Is There a Dark Side of Google?

by · October 25, 201317 comments

Full disclosure: I’m a Google stock owner and Google Analytics pro.
I feel like my parents just told me I’m adopted but gave me a fat bag of money to ease the pain. Read on to understand why…

Google recently stopped passing keyword data from searches to analytics platforms. This change means that reports within Google Analytics, Hubspot, and any other kind of analytics program will not provide keyword analytics for all of their Google search traffic.

As a Google stock owner, it filled my head with dollar signs.

The decision to withhold keyword data struck me on many levels. As a marketing analyst, it was a blow to how I carry out daily activities. As a business owner, it diminished my ability to monitor my site. As a Google stock owner, it filled my head with dollar signs.

Allow me to diagnose some of these effects of withholding the keyword data and try to explain why businesses need to pay attention to this kind of move by Google. There’s a lot of love for the search giant, but like any relationship, things can turn sour real fast.

The Real Price of Free

Google has traditionally offered free services that are subsidized by the information they collect. GMail, one of Google’s first forays outside of web searches, was a free email platform that offered superior services to competitors without any charges to the user.  The only real cost was forfeiting a portion of your privacy by allowing robots to scan the email. This data was mined and helped Google make smarter decisions about advertising and search results.

Users of Google products find a hard time criticizing these kinds of practices because they’re a) getting a free product or service, and b) getting improvements to other Google products and services that they also use.

Not too much to complain about with this, but the issue with Google Analytics was a bit of a different story.

Why Business Owners Feel Betrayed

Magnifying glass focused on the word privacy

Withholding keyword data from Google Analytics is a bit different than eliminating a free service or feature of a free service.

With Google Analytics, Google’s initial proposition was very fair for both sides of the bargaining table — you provide me a competent analytics platform and I’ll provide you mounds of minable data about my business.

Google’s unending appetite for information was now being directly fed by business owners, and those same business owners were now better equipped by Google to grow their internet presence. This bargain also indirectly helped increase the value of the internet as a whole, which Google, as the gatekeeper, loved.

Now, after years of happily co-existing, Google is making a power play. It’s withholding key data and justifying it in the name of privacy. This really hurts businesses that were relying on that data, yet leaves Google nicely situated. It’s pretty clear who’s now getting the most out of the “free” transaction.

Admittedly, there are two sides to the privacy debate, and Google is correct that withholding the keyword data does help the general population in securing their privacy.  At the same time, two parties still have access to this data: Google and its paying advertisers (those using Google Adwords). Hmm… pretty interesting…

Gotta Make That Money

Now, I don’t want it to seem like I see nothing other than evil intent behind Google’s decision. The privacy aspect does carry weight, but the one that has me sold is the revenue bumps that some anticipate Google experiencing.

There’s a strong belief that withholding that information will decrease the value of natural search to some businesses. Without that keyword data, optimization becomes more difficult and gains begin to drop off. This could then turn the businesses towards AdWords as source of additional leads.

Digital marketing agencies that manage Adwords on behalf of clients have long been using Adwords keyword data to augment & enhance their organic search campaigns. Now, I can only see those Adwords revenues increasing as agencies suggest to clients to spend more in order to get more traffic, leads, and keyword data.

AdWords has always been Google’s biggest moneymaker.  Specifically, over 90% of their $50 Billion in 2012 revenue came from Adwords. They use ad revenues to subsidize the bulk of their [free] offerings and now they’re trying to herd even more marketing directors in that direction.

Is it wrong that they’re doing that? Maybe.

But the winds have been blowing in the direction for more secure searches and privacy so it could just be that this is the best opportunity they could have asked for and they seized it.

What Happens Next?

This was a major decision by Google and we’ll have to see how it plays out. If nothing else, it reminds us that nothing is free and we should be wary of relying on the search engine so much.

I can tell you my firm has long been suggesting the use of Adwords (and other paid media channels) for clients – and we’re certainly leaning more heavily on PPC in light of the lost keyword data.

Luckily, authorities in the SEO space agree that SEO is NOT dead. SEO is still plenty alive and it’s taking on a couple new faces: Google Authorship & Content Marketing.

And there are plenty of other data sources that business owners and online marketers can use to augment their organic search efforts.

Sadly, we’ll miss the glory days of being able to see every keyword that drove traffic to our sites.

Do you believe the lack of keyword data from Google searches will impact your business?
Comment below.

 

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About Arsham Mirshah

Arsham Mirshah

Arsham is a co-founder of WebMechanix, a SEO & Inbound Internet marketing agency near Baltimore, MD & Washington DC. Arsham is a technical SEO, Google Analytics junkie, & web developer who loves to ski, play tennis and demonstrate #SnowballingROI. Find Arsham on Google+ or Twitter!

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • OIRMS

    Google is in business to make money, plain and simple. While having the free KW data they provided at our disposals was a valuable asset, they have every right to make the move they did. As you suggested PPC is one way around this, but then again this may prove to be exactly what G wants. I suggest writing content for audiences wihtout worring about KWs e.g. a “natural” article. “Natural” is a word G seems to be obsessed with. Thanks for the info Arsham!

    • http://www.WebMechanix.com/ Arsham Mirshah

      Thanks OIRMS :)

  • tetriminos

    i’m a bit confused as to what this means. perhaps a real, down to earth, example of what exactly was there before, and what’s there now ? i have never used analytics, only adwords. adwords essentially tells you what keywords have been clicked often in the past, and, after you signing up for a variety of keywords, tells you which of those are giving you hits

    • http://www.WebMechanix.com/ Arsham Mirshah

      Lucky for you, this won’t affect you :)

      In short, it used to be that you could see all the keywords that were used to visit your website ORGANICALLY (not using a paid AD) using Google Analytics.

      Now, Google has changed this so keyword data will NOT show up from organic clicks to your website.

      Not the end of the world, but it does take away a piece of data that some marketers used to make content planning decisions.

  • Desiree Martyn

    Indisputably there is a darker side of google. The procedure by which they determine what and to whom their advertisements target is invasive to say the least. Although quintessentially it benefits the search engine user as each ad relates more personally. Tactical, though somehow malevolent. Googles adword has for years benefitted businesses for all of the obvious reasons, most of which you have explained. Though for their strategy, which has been used since I can remember, certain client privacy has already been lost on a greater scale than most would easily admit. Thus googles claim of preserving user privacy is amusingly paradoxical to say the least. However, the truth of googles dark side is irrelevant in the grander scheme. These changes show strength and an impressive knowledge of how to navigate our market. Therefore, regardless of ethical value, its an incredible business move on googles behalf.

  • ILuvPullingHair

    Correct me if Im wrong – but the reason for Google doing this was because it was forced to in terms of a privacy settlement with the FTC. Google provides keyword data in Google analytics – but if you see a (not set) phrase besides your number 1 keyword – it’s because in the terms of the settlement, Google is not allowed to show analytics data on google account users. Translation, if someone is signed into to gmail, when they search a keyword and find your site in the SERPs, they by law cannot share that keyword level of granularity in Google Analytics. This took effect about 9 months ago if I remember correctly. If this is the case – then this entire article is a joke. But again, please correct me if Im wrong.

    • http://www.zurker.com/berzurker headhopper

      What you say sounds reasonable, but that doesn’t actually change the fact that there is a dark side of Google, and this is nothing new. I’m surprised the author of this article even felt it necessary to end the title with a question mark. Perhaps it should have been worded, Is This From the Dark Side of Google?

    • http://www.WebMechanix.com/ Arsham Mirshah

      Keyword data from logged-in Google users has been hidden from analytics since October of 2011. They recently (a month back) made another change where ALL keyword data will be hidden, whether you’re logged into a Google account or NOT.

      You’re 100% correct – using Google keyword planner, webmaster tools, pervious analytics data, rank checking data, and your top landing pages report… one could estimate the keywords used & number of visits from each to your site. It might be accurate, but not precise (as it were when we had keyword data).

  • Chris Paterson

    I think it’s disgusting how google is essentially turning the internet into a giant advertisement. I’m very concerned about the closed google internet of the present and future. And I’m not alone. The rise in popularity of sites like DuckDuckGo, Ravetree, HushMail, etc. shows that a growing number of people are no longer willing to participate in the googlopoly.

  • DarkDrgn

    Google hides it keyword data from us, but feeds it to the NSA along with every piece of information on us. Yes.. Thanks For Your “Privacy” Concerns google!

    • http://www.WebMechanix.com/ Arsham Mirshah

      Yeah, don’t get in trouble with the law either.. if a court of law subpoenas Google, they give up your info real quick!

  • http://regattaexportsposts.blogspot.in/ Piyush Mathur

    Rather than controlling keywords, people will have to market themselves over social media networks. This is the direction we are being pushed towards.

    You cannot control everything, and if we do try to control every factor to squeeze out money from it then we are heading for a total collapse. Regardless of the size of the corporation, it will eventually hit. You have to let things happen naturally.

  • Patti

    The dark side of google Italian writers’ collective Ippolita provides a thorough, fresh analysis of what is behind the universe of Google and the metadata industry. also visit http://afollow.net

  • ardeliaf18

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    QWH9 Last years I have been so very lacking in $$ and debits were eating me from all angles! that was Until I decided to earn money.. on the INTERNET! I landed on surveymoneymaker d-o-t net, and started doing surveys for straight cash, and YES, i have been far more able to pay my bills!! i’m very happy I did this!! With all the financial stress these years, I really hope all of you will give it a chance. – W6XK

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  • bmontesanti

    QWH9 Last years I have been so very lacking in $$ and debits were eating me from all angles! that was Until I decided to earn money.. on the INTERNET! I landed on surveymoneymaker d-o-t net, and started doing surveys for straight cash, and YES, i have been far more able to pay my bills!! i’m very happy I did this!! With all the financial stress these years, I really hope all of you will give it a chance. – W6XK