Well, it looks like the SEO community has collectively flipped their lid over the Google Analytics search query data update announced last Tuesday. For those of you out of the loop, here’s a short recap. You used to be able to see all of the search queries that users used to find your site within your Google Analytics reports. Now, thanks to a privacy/security update Google made for it’s users, you will no longer be able to see the search query data from users who are 1) signed in to their Google accounts, and 2) using organic results to reach your site. Google states that this change will affect less than 10% of searchers on Google.com, but industry observers remain skeptical.
Fortunately for us PPC folks, search query data from clickers of paid ads remains unaffected. While this has some disturbing implications regarding Google selling out private user information for the sake of earning a few bucks, it’s great news for people who use PPC and Google Analytics in tandem.
But, that doesn’t mean that PPC will be completely unaffected. Organic search queries are a gold mine for keyword expansion. You’re never going to guess all of the keyword combinations that people use to find your site, so reviewing organic search query data in Google Analytics is the best free user-generated keyword research that you can get. This privacy update is going to make all of us lose a chunk of that, which will make it a little more difficult to get the query data you need to do effective keyword research.
The most perilous implication of this change is that Google is willing to remove the tools that SEO specialists and PPC marketers need to succeed. Google has always been forthcoming with valuable (and free!) keyword and analytics tools to help search engine marketers succeed. This may be the most significant pull back they’ve done on that account. It’s still uncertain what the future holds after this change. Will Google remove keyword data entirely, or maybe just for organic traffic? How far are they willing to go to thwart people trying to game their algorithm? And how much advertiser good will are they willing to sacrifice in order to appease the privacy concerns of their users?
If Google continues to reduce their Google Analytics offering, I predict that there’s going to be a much stronger market for paid web analytics tools. Or maybe another paid search network (*cough* Microsoft *cough*) will step up their game and build an even better free analytics tool. Either way, it couldn’t hurt to start shopping around for free alternatives to Google Analytics right now.