Who Wins when Google Hides the Ball with Keywords?

Updated on | By | Under the Category SEO

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you would notice that your statistics counter, whether it’s Google’s analytics or a third party statistics counting software, would show that the keywords used on Google to find your web page is “not provided”. This move by Google to hide its organic search terms has left many search engine optimization professionals scratching their heads.

People are asking, what does Google have to gain by doing this? Ideally speaking, if people have these keywords, they can build high quality pages that would insure that people who use Google will find the best pages. Why would Google shoot itself in the foot? The reality is more complicated than that.

As much as we’d all like to think that Google is being driven by its better angels. The reality is that Google is still a multi-billion dollar corporation that is accountable to its shareholders. What do shareholders want? Well, shareholders the world over are common that they all share a common interest. They want the companies they invested to continuously produce a solid revenue. Unfortunately, Google is very vulnerable in this respect. Why? The vast majority of Google’s revenues come from advertizing. It is very vulnerable. It is one dimensional. I suspect that as much as Google tries to pass off its transition to “not provided” organic search statistics as a move to protect its users privacy, I suspect a more commercial motivation.

This change is actually quite measured. It didn’t happen overnight. It happened in steps. If you’re paying attention to this issue, you would recall that Google first started hiding searched data for users that were logged in to their Google accounts. Next, they hid the searched term for everybody, whether they were logged in or not. Finally, quite recently, Google hid keywords even for people who have Google adwords accounts. There you have it. Google is now showing “not provided” across the board. What does this move mean? How does it impact people looking for keywords to build websites around? How does it impact people looking for keywords and other data to optimize their pages. Finally, how does it impact Google as a company?

Who gets Impacted?

There are two people that immediately come to mind regarding the impact of this move by Google. The most obvious group are people who are using keywords to build websites. If you know what you’re doing, you will build your website at least guided by keywords, if not completely directed by keywords. This is the difference between taking shots in the dark and following a map to riches. Anyway, you need the right keywords to build a truly successful website. Google’s recent move to hide its keywords don’t impact you at all if you are using keywords to build online properties. Why? You can use Google’s adwords campaign planner to get target keywords. You are not going to suffer now that Google’s organic search terms are labeled “not provided”.

On the other hand, if you are using Google’s search queries for your existing website to optimize your website, you are out of luck. One of the best uses for organic search queries is to pay attention to how your pages actually rank for certain keywords. In other words, you use your website as a data gathering device to figure out which keywords your pages are attracting. You then filter these keywords based on their level of competition, how much search traffic they get, as well as their commercial appeal and correlate the most attractive keywords with the actual pages that are already attracting them. Your next step would be to optimize these pages further so you can rank higher for those keywords that is already drawing.

Finally, you would pay attention to the keywords that your website is already attracting but are not optimized for and optimize your website as a whole to attract these keywords. If you play your cards right, you can dramatically improve the search traffic of your complete website. Well, this all goes out the window with Google’s move. Since you don’t know what search terms you are attracting, you’re really in the dark as to how to optimize your pages. Well, some other bloggers are saying that there are works around to this. I have analyzed all those alternative methods and they are basically just guesses. They may be educated guesses, but they are still guesses. You’re just going on a hunch. You can pay attention to the keywords that are in your page title or you might even pay attention to the keyword density on your pages, but an actual report from Google that, that page attracted a specific keyword, your guess is as good as anybody else is. You’re basically left taking shots at the dark. This is very problematic because it prevents website owners from fully optimizing their websites. Why would Google want to do this?

Who Wins from Not Provided?

The big winner of course is Google. There’s no question about that. By hanging on to this data and possibly rolling it out later on, either in a product or as a research service, Google gets something that it desperately needs. What does it gain? It gains another revenue stream. As I have mentioned earlier, Google is very vulnerable. It only has one revenue stream. It’s highly dependent on search traffic. Even though Google is invested in all sorts of software and all sorts of businesses, at the end of the day, it is a search engine company that is powered by advertizing. It makes billions upon billions of dollars every single year on advertizing revenue.

If there is something that happens to the general American economy or the global economy that drastically impacts its ad revenue, Google’s stock price will go down. Any shareholder of Google would be concerned regarding its dependence with on just one revenue stream. This is why it makes all the sense in the world, at least from Google’s perspective to not provide its data. Why? It can resell this data in one of two ways.

Big Data Research Revenue

One of the most obvious ways Google can make money off its search term queries is to sell this data to enterprises. There are a lot of marketing enterprises that would pay a premium to get their hands on this data. But besides the usual suspects, Google’s data can actually be very valuable to research firms, statistics firms, product development firms and any other enterprise that needs a market data to make decisions. That’s how important this data is. Google can charge different fees depending who the buyer is. Google can even setup many different price levels depending on how the data would be used. One thing is clear, Google can make tens of millions if not hundreds of millions of dollars if not billions from its data. You have to remember, this data is not just for the United States but includes global search data. Frankly, Google would be a fool to just sit on this data and not make any money from it.

Improve Google Analytics

The second way Google can make money off its data is to bundle it with a new and improve version of Google analytics. You have to remember, Google analytics is a sophisticated piece of software. It is updated frequently. It has a lot of bells and whistles. Just based on this information, Google analytics costs a lot of money. We’re talking millions if not tens of millions of development dollars. Surely, Google is not willing to burn all that money when in one fell swoop, it can knock out competitors. How? By releasing a premium version of Google analytics that has search data revealed. This move will not just make Google analytics the default statistics package of a serious website owners and marketing companies, but it will also destroy its competition. Right now, there are many other statistics software companies that are making good money offering statistic services. Once Google rolls out Google analytics with a search traffic information, it will effectively dry up the market for its competitors.

Considering Google’s revenue streams and Google’s business motto, it would be foolish to sit on its highly lucrative search data. I seriously suspect that it’s only a matter of time until we see what Google will do to monetize this valuable market data.

About the Author: Lewis Crutch

As the administrator of Marketing Bees, Lewis Crutch manages all of the free advice and tips available here on the Marketing Bees blog as well as spending time putting together in-depth marketing related courses covering a wide range of topics including email, content and social media marketing.

4 Responses to “Who Wins when Google Hides the Ball with Keywords?”

  1. Louisa Chandler

    Aaahhh…..finally this makes sense. Thank you! I’ve been struggling with this and read some confusing reports. I’m not saying I understand why Google does what it does but at least I know what happened.

  2. Annie Marie Peters

    This is very informative! I actually thought the ‘not provided’ keywords were a result of the user’s privacy settings. Thanks for setting me straight!

  3. Alex London

    It is absolutely about money, no other conclusion makes sense. Hiding keywords has seriously inhibited website owners ability to provide visitors with the best experience possible. The very thing that Google claims is their number one priority when it comes to SERPS. Previously I could see what people searched for before arriving at my site and what content they engaged with, I could also see what keywords brought people to my site and by bounce rate determine any terms that were drawing people in falsely. Now everyone is in the dark it is leading to a bit of a scattergun approach to keywords. Nobody benefits from this, except, as you say, probably Google in the not too distant future.

  4. Diane Bourque

    I actually had no idea; thanks for the information!
    I don’t really understand Google but thanks for clearing something out for me.


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