Millions of SEO consultants have been reduced to quivering, shaking piles of protoplasm over the past month since Google rolled out the details of its long-feared keyword blackout. Google has moved to encrypt the majority of keyword data in logged-in user searches, drastically limiting the information people get about web keyword queries.
Okay, that might be a little bit of an exaggeration. Is it really that bad? First of all, there aren't millions of SEO consultants, it just seems that way. And it turns out that they haven't been reduced to protoplasm. In fact, some are adapting quite fine, and they say they have other tools to use to analyze search patterns on the Internet.
"It's affected my business by maybe 20 percent," Andy Kuiper, an SEO consultant based in Calgary, Alberta, told CMSWire.com.
Let's rewind a bit and look at what happened. In September, Google started bouncing searches from logged-in users to an http server with a "s" on the end of it ( https://www.google.com). That means it's an encrypted site that masks the search query. Logs that once gave data mavens information about every keyword used in a Google search to bring users to website now show that a search came from Google, but without information about the specific keyword query.
Google says the move was made for security reasons and that this only effects "signed-in" searches, which it said would be under 20 percent of search traffic. But in the real world it translates much higher. I look at traffic logs on several sites every day, and it seems that there's less than half the information there now than there was before. Many search experts saying it has reduced detailed Google keyword search data by as much as 75 percent to 80 percent.
Many SEO experts were no doubt angry at these moves, because this vastly reduced the amount of information they get to analyze. In addition, because Google still makes keyword data available to its own AdWord customers, it sparked a conspiracy theory that Google did this on purpose to lock out competitors and force more people to use AdWords.
Of course, the blogs went crazy, as this SearchEngineWatch article points out.
Indicating how extreme the reactions could be, J. Devalk, an SEO developer writing on a blog called SEOBook, called Google a "whore," saying the search company was using the privacy claim as a smokescreen to cut competitive ad networks out of its data loop.
So, where are we today, about a month after this happened? Has the dust cleared? Is it really that bad? There is no doubt that is has shaken the industry. But one might question whether Google deserves some of the vitriol.
Enterprising SEO consultants are already developing workarounds. There are already articles about how to reverse engineer Google pay-per-click data to get more information about searches. That, of course, requires that you be a Google customer, which can fuel the conspiracy theories.
Others say it's not that bad. Kuiper, who consults with many large consumer marketing firms around the world, says there are still plenty of tools to use to target content and refine Web-site audience targeting.
The work is still the same, generally, because there are other ways to garner the keywords," he says "It's a combination of things, though it certainly isn't as easy as it was before."
Some of other tools that Kuiper recommends are the Bruce Clay toolset, named for a famous search-engine pioneer, or Google's own Webmaster Tools, which gathers more detailed page-specific information about Websites. With Google's Webmaster Tools in your website analytics you can still receive an aggregated list of the top 1,000 search queries that drove traffic to a site.
Ironically, Google's actions might push people to other search engines. For example, you can still get organic search query data on Microsoft's Bing. So it is forcing people to look at other solutions.
Did Kuiper think that was Google was being "evil"?
"I don't think they're trying to make my life miserable, I think they just want to be a better search engine and make money," he says.
Others agreed that it isn't a total disaster, and they say their businesses are moving on.
"I think people are forgetting that we still have a lot of data, " says Shannon Welch, Director of Web Analytics with Terakeet, a 75-person Web consulting and analytics firm based in Syracuse, NY. "You can still get a lot of data on queries on specific landing pages with things such as Webmaster Tools."
Welch said you could look at the move by Google as a good thing, because it will force SEO consultants to be more creative and perhaps take a more holistic view of search and optimization.
"Life goes on. I think it can be a good thing in that we're not as focused on keywords and we can get more focused on engagement and where people are landing on the site. It allows us to focus more on the users."
Here are some helpful article on how people are adapting:
- How to Use Google Webmaster Tools for Better Post-Encryption Keyword Insight (Hubspot)
- How Google's Expanded Search Encryption Impacts Adobe Analytics (Adobe Digital Marketing Blog)
- How Brands Should Respond to Google's Encrypted Keyword Data (icrossing.com)
- Three Ways to Outsmart Google's Keyword Encryption (Inman News).