We are rapidly approaching the new year and so much has changed in 2011, you may predict a quiet 2012. Think again! The search engines (and today I will focus on Google) are always changing in order to better the “user experience” to deliver a better quality product. And by deliver a better product, I mean of course deliver a better investment to their share holders. I will break down some of the most significant changes and why I believe them to be important to keep an eye on.
New Development: Analytics has always been a free offering to webmasters in order to provide data on who is visiting a site, from where they come, what they are doing on the site, and when they are returning. Google has raised the stakes by beefing up the offering with support, enhanced analysis, and guarantees for data collection and accuracy.
Impact: By monetizing a once free product and slapping a 5 figure price tag on it, it is apparent that Google is looking to recoup their investments across the board. With the ongoing hardware battle for supremacy in the mobile and notebook verticals raging, Google has looked inward to find more money-making opportunities. This trend doesn’t end with reporting data though…
New Development: The official Google Blog lays it out plainly but the premise is quite simple. Those users who are logged into a Google account (Gmail, Google+, Youtube, etc.) will not have certain data recorded into a site’s Analytics reports. Google claims this is an effort to “[protect] the personalized search results [they] deliver” as more results are geared towards their personal usage and increased web access from unsecured networks.
When you look through your Analytics data, particularly under “Organic” in the “Traffic Sources” section, you will notice a new line item making up a percentage of your traffic. In between keywords you may recognize (in Best Rank’s case, “search engine marketing company” or “internet marketing company”) a new phrase appearing that will at first seem out of place. “Not Provided” will soon become part of the SEO vernacular as this recent change suggests.
When you see a result for “Not Provided,” that tells us a user was signed into a Google account when they found you organically. It also means that whatever keyword they used to find you is now protected to secure their privacy.
Impact: For the time being, this will skew a relatively small percentage of your organic data as you won’t know what keyword search led them to your site. Reports have come out that this may impact between 7% and 14% of your keyword traffic and that number may increase over time. However, this change will not affect AdWords (PPC), so you will continue to see accurate reports on keyword search data.
What this signals to me is that Google is more interested in providing you data that is geared toward their monetized endeavors (Display Ads, Content Network, PPC) as opposed to the “free” or organic results. I expect this trend to continue where Google will increase our access to data supporting paid efforts (Mobile Ads) while increasing the difficulty of tracking or even seeing organic efforts (More Paid Ads).
New Development: On November 3rd, Google announced a change to their algorithm and likened it to our preference for “warm cookies right out of the oven.” Google infers that we prefer our food fresh, and while this strongly ignores my love for day-old, cold pizza, they went ahead and made the algorithm change anyway. In short, Google has come to understand that we use the web these days not only to locate goods or places, but to stay informed on breaking news.
They use the example that most people searching for the Olympics are probably looking for the run-down on 2012 in London, not the first Olympics or their origins. Google predicts that this will impact 35% of searches and will aid in delivering the up-to-the-minute news we apparently crave.
Impact: This change along with recent updates to Local Search results are having a dramatic impact on what we see seconds after entering a keyword search. Results above the fold (those you don’t have to scroll down to see) are frequently featuring paid results, local business results (Places Pages), and now recent results, which may include pieces from social media channels and news organizations.
With Places currently being offered for free, we still have “organic” results at the top. However, Google had once monetized these profiles with the now defunct Tags and I would not be surprised to see the new Places go the same route. Google has been working hard on their own social network (Google+) and many are seeing the monetization markups on the wall. If we continue to see these trends, we may soon live in an era where those results above the fold are predominantly paid results.
Google is a public company with billions of dollars and millions of daily users. Through the years, they have continued to innovate with hardware, television outlets, social networks, etc. But what they always come back to is their bread and butter: search. As their other business ventures have been met with fierce competition, government investigation, and sometimes utter failure (Google Buzz, anyone?), they have to understand the value of search which started it all. Based on the changes we’ve discussed and their interest in growing profits, don’t be surprised to see their paid services increase in familiarity, exposure, and use.