Original Post From Eric Savitz
Guest post written by Pete Sheinbaum
Google has provided users with some of the most useful tools on the Web and continues to lead innovation in all aspects of the Internet from storage to search. Some of the most successful businesses have been built on the back of Google data, leading to a linear increase in Web traffic around the globe. However, the power Google holds over recipients of its organic search traffic and competing ad networks is much larger than most in the industry are aware.
To truly understand the changes and empathize with the widespread angst around Google’s continued updates, we need to take a step back and put things in perspective. The years before the “valuation of data” were fruitful everyone seemed to give away search insights, and analysis of the “who and what” of website traffic was simplistic. Now that we’ve entered the streamlined power search days, the big players have risen and taken notice of the many people, companies and agencies tapping into their proprietary data stream. In essence, they’ve started assigning value to something that was previously shrugged off as an intriguing “perk” to using the Google platform.
According to a recent comScore report, Google processes 66.7 percent of the Web’s searches, sending billions and billions of search visitors to websites every day. While just a year ago search data flowed freely and was shared openly with websites, the online world in which we operate has shifted drastically. Previously, it was easy for sites to see not only the traffic they received from organic searches, but also the search terms a user entered and, in some cases, the position in the search results where their site was listed. In turn, a website could leverage this knowledge to customize its content and target advertising based on that query of terms. Websites and advertisers latched onto this method of tracking as a way to decode a user’s real-time intent. With equal access to information, the playing field was level.
The industry began taking notice in 2011 when Google rolled out a consumer privacy update which discontinued access to keyword information and website analytics packages. According to a recent study by digital marketing software company Optify, more than 57 percent of websites run Google Analytics, accounting for about 30 percent of all searches and nearly 40 percent for B2B sites. What does this mean? For any user logged into Google services, the search terms they enter are excluded from the referral information. While seemingly benign at first glance, the change negatively affects thousands of sites and companies that daily rely on this data.
Google’s decision to encrypt Web traffic leaves some businesses blind as they can no longer identify the source of the traffic or which search terms led visitors to the site. This transition negates the ability for website operators to personalize the user experience and provide relevant, targeted advertising based on search terms. Advertisers and corresponding ad networks won’t know as much about users’ intent and will pay less to the publisher for displaying ads.
And it may get worse. If Google decides to stop passing all search information to websites, not just when a user is logged into Google, the industry will suffer. As previously mentioned, 30-40 percent of search visitors are currently affected, but that number could go even higher giving Google the ability to outperform all other ad networks.
What’s a website to do?
First, diversify where your traffic comes from. Relying solely on search is dangerous. At the very least, make sure you track from multiple sources to get the big picture view of which top keywords are bringing people to your site. Second, invest in building relationships with other sites, social networks and syndication partners. By tracking these visits you should be able to maintain some ability to personalize the experience and maintain visibility into where people are coming from based on clicks.
Lastly, step back and take a before/after view of the data. Analyze changes in website traffic patterns in addition to referring terms. Noticing a traffic spike? New content, recent linking to archived content, or overall changes in the website can help determine where audience interests lie. Experiment with different lead keywords and track progress. Popular posts and keywords should immediately generate higher site numbers, and future content can play off the topics visitors respond to most.
What’s a marketer or ad network to do?
Look for additional ways to decode users’ real-time intent. Put tools in place to harvest all analytics from the users to the webpage. Data gathered from direct website visitors can be extremely useful. Measure consumer intent by following the pages they visit and track their destinations after they leave the site to see what topics they’re following. By analyzing how a user navigates to and through a website, you will reveal much of the intent data. If a company or ad network bases its products on search retargeting, this information is even more important. Real-time intent will be one of the most sought after data points for marketers and ad networks going forward – especially if Google keeps this information all to itself.
As Google veils more and more data, many wonder which direction they will head next. Are they planning an assault on the other ad networks or are they acting as a white knight protecting the privacy of their users? Only time will tell. In the meantime, marketers and publishers need to be prepared should Google decide to close the data floodgates altogether.
AltaFlux Corporation is a global HCM cloud consulting partner based in Troy, Michigan. We empower organizations by streamlining, transforming, and optimizing key human capital management (HCM) processes with industry-leading HCM cloud solutions like SAP SuccessFactors, Benefitfocus, WorkForce Software and Dell Boomi.