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).

3.  March 2012, Privacy Policy Update – stitching together user behavior data across disparate Google products means users will embrace more of the Google ecosystem.

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.

3 comments about "The Fallacy Of Google's Protected Query Data Announcement".
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  1. Chris Simpson from AU/SOC, February 3, 2012 at 5:05 p.m.

    Welcome to the world of monopoly power, Ryan. Some folks have been pointing out this aspect of Google behavior for quite awhile.
    The traditional solution to situations like this is to license companies with this degree of power as common carriers. There are problems with that, too, of course.

  2. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, February 3, 2012 at 6:24 p.m.

    Ryan, while I agree with many points, I do have issues with SEO URL Link Mills. This means that companies hire companies in Russia, China and places they do not even do business in and they hire a company there to place their URL link on.

    I told Google about this practice and they did look at a competitor. Afterwards, I am now number one for the vanity keyword "Sweepstakes". This is out of over 5.3 million page searches for this word.

    This wasn't by accident either. I have spend a ton of money in PR stories and legit advertising over the years.

    Have I earn the right for the number one spot? Hell yes. If Google made changes that helped me, then so be it. I did it right and fairly including one of the original SEO experts in your field.

  3. Rob Griffin from Almighty, February 8, 2012 at 6:37 a.m.

    Just use Firefox and install the CustomizeGoogle extension. You can anonymize yourself every time you go to Google so they think they have never seen you before.

    Stick it to the man ;-)

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