Friday, December 20, 2013

Google is Encrypting Nearly All Searches: What You Need to Know

Earlier this fall, in September, just before announcing its new algorithm, Google slipped a little bit of SEO-relevant news under the radar: the search engine would begin encrypting all search activity not explicitly associated with ads. We've been following this development with keen interest, and we can now report with certainty that the change has, indeed, effected the SEO landscape. Today we'll discuss what the news means for you and your SEO marketing campaign.

First, to be clear, this near-total encryption means that websites will no longer have access to information about the specific keywords browsers used to find their website. A a website owner, you may or may not have dealt specifically with this information, but if you employ an Internet marketing firm or SEO specialist, this information has almost certainly been used for your website's benefit.

If this information benefits websites, why would Google limit your access to it?

Google had already taken steps to limit this information. In 2011, the search engine encrypted all searches for those signed in with Google accounts. Now, however, Google has extended this "service" to all browsers. We put that word--"service"--in quotes because it is not exactly clear why Google is making this change now.

Is this change a "service" to browsers? For those who value privacy above all else, yes, the change might be beneficial. After all, some have speculated that the search engine is trying to burnish its image after its association with the NSA spying scandal this summer.

Or perhaps Google is trying to drive traffic to its ads. As Search Engine Land notes:

"The easiest ways for publishers to see the actual terms that have been withheld over time is through the Google AdWords system. See, apparently search terms aren’t so private that Google withholds them entirely. Rather, it withholds them from being transmitted in the clear across the Internet. Publishers can still see these terms by going into the Google Webmaster Tools area.."

In any case, it is clear that this change is meant to benefit browsers, and not websites. So what does this change mean for you?

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that we've often discussed how keywords can form a central part of an SEO marketing campaign. We've even urged our clients to think about their product or service in terms of highly-specific keywords.

Please read: "How SEO Can You Clarify Your Business Offering."

However, although we believe keywords can help refine a website's business model, we've also urged website owners to use keywords judiciously. Instead, we've urged websites to focus on quality, relevant content.

After all, we truly believe the over-use and misuse of keywords has been a scourge of the Internet.  Unfortunately, too often wayward SEO specialists have depended entirely on keywords, and have even resorted to the egregious practice of keyword stuffing. As we noted before:

"Keyword stuffing might be one reason Google has decided to update the algorithm. As we learn more about the new algorithm, we see that specific keywords might be losing precedence to more generally informative content. After all, by evolving to answer more complex questions, Google seems to be acknowledging that people no longer search by keywords alone."

Now, with this recent change, we've seen that the available information on keywords has dramatically reduced. For a dramatic presentation of how this change had already begun to effect websites in September, read this fascinating HubSpot article. Since then, our own examination has proved the HubSpot article correct: nearly all Google searches are now encrypted.

So, again, how will this change effect your website?

If you're working with a top-of-the-line SEO specialist, this change will actually help you! Why? Well, this is just one more Google update that separates the wheat from the chaff. If you share Google's goal, to deliver the most relevant, well-written, and truly informative content to your browsers, than your website will now perform even better.

If, however, you or your SEO specialist have been too dependent on this information, your website will likely suffer. Why? Well, your website has probably been "optimized" in a narrow way by a sub-par SEO specialist. Ask your SEO specialist how he/she is responding to this change. If he/she doesn't have a good answer (and answer that emphasizes quality content), then run for the hills.

Finally, if you're looking for an SEO marketing company that maintains a laser-focus on Google's changes, and understands how to respond the evolving dynamics of the search engines, we suggest our sponsor, Stepmans PC. As Alex Stepman, the owner of Stepmans PC says, "We optimize for the entire industry and not particular keywords." And you should too.