I’ve been very vocal in terms of downplaying the importance of Google’s recent SEO analytics curve ball (e.g the way they track and report on granular keyword data for organic search queries). Partly because I believe Matt Cutts’ claim that the percentage of searches that will affected by this switch will not be monumental (for now). Partly because I agree with Alan Bleiweiss’ claim that good SEO can still happen even without granular keyword data analysis.
And mostly because I believe that when it comes to online marketing and SEO in particular, adaptation and evolution is a must. The sky didn’t fall when Google stopped providing accurate inbound link data via their :link command (back in the early 2000′s if I remember correctly). It won’t fall this time around either.
That said, there is one potential side effect of Google’s decision that does have me feeling a little bit uneasy, and it has to do with the general lack of sophistication in the marketing community as it relates to measuring SEO return on investment. My years in the agency world have opened my eyes to sad fact that many organizations (including those flaunting Fortune 500 credentials) fail to grasp the “apples and oranges’ difference between branded and non-branded organic search traffic.
This lack of understanding leads to a major disconnect between how executives think their SEO is doing vs. how it’s really doing where it counts (e.g. for non-branded keywords, which 99 times out of a 100 are the only ones that can be impacted by SEO). Fortunately, astute marketers have begun providing more granular breakdowns of branded vs. non-branded referrals and conversions, leading to more educated executives and a better business climate for SEO in general.
If Google’s recent decision begins to effect a meaningful amount of total organic search referral data (e.g. more than 50%) it will render this type of granular reporting more or less extinct. And that’s bad news for SEO practitioners and for the SEO industry in general.
P.S. I’ve noticed a lot of folks out there misunderstanding exactly what Google announced regarding organic search referral data. Some people seem to think that the change has to do with Google Analytics. It doesn’t. The encryption they are putting in place will affect all analytics platforms because it’s happening at the search engine level (e.g. Google.com is no longer passing granular keyword data for organic search referrals that come from users that have the personalized search feature enabled).