Google and the new 100% secure search: are we saying 'so long' to SEO?

Howard King: head of data and analytics at Rufus Leonard
Howard King: head of data and analytics at Rufus Leonard

Google recently announced it was switching to 100% secure search, diminishing business owners' ability to track valuable search terms, and obviously SEO experts have a fair amount to say about it, says Howard King, head of data and analytics at Rufus Leonard.

Simply put, the move to 100% secure search means that when you search on Google and click through to a website, the website owner can no longer see the keywords you searched for on Google that brought you to their site. Instead, it will be replaced with the single phrase: "Not provided".

It's a pretty big deal given the SEO industry's dependency on keyword research to structure and optimise content and to personalise website landing pages. This move from Google greatly diminishes a valuable source of information for them because Google has such a huge share of the search market – in the West, at least.

So why the decision to switch to secure search?

There are a few theories as to why Google is making this change. The official line from Google is that it's to protect consumer privacy, which certainly has merit in the wake of the '"revelations" about the NSA capturing huge swathes of consumer internet usage data.

However, it’s not the most convincing angle coming from the company that obsessively tracks people across all of its properties irrespective of it being against the law in the EU. And the same company that got busted downloading personal Wi-Fi data when capturing data for Street View.

The most obvious (conspiracy) theory is that it "encourages" website owners to pay for AdWords, which still enables them to see what keywords their visitors are using.

Another theory is that, on the whole, SEO is highly effective, and the result of some SEO practitioners successfully "gaming the system" over the past few years is that search engine results pages are getting increasingly spammy. This is of course a threat to Google's comprehensiveness and accuracy, its market share of searches and ultimately, its earnings.

This would be one massive – and pleasantly ironic – compliment to the SEO industry: they were so good they did themselves out of business. Personally however, I find it hard to believe that SEO is so effective it was a threat to Google's business model.

‘Data is the new oil’

I think the reality is far simpler. Keyword data is the foundation of a 40 billion-dollar business for Google. It has no direct revenue stream attached to its availability in the market and this latest decision means it can have this enormously rich data set all to itself. It holds all the cards. I can’t remember who said it, but "data is the new oil" – and no one was giving away free oil last time I checked.

Still, there is a huge upside for Google users. It means that website owners will have to re-focus on the creative aspects of designing, building and tailoring their sites. Using research to understand consumers and how they interact with search to design content that is compelling, interesting, descriptive and clear.

Because if people like content, they'll click on it, consume it, share it and talk about it, and it will start to appear at the top of the search results pages when it's most relevant. Just like the way search engines are supposed to work.

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