Weighted Dice: Google Conceals Search Query Data

As the leader in Internet search, Google prides itself on being able to deliver the best, most relevant search results. However, Google has gotten in trouble before for wielding too much power. There is a fine line between Google suggesting what they believe their users desire and forcing them to view selected content.

Internet marketing is certainly evolving. The importance of social media will surely grow over the coming year. Relentlessly reliable email marketing will also hold its ground in terms of return on investment. But for businesses to succeed, they need to adopt a holistic approach to online marketing that includes many dimensions: Pay-per-click, Search Engine Optimization, social media, email marketing and online coupons. By increasingly shaping search, Google is crossing over into the other dimensions of online marketing, dominating some and trying to choke others out.

Google’s most recent move to monopolize search control was to encrypt their search queries. Previously, a Google Analytics user could see what search words brought someone to their site. Now, however, those key terms are encrypted. Website owners can only see that someone came to them from Google and not what search terms made their site appear. By not knowing what words are being related to these visits, website owners cannot use those key phrases to enable their own Search Engine Optimization. Google is trying to take power away from website owners.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a fast growing and powerful tool for businesses to elevate their Internet presence. When businesses seek to optimize their presence within a search engine, they take a strategic approach to the Internet, paying close attention to the keywords their content uses and where on the web they are represented. However, SEO practices revolve around cracking the code that search engines use to determine which websites make it to the top of search results. Naturally, companies like Google would prefer for their algorithms to be left alone. Google’s reach to encrypt search query words is just another attempt to shake the trail of mindful users.

Pay-per-click (or PPC) advertising is also a great asset to increase a company’s online presence. However, these tactics are much more Google controlled. PPC advertising occurs when advertisers pay the publisher for each time their ad is clicked. Advertisers can also manipulate search by bidding on keywords relevant to themselves. A website would charge a fixed rate for each click their exposure provides the advertiser. Websites that use PPC ads will display an appropriate advertisement when a keyword query matches their product. Advertisers can muscle their way onto sites by offering a percentage of their profit. With Google further hoarding keywords, they continue to flex their PPC muscles.

Sponsored links and ads are another form of PPC. These ads appear on the search results page and are a result targeted from your search query. PPC, especially with sponsored links, is where Google shows their motives.

By hiding keywords, businesses don’t know which terms they would use to optimize themselves. Many businesses will undoubtedly start buying PPC ads instead of trying to go figure out Google’s code and optimize themselves.

Google is simply trying to redirect money from SEO firms into their bank accounts. However, investing in SEO is still far more beneficial for businesses in the long run. As soon as the money runs out for PPC advertising, a company’s web presence could plummet. If a business has to halt their SEO, however, the progress they have made previously will still hold in many cases.

Additionally, while Google is by far the largest search engine it is not the only one. SEO best practices also work with Bing and blekko, and some demographics are fiercely loyal to these other search engines. If these demographics fall in line with a business’s target audience then paying for an ad on Google would certainly not be the best use of capital.

Businesses should not shy away from SEO, but instead seek out companies that specialize in the service. When a user is blind to the keywords, it could be too difficult for them to properly optimize themselves. SEO is still more powerful than PPC, and with Google scaring some SEOs away it will only be a more successful tool for those who remain.

Google’s keyword encryption is a tricky play to assert their dominance but in no way should it shift your web strategy to PPC.

About Thomas

Thomas Stone is the Contributing Author for Technected.com.



Just a little clarification on this..

Google isn't encrypting anything, they're simply removing the query string from visits that originated on a secure (https) connection. Basically, if you're signed in to google, the "q=search phrase" param/value combo will be missing in the referrer information. If you're not signed in, the q=search phrase passes through just fine.

For now you'll miss out on information from the few % of people who are signed in that perform a search and visit your site. This % will probably increase over time as more people are signed in to google services when they do their searches, but even if it was something as ridiculously high as 20%, you're still getting a very accurate set of data from a sample size that's 80% of your visitors. That's huge.

Accurate measurement is all about cause and effect anyway. If your monthly traffic from term X was 1000, well maybe now it'll show up as 800. But the important thing is, after building links and content to support term x, now you'll see it move to 900. You can still accurately measure your SEO effectiveness and see what you're doing that is working and what isn't.

schmittastic moderator

@BigBryC Interesting insight, Bryan. I'm obviously not a guru in this area and your thoughts are really appreciated as I learn more about this. Thanks for the comment!