Google make the internet a little bit worse for everyone: 100% Not Provided

Improving the relevancy of results in the search engines has always been a two way street. For over a decade Google have tried their damndest (with increasing success) to identify the subject matter of web pages, while webmasters have used the keyword data on Google Analytics to fine tune their content around the intent of users. For example, if you have a page all about dart boards and you can see that 60% of your users are including the words “shaped like Matt Cutts’ head” in their search query, it makes sense to adjust the content (and I’m talking about genuine structural changes rather than keyword stuffing) to improve the user experience and increase conversion rates.

It was an arrangement that seemed to benefit everyone – Google, users and webmasters, or at least those webmasters diligent enough to adjust their content around user expectations – and then quite inexplicably in 2011 Google started blocking the keyword data of anyone logged into their Google accounts. The proportion grew and grew as more people became part of the Google + network (often without realising it) until finally, this month, it’s been revealed that they are to apply a blanket blockage of all organic keyword data. WTF Google?!

Of course it’s not inexplicable at all. In terms of dollars and cents it makes perfect sense. What stronger incentive could there be for marketers to embrace paid advertising than to offer a two tier service; if you pay for your traffic you’ll enjoy our Platinum package, drowning in keyword and analytical goodies, but if you have the nerve to earn that visit through nothing but expertly crafted and highly relevant content then you can make do with whatever vague and incomplete data we can be bothered to half-heartedly vomit into your increasingly depleted analytics account.

I’m being a little dramatic, but could this be the depressing direction we inbound marketers are headed? Will they block landing page data next? Or engagement info perhaps? Maybe. So am I concerned? Not one bit. In my opinion, anything that encourages us to diversify, to promote businesses through new channels and to focus on the brand rather than keywords, is inherently a good thing.

I doubt Google would have the audacity to push this trend any further, but if they do then that’s okay. Everyone’s in the same boat and as ever it will be those that paddle fiercest that will turn the dirty brown tide to their advantage. For some actionable ideas check out Rand’s emergency Whiteboard Tuesday.

Dan