Last week wasn’t Google’s finest hour -- at least not in the eyes of the SEO community.
It was then that Google announced it was “making search more secure” by encrypting searches that originate from users who are logged in to Google Accounts. In practical terms, this means that Google will no longer pass organic search keyword query details on to website analytics tools when users are still logged in to Gmail, Google Docs, Google+, or any other Google service. This change is cited as an attempt to protect the “privacy and security” of its users’ Web search history. According to Google, this impact affects less than 10% of all search queries.
For SEOs, it means we’re now flying blind for a portion of our search-referred traffic.
This announcement has spawned a lot of discussion among SEOs, much of it negative and directed towards Google itself. Many aren’t buying the search engine's explanation for the change. An example of the venom directed toward Google can be seen in Dutch SEO Joost de Valk's inflammatory response, “Google Whores Out Users with False Privacy Claims.”
Overall, the biggest gripe is that this change is occurring for natural search alone; paid search keyword data will continue to be available to PPC marketers. That is because PPC marketers “rely on that data to optimize search campaigns.” Conspiracy theorists suspect that “PPC marketers needing data to optimize campaigns” is little more than code for “AdWords is our lifeblood and we’re not about to add friction to that revenue stream.”
Then, in an interesting move, and what can only be characterized as a PR response to SEOs, Google officially announced that it doesn’t consider SEO to be spam. SEOs are our friends. Let's all hug and make up.
This was interesting to me, because I wondered why Google would care about what SEOs thought. After all, it has a relative monopoly in search in most countries. Why would it put out a public "response" directed to the SEO community?
Or, more succinctly, why are SEOs important to Google?
I considered that question for a few days, and I think deep down Google understands that there's a certain synergism at play between its natural results and SEO. The two function in harmony with one another, and to the betterment of both parties. The truth is, Google needs SEOs.
Without SEOs, who help build compelling and credible content, and make that content easy to discover, Google would be:
1. Less relevant. To those of you who are rolling your eyes, hear me out. SEO is not (usually) a manipulation of search results. White-hat SEO is hard and time-consuming. It requires a real commitment to search engine and website users alike. Without engaging content, and SEOs to prop up that content, there's no guarantee that Google's results would be as fresh and relevant as they typically are.
2. Less profitable. Without relevance across organic results, its AdWords paid search platform wouldn’t be nearly as lucrative for Google as it is. Lower results relevance to users would drive adoption for other search engines. The obvious beneficiary would be Bing, but how many other upstart engines would have thrived in an environment where Google's results were suspect?
3. Less powerful. Google is an undeniable engine of innovation. Beyond search, many Google services and technologies have become staples of an online experience (Gmail, Google Docs, Chrome, Android). The profitability of its search business (as a result of its search relevance) has facilitated that innovation. If the relevance of its search algorithm begins to be questioned, the foundation of Google's empire will start to show cracks.
I'm not trying to sound overly grandiose with my views, nor am I delusional about the importance of SEO. I get it.
My point is that Google needs to better appreciate the value it derives from the efforts of SEOs. We share a co-existence that should be viewed as very strategic to Google's business model. Making wholesale changes to how it treats the underlying data behind organic results, then issuing a weak "we like you guys" video, does not reflect a healthy partnership.