Google Plans To Encrypt Search Data – Privacy Or Profit, Which Comes First?

Every person has a price they say, and every company too for that matter.

No matter how much we like to pontificate and assume the moral high-ground, it all boils down to money in the end, doesn’t it? If you offer enough of the folding stuff, we’ll cave in and abandon whatever principle we claim to hold dear. Well, it appears Google may be guilty of such a crime, though it vigorously denies this of course. Google will no longer pass on search data to websites when users are logged into Google accounts like Gmail. Well, not unless you pay them for the information that is. It claims to be protecting the privacy of its users, but it stands to make a packet through its AdWords marketing platform. From now on, users logged into Google and performing a search will know that they are logged in securely: a new protocol will encrypt their data, so that website owners will not be able to see what search terms led them to visit the site. Obviously this has repercussions not just for website owners and business, but for SEO professionals too.

Naturally enough digital marketers are outraged.

google search

Google has clearly stated in its blog, that it has introduced the new measure solely to protect the privacy of its users. In its blog it argues:

“As search becomes an increasingly customized experience, we recognise the growing importance of protecting the personalised search results we deliver. As a result, we’re enhancing our default search experience for signed-in users. Over the next few weeks, many of you will find yourselves redirected to (note the extra “s”) when you’re signed in to your Google Account. This change encrypts your search queries and Google’s results page.”

However, Google AdWords advertisers will still receive keyword information about the users coming to their sites. Is it any wonder that the search engine optimisation industry has cried fowl, claiming it’s got nothing to do with privacy, but everything to do with profit? In fairness Google has been moving away from unencrypted web pages for some time now, and not everyone is unhappy with the proposed changes: some have positively welcomed the move. But the SEO industry is not best pleased. Search engine optimisation relies on the manipulation of the search engine results pages, by focusing on keywords and keyword data. If this information is no longer available, they will loose an invaluable piece of business intelligence: they won’t be able to see what search terms led the users to websites, and therefore cannot advise their clients on how best to attract customers in the future. Matt Cutts, a senior Google spokesman, has gone some way to try to allay the fears of digital marketers by claiming that this will only affect a ‘single digit percentage’ of users, but we’ve heard things like this before. Panda was only supposed to target the bad guys, and look what happened. Moreover, as there are an estimated 260 million Gmail and 40 million Google+ users, it’s highly unlikely that only a single digit percentage will be affected.

Digital marketers are right to be worried.

The search engine market is worth an estimated £2.3 billion a year in the UK alone. Google, on the other hand, announced quarterly profits last week of almost $10 billion. You can see why SEO professionals are questioning Google’s motives. Google doesn’t make any money out of SEO, but receives over 90% of its revenues through AdWords marketing. This particular cash cow will now become even more attractive and earn the company even more profit.

However, SEO practitioners are nothing if not determined. They’ll absorb the changes and move on: they have to. SEO will now have to evolve and become an act of personal tailoring, rather than keyword optimisation. If the results are now unique to a specific user, then pages can no longer be manipulated to the same degree for commercial purposes. The challenge the industry faces is how to adapt to these changes. Those that manage to adapt will survive, those that don’t won’t. It’s just the law of the jungle. What irks many digital marketers is that Google only works as well as it does as a search engine, because the SEO community assists it by making websites more visible. They get no thanks in return, just a smack in the mouth. However, if all the SEO professionals stopped using Google at the same time, what would happen then?  There are no prizes for guessing who’d be the first to bleat then.

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