-default-97435
Now We Will Need To Pay To See Keyword Referrer Data? – http://www.hobo-web.co.uk/now-we-will-need-to-pay-to-see-keyword-referrer-data/
SEO Under Attack – The Google Analytics Keyword Data Apocalypse – http://bit.ly/nx7clX

Google+ Comments

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris October 18, 2011 at 10:36 pm

Nice write up! I will be really interested to see if they offer the referral data in their new premium (paid) analytics packages? Then we will know the real reason for the added “security”…. $$$$$$

Peter Young October 18, 2011 at 11:21 pm

It could be a double edged sword as something like that would have massive repurcutions to the analytics industry – even more so than we are seeing in the SEO industry. Whilst there is no real doubt in my mind this is money motivated whether or not its due to new improvements in Analytics I am still to be convinced on. Time will tell.

Dave Stopher October 19, 2011 at 8:32 am

Could this be the day the Search industry stood still?

I agree with the blog post you are totally right! Just feels like Google are trying to get greedy!!

Question from me is IF you are able see secure data in Analytics Premium, How long will it be before Google sell a API License for it??

Dave Stopher October 19, 2011 at 8:33 am

Also Greedy Greedy Google!!

Peter Buhagar October 21, 2011 at 11:12 pm

Hello Mr. Young,

Please inform me as to whether Google’s new encrypted searching measures will affect keyword popularity data that is presented in Google Adwords.

Thank-you

Peter Young October 24, 2011 at 8:15 am

It is my understandIng this will merely affect the data pushed through to GA (and other analytics packages). The keyword popularity data is Google owned and thus I would suggest will remain unaffected

Peter Young October 24, 2011 at 8:15 am

It is my understandIng this will merely affect the data pushed through to GA (and other analytics packages). The keyword popularity data is Google owned and thus I would suggest will remain unaffected

ray November 14, 2011 at 6:18 pm

The day Google will take over SEO is too far right now. This may be the beginning but we still have nothing to worry about. The security feature is most likely to restrict spams and illegal activities. Any effects on SEO practices is not detected so far. But your post has definitely made me think again. I will also keep an eye on this. As it can be a turning point for SEO in later years.

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