Do No Evil…Except When It Pays
Every once in a while you find companies which do something that just makes you shake your head.
Google did just that the other day with its announcement that it was going to start sending all logged in users to their SSL enabled search page.
That sounds harmless enough, right?
Wrong. The change means that the sites people visit after clicking on search results will no longer receive keyword data. That data helps we marketers understand what people clicked on in the first place, and helps consumers get a contextually relevant experience.
Not having access to that data creates a contextual disconnect and, ultimately a bad user experience, as the marketer has no way of knowing what led the user to their doorstep — kind of like getting a FedEx package with no information as to the sender.
And so will this move by Google in the greater cyber marketplace.
But ah, Google says, we’re doing this to protect the privacy of our users. Well, not quite all of them.
Because the out clause in this announcement was that Google would continue to reveal the search results in those referrals which originated with their paid search ads. You know, the ones that drive 97+% of Google’s revenues.
Google’s corporate mantra has always been “To organize the world’s information” and to “Do no evil.” They didn’t mention anything about leaving their customers and users in the dark along the way, which is exactly what they’ll be doing with this move to block referrer and keyword data from those search results coming through encrypted connections.
That data, as Google well knows, is very valuable information to marketers who specialize in search engine optimization. Though some search engine optimizers (SEOs) have garnered a reputation for gaming the system, I would argue most of them play by the rules and follow “white hat” practices.
Now, it’s Google that is gaming the system, by limiting the amount of visibility into what referrals are being driven to which keywords in organic search results.
By doing so Google, consciously or not, is discouraging investments in SEO, from which they receive no remuneration, while bolstering the need for marketers to buy their paid search ads, the profit engine of their business. They do this even while knowing users overwhelmingly trust and click on organic results by a very large margin.
Why this sudden policy disparity?
As Peter Young wrote on his blog, Holistic Search Marketing, “To be honest, the fact that its perfectly acceptable for PPC (pay-per-click) data to be tracked in the same circumstance that Google says it cannot pass organic data through for “privacy purposes” would suggest again this privacy is the least of their concerns. ‘You can have the data — as long as you pay us’ would appear to be the rhetoric here.”
Moreover, as Blogstorm in the U.K. observed, “To me this seems like a move designed both to make Google appear to be protecting users as well as an opportunity for them to take away data that helps big sites build more effective SEO campaigns.”
And the less big sites can build more effective SEO campaigns, the more dependent they’ll become on Google paid search. Right?
As any good and conscientious search marketer will explain, the best search marketing effort combines the most effective and strategic use and balance of both paid and organic search results. This move by Google will ultimately hamstring the latter while boosting investment in the former (remembering that at last count, Google already held 81.9% market share for paid search).
That’s great news for Google earnings, but not-so-great news for companies trying to understand their visibility and impact in the Google organic search universe, and the organic search results that users trust most and tend to click the most on. The less relevant those results become over time, the more marketers will come to depend on paid search.
Today, yes, it’s only a small percentage of users who are “logged in” to the Google platform. But that number will surely rise with the adoption of Google+ and related Google applications, an increase which will continue to drive down the visibility of organic results and prevent marketers around the globe from understanding the full impact of their SEO efforts.
In short, this move will drive Google organic search results away from the sunshine and into a very deep and dark black hole, and in the process create inefficiencies that defy the elegance and relevance that search engine marketing have brought to the marketplace.
Perhaps at that point Google may ought to reconsider revising its corporate mantra: “Do no evil…except when it pays.”