Google Has Gone 'Dark': The Search Giant Just Ended A Bunch Of Free Data And People Are Freaking Out

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Sergey Brin

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Google founder Sergey Brin

Late this month, Google went "dark" in terms of providing publishers with one of its major sources of free information on which words led people searching in Google to click on their sites. The move came as Google seeks to reassure users following the NSA/PRISM domestic surveillance scandal.

Now, all Google search is securely encrypted, and web site owners can no longer look at Google Analytics to see exactly which words people use when searching Google to find their sites.

A lot of people who conduct marketing on the web are freaking out about it: Now, they complain they're basically flying blind.

And they're angry, because the data that has been switched off is the "organic" search data, not the paid search data generated when people click on search ads. In other words, the only data Google is now providing about exactly what words generate incoming traffic is for people who pay to advertise on Google.

As a replacement, Google is offering similar data in its Webmaster Tools product. However, many marketers complain that the difference between organic search data in Google Analytics and the data inside Webmaster Tools is that the latter is based on a sampling, or an average set of aggregated traffic. It's not the full data set of terms that generate all Google visits to your web site. And it isn't as accurate or useful, a source tells Business Insider, because search marketing is an extremely quant-oriented business where full, accurate datasets convey significant advantages.

Google told Business Insider:

Just as before, webmasters can access a rich set of search query data for their sites via Webmaster Tools. This includes viewing the top 2,000 daily search queries as well as impressions, clicks and clickthrough rates for each query, and more. As always, we’ll keep looking for ways to improve how search query data is surfaced on Webmaster Tools.

In a blog post, Google says it did this to increase users' privacy and security on the web. Now, almost all your search activity on Google will be completely anonymous. Your searches and clicks won't generate lists of words that create traffic for site publishers. Those lists were anonymous anyway — but they did tell publishers how users were finding their sites through Google.

They're calling it "the data apocalypse." Ad Age says:

"It's one of the most significant losses of data marketers have seen in half a decade," said Conductor CEO Seth Besmertnik, who claimed that on average half of the traffic to the search-optimization vendor's clients' sites comes through organic search.

It's a punch in the face for small businesses, according to Tony Verre, CEO of Silver Arc Search Marketing:

... those who used analytics just to surmise if people/consumers and how people/consumers found them for something other than BRAND terms, just got a punch in the face (read Mom and Pop shops who can’t afford online marketing services and help). The web might be a key component to survival for them, and taking away accurate data in the name of faux-privacy is a pretty big deal.

And people are mad because advertisers running search campaigns still get that keyword data for the ads that they ran, in Google Analytics. (In other words, when you click on a regular "organic" Google search result, it generates no data; when you click on an ad displayed alongside the organic search results, advertisers get to know which words generated that click.) It's a contradiction, according to  Rishi Lakhani, a search consultant:

... their idea of privacy is ridiculous to say the least. You cant offer privacy, but still SELL the data to AdWords advertisers. It's the same user. It's the same action.



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