Is There a Dark Side of Google?

Why Missing Keyword Data Might Make Google More Money

by Arsham Mirshah |

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.


About the Author

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!