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Google Analytics Encrypted Data and the Future of SEO

I’m sure that most of the readers here on Search Engine Journal are all well aware of Google’s October announcement about making search more secure for their users. Other major SEO and online marketing blogs like Search Engine Land, Search Engine Watch and HubSpot and have been chatting about it for weeks, while dozens of SEO bloggers (myself included) have joined in on the conversation. Google had said that the change would impact less than 10% of daily searches, but I have definitely read more than one post where site owners were complaining that a much greater percentage of data is now being classified as “Not Provided.” In fact, for some of my client’s sites I’ve seen it up as high as 40%! That’s a far cry from the 10% Google initially promised.

Watching this situation develop over the last few months has got me thinking about various “What if” scenarios that could come from encrypted search data and how it might impact SEO down the road.

For the record, these are just questions and concerns that I have. I’m not claiming this is what is happening or what will happen; I’m just throwing a few “What if…” scenarios out there to get all of your thoughts and opinions.

Is Google setting the stage for a paid product?

As it is right now, Google Analytics is free for site owners. However, the encrypted data announcement got me wondering if Google might be looking to introduce a paid version of Analytics down the road. Think about Hulu—when it first launched users could watch all the content they wanted for free. However, Hulu eventually introduced Hulu Plus, which locked premium content behind a $7.99/month fee. Users could still watch some content for free, but all the good stuff Hulu lovers had come to expect was suddenly a premium item. If you wanted it, you had to pay for it.

I wonder if Google is looking to do the same thing one day. Will they offer a free version of Google Analytics that sticks with “Not Provided,” data, but for a fee site owners can access all the data they used to get? Does Google want to start selling what they have been giving away?

Is Google trying to get site owners to spend more on PPC?

Much to the chagrin of many site owners Google has said it will still report click information on AdWords ads; unlike organic analytics, PPC reporting will be unchanged. Obviously Google wants their PPC clients to be successful with the campaigns because it helps ensure they continue to pay for AdWords ads. If you want someone to pay, you have to prove ROI. (How many of us have had that held over our heads by clients when trying to explain the value of SEO?)

Since PPC reporting will remain unaffected, I started wondering if Google is trying to push more site owners to spend more on their PPC campaigns in order to acquire data that can be used for their SEO campaign. I, like most SEO professionals, don’t like making recommendations to my clients that aren’t based on quantifiable data. If more and more organic searches are encrypted, will site owners and SEO providers have to rely on PPC campaign data to make SEO decisions? How many campaigns would you need to run to get all the data you needed to make an educated decision?

How will this affect the value of mobile search?

Droid phones are dominating the Smartphone market right now, and a new Droid requires a Google account to be activated. I have a Droid phone, which means I am constantly logged into my Google account. Every single search I conduct on my phone (and it’s a lot) is now encrypted. There is no denying that mobile search is going to have a big impact on the SEO industry in the future, but with Droid taking a lion’s share of the market, will there be any reliable data for us to use? Mobile SEO is still a relatively underdeveloped field, with many site owners just getting their feet wet. Will encrypted search make it pointless for site owners to even try? Or will they just be forced to make blind decisions and hope for the best?

Are Google’s intentions as pure as they claim?

If Google was really serious about protecting user’s privacy, why not just shut down Google Analytics entirely? Why let some data go through? It feels like Google is trying to play both sides of the fence right now, fighting privacy concerns and still trying to keep site owners from using other analytics providers.

As I mentioned before, these are just a few of the “What if” scenarios I’ve played out in my head since Google’s secure search announcement. I don’t have a crystal ball or an insider look into inner workings of Google, so I can’t say if any of my fears will come to pass or if I’ve missed the mark entirely. These are just a few of the concerns I have if the encrypted search trend I’m seeing with my site and my clients’ sites continues.

I’d love to hear what you think about Google search, encrypted data and its long term affect on SEO.

Category SEO
Nick Stamoulis Brick Marketing

Nick Stamoulis is the President of Brick Marketing, a full service Boston SEO firm. With nearly 13 years of experience ...

Google Analytics Encrypted Data and the Future of SEO

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