I’ve fielded at least six questions during the last 30 days on Google’s latest move to encrypted keywords for organic search, which semi-officially elevates it to a blog topic for me. Normally I don’t subscribe to the “Chicken Little” hype around Google changes, but I certainly pay extra attention when someone like Rand Fishkin uses the phrase “first existential threat to SEO.”
If you haven’t read Rand’s post on the changes, he outlines a solid approach for search marketing folks that should inform the thinking of any good digital marketer. The short version of the story is that Google has suppressed the keywords for all organic search terms. So if you’re a photography ecommerce site, and a Google user searches the phrase “Nikon d3100 review” and then clicks to your site, you won’t have visibility into the terms appended to the URL – and therefore can’t route the website visitor to a Nikon-specific page.
Before the change, the keywords would have been included in the URL string as a parameter. See the example below:
It’s standard practice for good ecommerce marketers to drive this deeper linking in order to match the user’s intent — and maximize the chance of conversion. From this perspective, I think the move is actually anti-consumer given that it removes a layer of intelligence between my search and the page I end up viewing. It’s a very subtle change, but the reality is AdWords gained an important advantage in user experience with this change – the results from clicking on an AdWords ad should now be incrementally smarter than a standard organic search result.
The purpose it clearly serves is to migrate advertisers to AdWords, which still include the “q” parameter shown above (and yes, the link above is an AdWords campaign from Currys in the United Kingdom). Conversely, here’s the link for the second organic (non-AdWords) result:
You’ll notice there’s no “q” parameter with the keywords.
So why make this change now? Well, the truth is these changes have been afoot for more than a year as Google has rolled out SSL search across more and more servers. Most digital marketers I know have been lamenting the “not provided” data in their keyword analysis charts for 12 to 18 months. It’s just now that Google has finished it off for good.
At the end of the day, this is more of a challenge for our search marketing and advertising colleagues than for those of us focused on email and/or marketing automation. In all my customer travels, the closest impact I’ve seen is some proactive marketers generating CMS personas for anonymous website visitors based on keywords (normally to delineate interest between individual products in a multi-product environment).
One second-level – but interesting – impact of the change is for content marketers. If your content strategy is based on creating deep instructional content that’s massively dialed-in for SEO and pointed at sale conversion, you might want to rethink your tactics just a bit. You’re not going to be able to close that last loop of relevance and drop a visitor on a second-level page from an organic search. You’ll continue to win the mindshare and Google ranking “battle,” but could take a hit in the conversion “war” based on the deep-linking abilities of AdWords campaigns. Again, it’s a subtle change, but remember that optimization is based on being successful in very small increments – like one-tenth of 1 percent.
So maybe it’s a good time to seek out our search colleagues and see if we can help – or just be a good listener. And if you’re spending lots of energy and external dollars on organic search, you’ve probably already had conversations with your inner circle about modifying your approach. Make those changes before the year is out!
1) Blog: “Google+ Just Set Checkmate on Content Creators”
2) Blog: “Dear CMOs, It’s Time to Go Big on Retention Marketing”
3) White Paper: “Gmail Tabs: Impact on Email Marketing and Strategies to Respond”