We know that big internet companies like collect and store data on an epic scale. As Mark Zuckerberg once said, the age of privacy is pretty much over.
With this in mind, it’s quite a laugh to find that web giants are hiding some of its most basic data in the name of privacy. Nothing deeply intrusive like the content of personal emails. That kind of information has never been available to anyone accept the web companies themselves – and, we now learn, the US government. But if you’re a small business trying to find out which keywords bring visitors to your site, that’s now deemed pretty much out of bounds.
Businesses and marketers have gotten used to being able to track how people find their site in Google Analytics, by seeing which words people enter into search engines to find their site. Without this information, it’s difficult to know what’s driving your online business, and how to plan your marketing campaigns.
Let them try to find your cake
Say you’re in the business of selling wedding cakes in London. Google Analytics used to divulge how people found your website. It would say, for instance, 80% of your search traffic came from the keywords ‘buy wedding cake in London’. Or it may tell you that most people searched for ‘bespoke wedding cakes London’. The important thing was that by having this information, you could tailor your marketing and SEO campaigns around those search terms.
But if you log in to monitor your analytics data now, your Keyword report looks as though an FBI agent has been let in there with a black marker pen. Most of the information has been redacted, in the form of messages that simply say (not provided). And Google aren’t the only ones doing it. Mozilla Firefox and Apple’s Safari are also encrypting their search data, which means it’s hard for the average business to know what’s attracting people to their site.
Let them buy more cake
The reason this is happening, as you’ve probably guessed, has nothing to do with privacy. Analytics can’t invade anyone’s privacy if it doesn’t say who’s typing which keywords. It’s about money. By taking away the ability to target specific keywords for advertising, the web giants are in cahoots to try and increase their AdWords revenue. Because if you don’t know which search terms are effective, a lot of people will feel they have no choice but to pay for a wider range of keywords.
This isn’t the end of the road for SEO or analytics – we do still have access to some very useful data. But it does mean SEOs and online marketers are going to have to get more creative. What, exactly? You’ll have to wait and see what’s in our next recipe…