Google to Start Hiding Keyword Data from Webmasters

Google made a startling announcement in the Google blog yesterday, in which they said that they will start hiding some organic keyword data from website analytics. Specifically, anyone who is logged into Google when they conduct a search will automatically have their search and search results encrypted.

This means that if someone clicks on an organic result while logged in, the analytics for the site that the search goes to will show an organic referral from Google, but won’t say what search term was typed in to lead to that visit. Google suggests that this will affect around 10% of search results.

That means that webmasters and SEO teams will lose 10% of their organic search data. And of course if Google+ increases in popularity, that percentage will only rise.

This is Not About Privacy

In their blog, Google is touting this as a privacy move protecting users’ data, and this is manifestly untrue. To begin with, the search term cannot be connected to a specific person in Google Analytics, though in some analytics it can be connected to an IP address.

But more importantly, Google is still passing the search phrase on to PPC adwords customers. Meaning that they’re withholding the information from free analytics services (including their own… for now) but offering the data to people who are paying for it.

The privacy claim has the potential to become a massive PR issue for Google. Currently someone’s search query is not considered private data. By stepping in and stating that it is private data that is covered by privacy concerns, Google is opening themselves up to serious claims of breaches of privacy for selling that information to Adwords customers.

Is it a Paid Analytics Strategy?

One possible reason for this move is tied to Google’s desire to offer a paid version of their Google Analytics in the near future. Google wants to monetize their analytics software, currently offered for free, and is planning a paid version that includes some additional features.

The problem is that Google Analytics currently is a very robust and industry-leading software that offers just about everything that SEO teams need. The new features that will go in the paid version, like realtime analytics data, currently aren’t compelling enough to get a large number of people paying for them.

However… it’s possible that this move of hiding a percentage of search query information is a strategic move to sell more paid Analytics accounts. If they remove this data and starve SEO teams for six months and then offer all of that search data to users who pay for their Google Analytics, then every single SEO firm and in-house SEO team will absolutely have to pay for their Google Analytics to get a hold of this vital data.

Of course we don’t know that’s what Google is going to do. Other speculation is that Google is removing this information to stifle competition that builds sites to serve information based on the search query.

Who is it Good For?

Either way, this move is not a good one for anyone running a website. For users it’s neither good nor bad — it doesn’t change their search experience or their information privacy, since their query information is still being passed along to all Adwords customers.

Since the change doesn’t benefit users or webmasters, the real question is how is this benefiting Google?