Dear Google: This is war

Dear Google: With your announcement yesterday, you’ve become the enemy.

My company is a Google Analytics Partner. We promote the heck out of Google Analytics, Adwords and your products. I’ve worked hard to emphasize to my clients that you’re not Evil, or Good. You’re just doing your job. We’ve kept our clients within your terms of service, and basically behaved ourselves.

But now you’re going to hide a sizable chunk of referring organic keyword data. That’s information I need to justify your value to my clients: Once you shut down organic search data from ‘signed in‘ users, I lose any accurate picture of traffic generated by organic Google rankings.

Google HTTPs announcement

It’s not about privacy

Don’t try to say this is a privacy thing. It. is. not. How exactly does this protect privacy, when you tie the text of e-mails to your advertising platform? How does this protect privacy when you’re photographing people’s streets, homes and whatever else you can lay your hands on?

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve not opposed e-mail ads, or Street View. But you can’t shut down search query data and then protest privacy. That’s like leaving one bite of steak on your plate and saying you’re a vegetarian.

Are you honestly telling me you had no way to deliver anonymous counts of keyword searches by signed-in users? You’ve never found a way to do this? ‘Cause that sounds like a load of horse hooey, if ever I’ve heard one.

 

The real reason

You’ve done this for one reason, and one reason only: To shut out competing ad networks. By removing this data from the referring query string (oh, you didn’t think we’d notice?!) you’ve made it far harder for third-party ad networks to measure and quantify traffic quality.

Plus, you no longer have to justify ranking results, OR Adwords data. Personalization already scrambles the crap out of them. Without accurate search query data, we have no way to check your math on Google Adwords search counts. I guess we have to trust you. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Cough. Sniff. Sob.

Ain’t gonna happen.

Google is dirving me MAD!

You’ve made yourself into just another vendor we should never, ever, trust.

It’ll be interesting to see how many SEOs don their black hats after this. I certainly don’t feel as compelled as I once was to follow your terms of service. And I’m not the only one. Some pretty white-hat, respectable people are pretty pissed off.

So, nice job. You’ve made your feelings clear. I wonder how things are going to go for you in Washington DC after this?

Not well, I think. Not well at all.

Signed; Your former friend and believer, Ian

70 comments

  • Ian- A fantastic post that I agree with in it’s entirety. I think this announcement by Google was handled as bad as Netflix’s splitting of the plans, Qwikster email. Neither company was honest or straightforward behind their reasonings and in both results the users of the product lost big time. If you’re going to do something crappy or evil, at least try to be somewhat straightforward about it. If Google said, “it’s a business decision,” we’d still be upset over the lost data, but not as upset about the way it was handled.

    I hope to see some official responses from Google or Matt Cutts but I’m not holding my breath.

  • Just another example to illustrate how large corporations have beaten market regulation and the grasp of the state to create anti-democratic monopolies. This is an excellent blog post, however I would suggest that a more legitimate target for disgruntled SEOs would be capitalism in its present form per se; why limit our scope to just Google?

  • Ian this is absolutely spot on and I love the vegetarian / steak analogy!

    The worst part is Google don’t really care what SEO’s think, this is a massive PR win for them in the eyes of the common man and that’s what they care about. Of course that doesn’t mean we can’t fight back, but they’re unlikely to undo the change now.

  • Couldn’t have said it better myself. What a stupid business decision. At least they’re progressing along in mobile cause this decision sounds like the 800lb gorilla is about to go on a really big diet.

    This should present a good opportunity for Facebook advertising once they release keywords into thier advertising algos in the upcoming quarter.

    Shame in you Google! Shame on you!

  • @koozai mike – I doubt the common man will even hear about this nor care. Its really just an industry thing.

  • After doing this for years, I choose to look at it as a game. We just went to the next level where the rules are different and it’s harder to win. Only the strong and adaptable survive, same as when humankind first encountered the sabre toothed tiger.

    The only thing we can control is our response.

  • You might get this data in paid version?

  • Ian, i agree with you. Bad news and wrong way from Google !

  • @Yousaf They will still pass the correct referrer data on Adwords clicks, just not organic clicks. So, you have to pay for your clicks to get keyword data.

  • My first reaction was much the same as yours, Ian. But sitting in on a very interesting chat this morning, amongst some folks that are MUCH more technically capable than I, gave me a somewhat different perspective… one that I think has some validity.

    I suspect that any competitive advantage this move might give them was simply gravy – an unintended side-effect of a preemptive action.

  • Great post Ian. Whatever the reason for doing this, the bottom line is they have become hypocritical. Not that they have never been so, this is just a blatantly obvious one. Oh well, I guess, just one more rule change that makes our jobs a little more interesting and difficult (even if it is ridiculous).

  • Wow, so we’ll no longer be able to tie conversions to organic search terms in our web analytics tool (for signed in users)? I’ve got to think Google will modify Google Analytics to enable this level of tracking – wouldn’t that make Google way more attarctive than Omniture or Coremetrics?

  • what the hell, its not sure what Google want to do now, I am sad only because of shutting down of G Buzz, I waste my 1 year on it 🙁 now google is going to make search more secure

  • Wow – Google’s announcement really changes things. SEO’s and Google have always had a bit of a strained relationship, but it’s just got a whole lot worse.
    As you say Ian, this isn’t about Privacy. I can’t see Google going back on this decision.

  • I think that this could have a seriously negative impact on the quality of Google’s organic search results. If we can’t accurately see the incoming search terms, then how can we make sure that our landing pages are wholly relevant?

  • This is really a turnpoint in SEO history. Google has really done it this time. How’s that make no evil crap sound right now? Money is just money, it has the same color no matter how you earn it. I bealive this will be remembered as the turnpoint when the other search engine started to look a little more appealing.

  • Sucks to be Chitika right now, I can just see their new advertising headers now… “Looking for ‘X1biow4OKD0d,” in Dallas?”

  • If the full story only comes through with paid campaigns, would you suggest running a PPC campaign every few months or so just to see what is truly happening, and then compare and contrast with the results from the analytics package?

  • The Internet Markete

    I can only say it comes as no surprise, you don’t get to be one of the richest companies in the world without having an emphasis on money. This is just a follow on from Google Analytics premium version. You can have the information but you will have to pay for it.

  • What Google is doing and how they are justifying it…complete horse crap.

    They say the change will only affect “single digit” searches. You’d have to be really naive to think this number won’t grow – either naturally or by other changes Google makes in the name of “privacy”.

  • I’m sure this will be available for Google Analytics Premium users. The price? 150K/yr.

  • This has naught all to do with privacy. This is Google being who they really are, a protectionist advertising company.

    Consumer privacy is not at the heart of this change, if it were, there would be many other areas where Google should have started first: Double Click, Gmail, and their Affiliate network to name a few.

    I hope the European Commission and US Antitrust investigators take a really close look at the implications of this for the wider online eco system and economy.

    – Great Guardian article on Antitrust investigation into Google here http://bit.ly/kOZqSP
    – If we want to have this aspect of their monopoly investigated we must petition the relevant UK government department which is BIS – http://www.bis.gov.uk/contact/ministers-business
    – EU Antitrust investigation documents here: http://bit.ly/nJitB3
    – Wall Street Journal’s Thomas Catan is quite vocal on these ssues and can be contacted here: thomas.catan@wsj.com, a recent article of his on this here: http://on.wsj.com/jGH24X
    – U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust here: http://1.usa.gov/q4yWmt
    – Google’s propaganda on how it is a valuable and just competitor here: http://bit.ly/qCD5Fw

    In my view, Google et al have a duty to provide ‘the internet’ with this referral data, anything less stifles innovation and the principals of open data initiatives, just like Google’s own Data Liberation Front here: http://www.dataliberation.org/

    I am shocked and surprised they would make such a change to the fabric of the internet. Ian, you’re spot on when you say game on, they are now just a corporate behemoth.

    Damien 😐

  • [quote name=”Doc Sheldon”]My first reaction was much the same as yours, Ian. But sitting in on a very interesting chat this morning, amongst some folks that are MUCH more technically capable than I, gave me a somewhat different perspective… one that I think has some validity.[/quote]
    Care to share this here?

  • I have not seen one poster agree with Big brother G. Will they care? Will they revert?

    Not at all – so what can be done?

  • [quote name=”Arnout”][quote name=”Doc Sheldon”]My first reaction was much the same as yours, Ian. But sitting in on a very interesting chat this morning, amongst some folks that are MUCH more technically capable than I, gave me a somewhat different perspective… one that I think has some validity.[/quote]
    Care to share this here?[/quote]

    I’ll share the below link… the piece and the comments will clarify, I think. The main thrust being that it may well be a defensive preemptive move on G’s part.

    http://www.timnash.co.uk/10/2011/can-google-really-prevent-murders/

  • Nice post. Hiding behind the “privacy” curtain is particularly maddening. I think Kevin is right – this just sets the stage for future business decisions

  • Awesome points you make here, Ian. Can I also add that this further promotes Adwords, forcing people to pay for knowledge. HOWEVER, if Adwords users, especially small businesses aren’t paying attention, they don’t even really see the true keywords that bring traffic to their website. Google hides these search terms from the regular reports and unless you’re a professional Adwords user, you don’t notice this. Most small businesses think that the reports that Google shows them ARE the keywords bringing traffic to their site, but those keywords are actually the words that are bid on, not the words used to actually click through. Not to mention all the other sneaky, hidden tricks that Adwords pulls, including the default set-ups and broad matching techniques.

  • [quote name=”Matt Gammie”]Just another example to illustrate how large corporations have beaten market regulation and the grasp of the state to create anti-democratic monopolies. This is an excellent blog post, however I would suggest that a more legitimate target for disgruntled SEOs would be capitalism in its present form per se; why limit our scope to just Google?[/quote]

    What an ignorant thing to say. I presume capitalism is what sustains your livelihood. Good luck with that in a post-capitalist economy. Are you naive enough to believe that corruption and manipulation only exist in capitalist economies? Look at the history of every failed socialist/communist/fascist state to date in human history for the answer. The only currently successful communist economy is one that relies on a heavy blend of capitalism, China’s, and even that is more corrupt than our own. You need to educate yourself on the difference between pro-business, pro-competition economic models (capitalism) and anti-business, anti-competition economic models, because what you’re decrying is not capitalism, it is general corruption. And THAT you will have in any, ANY, economic system.

  • This is done also so an SEO company cannot prove to a client that the SEO they are doing is bringing traffic from the Keywords being worked on…BECAUSE GOOGLE WONT DELIVER THE RESULTS. I guess the proof will be old fashion sales….leads and sales.

  • Your article is spot on. Let’s not forget that Google is a big public corporation that has shareholders breathing down on them to continually produce growing earnings. Since they dominate in search they now have to be more *creative* in finding ways to grow their business. And another side effect of this change will be to force more people into paid search, as that is the only way to get accurate conversion data at the keyword level.

  • This has got me wondering about the search diff between newbies who (presumably) search naked and unsigned-in and the more experienced user who is (presumably) more likely to be signed-in as Google-user.
    I would guess that a newbie might search for something like “how do I find hotel” while the experienced user might search for something like “upscale hotel in mid-town Manhattan”.

  • I don’t understand any of this, but if it’s bad for SEO, then it’s fine by me.

  • Well said. Perfectly said, in fact.

    Those cheeky buggers are trying to pull a fast one.

    From “The Outlaw Josey Wales”: Don’t p*ss down my back and tell me it’s rainin’!

  • (please excuse me in advance for my poor english)

    Having Google behind HTTPS to improve users privacy on public Wifi makes sense. But here in France, many public WIFI hotspots just do not allow https connections.
    3G connections do not allow HTTPS neither.
    I don’ t know for the rest of the world, but in France, this is the situation.

    Anyway, we will all have to rely our 3rd party tools on Analytics API, at now it’ s still free and it’ s easy to use.
    But we are dealing with eCommerce industry here and we are working daily with a realtime protocol built in our tools.
    This little “q=” string is important for us to know what’s going on actually on the website and to know what the visitors are searching for.

    I coded myself those tools we are using now and i personaly knew somewhere hidden in my brain that the way to grab the incoming keywords isn’t sexy … parsing query string, yeah that’s dirty … And i knew that somedays i would have to rely somehow my app on Analytics API.
    I already had some beta functions in our PHP library, but i think i was waiting the right day. Maybe this day when analytics would give me a true realtime support.
    I can imagine in the future that when google.com will be identify as the referer, a simple API call to Analytics requesting the last incoming keyword on the current url will make the job. The API limit is saying 10000 requests/day, that’s enough to send 1 request each 10 seconds in a day (by IP not domain). But i don’t think Analytics will give me the realtime support i hope until sometimes and i don’t think the API is done for being used like that.

    So what would be really cool, is to have a way in Webmaster Tools or Analytics, to ask google to send us an http request (https to follow the logic) containing the datas we want, when somebody click a link in the Serp. That makes sense … no ? Off course if they want to lock the business, they wont do it.

    Hum … That makes me feel like removing all my +1 button (nobody clicks on it in France anyway) to keep the -FB like- and maybe got more into others search engines.

  • I’m not really sure what this means for me, but I get most of my traffic from Twitter, and I don’t get accurate numbers on the amount of people referred from there either. My Counterize plugin seems to be showing keyword referrers from Google though.

  • [quote name=”Matt Gammie”]Just another example to illustrate how large corporations have beaten market regulation and the grasp of the state to create anti-democratic monopolies. This is an excellent blog post, however I would suggest that a more legitimate target for disgruntled SEOs would be capitalism in its present form per se; why limit our scope to just Google?[/quote]

    Sorry but you need to do some research on your accusations. When Big Biz sleeps with Big Brother- that is not capitalism. That is cronyism, near totalitarism. This would never happen in a really free market society that truly embraces capitalism.

  • Well, maybe it is time to give Bing a bigger piece of the pie:) They have been increasing their market share in search.

  • Wow,

    Just when I start to FEEL that I’ve got a handle on things (and I double check all my stats)it becomes clear that I’m probably chasing my tail.

    Thanks for the info. Have bee warned a long time now that there are other fish in the Sea.

    All things happen for a reason though. Maybe time to shift focus onto other SE. Maybe it’s past due.

  • Dear e-commerce sites: please automatically add a 2% surcharge for any customers coming in with a (not provided) referrer. Display it as “Google tax”, with a link explaining to people that this is due to extra charges you face in maintaining your business as a result of Google’s actions, and suggest they use an alternative search engine, that doesn’t seek to gain more users’ search data under the guise of protecting their privacy from evil webmasters.

    (Obviously not going to happen, but imagine if everyone did it …)

  • Thank you very much for this article, all SEO’s are claiming after these decision! 😥
    Maybe there’s a solution by helping this site: http://www.fairsearch.org/
    to get free of Google

  • Sad as it may be but I think this is what will continually happen with Google, they’ll just keep doing what they want to do and we’ll have to just lump it – or maybe now there’s a place for another Analytics platform?

  • Spot on with this blog post!

    Tin foil hat theory wonders whether this is just a ploy to enhance the attractiveness of their anticipated premium version or to push more people towards paid( as that hasnt been penalised)

  • If Google had done this for both SEO and PPC then we might have believed them, but then they would have directly impacted their income stream, which no business would choose to do.

    I don’t see how withholding keyword data from the referrer can protect privacy at all and as pointed out by others it just prevents website owners from improving the user experience. This might be the case of Google trying to promote privacy, albeit misguided, but not wanting to take a hit on revenue and so proving to us all that they put money before users.

    I agree that in the medium term this will directly affect the quality of their rankings and webmasters will not be able to optimise their web pages accordingly. In the short term they will just use the data we have already collected and in the long term people will probably find other ways to get around this.

    Google needs to remember that their revenue is driven by people searching for ‘quality’ websites. If they stop the webmasters from improving their website the people might search less or possibly even search using other providers. In reality this probably won’t happen as people are used to search results not being perfect, but only time will tell.

    Another daring approach is for webmasters to fight back; if every webmaster in the world added a site wide noindex tag specifically for Google then Google’s organic search results would disappear in a matter of weeks and users would be forced to use other more webmaster friendly websites. But this would only work if every webmaster did this, which is unfortunately farfetched.

  • I thought Google wanted to make search as friendly as possible. As an SEO practicing in Melbourne this makes it so much harder to generate greater analysis for our clients.

  • I’m afraid I don’t see the logic in saying that because you think Google violate privacy by doing A (Street View) they shouldn’t try to improve privacy in B (organic search). Any company should be appauled for trying to provide enhanced privacy options no matter what their motivation.

  • Time to start looking to Bing and Yahoo I think… besides I’ve noticed quite a percentage of search traffic driven by these guys so customers are using them…

  • Joshua Polidigital

    Oh No! The dark side is taking over!

  • I agree with this. I am still scratching my head on the decision. I spent a few hours bummed about it but at the same time, Google purchased postrank a while ago so I am waiting to see how G+ fits into all this and how the transition from traditional SEO to Social may or may not take place.

  • This is another crap decision from Google after Panda update. Now, question is how we will measure our page quality if we don’t see referred keywords.

  • I think this post is way over the top.

    For one, it does increase privacy. It is no longer possible to listen in on the traffic between the user and Google, for instance by an ISP or rogue network admin. That there is at the same time a car passing by the user’s window taking pictures of his street does not make less the privacy of the search that is taking place.

    And if you or anybody else uses this as an excuse to engage in black hat SEO, than that is misguided. It does nothing to counter the missing referral data of SSL search. Doing black hat SEO is lame, period. It is not somehow justified because some people are now using SSL for search. Wether they do so because they want to, or because Google defaulted their settings.

    I think that your rage is misguided. There will be a time when 90% of users are using SSL, heck, there will be a time when EU users will just have to write a letter to Google to have their precious referrals wiped from your Google Analytics data.

    What are going to do? Declare war on users? Your job just got harder (so did mine). Help us do our job well under new circumstances and you keep a reader. Whine and declare war, you lose a reader.

  • War for a 0.82% of keywords missed?
    After 4 days of ‘non provided’ keywords here you have some numbers: http://dynamical.biz/blog/seo-technical/non-provided-keywords-38.html

  • @Ani They haven’t rolled this feature out all the way yet. I do not get an encrypted connection when I visit google.com while signed in. It’s hard to judge the impact before the change occurs.

  • Thanks @Peter for your comment. Yes change will be rolling out over the next few weeks and I’ll keep an eye on it to update numbers.

  • @greg there is another way of doing what you said… if you are just looking to get impression data… keep your CPC perfectly matching first page bid… carefully choose negatives… use all the type matches… you will hardly spend anything and get the required data… even if you happen to get clicks… those might you in leads or whatever… this is not going to match what google has already hidden but you can get the data…

  • Agree, its war against Google.

  • If you can pay for and receive the data by implementing AdWords… how can Google claim this is a privacy thing?

    “We’re going to protect users until someone pays us enough to release that info.”

    Hmmm

    Jenna

  • [quote name=”Jenna”]”We’re going to protect users until someone pays us enough to release that info.” [/quote]

    It’s not the same data. Please, don’t confuse the two. Spending more on AdWords won’t make people more – or less – likely to click on AdWords over organic search.

    If a user clicks on AdWords you’ll get the data, if they click on organic search you won’t. You are not handing over money for the same data.

    I agree with @Mike123, when 90% of this data isn’t there we’ll all come up with other ways to measure.

  • Makes sense – thanks for the clarification.

    Jenna

  • I have a proof that google used the analytic details to ban my entire network sites and no i didnt do blackhat, someone from google QA team didnt like the fact i operate 100+ websites at same topic.
    I kicked out google analytics and stopped trusting that evil monopoly since.

  • Wow, this is unfortunate. After reading Danny Sullivan’s post over at SELand, I’m convinced this is more of an issue than I initially realized. In my opinion, Google will change this – there’s just too many unhappy people for them not to make a change. It might not be immediate, but it will come.

  • We all get free ad newspapers in our mailbox each week.
    Most of them finish up in the wastebasket.
    We all know that 88% of people who search on Google click on the seo results.

    Let Google become a search add engine, and people won’t use Google anymore.

    Google, thanks for the great openeing you juste made for other search engines to compete.

    Capitalisme is made of free choice and competition.

    It’s that simple.

  • Isn’t the solution just to start using another analytics package that can bring in referrer information from SERPs? I’m sure there will be an explosion in competitors or tools that can figure out the search terms.

    This is 100% about market control, privacy doesn’t even register on the radar if they’ll still supply the information if you pay them for it. Not to mention the fact that if it was about privacy they shouldn’t even record this info in the first place – but they’re writing the rules so no-one can legislate against it before it happens.

    This will likely have a direct effect on the income streams of literally hundreds of thousands of bloggers and small businesses that rely on this information to target content or advertising.

  • Great post, Ian. If this really is a privacy issue, doesn’t that mean that Google is now SELLING private user data? I for one will not create new AdWords campaigns simply to get keyword data. Google needs to see the bigger picture here, which is that they’ve lost the trust of a large portion of their biggest fans. Sadly, I guess it’s time to focus more on Yahoo and Bing.

  • I totally agree with you Ian, google is blatantly trying to damage other advertising companies AND at the same time, giving more “advantages” to AdWords advertisers! If you’re a Google Advertiser, then Privacy doesn’t matter huh? You can keep receiving the queries etc…

    Quoting Google:
    “to enable advertisers to measure the effectiveness of their campaigns and to improve the ads and offers they present to you.”

    Translating to Kids:
    To keep advertisers paying us big chunk of money, and to even give them more reasons, and to all Companies that might consider SEO, that Google Adwords is the way to go if you want Internet Visibility, we will close the eyes to hum…. Privacy of our members, and give them the queries!

    This is RIDICULOUS action from google.

  • Hi Ian
    I also am concerned about many of the things that Google are doing to grow further. I guess that’s the problem when you have stockholders to please; you are forced to try and keep growing. For a company like Google it means that they have to start using some pretty underhand tactics. A client of mine had a particularly bad experience on Adwords with Google wielding their power unnecessarily. Not sure if it is OK or not but here is the link to my narked off blog post about the event:http://deepfootprints.co.uk/online-marketing-blog/ppc/do-google-use-their-power-responsibly/. Please feel free to delete the link if you feel that it was unethical of me to put it here.

  • I think it’s only a matter of time before Google starts offering the hidden data for a premium price.

  • Totally agree that this is BS! So much for the “Do no evil!”

    Google seems to be providing less and less these days – from no longer allowing you clearly define your PPC regions (can now only specify center point and radius), to not providing the referral data.

  • i really do not have words for google anymore….the only words that would come out are vile hate words….

  • [quote name=”ziobot”][quote name=”Doc Sheldon”][quote name=”Arnout”][quote name=”Doc Sheldon”]My first reaction was much the same as yours, Ian. But sitting in on a very interesting chat this morning, amongst some folks that are MUCH more technically capable than I, gave me a somewhat different perspective… one that I think has some validity.[/quote]
    Care to share this here?[/quote]

    I’ll share the below link… the piece and the comments will clarify, I think. The main thrust being that it may well be a defensive preemptive move on G’s part.

    http://www.timnash.co.uk/10/2011/can-google-really-prevent-murders/%5B/quote%5D

    thats the stupidest excuse in the world. but i think you know that, i see you around the web and all you do is kiss googles ass in every direction.

    grow a pair already[/quote]

    I guess you have the advantage, ziobot, ’cause I’ve never seen you anywhere around the web. Maybe you don’t get out much. 😉

    And as for you thinking you’ve seen me kissing Google’s ass, in ANY direction, ya might want to get those specs checked…

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