The Fallacy Of Google's Protected Query Data Announcement
It’s been nearly four months since Google first announced it was making search “more secure” by encrypting the search queries of users logged in to Google Accounts. At that time, many of us (me included) were outraged. It was difficult to look beyond the immediate announcement to understand the larger chess match at hand. We were losing raw keyword query data, and that data is essential to SEO.
And bear in mind, this wasn’t the typical user resistance that has become common anytime Facebook makes some aesthetic change; this was the result of Google making it more difficult for SEOs to do our jobs.
At that time, I noted in my column “What Would Google Be Without SEOs?” that Google would be less relevant, profitable, and powerful were it not for the efforts of the SEO community. SEOs have been instrumental in enhancing Google’s relevance by making content more accessible, and indicating specifically which pieces of content are most appropriate for a given search.
Now four months removed from that announcement, we have the benefit of hindsight to reflect on the more complete impact this has had. At the time, Google’s Matt Cutts indicated this change would impact less than 10% of all queries for most websites. After a quick check of our clients’ analytics data, we’re seeing an upward trend that is currently north of 20%. That’s across all clients -- B2B, B2C, dozens of industry verticals -- it doesn’t matter. 20% is the new mean average. This is significant, and it makes me outraged all over again.
I also noted in my column from October that Google had additionally announced that it did not deem SEO to be spam, and that it understood and appreciated the efforts of SEOs. Following the protected keyword query announcement, that proclamation seemed plainly disingenuous.
But let’s be clear: SEOs are not spammers. Part of the optimization process (the “O” in SEO) is the enhancement of the onsite user experience. Understanding a user’s expectations of a site is essential to enhancing that experience. In turn, keyword query data is essential to that aim.
Further, the argument that this shift was made in an effort to protect user privacy doesn’t hold water. Google’s recent introduction “Search Plus Your World” (SPYW) and its announcement that it will be overhauling its privacy policies, appear to contradict that message entirely. After all, whose privacy is being protected here, anyway? My query details are going to “enhance” my experience across all Google products come March 1, regardless of whether I want them to or not. Google is the lone beneficiary of that data now.
And the timing of these announcements strikes me as curious, too. These moves appear to have been well-orchestrated:
1. October 2011, Protected Search Queries – by proclaiming to be a move protecting user privacy, this functions to both attract new users to Google while also serving as the ideal distraction from subsequent announcements.
2. January 2012, SPYW - SPYW compels adoption of Google+ (see Lady Gaga for proof).
Further adoption is the path of least resistance for many users.
In total, these appear to be strategic chess moves made by a highly motivated corporation.
Forbes contributor Scott Cleland nailed it with his articulation of Google’s ambitions in his column, “Why Google’s Not a ‘Platform.’” Google, according to Cleland, aspires “to be the Internet world and default web foundation to which all other platforms must adapt.”
Google wants to become the Web, and with the power it wields it has a unique, and scary, opportunity to do so.
I just want my keywords back.