SEO Changes: Google Post-PRISM

Photo credit: Robert Scoble via flickr

SEO is in a constant state of flux. In fact, change is one of the only consistencies to search. Most often, the algorithm changes that affect search results have no true bearing on searchers. Or, at the very least, searchers do not notice the changes. The changes, however, are made for the searcher in an effort to serve up the most relevant results that engage searchers and keep them coming back to that specific engine.

The search engine wars were highlighted in a series of commercials beginning in 2009. Bing, a search engine created by Microsoft, entered the market by force with a mission to prove to searchers that they were more intuitive and “searcher-oriented” than Google or Yahoo. This proved to be one of the first times that searchers became interested in the way search works and the actual results that were appearing on their screens. It led to comparisons between the search engines, and the way they use SEO began to really come into play. A 2012 set of Bing commercials further brought search engines to the forefront with the “Bing it On” challenge. Their argument was that Google was a habit, but that Bing was actually a more useful search engine. It might have muddied the waters a bit, but Google still reigned supreme.

Google’s algorithms now set the tone for the SEO industry. When changes are made, they reverberate through the industry and strategy changes are made quickly to adapt. The most recent Google change involves security and ensures more privacy for searchers. But, it creates a huge hurdle for internet marketing firms working diligently to provide top search result listings for clients.

Missing Information

Keyword research has always been, and will continue to be, a part of SEO. Keywords refer to the actual verbiage that a searcher types into a search engine when trying to find information. Through Google Analytics, SEO companies could research trends in keywords and note subtle changes in search that could make a huge difference on a campaign. The service is free, but there was always a bit of missing information.

In late 2011, Google employed encrypted searches for anyone who was logged into a Google account while searching. Because of Google’s other service offerings (Chrome, Gmail, Drive, etc.) this accounted for a large number of people. With this encryption, searchers’ queries were blocked and listed as “not provided” through Google Analytics. As more and more people created logins for Google searches, the number of “not provided” responses realized a steady increase. Steady, that is, until early September of this year when a huge spike showed as many as 75 percent of search terms being withheld.

Blame it on the Government?

This is the post-PRISM era, which has thrown the SEO world into a bit of a tizzy and sparked fear that even more “not provided” information may be coming. Google has denied involvement in the NSA (US National Security Agency) PRISM spying program, but that has not saved them from criticism. And, the blockage of keyword information has been attributed to this fallout.

PRISM, which was originally blown into a wide-spread data mining system, involves the government’s monitoring of electronic communications. Incepted in 2008 by Congress, PRISM has always been the subject of much speculation – both inside and outside of SEO circles. As written, monitoring can only be enacted if there is “appropriate, and documented, foreign intelligence purpose for the acquisition (such as the prevention of terrorism, hostile cyber activities, or nuclear proliferation) and the foreign target is reasonably believed to be outside of the United States.” While explicit in the handling of information, especially in regards to US citizens, PRISM has caused fear and privacy concerns. When Google was clumped into the mess and accused of providing the government with search information, it became a PR nightmare that caused Google to lose money.

But, it remains to be seen if this secured search move is really about privacy concerns and PR countermoves – or a way for Google to gain increased revenue from other sources. Ad search traffic has never been made secure, so it is still easy to collect data on the searches performed on Google that result in ad clicks. This info is still available to advertisers, but non-advertisers are losing the ability to see it and use it to implement SEO campaigns that do not involve pay per click advertisements.

Heightened Ad Sales and Profits?

AdWords users are still able to see search terms through the Webmasters Tools area, but it only goes back a limited amount of time. This is why many people are calling foul on the post-PRISM excuse. The data is, in effect, still available – you just have to be the right kind of user.

AdWords is Google’s premiere advertising platform – and just so happens to also be their primary source of income with $42.5 billion in 2012. While it remains firmly planted on the advertising side, Adwords does provide a variety of options for clients including pay-per-click or cost-per-click advertising, cost-per-thousand-impressions advertising and site-targeting advertising in the form of text, banner and media-rich ads. The program also incorporates a variety of location specific off-shoots, allowing clients to choose a local, national or international distribution for each specific campaign.

It will be interesting to see if more Google advertisers are created over time because of this. For Google, this will remain a delicate balance – trying to ensure privacy for their searchers through SSL encryption while still providing enough information to SEO companies to remain relevant in the search game.

Traditionally, robust internet marketing firms have relied on far more sources than Google Analytics to get data. Those who have employed these methods from the beginning are doing a lot less scrambling now. For many companies who were performing SEO maneuvers on their own, the process is a lot trickier.

Partnership with a firm specializing in up-to-date SEO strategies as well as offshoots such as online reputation management, social media engagement and advertising has never been more important than it is today. The changes going on in the world of search must be monitored constantly. And, while a do-your-own-SEO company may have been able to enjoy high rankings in the past, those days are becoming numbered.

About the author


Julie Ann Ross

Article by Julie Ann Ross. Rostin Ventures provides local SEO and Inbound Marketing services to cost effectively drive local clients to your site. We drive business to your site by building a profile and effectively optimizing your online content. That's what Rostin Ventures does for you. Find out more at http://www.rostinventures.com


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  • Competition between search engines continue to grow. Because it also aims to improve the satisfaction of news and information seekers.

    Of course this also requires knowledge about the true concept of the science of SEO so that our website remains in the correct rules especially with google algorithm updates ever-changing

  • Hi, the main problem is at it looks to me, Google has no competent management anymore, nobody can tell me that some software developer or similar can run a company. Currently everything with them gets worst, the fact that they still make huge profits is not because they are better it is because the other have been worst but MS is improving. Two example when you look focused on their search results its easy to see that most have not much to do with the subject but with the vicinity, the user want a focused result, Bing has, Google not. Second I made a adword campaign for a client and it took me 2 month to set up. I noticed that all this was done in India and during this period I also noticed that I had to do with 3 different versions of adwords which were not compatible with each other I thought I be back in high-school. The problem with them is they continuously change their system but not for the sake of improvement but for the sake of changing. When I asked one of the persons involved why they change everyday, he or she answered its already 4xx days old so it must be changed. Everyone in the IT business know dont change to much on a good functioning system, Google dont know. This is a matter of management which they also dont have after Mr. Schmidt left. The marketing is not bad but marketing is NOT running a company!

  • The changes we are seeing now are a long time coming and will have a profound affect on the SEO delivery firms and users alike. For far too long there has been an issue of perception – getting to the top of Google delivers sales resu;ts when in fact this may not be true.

    Of course over the longer term business owners should be aware of the need to focus on a balanced approach to web marketing and making sure the ‘sales message’ gets in front of the right audience – this may not be via a search engine.

    Perhaps also Google is recognising that ownining and managing a search engine is far harder now as the other engines are growing up. Yahoo’s portal is often helpful, whereas Bing is maturing nicely, and given that the new look and layout of the Google search results is clearly favouring sponsered ads, times are changing for all of us.

    Personally I have never bothered with more than basic optimisation for clients, and focused on getting results from highly targeted and paid for traffic. Perhaps I was right all along, perhaps not. Either way I am happy, the more changes that come the less likely customers are to take on the work themselves which is goods news for the likes of me and you.

    There is clear room in the market place for more than one search engine and all behomoths eventually die or adapt. The fact that the last living decendents of Dinosaurs are birds now tells you all you know.

    We certainly do live in interesting times and long may it continue.

  • It sounds like Google is looking for a bigger advertising base. Those who want deeper keywords data can only get it by becoming a paying adwords customer.

  • I really hate that move of Google encrypting the searches and not showing 75% of it. I bet time will come, they won’t show any searches anymore. Yes, somehow I understand that they want to give headaches to people who only focus on SEO but this move also hinders us to know what we should improve in our website. At least, I want to know how people find my websites and then, offer more information about it.

  • The fact that Google still provides search keyword data for paid clicks proves the insincerity of their argument that they block keyword data to protect the security of the searcher. It’s pretty clear that Google would like SEO to just go away, and by blocking keyword data in organic search results, they’ve made it harder for SEOs to demonstrate positive ROI, even when their efforts are extremely effective. This puts increasing pressure on businesses that depend on search traffic to “pay to play.” And, if you look at Google’s quarterly revenues, it seems to be working.

  • I operate an agency here in the states and with Google pulling the keyword data it has been a struggle because we use that data to either pull new clients in or to provide further results to current clients. It’s interesting to see the perspective with PRISM here because I’ve always understood it to be an Adwords ploy for more revenue but who knows right lol. Good story*

  • “…a firm specializing in UP-TO-DATE SEO strategies…”

    Oxymoron of the year…

    Ion Saliu
    “A good man is an axiomatic man; an axiomatic man is a happy man. Be axiomatic!”

  • No matter what I do with SEO, how technically accurate a site can be or how many wonderful links it has, I have come to the conclusion that a site that has Google Adwords will rank very much higher on Google than a similar site that does not have Google Adwords. Perhaps I am stating the obvious. If Adwords is Google’s biggest earner it would be foolish of them not to rank Adwords sites higher. How naive I have been. Funny thing is this idea does not seem to be widely held because I have not seen it talked about much!

  • People put two and two together to get four. A company that makes the majority of its revenue from paid advertising is constantly manipulating the free organic results. Rub your brain cells together. It’s not about delivering better results its about increasing advertising ROI period.

  • Maybe Google just wants non-AdWords publishers to write to provide value and information instead of optimizing for the search engines. The sponsored ads are still differentiated from the organic results.

    In Bing, it’s harder to tell the difference between the two.

  • I couldn’t keep up with the changes of the search engines. So I agree that change is one of the only consistencies to search

  • It is good when there are different search engines available to searchers, in the way the search engines will compete among themselves and then provide the best search experience to their users

  • Change is always required with the time, but still many peoples miss free version of google adwords tools which has now changed with keyword planner.

    Older version was giving some fruitful results while keyword planner sometimes confused the user.

  • How does Google add Https to all searches to protect the user? It does not, its been proven that the government has other ways to gain our information. Google talks about privacy and follows that up with we will be using your face in our ads. Google is a taker and does not share. First they took our images and now our keywords by replacing them with (not provided). You still need to monitor your organic keyword traffic and not just what page the user landed on. Also Google only shows a fraction of your data. I looked at the history of an account and Google stated data is 50%. I am sorry but they can not be trusted.

  • Google only care about one thing….revenue….they are constantly changing the algorithm to make more people visit pages which relevant information….but making sure that the pages they show also has the greatest potential to show their adverts…lets face it guys, wouldn’t you do the same…I certainly would !!

  • Constant change and being on the ball is part and parcel of working in digital marketing. Google keeping us on our toes is one thing we have to deal with. Change is essential in this industry, however annoying it may be! Your PRISM outlook is very interesting, something I hadn’;t considered before.

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