Greekgeek's Online Odyssey - Hubpages and Online Article Writing Tips

Google Is Now Hiding Our Keyword Traffic

So, last week, the SEO industry was abuzz with Google’s October 18 announcement that it would no longer report visitors’ search queries in any of its tools IF the visitors doing the search were logged into Google.

Say what? Let me show you.

BEFORE THIS CHANGE (this is an actual example from my own content):

  • A user searches the web for “where can I find a pet sea hare?” and lands on my page.
  • Google records the “where can I find a pet sea hare” query in its tools and sends it to Squidoo stats
  • I see in my Squidoo stats “where can I find a pet sea hare?” brought a visitor
  • Amused, I do the research and find some C. aplysia suppliers and add them to my sea hare  fanpage in hopes that info will be useful (or at least entertaining) to future visitors.
  • A user searches for “where can I find a pet sea hare?” and lands on my page.
  • Google’s webtools record the search as (“not provided”)
  • Squidoo doesn’t report the search query in its traffic stats. (In fact, it may not even know that’s a visit… I can’t tell, but my visits have suddenly dropped on my Squidoo dashboard stats without a corresponding drop in Google Analytics).
  • I don’t know what my readers are interested in, want to know, or need me to clarify.
In this case, it’s a one-time query that won’t tell me much. But how about more common queries? Looking at Google Analytics, the third most common search phrase people use to find my content is now listed as “not provided,” so I no longer know what hundreds of my visitors are looking for, and I can no longer respond as effectively to what my readers want.

Again, Google claims this is to protect users’ privacy. However:

  • Search queries don’t tell me who is doing the searching. They’re like words shouted from the back of the room, except you can’t hear the voices. So this doesn’t protect privacy.
  • The only search queries Google is concealing are those from logged-in Google members. It’s a protection racket: “Join Google, and we won’t spy on you!”
  • EXCEPT that Google still shares all the search query data with its paying advertisers, which is why the SEO industry is rife with articles like Google Puts a Price on Privacy and Google Invests in Privacy For Profit .
  • And speaking of privacy, Google is NOT concealling referrer data — where the visitor comes from — which is more private than search queries.
If  Google said they were going to start charging for valuable data they’ve hitherto given away for free, that wouldn’t annoy me, but these self-righteous claims of protecting user privacy offend me.

Some parts of the internet are gloating about this, because they consider all SEO to be dirty tricks, and they have swallowed Google’s white lie that this change will help protect users’ privacy. But I was using that data to improve my content for my readers. And see Matt Cutts’ video from this week:

Matt Cutts: “Does Google Consider SEO to be Spam?”

Well, at least that’s a little reassuring.

I am also concerned about how Squidoo is handling this change. If Google isn’t reporting a significant number of search queries to Squidoo’s traffic stats, does Squidoo still count them as visits? This impacts Lensrank.  Yes, Google claims the cloaked data represent only a fraction of visits, but on the other hand, it’s everyone logged into Google from, say, Gmail, YouTube, Picasa, Reader, Google Plus, or a ton of other Google services. My third-most-common search query is now cloaked, and you can bet a bucketload of long-tail queries are (Analytics only gives me my top 500 queries, and one of my top lenses used to get more than 500 unique queries a week).

This change will also impact Hubpages and other sites that rely on Google’s API to report keywords that brought visitors to your site.


  1. Joan Adams says:

    I do use gmail, and actually stay signed in to gmail. so now, the google keyword search tool will not show results as it used to? or am I misunderstanding something here…….

    1. Greekgeek says:

      No, you will still see search results! Don’t worry about that.

      All that’s being hidden is traffic stats.

      If you visited one of my lenses via Google search, I would no longer know what you had searched for. I used to be able to use that data to improve my content. (And again, even under the old system, it didn’t reveal to me who was doing the asking, only what they asked.)

  2. Mark Upshaw says:

    It seems to me that Google is less and less reliable and does not play fair with the rest of the community. Fortunately, this provides opportunity for other companies to take advantage of Google’s weaknesses.

    I used the data to rewrite and tweak plenty of lenses to perform better. Without this data, there is no way to reliably make corrections after 90 days of feedback.

  3. AJ says:

    Ellen, am I right in that this will not affect the initial keyword research we may do when thinking about a new blog, lens or page, but rather it is the analysis of exactly which keywords are used to find the page, via Google Searches, once it is published?

    1. Greekgeek says:

      AJ, I’m afraid I’m not 100% sure. If Google really is committed to keeping those search queries from showing up in ALL its tools — which it seems to be — then the regular keyword tool is going to underrepresent some searches. I think these searches will no longer be counted among the “total searches per month” metrics.

      We should still see most of those searches, since Google is only suppressing the data about searches by logged-in Google users. Google claims the searches being cloaked represent only a fraction of all Google searches, but I have my doubts, since there are a heck of a lot of Google services from YouTube to Gmail that people may be logged into.

  4. AJ says:

    Thanks Ellen. If keyword research becomes inaccurate, we really will be groping in the dark.

    But surely if that happens then Google will be shooting itself in the foot wont it? Because it relies on keywords to ensure that their search returns give people what they are looking for?

    And if people dont get what they are looking for, then they will leave Google for another search engine?

    Getting late, cant think straight…..

    1. Greekgeek says:

      Well, but Google still collects and tracks all the keywords data. It’s just choosing not to share all of it with us. It’s sharing it with advertisers, it says, precisely to make sure they still have the data they need to target customers.

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