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.
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.