Google has found a way to start tightening the rope around search, and more specifically, SEO. According to Brad Reynolds, CEO at Mongoose, “Google is changing the face of web analytics by encrypting search results.” As a result of this change, anyone who logs into their Google account (i.e. Google+, Gmail) and then conducts a search via Google will no longer have referrer data sent along with it. That referrer data reveals what search terms were used in order to find a particular business or website. Paid ads, however, will not be affected by this change.
Who does this impact?
In a blog post, Google says less than 10% of searches will be affected by this change. Additionally, in a Search Engine Land Article, Matt Cutts a Google Software Engineer estimates the affected traffic to be 1-2% of search volume. Aggregate query data will continue to be available and include visits from users who are not signed into a Google account. This change only concerns organic search results while the user is logged into a Google account. It does not impact direct traffic, PPC traffic or affiliated traffic.
How does this affect the user experience?
In the Search Engine Land article: Google to Begin Encrypting Searches & Outbound Clicks By Default with SSL Search, Danny Sullivan does a great job of describing the setbacks from this change. This encryption prevents sophisticated keyword-based targeting from being used. It is almost as if we’re taking a step backwards in the progression of custom and personalized information. Instead of creating a better user experience, this is essentially making the consumer work harder. Take for example someone searching for a specific product, but since referrer data isn’t passed along to the company, the user lands on a basic web page. Now the user has to navigate through the website in order to find their particular product – essentially making the entire process more time consuming for the user. As a marketer, having the capability to track and analyze specific keyword information will become harder to obtain.
Why the change?
There is much speculation and controversy around why this change has been made. The majority of comments we have seen believe it is a way for Google to make more money and gain competitive advantage. Google mentions there is a growing importance of protecting the privacy of personalized search results. In an effort to protect users and their privacy, Google feels this is reason enough.
There are two additional facts we find to be confusing. First, Google will continue to offer this data to their paid advertisers, which seems inconsistent with the goal of protecting user privacy. Second, Google will continue to gather this organic search result information without passing it on, thus giving them exclusive intelligence related to search results. Some say this will hurt small businesses that cannot afford to pay for online marketing services, while others mention that this is a step in the right direction towards protecting the privacy of the consumer. The debate will be ongoing as more people become aware of this change in the marketing and SEO world.
With change, there is naturally going to be resistance. Like many changes, there will be pros and cons. At the moment, Mongoose is more interested in the long-term effects. Specifically, we’re curious to know how this will impact the way we search and if this will become a standard across all search engines. Will referrer data one day disappear for good – paid or not? Again, going back to Search Engine Land’s article, Sullivan claims that the future is clear:
“Referrer data is going away from search engines, and likely from other web sites, too. It’s somewhat amazing that we’ve had it last this long, and it will be painful to see that specific, valuable data disappear.”
Let’s say he’s right and this data disappears from search engines, what does this mean for social? Most users are searching via social already; perhaps this is an attempt by Google to gain traction in the social space as well. Although Google+ is not the most popular network in the social world, this might be the first step towards making that a reality. For now, Facebook and Twitter continue to own the social search arena. Users trust their friends’ feedback, comments and likes, which is something you don’t have in search engines. However, with Google, you do have the +1 option – but you need to be on Google+ for that function.
What do you think about what Google is doing? Are you for or against this change? Please leave any comments and suggestions below.