Google confirms it will eventually encrypt all searches, but what does that mean for marketers?
A few weeks ago Tariq Ahmed, one of our brilliant search consultants, pondered the rise of not provided searches on Google Analytics. He must have known change was afoot at Google HQ, as fast forward a few weeks and the search engine giant has just confirmed that they are now moving to secure (SSL) search and will be ceasing to provide keyphrase search results into their analytics packages.
Google’s confirmation that it will eventually encrypt all searches is big news in the world of SEO. It effectively means that we’ll no longer be able to see what keyphrases people are searching for in order to arrive at our clients’ (and our) sites. It’s causing ripples across the search universe because if clients have been sold an agency’s services on a keyphrase level, and now the agencies cannot legitimately claim to know the ROI for keyphrases, it’s going to make it harder to prove the value of a search strategy and get boards’ (and marketers’) buy-in for SEO spend.
So, why have Google done this?
Although some say that Google is doing this in an attempt to push their Google Analytics Premium product which will allow users to access keyphrase referrer data, I believe the issue is far deeper and more complex than that. For a start, keyphrase referrer data will be stripped from the referral string meaning that no analytics packages will be able to access the data – even Google Analytics Premium!
Added to this, there’s a school of thought which believes that Google may be attempting to drive spend towards AdWords and paid for search traffic (where keyphrase data remains available). Google claim their move to secure Search is for privacy – but personally I believe this is contradictory given that Google provide this data to those that pay!
The answer as to why Google have made this decision perhaps lies in the nature of the SEO industry. In the past, the industry has bitten the hand that’s fed it by manipulating Google Webmaster Guidelines through tactics such as writing press releases for the sole purpose of creating links, or spinning articles to create ‘spammy’ links. The internet is now at least 50% spam and filled with content which was created with the sole purpose of manipulating ranking positions.
Google is now trying to work through this problem and find a solution. It’s spending time, money and resources on clearing up Search Engine Results Pages (SERPS) by indexing content, understanding it and ultimately marking it as good or bad. This involves a process of penalties which have had to be heavily worked on over time, costing Google a lot of money. As Google has seen this issue manifest, it has essentially decided that the answer to the headache is to cut the problems off at its source.
Is all keyphrase data lost?
The answer to that is no, we won’t have lost all keyphrase data. We’ll still get approximate keyphrase data from Google Webmaster tools and whilst this data is currently only available from the past ninety days, Google have just announced that they are extending this to a twelve month period.
We’re also now able to link Google Webmaster Tools data directly into Google Adwords and compare organic and PPC data. This provides a great opportunity for additional insight.
Adding data from PPC campaigns, along with additional keyphrase results from alternative search engines such as Bing, means that a keyphrase data set still has the potential to be reasonably rich. It further increases the importance of organic and paid for campaigns being designed to complement each other and provide insight across the board.
Internal site search data is also still accessible – meaning that when consumers search within our clients’ sites, we’re able to see the keyphrase data. This will continue to provide huge value in identifying content gaps that need to be filled.
The bad news is that we are no longer able to see which keyphrases do not rank very highly but do deliver traffic. These keyphrases have historically been low hanging fruit. However, if we can increase the positions of keyphrases delivering traffic then this volume will only increase.
Which way now?
Taking the focus away from keyphrases, marketers should focus on content and landing pages that continue to generate organic search traffic. Bloom’s focus is very much on content and content marketing, and as long as people use search engines there will always be an opportunity to provide better, more useful content and experiences for any given target audience.
Landing page traffic reports from analytics packages will show which content pieces/product pages are receiving organic search traffic. This, combined with extended ranking monitoring, will show where our clients’ currently rank in the entire keyphrase universe for their industry. This data, when compared with current site content, will identify opportunities for content optimisation and, more importantly, the creation of additional content.
SEO is an industry of constant change, and Google’s decision to encrypt all searches is just the next big adventure.