So, as you may or may not have heard, Google is now keyword hoarding and you won’t know the organic search keywords that are driving traffic to your website. I referred to this as a “jerkstore” move on Twitter – it is, but it’s not surprising and it’s not industry-ending. It sucks, but I think folks who are crying the sky is falling are being a little dramatic.
Since when has anything in the digital world stayed the way it was?
The Good Parts
It will shift focus to value over time.
Here’s the thing, if you’re providing real content and great value, that should overshadow the keywords you’re using or ranking for. Period. Worry about THAT.
SEO was a race to see who could rank for this keyword or that one. Nowhere in that do I see it being about providing the most relevant content possible. In many cases, especially early on, if they brought value it was kind of a “Whoa, neat” as opposed to something that should be expected.
The keyword band aid has been yanked off.
The move to 100% not provided is kind of like Miley Cyrus – we’ve seen the signs for months, but we’re now fully in her gyrating stage presence at the VMAs.
I don’t say that not having keyword data is a good thing, but in some ways, it does have an upshot. It will separate the holistic SEO thinkers from the tactical ones that just produce a ranking report to the client and declare victory. It will enable the ones who truly take all aspects into consideration, when it comes to organic, to flourish a bit more.
It refocuses what websites should do.
Websites have business goals: Sell more stuff, drive subscriptions…whatever it is you’re doing. I have never seen a business where they ultimately said “We need to rank #1.”
Yes, I get that businesses see correlations between their rankings and their traffic and sales. That exists. But ranking #1 is a piece of a much bigger pie, and I’ve seen too many places get hung up on being #1 even if their user experience makes my eyeballs bleed.
Websites are for selling and furthering your business goals, not for always being #1 on Google.
It increases the reliance on paid search expertise.
Shameless, selfish reason. There, I said it.
The Bad Parts
There are some. It does suck.
For years now, clients have gotten used to having reports with certain things in them. Benchmarks around ranking and the keywords you’re ranking for have been a bedrock in many SEO agency/client relationships. With that gone, the lines have been cut without a compass. Agencies will have to fundamentally address not just reporting, but SEO in general with clients. Expectations have to shift.
Google’s a company. They want profit.
I’ve always felt Google falls into this weird little space. They’re a company, but where’s the line of what they own and what they don’t? Is there truly an implied agreement that because users fork over their data, Google owes a certain amount of transparency?
I’m way, way more knowledgeable in paid search than I am in SEO, so in some ways, I think I’m more used to dealing with the “profitable company” evil twin of Google. I was enraged over their migration to Enhanced Campaigns, and knew they were doing it for profit and no matter how pissy I get, ultimately I use their product, and they ARE in it to make money. It’s capitalism, paid media, and their golden child profit center.
What’s weird with organic is that, well, I don’t think it’s traditionally felt like a capitalistic landscape with organic, because Google has such minimal competition in that regard. At least, it never felt as capitalistic to me. It was kind of this strange agreement in a large world of the internet. That time is passing. Google has reminded us they have the data, not us.
Suspended Channel Knowledge
It kind of sucks as a paid person, because I did leverage the organic data as much as I could in deciding priority when it came to bidding and budgets. With that gone, my world isn’t turned upside down, but it was a nice-to-have, especially if a client has a limited budget that needs to come out of the gate swinging.
While the keyword data isn’t something people should live and die by, it was truly a nice-to-have that has been around for years.
Branded vs. Non-branded Keywords
I think this is the most common complaint I’m seeing, and I truly do get it. Companies want to know if the money they’re paying an SEO company is going towards anything, or if they’re just getting organic traffic b/c of their brand. In other words, getting people they’d be getting anyway, as opposed to acquiring new ones through relevant search terms.
There are a lot of theories.
About why Google did it. What they will do in the future. Why there wasn’t more warning.
We won’t know anytime soon, and frankly, it doesn’t matter. If anything, this serves as a reminder that Google isn’t a public service. Having some safeguards in place can’t hurt or be a bad thing. Maybe it even increases the likelihood that places will stop screaming about being on page one, or ranked number one, and start treating their digital marketing as a more holistic effort. There’s been ongoing frustration over the past year that organic results are getting pushed further and further down the page in favor of paid real estate. That plus this latest disruption could really start launching search in a different direction.
Is that such a bad thing? I don’t think any of us got into digital because of its long, established history of bylaws and best practices. It offers enormous opportunity for new methods, new case studies, and things we’ll look back in a few years as a groundbreaking learning or new way of doing something. So ultimately, you can spend the time digging in your heels, being pissed that someone moved your cheese, or you can rebuild the walls of the maze, and tell everyone about it next year when you’re lauded for your ingenuity.