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November 4, 2011

Google Good or Evil Part II

Google caused a stir on the Internet a couple weeks ago when they announced that they would encrypt the search sessions of users signed into Google accounts (also called SSL or secure socket layer encryption). Why would Google do this? That’s a great question. This question is creating heated Is Google Good or Evil? debates all around the web (read my colleague Brian Chiou’s Google Good or Evil article for his take).

What does SSL Encryption really mean?

SSL encryption means search queries and search results are private. Search results are only visible and accessible to the individual user on the other end of the computer (or phone)…well, AND to Google of course.

Did search engine optimization get harder?

Yes, since search engine optimizers lost the ability to identify keywords searched for a large portion of web traffic. SSL encryption means Internet marketing analysts can’t tie a keyword searched to a goal (or conversion) on a website for users signed into their Google accounts.

Were we spoiled with free access to such valuable information in the past?

Google’s decision to limit analysis comes as a blow. SSL encryption isn’t Google’s first paradigm shift and won’t be their last. But why would Google cloak something we are used to knowing? Something we used to help clients optimize content for search marketing?

Google says in their official blog that they want to “make search more secure”:

As search becomes an increasingly customized experience, we recognize the growing importance of protecting the personalized search results we deliver. As a result, we’re enhancing our default search experience for signed-in users.

Is Google really concerned about our privacy? I just looked up my house in Google Earth. There is my car sitting in the driveway. I could zoom and see me sitting on the couch watching TV. Security? Really?

Google says they will continue to pass across secure socket layer data for those using Google’s advertising platforms. SSL encryption only affects organic (non-paid) search results. The lesson here: Pay the price and Google will giftwrap keywords, tie a bow around them and drop them in your lap.

Not convinced money is at the bottom of Google’s SSL encryption?

SSL kills retargeting, the practice of showing ads related to recently visited sites. Retargeting works for old advertising reasons: Retargeting works because repetition works. Retargeting works because customers think serendipity when a massive, intelligent, invisible hand sends subliminal messages and influences free will. Leaving aside the used car salesman feel to retargeting for another post, Google killed retargeting because of how this marketing tactic impacts search. Retargeting reduces search volume. Reduce search volume, and Google’s PPC money takes a hit. Money–not security–is at the bottom of Google’s SSL encryption change.

Does Google have something else up their sleeve?

The answer to that question is always YES. Are they prepping us for a paid tool that will allow access to this valuable data? Is Google pushing us to pay for data to improve their $10 billion revenue (from last quarter alone)? Answer: YES.

Or is Google responding to a security backlash? An “adbusters-like” attack on retargeting? Is Google taking steps to improve their privacy policy to benefit the end user? Like most things Google, the answers to all of these questions and many more is always YES. Personally I will believe in the divine Goodness of the “do no evil” company when my house isn’t so easily accessible from any cell phone, iPad or computer on earth.

So, where do we go from here?

As Internet Marketing Specialists, SSL encryption means we have our work cut out for us. We need to be creative in how we collect, analyze and report in our new search engine marketing (SEM) reality. Our Internet marketing world is challenged once again. But who isn’t up for a good challenge?

We say bring it on, Google. We’ll adapt. We’ll figure out ways to help clients understand your new SSL world as we’ve figured out all the other new worlds you’ve created. You’ll make us better Internet Marketers because of it. So thank you Google. I knew I loved you for a reason.

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