Recent events in the “Googlesphere” have made life a little more difficult for SEO adherents and inbound marketing enthusiasts everywhere. After wading through the wreckage and collateral damage caused by the infamous Panda and Penguin updates, online marketers of every stripe now have to contend with a recent announcement by Google that promises a sweeping change in the area of encrypted searches. Google has been encrypting the search queries of logged-in users for a couple of years now, but in a move that almost seems like adding insult to injury, the search giant has announced that they will soon begin encrypting the searches of all users, whether logged in or not.
So why has this been such a hard pill for SEOs to swallow? The answer lies in two words: website analytics. It has been standard practice for years for SEOs to use statistics-gathering programs such as Google Analytics or StatCounter to find out what keywords people are using to find their websites. Many die-hard SEOs swear by this data, claiming that it enables them to further optimize their sites in order to garner more traffic based on the keywords revealed by these programs. Unfortunately, once Google began encrypting searches back in 2011, this vital keyword data began being withheld from analytics programs, often returning generic phrases such as “not provided” or “encrypted search” instead of the actual keywords used in the search query. This created quite a stir among the SEO crowd, and many began to deride Google for seemingly being “against” the practice of search engine optimization in general.
True enough, the lack of being able to see what type of keywords and keyphrases people are using to find your site can be a hindrance to your site optimization efforts, but it may be a bit of a stretch to conclude that Google is somehow “anti-SEO” for making this decision. The move to encrypted search started as a response to user privacy concerns, but as with most decisions that involve millions of users, there will be some unintended consequences to deal with. Many have speculated that Google decided to ramp up its search encryption efforts as a response to the accusations that it has been forking over private search data to the NSA as part of the now-famous PRISM domestic spying program. Google has flatly denied these allegations, but it has not been spared from criticism; many experts believe that the fallout from this scandal has prompted Google to push for more widespread search encryption in an effort to reassure users that its data privacy efforts are up to snuff.
Interestingly enough, this recent encryption move by Google excludes keyword search data connected to Google ad clicks. It’s no mystery that AdWords is Google’s primary cash cow, and the more data they can supply to their AdWords customers, the more likely those customers will keep spending PPC dollars in their campaign optimization efforts. After all, we do need to keep in mind that Google is not a non-profit organization, regardless of how warm and fuzzy their “Don’t be evil” motto may make us feel.
So where does that leave the SEO crowd? Some argue that encrypted searches have prompted a “SEO Armageddon”, almost as if the Grim Reaper will show up tomorrow to claim the lives of inbound marketers that depended on this keyword data to survive. Others view it as a plus, citing the need for SEOs to expand their tactics to focus on more than just keyword optimization for the sake of keyword optimization. The general push that’s being felt Internet-wide is that the focus should shift to creating quality content and an integrated marketing strategy that encompasses far more than just search engine queries. As the old adage goes, if you focus on solving problems, you’ll never run out of business…this philosophy can work wonders in the realm of online marketing as well.