Controversial Digital Strategies : Google Encrypting Search Referrers

As the largest online brands such as Google, Facebook and Twitter continue to dominate the world and develop their strategies to offer new services and strengthen their positions, their closest followers and advocates have raised questions about policy changes, not least around data protection or the growing influence of brands and commercial influences. With every change of strategy or announcement of a new policy, people will find fault. Duncan Parry, COO for International digital agency STEAK will cover five of the most controversial strategy decisions in the coming weeks. The first examining Google's search encryption policy.

Back in October of 2011 Google announced it would start encrypting the searches of anybody logged into a Google account in the US to protect their privacy. This triggered a roar of anger from many in the SEO and Analytics communities: for logged-in searchers, analytics packages would no longer be able to report the keywords the visitor had typed if visiting via a SEO link.

Google’s response was to note that Webmaster Central, a free tool for site owners and SEOs, now includes the top 1,000 keywords driving traffic to a website. That missed the point for many: that data is a list without any information on user behaviour for each keywrod (page visited, which keywords drove sales etc) and for large sites like High Street retailers and new sites, simply misses many terms off.

On 5 March Google announced this is rolling out globally. The obvious controversy here is that Google isn’t sharing data that is valuable to many businesses. However there’s also a contradiction in Google’s motivations for doing this - Google’s Matt Cutts has stated this would impact a single digit volume of searchers.

In which case, what’s the point if it’s not going to “protect” many people, anyway? Especially as PPC advertisers with Google still get all this data, anyway. That must be good for the Google share price.

The reality is some US sites have seen this impact up to 20% of their search volume, and it can only grow – Google wants people logged in all time to Gmail/Google+/Google Apps and it’s other products. This issue will bubble along.

It could boil over if in the future Google offer access to this data by merging Webmaster Central and Analytics data fully to provide exactly the level of data they have removed - something their analytics competitors cannot do. Did I mention Google now offer a paid for version of Analytics?

By Duncan Parry, COO, STEAK


Duncan Parry

Entrepreneurial digital marketing expert who has worked supplier, client and agency side. Co-founded digital agency STEAK and expanded to offices on three continents before selling to Dentsu in 2011.

Following a successful earn-out, I left STEAK in December 2013, working at a Bristol agency in 2014 before moving to the AA as a contractor in 2015.

My role at STEAK evolved as the agency grew to 160 personnel in London, New York and Melbourne. I worked across search, client services, insight and operational roles, leading multiple line reports spanning the majority of the agency's headcount at the London HQ.

My expertise includes bridging the gap between technology and marketing departments and ensuring fast-growing teams meet revenue and client targets. I enjoy enabling brands to understand the significance of digital industry developments and changing consumer behaviours, turning theory into actionable steps that meet marketing, revenue and business objectives.

All by Duncan