Has Google finally pulled out the rug from under the dedicated SEO’s feet?

With the announcement of Google cracking down on privacy for its users, SEOs up and down the country are grumbling in frustration.

The ever so useful organic keyword data which Google provided via Analytics will no longer be an accurate source of valuable information with which to optimise a campaign. But is the doom and gloom we’ve seen today completely necessary?

In part, yes. Google is bringing in a new system whereby users who are signed in to personalised search will now be forwarded to an https:// version of the engine. What this means is the keywords that users enter when looking for sites will no longer be tracked in Analytics; instead, appearing as a disembodied number of visits under a token “(not provided)” tag.

So, what does this mean for searchers?  Not a lot really, they’ll still be provided with the same search experience.  However, for SEOs, we are left with something to seriously consider.

Better understanding

Clients will always be interested in who’s finding their site and how, as well as the number of brand-related terms compared with the likes of non-brand and longer tail searches. In fact, many clients prefer brand traffic to be split out as it denotes a set of users who already know about them, perhaps have visited before and are better linked to any offline advertising going on.

SEO agencies and professionals are right to be concerned. The lack of organic search keyword information will be a serious problem in allowing us to properly segregate the data and learn from the campaign.

But is it all bad news?  This might actually give us a better understanding of which users are signed in when they visit our client sites; which could prove useful further down the line in helping us to understand the demographic of these users.

Google also tells us that the data is still there; that our segments will apparently still work, as will conversion rates. So those of us who separate data in as many ways as we can might still be able to determine top line numbers.  Only time will tell.

But it’s when we want to drill down to the specifics that the information will elude us. What we can do is extrapolate the information and work with percentages to project campaign influences, naturally, being transparent with clients.

SEOs need to be ready

So far this change has only rolled out to Google.com, and is still only affecting a small percentage of users (only those signed in) but it is coming, and we all need to be prepared for how it will impact on us. As personalised search grows over the coming months, more and more data will be hidden behind the privacy that Google has introduced.

The advent of Google+ and the +1 button requires users to be signed in. The buttons are encouraged as a social experience and, therefore, are ultimately going to lead to more and more users being signed in.

If a UK agency hasn’t got its segments sorted out and tested, they need to ensure it has its Webmaster Tools married up to Analytics and keep a close eye on everything before this is rolled out worldwide. If the data really is still there, and the segmentation is still going to work, we need to be ready for it.

And if we’re not? Well, Google is still collecting and displaying data for its ‘cpc’ advertisers, and it just so happens to have a paid-for version of Google Analytics that’s available on a yearly fee. Perhaps a selling point for this version will be the ‘inclusion of all organic keyword data’?  Again, we’ll have to wait and see.

After all Google is a business too and, as such, it must juggle the demands of its users with the needs of advertisers.

Jane Cragg, SEO manager, Rippleffect

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