…And Google Said, “Market Blindly!”

It’s quite the conundrum when the business you build is almost entirely dependent on a technology that you have no control over. Of course, in this case I’m referring to Google. This is a known risk and something any SEO worth their salt is accustomed to dealing with. We love Google but sometimes we loathe their choices. Some of their updates hurt websites for no apparent reason, or the new format of search results may not be to our liking, but at the end of the day you can usually rationalize Google’s decision as somehow trying to improve the product and help users.

While I truly don’t believe many of Google’s changes the past couple of years have been to improve the product, the argument can at least be made without too much difficulty. This past week, though, Google has decided that organic keyword data in Google Analytics is going dark. This, as a marketer, is the equivalent of being punched in the stomach. When I first heard this I understood how Harry Houdini died. An unexpected gut punch is nothing to be laughed at, and Google had delivered a healthy one to online marketers.

Why is losing organic keyword data a big deal?

When Google decided to take this data away they essentially are telling web marketers that they no longer get to know the intent of users coming to their website. Most companies go through their website data and figure out what’s performing well and what isn’t, just like any other marketing initiative. Often, we’ve found areas on websites where we weren’t delivering content in line with user intent. Take, for example the keywords from the Swimtown Pool Supplies website below:

pool covers stats

All of this data will now be replaced by one entry known as “not provided”

 

Swimtown sells a lot of different safety covers and they get a lot of traffic for these keywords. Taking a look at some of the more popular phrases in Google Analytics showed us that the term “swimming pool safety covers” didn’t perform as well as  phrases that included “inground pools.” The highlighted analytics number above is the bounce rate for that term, meaning that 37.17% of visitors searching for “swimming pool safety covers” saw only that page and left. It turns out the landing page people were coming into for nearly all of the safety covers related terms was geared solely towards in ground covers, alienating some potential customers and losing them to the back button and a sea of other Google results.

Having this data at our finger tips made it possible for us to offer Google users a better experience. By taking this data away we’ll only know that search traffic is entering on a certain page, but we’ll have no idea what they want or how to improve our website based on their intentions. Well, that is unless you want to use AdWords and pay for those clicks. Google will happily provide you that data.

Google’s going to play the “protecting your privacy” card here as their public relations team goes into overdrive selling this to the public. To think a company the size and scope of Google can’t come up with a secure way to serve up organic keywords in analytics just seems preposterous to me. The greater motivation here of course is money. Google undoubtedly assumes that companies need this data and the only way to get it now is by paying for it with AdWords. More ad spend equals more revenue and that makes happy investors.

Investors first. Customers second.

Netvantage will never be more than a speck of sand compared to Google, but being privately owned allows us to only make decisions in the best interest of those that utilize our services. Chasing dollars by providing an increasingly worse product is a fundamentally flawed strategy. Google, at its core, is just a service that scrapes websites and helps organize them. Historically, Google has provided website owners with data to help them provide better and more targeted content to users. With this move Google is handicapping the very people that provide them the content which their entire business is built upon.

Mark this event down as the moment Google finally lost their way.

 

Adam Henige

Adam Henige is Managing Partner of Netvantage Marketing, an online marketing company specializing in SEO, PPC and social media. Adam heads the SEO and link building efforts for Netvantage and has been a contributing blogger for industry publications like Search Engine Journal and SEOmoz.

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